London’s music scene

Wednesday April 12, 2023

Photo by: Vienna Reyes

London’s musical heritage is the stuff of legend. This is the city that spawned the likes of Pink Floyd and Adele, Kate Bush and the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Dave. Almost every scene that’s taken root in the UK has grown out of London’s streets, shops, clubs, pubs, and bedrooms — from punk to grime, dub to reggae, and house to hip-hop.

The city has a diverse, DIY vibe, with a galaxy of styles and cultural influences colliding to inform one another. London is the epicentre of the UK’s music business, and one of the world’s busiest cities for live music, generating over £1 billion per year. As an aspiring performer, producer, engineer, or event manager, it’s the only place to be.


Big, small, and in-between — the best of London’s live venues

The 100 Club — hidden away in neon-soaked Soho, this one-time jazz club was the heartbeat of the UK’s punk scene. As a prestigious but low-key hangout, the 100 Club is today famed for its ‘secret’ gigs by worldwide names like Metallica, Mark Ronson, and Paul McCartney.

Photo by: Unknown

Shepherd’s Bush Empire — this Grade II-listed music hall once welcomed Charlie Chaplin to the UK. It’s been the site of live recordings by Frank Turner, Public Image Ltd, Mumford & Sons, and Amy Winehouse, and continues to host big acts from around the world — all despite its modest size.

Photo by: Matt Higgs

The Dublin Castle — this unassuming pub and live venue has two claims to fame. Firstly, it helped launch the UK’s ska scene, led by local heroes / chart-toppers Madness. Secondly, it gave acts like Blur their first big break at the dawn of Britpop. The Castle also hosts a legendary open-mic night, which has witnessed casual drop-ins from acts like The Libertines.

Photo by: Unknown

KOKO — formerly known as the Camden Palace, KOKO is famous for its firsts. It hosted Madonna’s debut UK gig, became the staging post for the New Romantic movement, and was the launchpad of Britain’s rave scene in the late Eighties.

Photo by: Sam Neil

Ronnie Scott’s — this much-esteemed, basement-bound jazz club had the honour of hosting Jimi Hendrix’ last public performance. Over 50 live albums have been recorded here, by jazz titans including Nina Simone, Charlie Watts, Van Morrison, and Curtis Mayfield.

Zermatt Unplugged 2019. Photo by: Francis Cabrel

The Roundhouse — a 1,700-capacity converted train shed that’s welcomed The Doors, The Ramones, the Stones, and many, many more. This haven for freethinkers is now the hub of London’s ‘slam poetry’ scene. Check out the high-flying acrobats at the biannual Circusfest, too.

Photo by: Unknown

Electric Ballroom — this iconic venue has lived many lives, as a roller disco, a wrestling arena, and a popular indoor market. It’s also one of the city’s preeminent nightspots, having staged bands like the Chili Peppers, The Clash, U2, and The Smiths. Definitely one for your London bucket list.

Photo by: Independent Venue Week

The Forum — a gorgeous art deco cinema in Kentish Town that fell into disuse, before surging back to life with a £1.5 million refurb. Today, it’s one of London’s top venues. It’s not the biggest, but that’s not dissuaded Prince, Rihanna, Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, and many more from performing here.

Photo by: Lewis Evans

Alexandra Palace — the survivor of three major fires, ‘Ally Pally’ is one of London’s most famous buildings. Sprawled above Muswell Hill, it’s a place for exhibitions, concerts, and ceremonies (the BRIT, MOBO, and MTV Europe Music Awards have all been hosted at the Palace). Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Grateful Dead, Portishead, Florence and the Machine, Slipknot, Panic at the Disco, and Charli XCX have all played acclaimed gigs here.

Photo by: Richard Battye

Wembley — simply put, the top of the mountain. The stadium’s reputation is as storied as it is impressive. An exalted venue with a worldwide name, only the biggest and best earn the right to play beneath Wembley’s famous arch.

Photo by: Unknown

Trap, rap, pop, and rock — the best of London’s festivals

If you’re studying with Confetti London, festivals aren’t just something to attend — they’re a valuable source of placement, volunteering, and networking opportunities. There are plenty of events to pick from, but our recommendations include:

Lovebox — blossoming from a club night into a full-blown festival, Lovebox is a three-day showcase of dance, R&B, and electronica (complete with circus performers, cabaret, art installations, and a roller disco). Channelling Glastonbury’s countryside vibes — but staged in the heart of London — Lovebox has won a long list of awards, most recently boasting Anderson. Paak, FKA Twigs, Hot Chip, and DJ Khalid as headliners.

Wireless Festival — Britain’s premiere hip-hop festival, taking place in early July. Now entering its eighteenth year, the festival has moved around London (from Hyde Park, to Olympic Park, to Finsbury Park, to Crystal Palace Park), with recent headliners including A$AP Rocky, Tyler, the Creator, Skepta, Migos, Cardi B, Travis Scott, The Weeknd, and Stormzy.

Reading Festival — twinned with a simultaneous event in Leeds, and delivered across the August bank holiday weekend, Reading is the world’s most established music festival. It’s diversified from its rock roots, with recent headliners including artists like Kendrick Lamar and Post Malone. Check out YouTube for legendary Reading performances from Rage Against the Machine, Eminem, Nirvana, Radiohead, and Pulp.

British Summer Time — only London could deliver this elite programme of top tier gigs, which spans a fortnight in June and July. Staged at the iconic Hyde Park, BST packs a punch night after night: previous headliners have included Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Kylie Minogue, Pearl Jam, Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, and Taylor Swift.