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

Close up of brisket burger being held in two hands at Brave Sir Robin for North Four Magazine
Eat & Drink

Eat/Drink: A Love Letter to Cue Point and Brave Sir Robin

When danger reared its ugly head, Brave Sir Robin turned and fled… to his namesake pub on Crouch Hill for a craft beer and a top-notch meal from kitchen residency Cue Point. Warm globes of light hang above intimate booths, specially commissioned wall design offers a rich backdrop, and cosy sofas, deep armchairs and plentiful cushioned stools ensure no one is without a seat.

Bahn Mi Baguette at Pho Hot Vietnamese restaurant in Holloway North London shot for North Four Magazine.
Eat & Drink

Banh Mi and Friends at Pho Hot Holloway

Flocking to Holloway Road on one of the many Sundays that we’ve spent at the Nag’s Head Car Boot Sale, we spotted a new Vietnamese place called Pho Hot getting ready to open up their doors. Being the nosy folks we are, we peeked inside and spotted a menu. Banh Mi was on it. It's a baguette, but not as you know it. Glory of all glories! It’s been far too long since I last consumed this distinctive sarnie and I'm happy as Larry that there's a new Banh Mi joint on my doorstep.

Lee Garrett standing on stairs with window in background for North Four Magazine

Top 4 Tips to Protect Your Skin From London Winter!

Baby, it’s getting cold outside, and what better way to aide our frostbitten noses than a chat to a professional skin person? We’re talking to Lee Garrett, founder of The Garrett Clinic, accomplished skincare specialist and heralded by many as the UK’s leading Skin Guru. Read on to find out his insider tips for surviving this winter season with your skin looking as radiant as the moon that breaks a stormy night.

Illustration of tank with duck in it reading 'peace is coming' at Atom Gallery for North Four Magazine

Tomorrow's World at Atom Gallery

Joined by over 50 other artists incorporating printmaking, painting, digital art, photography and small-scale sculpture, Tomorrow’s World presents us with utopias, dystopias, predictions, prophecies and visions of the future. We hit up the private view last Friday and it was pretty damn bleak, in the best sense of the word.

Brave Sir Robin Opening 14th December 2017
Eat & Drink

Local Thinking, Craft Beer Drinking: Brave Sir Robin Launches in Crouch Hill

Carouse founders Chris, Theo and Ben – the charming folk behind Kentish Town’s Rose and Crown – have a new venture afoot and we couldn’t be more bloody excited to see it. We’ve been creeping in their windows, peering through the paint and sneaking glimpses at builders’ bums for a few months now (okay, maybe not the last one), watching these guys transform this cosy corner of Crouch Hill into a rather cool little boozer. Now they’re opening and everyone is invited. Come one, come all, and try all 20 of their beers on tap with us.

Back of persons head with cigarette tucked over ear

Body Hammer: Clubbing, but not how you know it

Last month I decided to try clubbing again. I don’t quite know what came over me, but I actually (brace yourselves) enjoyed it. I went to Body Hammer’s monthly party in Manor House and I’m here to tell you to go too, whether you love clubbing, hate clubbing, or really couldn’t care either way. #notspon

Close up of person shoving a stuffed potato skin into her mount at Skins in The Magic Roundabout for North Four Magazine
Eat & Drink Events

Go Your Own Way at Skins' Fleetwood Mac & Cheese Night

Rich, fried, buttery, potato-y vessels loaded with flavor combinations that go down rather well with craft beer, late nights and good times. Ha, who am I kidding, EVERYTHING goes down well with beer. You heard that right buddy, loaded potato skins are back with a bang (and a generous portion of bacon) and are currently being served at Old Street's The Magic Roundabout by street food pop-up Skins and we could not be any happier. Well, unless they were to stuff it with, say, Mac and Cheese or risotto. Oh, that's exactly what they do? Well paint me green and call me a cucumber.

