Jason Allen 12/03/23

Cafe OTO

There are mainstream jazz bars, there are edgy jazz bars, there are really edgy jazz bars… and then there’s Cafe OTO.

You’ll find it hemmed into a Dalston side street that’s pinched on one side by ACME Fire Cult and Eastern Curve Gardens on the other. Inside, it’s just a single room. There’s no backstage preening area for the musicians. There’s not even a stage. But then, the average person wouldn’t recognise the musicians anyway, because Cafe OTO refuses to traffic in anything that resembles conventional, ordinary, or – shudder –┬ásafe.

cafe oto

No, the music that plays here each night is all fixed firmly on the bleeding edge. That’s the whole purpose of the place, and it’s become an essential mainstay of the city’s music industry over the past decade. Pop in on any given night, and you might expect to hear anything from improvisational free jazz, to genres that they list including drone, sound-poetry, radio-art, psychedelic, art brut, field recordings, outsider, electroacoustic music, and something that’s just worryingly called ‘noise’.

It’s the kind of place that inspires a fierce loyalty and dedication from its fans. Half the staff are volunteers. There’s a shop for vinyl, CDs, and cassettes. They even have their own in-house music label, to release some of the more boundary-flirting albums that others can’t take a punt on.

If you head down there, you’re not guaranteed to find something instantly catchy, but you are guaranteed to find something interesting.


NOTE: Cafe OTO is open now, Monday to Saturday, with live music each night. You can find out more, and buy advance tickets at their website right here.

Cafe OTO | 18-22 Ashwin St, E8 3DL

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Cafe OTO

18-22 Ashwin St, Dalston, East London, E8 3DL