Local Portrait: Andrew Bunsell, Dalston Music Festival

Written by: Claire Holly Davies

In our ‘Local Portraits’ series we get to know the Inner North London personalities doing amazing things in our corner of London.

Andrew Bunsell immediately strikes us as earnest. A genuine enthusiasm to create something worthwhile and support his local community emanates from his pores. Despite being less than two weeks away from this year’s Dalston Music Festival, he appears almost unnervingly calm. The chaotic nature of organising a multilayered public event is only hinted at when the odd member of his team bursts into the room, each one a ball of fervent energy and urgency but still bright-eyed and smiling. Starting out as a musician himself, Andrew set up his own studio eight years ago in Old Street before moving to Gillette Square (N16) in 2013. Andrew took over an empty shell of a space and turned it into what is now Dalston Studios, featuring five floating rooms used as recording, rehearsal and production studios.

Arriving in the area as a new business Andrew encountered suspicion. The difficult economic climate had fostered a lack of cooperation and a disjointed community. Further tensions were rising with the influx of new people and businesses to the area, Dalston Studios being one of them. In an effort to get to know his neighbours, Andrew began to introduce himself to those working in and around Gillette Square. Recognising that a shared cause could go some way to bring the community together, whilst helping to stimulate local culture and commerce, Andrew had the idea of curating a festival.

We started meeting with the local community and realised there was conflict. Dalston Music Festival was about getting businesses talking and building bridges

Andrew set out on his mission to build relationships with the local councils and organisations, finding some businesses slightly reticent before realising his good intentions.

It was about speaking with people and letting them see I’m genuine. Initially, people were like ‘well, who are you?’

After some early communication problems, Andrew built healthy relationships with the local community creating a common goal for the venues, businesses and inhabitants to all work towards together across the central hubs of the area: Bradbury Street, Gillett Square and Ridley Road Market. Parts of the neighbourhood that were almost at war with one another now see each other as friends instead of competitors.

Although not entirely dependent on funding (much of the festival is financed through money generated by Dalston Studios), it’s with the help of the Vortex Foundation, Arts Council England and Hackney Council that the Dalston Music Festival manages to progress whilst managing to hold onto a certain amount of freedom. Financing such a big endeavour is always a worry. As an increasing number of venues fall victim to the plague of closure, partly due to rising rents and the inability to self-sustain, the future looks bleak for British independent music culture. Andrew explains that he has attended many meetings about nightlife economies and seen firsthand the worry and stress experienced by venue owners and workers.

It’s partly because of these problems within the industry that Andrew insists upon paying each musician who performs at the festival. It’s a worryingly unusual attitude, the industry is rife with ‘pay to play’ or play for free events. As musicians struggle to be heard above a sea of other artists in our internet age and fail to generate enough revenue to make music their career, business models such as the Dalston Music Festival offer some relief.

andrew bunsall, festival producer dalston music festival, dalston music studios, North Four magazine
What’s really going on underground is not reflected in mainstream music and media

Many of the musicians performing at the festival are Dalston-based and have been helping the music scene thrive for tens of years. Newton Dunbar, for example, has been particularly supportive. Newton set up the Four Aces Club, a legendary local hub of music which had the likes of Bob Marley and The Prodigy gracing its stages before its closure in 1997. The Four Aces was central to infusing some of the Caribbean vibes into the British music scene and was an integral place for the development of London music and culture.

The music scene in Dalston has traditionally been very jazz-centric with Caribbean and electronic influences. Andrew comments: “you’ll find real mixtures, from synthesisers to Caribbean rhythms to jazz melodies. As music evolves and the diverse communities inform each others’ styles, music making is becoming more flexible, particularly with recording equipment more accessible.”

It means you can be at home or in a small home studio and you can afford to make beautiful mistakes. That wasn’t an option before because recording studios were so expensive

The festival straddles two postcodes, it’s essentially where North meets East with the more highbrow Stoke Newington on one side and the grittier Dalston on the other. The festival is largely Dalston focused however – although both sides of the coin are well known for their music and artistic scenes. The neighbourhood around Gillette Square has suffered from rising rents and triple dip recessions. As property developers and corporations start to take over, we discuss the strength of the local community in keeping the area vibrant.

Andrew describes the ecosystem in Dalston as balancing on a knife-edge and imagines there’ll be uproar if things aren’t done in the correct way. He wants to keep the conversation flowing between the three different parties concerned with neighbourhood development: the property developers, the council and the community. Gillette Square itself is an example of successful development, where all three parties were consulted and lines of communication fostered.

