From Moscow to Rotterdam, and Warsaw to Malmö - these cities have some venues you'll love
Cai Trefor
21:55 7th January 2019

Independent music venues often sit in a precarious place. Threatened by councils for noise complaints or property developers to build luxury flats - the fight for profit in urban spaces often sees their demise. And often the budgets to fight in court often can't match that of the encroaching culture crushers.

In some cases, like ADM Amsterdam, the spaces are set up by - and lived in - by squatters and they face similar problems: today, news that ADM Amsterdam is being evicted has surfaced.

The level of passion the ADM residents are throwing into resisting the eviction forced on them by the municipality and the police is indicative of how cherished the space is by those running it. And the support on social media coming out in harrowed reaction to its demise, too, is telling of how important it is to music fans.

Some venues, however, may be really well protected. It's difficult to see Vera in Groningen - for example - going anywhere, since the city introduced tax breaks to ignite a live music scene there; wisely, they know it's important.

So - whether the venue is set to stay, or on a cliff-edge, it's fair to say that these venues with their head stuck in all things alternative occupy play an important role in any city - they are often its life blood.

And this guide - written for European travellers; in mind that EU freedom of movement is still intact for Brits - has its eye on the smaller, most alluring ones in aesthetic and ethos.

Now's the time to get out there and explore and in doing so very probably end up supporting a space that's giving bands the chance to have a career - and stopping the sterilisation of a city. Discover the alt-Europe you love:

Metelkova Mesto

Ljubljana, Slovenia

This 19th century former army barracks in the centre of Ljubljana has been convereted into a lively, picturesque hub for cultural, artistic, social and intellectual organisations. Currently there are eight different venues for music. It's somewhere that's regularly a destination in the diary of music journalists because of MENT festival.

MENT conference manager Miran Rusjan is drawn to it to host the festival because of how it operates throughout the year: "There is no place in Slovenia where so many shows that are organised regardless of genre. From metal and hardcore to improjazz, dub and all electronic genres - you're well catered for." As for MENT this year, the Gromka club in the complex will host Charlie and the Lesbians and Squid; to name a couple. None of this would be happening today if it wasn't for the intrepid squatters who claimed the space in 1993 to go on to make it the autonomous paradise it is now.


Moscow, Russia

You'll fall in love with this spooky space instantly. Its stained tiled walls, lack of branding anywhere and two decent sized live rooms - one with a huge window looking out to a quiet courtyard manned by armed guards - is an intense offering. The quality and escapist feel of the space is complimented by their knack for spotting brilliant rising talent. From Confidence Man, to Moscow's virtusoso guitar sax fusion band Inturist - you can rely on them.


Warsaw, Poland

This pick comes from artist manager and PR guru Magadalena Jensen. Having spent the last 14 years in Warsaw, she says: "Chmury is on Warsaw’s “Left Bank” and is in a go-to for the capital city’s youth. As in, every single person under 35 has had an episode of their life spending every sweltering summer night in this dingy courtyard on 11 Listopada Street where there are also a few other clubs. And the vibes in Chmury are perfect for intimate, dark, sweaty gigs." Sounds like a shout. The epitome of Eastern European bohemian culture - and cheap beer!


Budapest, Hungary

If Glastonbury Shangri La had a permanent bar set up in Hungary, you'd imagine them to pull off something akin to the cavernous 600-cap Szimpla. This stunning surreal multi-purpose arts space and pub is decorated with strange vintage oddities like a bath concerted into a sofa and 50s hair salon seats. The music programme focuses on alternative independent artists and DJ's with a lot of upbeat party music. 


Copenhagen, Denmark

Gigwise first came across Mayhem in Roskilde in 2016. They co-curated a small stage overlooking the main drag with the hip label Escho. Marching Church headlined and there was a very early Smerz gig - the crème de la crème of the music scene in Copenhagen, then. As for the venue itself, it's gritty, rough-around-the-edges aesthetic - it's a small venue behind graffiti covered walls - suits the curators’ love of extreme and experimental music. Upcoming highlights include the Thurston Moore Ensemble on 19 Jan.


Groningen, Netherlands

Not many venues have their own screen printing factory on the top floor, have a four room living space for bands playing to stay over, and have played host to Nirvana early on in their career. Founded in 1973, Vera is effortlessly cool space with a long, narrow main room run by the same promoter since Joy Division played there. This month alone there's irish post punks Fontaines DC, Doncaster's best band The Blinders, and black midi poised to do some damage. An obvious go-to in Europe without a shadow.


Kanepes Kulturas centrs

Riga, Latvia

This former music school - and one time legendary night club - is a bastion of alternative culture in Riga. A more multi-purpose venue than ever, there's two live rooms, a great pub area, and a small cinema and a sizable (heated) outdoor patio.  It's somewhere you'll come for an hour but spend all night. Students bring their laptops and drink coffee before later in the day switching to heavier drinks. Gigwise recently visited for the Riga Film Festival and made use of the cosy cinema when judging the music video entries.


Rotterdam, Netherlands

WORM - currently situated on Witte de Withstraat in the heart of Rotterdam; it's nomadic and this is already their third and most ambitious location in the city - prides itself on offering workable cultural alternatives to the current socio-cultural narrative. They offer a full multidisciplinary programme based around the international underground and alternative arts circuit. Amidst a range of facilities - including a gallery cinema, record studio, film lab - is a concert stage. And here the programme takes risks. They're not interested in trends but seek out music that's wild or forward-thinking. Recent bookings for Moscow's Glintshake and Shortparis affirm this.

Art Club RoRo

Narva, Estonia

A real gem on the banks for the Narva River. Slap bang on the Russian/Estonian border - stood by its entrance, you can see cars queing up on the bridge to get into either country - it's a history nerds' dream. Gigwise visited the place for Station Narva festival and its allure meant all the big headliners - Echo and The Bunnymen and Tricky - took cabs there after their show to take in what was happening. The interior's artfully debauched - pointless colourful palm tree, neon lights, disco ball. You can't fit many more than a 100 people in there, but it's amazing being there. A stroll along the incredible historical promenade, and Kreenholm Manufacturing Company island on the outskirts of the city is a must in this affordable up-and-coming destination.

Plan B

Malmö, Sweden

Often living in the shadow of neighbouring Copenhagen, but Malmö is worthy of a jaunt in itself. Speaking of the essential destination for us all, Earth Agency booker Liam Carroll, says: "I would put Plan B as my number one venue in Europe for sure. It was built from the ground up solely for the purpose of building a community, which it has. It's one of the most welcoming venues I've been to and somewhere than any fledgling venue should aspire to." And thumbs up to them because they just booked the band Surfbort, who are hilarious.


Vienna, Austria

We've not really touched on sound quality and Desert Mountain Tribe manager Andrew Childs says of this Vienna venue in an old tunnel on the Danube that: "the multi-roomed place is a high velocity affair consisting of four large subs underneath the stage, two large speakers which hang parallel to each other, and I think six speakers on the stage." Not bad for a 1000-cap club venue. You'll definitely feel the kick drum pound you in the chest here.

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Photo: Metelkova Mesto press / Pluton press