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Everything is Recorded kicks off Big Issue-backed cinema revamp

Mercury Prize winner Sampha and XL Recordings chief Richard Russell break in the new 2,500-capacity Hackney Arts Centre with an experimental gig in the half-renovated Savoy cinema

Set up like a conceptual art boxing ring, Everything Is Recorded’s first show in a partially renovated 80-year-old East London cinema could only ever straddle the divide between the indulgently cool and all-bets-are-off experimentation.

The co-operative (the word “group” feels too grubbily restrictive here) centres around Richard Russell ­– the head of XL Recordings, the label that discovered Prodigy, Dizzee Rascal, MIA, Adele and more – but he spent the show lurking at the margins, occasionally introducing musicians or playing percussions, but mostly keeping his head down.

The dozen musicians amble on stage to Curtis Mayfield’s The Makings Of You, foreshadowing what they will play from their debut album – smooth Chicago soul, psychedelia, gospel and jazz all woven together with scraps of dub and hip-hop.

The show in the round in what is currently the basement of the dilapidated Savoy cinema (due for a full reopening as the 2,500-capacity Hackney Arts Centre later in the year with the funding coming from Big Issue Invest, Triodos Bank and and the Arts Impact Fund) was partly public jam and partly freewheeling art experiment. Giant abstract cardboard sculptures of (maybe) dogs stood guard at each corner of the stage, a sign that they wanted to chip away at what a concert is and make it an audio installation instead.

Earlier in the day anyone could drop in and watch their open rehearsals while upstairs video works by director Toby Ziegler were being screened. It wasn’t quite Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, but it was definitely a “happening”, especially as Noel Fielding was seen weaving through the crowd in a coat that looked like he’d skinned Sesame Street’s Elmo.

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London electronic and R&B singer Sampha was, in theory, the leader, but quickly ceded the mic to a rolling roster of vocalists like French twins Ibeyi and rapper Obongjayar, while Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside played guitar like a whisper. It worked as a soul revue tag team, with performers vacillating between instruments and percussion, chasing the languorous groove that only occasionally spluttered up a gear for the more obvious hip-hop songs before settling down like soul sediment. The audience was barely acknowledged all night, the musicians unwilling to break the fourth wall. Only at the end, relieved they had made it through, did they jump around with abandon.

As the centre of gravity for new music in London shifts from Camden to Dalston, the area has been in desperate need of a venue that’s more than just the back room of a pub. Everything Is Recorded playing the venue’s semi-opening was as good a statement of intent and a call to arms as you’ll get.

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