It’s a brilliant model. If that’s something that could be replicated throughout London or the country, that would be very beneficial. Maybe it takes longer to make decisions because there are more voices to be heard, but you get something very positive at the end of it.

We asked Andrew how local businesses can help Dalston Music Festival and get more involved with the event. He believes they already are doing a great deal, with a number of venues, food traders and record stores all involved with the festival. Over the next couple of years, Andrew wants to invite more local artists to join in by using interesting curators who will pick great local talent. Culturing creativity and supporting the local music and cultural scene is more important to him than expansion for the sake of expansion. He has no real desire to turn the event into a monolith, to him musical evolution and nurturing a strong community takes precedence over growing a mainstream festival.

The ethos of the festival is getting local people, communities and different cultures together. It’s about celebrating diversity in music and culture and having a great experience with brilliant music.

Photographs: Michael Barry

Regional Spanish tasting menu at Pilgrim, a new pop-up supper club in Hackney, North Four Magazine
Eat & Drink

Pilgrim: A Unique Spanish Pop-up Dining Experience

Pilgrim, the newest kid to Hackney's pop-up scene, is a unique dining experience inspired by the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. This six course tasting menu includes regional dishes with a contemporary twist not yet seen before in London.

Amelia Donkor as Rose standing in shadow behind Ian McDiarmid as Enoch Powell holding speech at Park Theatre

Theatre: What Shadows

Recent times have seen an unnerving surge in right-wing politics. President Trump’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ saw him make the audacious promise to ‘build a wall’. France saw the uneasy ascent of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in its general elections and Germany’s AfD, (the first openly nationalist party in almost six decades) celebrated an unprecedented third place victory in its recent elections.

Dog being petted, North Four magazine

Dogtober Doggy Brunch at The Narrowboat

Bark bark bark. Bark! Woof! Yep, you heard it straight from the dog’s mouth. Dogtober (definitely a real thing) is in full swing and The Narrowboat is hosting their annual Doggy Brunch next Saturday 21st October. Bone Appétit!

Eat & Drink Events

Magic Roundabout's Retro Winter Wonderland

Summer is officially over. We're not sure it ever began in the first place. I guess that's one of the few downsides of living in London (other than crippling debt, tube strikes and Boris Johnson), but I digress... Magic Roundabout Old Street is raising the bar for winter, transforming the site into a tented, heated, 'Decades' inspired wonderland.

Slow roasted lamb shank shawarma at Fat Macy's supper club in The Luminary Bakery, Stoke Newington
Culture Eat & Drink Events

Fat Macy's Middle Eastern Feast

Guess who’s back, back again. Fat Macy’s back, tell a friend. No, really. Tell everyone about it. Fat Macy's supper club came back into our lives and this time around they had their Middle Eastern Feast on at the cute as a button Luminary Bakery in Stoke Newington, with a menu inspired by Ottolenghi and the #CookForSyria campaign.

North Four Magazine, Alcotraz, London, Pop up, Prison Bar, Hackney, East London
Eat & Drink Events

We Spent the Night in Alcotraz

Getting shouted at by a burly prison guard with a buzz cut and an offensively loud American accent isn't usually the way one wishes to begin one's night. Nevertheless, as I clamber into a very large (cheers guys) orange jumpsuit, the guard shoves a bottle of Conkers Gin wrapped in a thin towel (no fluffy Egyptian cotton here lads), into my now somewhat clammy hands. Whispering hastily at me to not get caught by the warden I'm ushered off in single file into the depths of Alcotraz.

North Four, North London magazine, new beacon books, uk first black bookshop, books, refurb, campaign, reopened, mini black market, event, stroud green road
Culture Events

New Beacon Books Mini Market

If you haven’t heard the news yet, the world’s first black bookshop is back. Yes, after months of campaigning for funding and volunteers, New Beacon Books has reopened after threat of closure with a brand new refurb to boot. Established in 1966 by John La Rose and Sarah White, New Beacon Books is the UKs longest running independent bookshop specialising in African-Caribbean literature, cards and artwork.

