Review: Empirical’s Pop-Up Jazz Lounge, Old Street Underground

Free jazz and the hipster singularity

“I can’t believe it. Free jazz in Old Street tube, how cool is that?”

It’s a relief to hear this kind of thing from passersby, because Empirical’s attempt to bring jazz to the people, to reach new audiences and develop their music through an experimental, week-long residency in a London tube station, could so easily have gone wrong.

When I spoke to bassist Tom Farmer about the project, the MOBO-winners, due to release their fifth album, Connection, in March, seemed well aware of the risks. Commuters might hate it, or worse, keep their heads down and ignore it altogether. (“Don’t make eye contact!”) It seemed touch and go whether the band (jazz night owls to a man) would turn up to one of the performances, scheduled for 8am on a Tuesday, and there was also the distinct possibility that a jazz pop-up might tip Old Street over the edge. Could this postmodern cave of wonders – already crammed full of pop-ups selling pop art, kale juice, vegan energy bars, and spiralised fresh air – cope with jazz, or would Empirical bring about some kind of hipster singularity in which Silicon Roundabout disappears into its own Instagram account and a giant beard ultimately becomes the next Mayor of London?

Happily, it turns out that it can. In fact, on the evidence of Thursday night, the lounge is a roaring success: relaxed and welcoming, not edgy or pretentious, and consistently packed. It looks the part, a narrow space lit by filament lightbulbs and angle-poise lamps, with Empirical album art splashed across the walls. And the audience is as varied as the band had hoped: a few hardcore music fans (you can tell from the earnest nodding), men in suits, tech company types, shoppers and even a few kids. Not the usual jazz club crowd. Read the rest on

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Dan Redding/Empirical

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