Musicians Moses Boyd and Binker Golding reflect on the significance of the temporarily shuttered venue, which helped usher in the city’s ‘new jazz scene’
Last month, news spread around the UK music community that TRC, or Total Refreshment Centre – a live venue and studio space based around London’s Dalston and Stoke Newington area – had been suddenly and unexpectedly closed by Hackney Council. Given the rapid venue closures that have plagued the music community over the past few years, there was understandable concern, although in this case the story seemed to be a little different. Hackney Council said that TRC had been “issued with a closure notice for allegedly selling alcohol and playing music without the relevant licenses”; TRC in turn issued a statement stressing that the closure should only be temporary, and that “this is not a case of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’, rather that we must collaborate with them fully if we are to continue building this world”. Still, the speed with which TRC shuttered underscored just how precarious these spaces can be. What’s there one day might suddenly be gone the next.
It’s important that people recognise the importance of these spaces before it’s too late. TRC has been, and will hopefully continue to be, a vital place for left-of-centre music to flourish, particularly London’s resurgent jazz movement. By putting on shows from young artists and allowing them the space to experiment, TRC helped nurture a scene that’s since seen its artists build a dedicated audience, release dozens of albums, tour the world, be profiled by major newspapers, and take home prestigious awards. You can guarantee that the next popular sound to emerge – not just out of London, but anywhere in the world – will have been incubated in a venue like TRC, too.
Here, MOBO prize-winning artists and TRC regulars Binker Golding and Moses Boyd, who also play together as Binker & Moses, explain why the venue is so important to them, and why it’s important to fight to keep spots like this alive.
In my minds eye, I can see a BBC4 documentary about 25 years from now. One of those So-and-So Britannia things that your mate’s dad would watch. They’re talking about TRC’s significance, and the part it played in the rise and fall of the ‘New London jazz scene’ (how long is it going to take for a journalist to coin a proper name for this?). The arc of most of those documentaries is about as predictable as an episode of Columbo: scene emerges in independent, rough-round-the edges venues, what was once an underground scene eventually goes overground, and the venues that originally showcased the acts in the early days start to die off so that flats can be built. Another scene for a younger generation takes its place.
‘TRC’ stands for Total Refreshment Centre. When I first heard the name and learned where it was located, around Dalston/Stoke Newington, I assumed it was some trendy smoothie bar charging people six quid for someone with an MA in Illustration to put some fruit in a blender and hand it to you in a jar. It turned out it was a music venue, studio, and rehearsal space. Not only that, but one that would end up playing a significant role at a crucial point in the London jazz scene. Nowadays, there are more articles on London jazz than there is music (I shouldn’t complain, but bloody hell), but around the time that TRC first emerged – which, given it opened in 2012, was not that long ago – there wasn’t such big talk about it. TRC also helped open the door in regards to putting jazz in a more casual environment, which I can only see as a good thing. The important thing to remember is that people my age from London who aren't musicians rarely, if ever, go to jazz clubs. TRC put the music under their noses in the sort of venue they would've just gone to anyway. No journalist was making rundowns of the top 10 bands involved in this particular niche area. No DJ was making any huge point to highlight there was a scene emerging. No figure of any description was making playlists which were made up of tracks from said scene, and The Times certainly wasn’t doing double-page stories on it. But somehow, despite this, TRC (and the Jazz Re:freshed label and promoters, who are another vital pillar of the London scene) were booking all the bands relentlessly.
TRC ended up playing such a pivotal role because it was a venue that was never afraid to give musicians time and space in order for them to develop their craft on-stage. This is extremely rare. Most venues want the finished product, not an experiment. They want to book an established act doing something they know will work and will sell, not a bunch of youngsters they’ve never heard of who are taking risks in front of a paying audience. In doing so, they helped develop a culture and scene that’s now internationally recognised. In every European country we tour, people ask us about this scene and they bring up TRC like they’re talking about your wife. There are even festivals in European cities, like London Jazz Calling in Paris, that are dedicated to this very scene. The billing for these festivals literally reads like a week at TRC or Jazz Re:freshed. It’s rare for venues to have provided so many bands with the support and freedom necessary for something like this to happen. To me, it’s the venue that put on a whole load of unknown acts at a time when much bigger, better known venues didn’t have the guts to do so. They took the chance and in doing so became a vital part of this movement. Now other venues up and down the country are falling over themselves trying to get a piece of what TRC essentially nurtured, when initially a lot of these places wouldn’t have touched some of these bands with a barge pole.
I’m proud that Binker & Moses recorded Alive in the East? there. I feel we captured something that was uniquely TRC on that record. I was upset to hear that the venue was being shut down, almost a year to the day that we made that recording. I’m sure it will be back. I don’t think it’s going to roll over and die that easily.
It’s like watching reruns of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, where you know what’s going to happen in the episode but you’re still watching intently. Except it’s real life, and we’re watching the same story of music and venues vs. the council, property developers, or busybody neighbours. And in this episode, there are no punchlines.
I don’t know all the ins and outs of the TRC situation, and I wouldn’t be in a rush to passing a harsh judgement against Hackney Council before hearing all the facts. But what I do know is that I’ve seen many venues come and go that genuinely nurtured creativity, togetherness, and forward-thinking art, only to be replaced by an ugly block of flats or generic retail shop that ultimately don’t enrich anyone but some oligarch’s pockets.
As a musician that travels the world frequently, I’ve come to learn that people can’t live without music. But I’ve had to accept that, generally, most people only want music when it’s convenient to them. What I mean by that is that in my experience, people love the art, but they don’t like to think about where that art came from. Everyone loves to be at a music festival, but nobody likes a musician on the Tube with an instrument trying to make it to that festival. Everybody enjoys singing “Three Lions” when England play, but would hate to live next to the engineer mixing that song in their flat.
My point is that good things don’t just happen on their own. They take support, encouragement, and belief. And I’m tired of the same story of art vs. the people, and art losing, only to have the same people turn around and ask ‘What happened to culture and vibrancy in our city?’
We need more institutional support for venues, creatives, and places that foster things like a Total Refreshment Centre or Jazz Re:freshed. Otherwise we’ll be stuck watching reruns of Take Me Out on a Saturday night instead of being in the dance, getting your mind blown by some life-changing music and musicians.