North Four, North London magazine, cocktail, mint gun club, stoke newington, tea room, london cocktail week, drinks, alcohol
Eat & Drink

Top Four “Hold My Phone I'm Going In” Cocktails

London cocktail week is upon us. To be honest I can think of nothing worse than strapping on a wristband, carrying around a guidebook and queuing up for something that just needs to be brought to my sorry, tired old lips immediately. Apparently this year however, Drink Up London have released an app that eliminates all of the above nonsense. Get your ticket, download the app and get enjoying your £6 cocktails all week long. Just remember to flash your digital pass to the bartender first.

North Four, North London magazine, the psychotic monks, camden, gig, live band, music, culture
Culture Events

Music: The Psychotic Monks London Debut

Garage and psych rock fans rejoice - The Psychotic Monks are stopping off in Camden tonight as part of their European tour. Roughly translated from French (GCSE stylee merci very much), the psych rockers describe themselves as “noise, fury, music impregnated .. with life impulses” finding a balance between “neurotic madness and contemplative melancholy”.

North Four, North London magazine, chicken, don and co, finsbury park, dining, eatery, teriyaki, bubble tea, pork, mixed veg, rice
Eat & Drink

Bubble Tea and Banging Teriyaki Chicken in Finsbury Park

A bubble tea place in Finsbury Park? That also does a bangin’ teriyaki chicken rice box? Uh, hell yeah. This little gem quietly opened up last March on Wells Terrace. Y’know the spot where folks bumble off the most crowded bus in the entirety of London and damn near break a hip scampering for the tube round the corner? Yeah, that little pocket of Finsbury Park.

North Four, North London magazine, stoke newington, londoner, brown sauce, fish and chips, chippy, diner, condiment, bottles, counter top

Londoners: Are We Proud or Ashamed?

According to a recent Provident Personal Credit survey Londoners still remain at the bottom of the friendliness scale scoring just 6.44 out of 10. Begging the question, how could anyone be possibly proud to be a Londoner? A city where its inhabitants revel in their ability to remain as cynical and isolated from the outside world as possible. A shallow group of people who are far more interested in Instagramming their brunch then saving money to buy houses or giving back to the community.

North Four, North London magazine, Neil Laybourne, Jonny Benjamin, conference, mental health, charity, talks, speakers, event, raise awareness, finsbury park, arts and media school

Conference: Raising Awareness for Mental Illness in Young Men

A series of talks taking place this November shines a necessary light on mental illness in boys and young men. Speakers will gather at Finsbury Park’s Arts and Media School to raise awareness and help advise on a variety of topics including substance misuse, eating disorders and suicide.

North Four, North London magazine, green rooms hotel, arts, culture, review, interiors, design, photography, wood green
Eat & Drink Lifestyle

My First Night at Green Rooms Hotel

Staying in a hotel one mile from where you actually live feels strange enough, but doing it on your own is even stranger. These photos are a visual record of me wandering the lonely corridors of a new boutique hotel between the hours of 10-12pm. I would describe the decor as handmade but not cheap, minimal but not clinical. It has the feeling that money has been spent on the things that matter.

North Four, North London magazine, cheese, fromage, cheese festival, n1, islington, market, festival, food, gouda, edam, brie, camembert, wheel of cheese
Eat & Drink

You Feta Brie-lieve it: Cheese Festival Comes to North London

The rumours are true: a cheese festival exists and it’s coming to North London. This Sunday. Be there or be … cheese-less I suppose. But you’ve gouda get there early:  If you’re as keen as brie and one of the first fifty fromage fondlers to show, you’re in the running for a free bottle of Black Cow’s pure milk vodka. Traders will be setting up stalls along Islington’s Chapel Market: from the Raclette Brothers and Mac to the Future to La Fromagerie and The Cheese Truck.

North Four, North London magazine, dream phone, dream talk, sound art, collaboration, musician, artist, london, phone boxes
Culture Lifestyle

Dream Talk: Sound Art for Your Commute

Dream Talk. It’s like Dream Phone, but not at all. Artist Emma Alonze and musician Andy Becker have joined forces to collaborate on a (possibly prophetic) new sound art project. Londoners are invited to take a moment out of their daily commute, routine or journey and immerse themselves in a narrated collection of dreams. Taking three years worth of forty winks, Alonze has gathered and narrated a chosen few to be set to an ambient soundtrack by Becker.


Between the Sheets at the Underbelly Festival

Holy smoke, her nipples are on fire! Somebody pass the woman an extinguisher. Wait, why is she climbing into that giant margarita glass - does she not know it's highly flammable? She's going to need to be doused with a sizable portion of aloe vera gel at this rate, the poor lamb.