(Welcoming a new writer to LondonJazz)
Against the odds, Café Oto in Dalston is steadily becoming one of the capital’s leading music venues. Opened in April 2008, it is located in part of the beautiful and historic Reeves Artists Colour Works building near Dalston Kingsland station. Since its opening, the development of the Crossrail link has turned the surrounding area into a large building site. In time, Crossrail will help transform and re-generate the neighbourhood – as will the presence of Café Oto. Meanwhile, it has been building a strong reputation with punters, one that is steadily spreading by word of mouth.
Located only two minutes stroll away from the Vortex Jazz Club, Café Oto did not go head-to-head with its neighbour by concentrating solely on jazz. Instead, it operates an eclectic and adventurous programming policy that embraces jazz, improvised and experimental music, rock, folk and world music, as typified by the notable performers who have already appeared there including Henry Flynt, Eddie Prevost, John Sinclair, Phill Niblock, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Sean Lennon, and Josephine Foster.
During the daytime, Café Oto truly is a café, serving snacks, hot drinks and beers. It has a large indoor seated area as well as pavement seating outside on a quiet, pleasant cul-de-sac. It is a popular local meeting place, as demonstrated by its steady stream of customers, many with children in tow. Inside, the décor is comfortable but low-key – a bare concrete floor and whiltewashed walls offset by scrubbed wooden tables and chairs plus sofas.
In the early evening, the café slowly morphs into the performance space with a sizeable area for the players but no platform stage. There is a decent sound system. Acoustics and sightlines are good from all parts and there is plenty of seating space for the audience. Unlike the Vortex which often struggles to accommodate audiences because of its limited capacity, Café Oto feels spacious and rarely has to turn customers away.
Significantly, “oto” is Japanese for music/sound/noise. Café Oto is co-owned and managed by the Scottish/Japanese couple Hamish Dunbar and Keiko Yamamoto. One of the attractions of its programming has been the number of Japanese performers it has brought over, including Otomo Yoshihide, Kan Mikami, Satchiko M, and Toshimaru Nakamura. Each has played for a short residency, a key feature of the programming.
Other forthcoming shows that whet the appetite include runs by Peter Brotzmann, Matthew Ship, Kath Bloom, Joe Mcphee & Chris Corsano, and The Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen.
Cafe Oto’s programme is at cafeoto.co.uk
Cafe OTO, 18 – 22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL / email@example.com
LondonJazz welcomes other opinions.