Christmas Gift Guide by Pretty Shiny Shop in Stroud Green North London
Lifestyle List

A Very Pretty Shiny Christmas Gift Guide

Magical gifts, wonderful gifts, marvellous gifts, beautiful gifts, gifts, glorious gifts glo-ri-ous giiiiiifts. Please Sir, I want some more. It’s that time of year again and whether you love it or loathe it gifts will be purchased and presented into expectant hands. Stroud Green's very own Pretty Shiny Shop have compiled a gift guide to help ease the shopping shock. Imagine only having to trot to your local gift shop and tick off your entire shopping list in one fell swoop. Done, finito, terminado! To make it that little sweeter, it's also all very affordable... so you won't even have to pick a pocket or two.

Three people clinking plastic glasses in the air in a tent with people in the background at Thor's Tipi Bar in Regent's Place
Eat & Drink Events

Drink, Feast, Conquer, Repeat. Thor's Tipi Bar Has Arrived.

Alright guys, it’s happening. The frosty charm of December is, once again, being beaten to a pulp by the capitalists’ wet dream: Christmas. The hideous twinkling of artificial outdoor lighting is starting to appear, with tourists flocking from far and wide to watch D-list celebrities press a button. Invitations to Christmas parties flood in from your multiple part-time jobs, ensuring you make bad decisions bi-weekly til next year. Supermarkets are selling 12-day advent calendars containing confetti, cookie cutters and candles for a flawless £50. And oh, how the mulled wine flows.

Girl peeking through gold and pink balloons at Top Balloon in Shop Stroud Green for North Four Magazine
Eat & Drink Events

Shop Stroud Green Christmas Trail 2017

Who doesn’t love a cheeky statistic, correctly sourced? You know we do. Well, did you know that for every £1 spent with a small business, 63p is re-spent in the local area, as opposed to a measly 40p in every £1 re-spent locally with larger businesses? An absolute travesty, am I right? That 23p has to mean something, right, guys?! Guys? Guys, where are you going? Wait, there’s freebies involved too!

Eat & Drink Events Lifestyle List

Top 4 'Christmas is just a bad excuse for a' Winter Markets

By gum there are a lot of winter markets this year. Fueled by sickly sweet mulled wine and overpriced pulled pork sliders, we’ve managed to wade our way through the murky waters of winter markets and find some decent looking ones round this here part of town. Don’t let our Grinch-esq vibes put you off (I’m more of a Pancake Day person myself) because, if you’re into markets, you’ll probably like these. Read on, if you’re merrier than us.

The Vinteriors team and Mary le Comte at Moseyhome in Finsbury Park, North London for 'Style My Shop'.

Style My Shop: Vinterior x Moseyhome

Take a short walk along Finsbury Park’s own sunset strip and you’ll find MoseyHome, an interiors retailer and styling consultancy who have invited us to collaborate with them on an exciting new series titled 'Style My Shop', in which they invite some of London's most talented interiors experts to quite literally style their shop. Interiors porn at it's finest.

Eat & Drink Events List

Top Five "It's That Time Of Year Again" Things To Do This Winter

Why was the snowman sad? Because he had a meltdown. Much like us, every year, when winter comes. It’s cold, it’s dark, and we know Christmas is on its way. But hey, it’s not all bad – the events round this time of year can be pretty swell. So don your scarf-shawl-blanket and get your frolic on, it’s time for fairy lights, scarfing mulled wine and stuffing your face!

Hand feeling colourful splashes of artwork at Smith and Sinclair Flavour Gallery
Culture Eat & Drink Events

Suck it at The Flavour Gallery

Touch, taste, smell, hear and create art. Smith & Sinclair, purveyors of the Edible Cocktail, presents The Flavour Gallery: a multi-sensory adventure that’ll seduce your senses and tickle your taste buds beyond all imagination. Ooh matron!

Hodgepodge on Crouch Hill, North London. New restaurant opening November 2017
Eat & Drink

New Opening: Hodgepodge Crouch Hill

Offering modern British cuisine with a smokey twist, Crouch Hill's newest contender to its foodie scene, Hodge Podge, is all minimal styling and hearty yet inventive dishes.