The coolest music spots in London

by Richard.Macauley

From metal to nu-rave, here are some of the top spots in London to catch hot new acts or find the loudest rock 'n' roll


London has proven itself time and again to be a lasting centre for rock 'n' roll, and while many other cities have their moments (think east Berlin, Budapest, even Detroit), none has quite earned the timeless sense of cool that London can so easily boast. Part of the reason London is always in the top bracket of cities with the most cutting-edge music scenes, though, is because it's so diverse.
And that diversity can be a downfall as well as an advantage. Those who frequent the trendiest areas of Shoreditch may struggle to tell you how to find a metal bar in Camden. In turn, outside of Camden, finding a world-class cybergoth club will be difficult. But there are endless alleys to turn down and if you want to catch a live band or two while you're in town then, one way or another, you can count on London to leave you with a sore head and ringing ears.
To head straight to the top of the cool list, visitors to London will need to take their Oyster card and ride on down to the East End. The triangle formed by Shoreditch High Street, Great Eastern Street and Old Street is home to a number of bars where the clientele can be relied upon to be talking of the hippest current acts, and picking up any magazines or flyers from the area will guarantee an introduction to some of the hottest shows that week.
Music lovers in a rush, however, could simply head straight to 333 Mother on Old Street, which combines DJs and live music all week. It's normally free to enter, but rarely more than a fiver if you do have to pay.
If dancing isn't up your alley and you're determined to sweat in the audience of a live band, the Old Blue Last on Great Eastern Street offers that perfect combination of hot, sweaty and so-new-it's-still-wet rock 'n' roll, with a crowd made up of some of the brightest young things London has to offer. Described by the NME as "the coolest pub in the world", the Old Blue Last won't fail to bring you some of the best - and most talked-about - action in London.
So, east London is the place to be if the newest and best-looking rock is what floats your boat - but what if you're looking for something a bit harder to headbang to? In that case, you need to be in north London... eventually.
A metaller's night out in London should always start (and possibly end) with a drink at the CroBar, on Manette Street, round the corner from the infamous streets of Soho. This is the place to catch up with the who's who of metal, and everybody from rock radio DJs to band members will stop in for a drink during the night. Get there before 9pm to enjoy one of the best happy hours in London.
Once warmed up, though, true rock fans needs to get themselves up to Camden, and most likely to the Barfly on Chalk Farm Road. The ground floor bar at the Barfly plays host to London's indie kids, so don't expect too many metal studs until you get upstairs, where you'll have to duck under the rafters as you headbang to some of the best proper rock 'n' roll the capital has to offer.
If the line-up isn't ideal while you're there, a saunter back down Camden High Street will be all you need to scout out a new venue, but certainly check out the Purple Turtle on Crowndale Road or the Dublin Castle on Parkway (you'll have to forgive the owners for the number of signed photos of Madness on the walls).
And before you get on that plane/train home, there's one more thing you need to do after a period of excess, and that can only be done best in England's capital: treat yourself to a fry-up. To sample the truest, heartiest, most British of breakfasts, all it would take is a quick walk to any local greasy spoon - but for something worth writing home about check out the Chelsea Bun, on Limerston Street... Liver, bacon and chips? That'll put the hairs on your chest!


I grew up on the south coast of England but moved to London in 2003, where I lived for four years in the east, south and north of the city. In London I studied journalism and began writing for music websites, before joining a newswire in 2006. In 2007 I moved to Hong Kong, where I lived for a year. Since then I lived in New York in 2008 and have lived briefly in San Francisco and Sydney. I currently live in Hong Kong. Favourite places: My favourite cities in the world are: New York, London, Hong Kong and Brighton (UK). Other highlights of my travels include rock festivals around the world, specifically Norway's Hove festival and Denmark's Roskilde festival.