London has arts venues and disused spaces in equal abundance. Hallelujah. And what better place to showcase artworks, theatre and live music than somewhere as dark, damp and oddly louche as a set of railway vaults below the iron-and-glass behemoth that is Waterloo? So there we were last Saturday night, in front of a door in the side of graffiti alley (the walkway running below the railway tracks), perched to see what lies beyond. What we found, thankfully, is perhaps one of central London’s most original and dramatic spaces.
The Old Vic Tunnels are the antithesis of their demure older sibling, all exposed brick and dark corners where the house and electro being played by the DJs, in anticipation of our headliner, echoed wonderfully. Then upon the stage appeared rapper du jour Azealia Banks, clutching a bag of goodies from Camden Market’s own rave emporium-cum-tourist trap Cyberdog – never again do I think I’ll see people go as wild for a pair of flashing glasses. Neon bracelets dished out, Banks proceeded to reel off her concise, yet formidable, catalogue.
While some members of the audience barged around with an undeserved attitude, Azealia played remarkably well for someone who had just finished their first headlining tour that night. The darling of iconic photographer (and Kentishtowner) Rankin, who directed her videos for recent singles Liquorice and Van Vogue, she strutted around the platform with a confidence matched in the delivery of her signature quick-witted raps over precise, sharp beats. More audience interaction would’ve been nice in such an intimate venue beyond the usual ‘Hello, London!’ but at two in the morning the majority of onlookers were not quite compos mentis enough to fully appreciate… or at least respond beyond a hysterical scream.
This was perhaps best evidenced in the other attraction of the night: ‘Bedlam’ by the Lazarides gallery. A giant, ceiling-mounted kaleidoscopic video, Psychotron by Doug Foster, drew tired revellers like moths to a flame – and a cushion of artificial grass lay beneath to ensure those of a more delicate disposition had something comfy to lay on while contemplating the evening.
The exhibition held a variety of installations alongside this, a giant cage-shaped seat hanging from the ceiling being my particular favourite. Such works invite the audience to examine the ideas of chaos, disorder and confusion whilst harking back to the days of asylums, where voyeurism and ‘freak shows’ provided entertainment now resigned to the pages of Heat. Everything had a tinge of the unhinged, rather fitting given the title, and made captivating viewing, all the more dynamic by the high arches and old stonework of the tunnels. Running until the 21st October, the free tickets are most definitely worth chasing and can be applied for on the Old Vic Tunnels website.
Yes it was cold, yes it was dark, yes a single voddy and coke was a fiver(!), but the tunnels are most definitely something anyone residing in the city needs to visit at least once. If 2am parties aren’t your thing, there’s a robust programme that caters to a wider audience, zombie horror camp and three nights of film noir (25th-27th October) being the next two upcoming events.
Now we just need something similar closer to the manor… Kings Cross (again), anyone?
Bedlam, till Oct 21, The Old Vic Tunnels, Station Approach Road, London SE1
Words & Pics: Conor Fisk