Fancy learning the drums from a legendary African musician or attending a hardcore eco-activists talk? How about spending a night watching leading theatre and cabaret acts or joining in improvised night-long music jams? It’s all possible at Passing Clouds art club, Dalston’s best kept secret. Ben Hewitt visits the club and learns why its fans believe its presence is more vital than ever.
If Eleanor’s words seem hyperbolic on the page, then they seem even more absurdly grandiose when married with the image of the dilapidated club, with its dirty outside walls and gloomy windows. But since she and a small group of other artists, musicians and writers transformed an old abandoned printing works buried in a tiny Dalston back-alley into a small alternative arts club three years ago, it has become one of Hackney’s most vibrant cultural venues.”People come here for something different,” says Eleanor as she searches for a kettle to make a cup of tea among the club’s eclectic collection of bric-a-brac, which ranges from African wall masks and hangings to empty bird cages. “We have political meetings with anarchists and activists, sessions from world musicians, theatre and cabaret night. The diversity is really eye opening.”
She finally finds the kettle, realises it’s broken and continues to talk. “Tonight, we have drumming lessons from Adesose Wallace, who’s a world class musician.”
When Adesose, a respected African musician with a career spanning for more than 50 years, arrives, he shares Eleanor’s enthusiasm. “Teaching here is great,” he booms in his bass-like voice. “It’s a real family like spirit.” This spirit seems somewhat lacking 30 minutes later when he admonishes one of his students for failing to play the correct rhythm by exploding “Why are you playing that!?”, but the class are having fun nonetheless. “That’s the appeal of Passing Clouds”, confirms Eleanor. “Trying new things and enjoying yourself.”
Several days later having fun has been pushed to the back of Eleanor’s mind. Placing some cardboard boxes to plug a gap in the drafty walls –“other places have windows, we have cardboard” she grins-she’s preparing for the club’s weekly all night music session which is hosted by a different performer each week. She’s also keen to stress the ideology behind Passing Clouds.
“Everyone here is turned off by the commercialisation of everything,” she says. “Most of the supposedly trendy bars are a joke, and a synthetic way of socialising.”
“There are a lot of different types of scene here, but everyone’s bound together by common ideas. Unless you’re prepared to do something about problems, there’s no point, but here people are eager to discuss ideas and stand up for things.”
Pausing, she continues: “Most of the people here are the type who care about issues throughout the world, not just the one’s that effect them. But I think now, everyone is realising that we’ve been experiencing a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity that could never last. Things can change so quickly, and I think some people’s eyes may begin to open.”
She’s interrupted by tonight’s musician, Morski from Bulgaria, who confesses to feeling nervous. “It’s my first time playing here tonight”, he reveals. “I hope people join in and enjoy it”. His fears are for nothing. As he rattles off a number of songs, from a blues cover of the Beatles classic ‘She’s Leaving Home’ to several traditional gypsy ballads which receive loud cheers from the audience, they make it known that despite their club’s increasing appeal, they’d prefer to keep it a secret.
“People may start thinking about the current situation more, but I hope it doesn’t become too mainstream here,” says Eva Wong, a lawyer with the BBC. “Everyone is friends and gets on, and I wouldn’t want that to change.”
“There’s no place like this,” confirms musician James PeeBee, who is at the club for the first time. “The atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly, and I’m loving every minute of it.