Breaking up with London’s most-loved party

A reaction to ‘antiseptic’ London, Lotte Andersen looks back on the DIY and community spirit of MAXILLA with an exclusive film capturing its final night

Five years ago, Lotte Andersen and some friends chipped in to throw a party at a restaurant called Maxilla Social Club, a place under the Westway in Ladbroke Grove. Promoted with a cut-and-paste flyer that beckoned people to ‘come to our Christmas party’, by the end of the night one of London’s most loved yet slightly elusive parties, MAXILLA, was born.

Andersen greets me at her studio door in Dalston with a big hug – we’ve never met before but it’s easy to feel like I know her already. I quickly realise that she’s, among other things, instinctive, intelligent, fiery, passionate and stubborn. Rejecting the swell and eventual crash of the east London nightlife-cum-nightmare, MAXILLA ran ‘whenever she felt like it’. And when everyone was running from west London, Andersen stayed to build a genuine culture, a family and community spirit, rather than another commercially driven venture.

Taking its spirit from a once-vibrant and thriving west London that Andersen reveals she had a desire to honour, she harked back to her parents’ experiences there, and, in turn, even her dad’s friends would turn up to MAXILLA.

“I want to make a space where there’s some old Londoner stood next to some kids having their first experience of going out” – Lotte Andersen

“It’s a party, not a club night”, she announces as we sip iced coffee in the park by her studio. “People would message me saying ‘sorry babe I’m not coming down today’”. It’s the kind of text you would send to a friend when you couldn't make their birthday party, not their night, which in itself says a lot about both MAXILLA and Andersen herself.

It’s also MAXILLA’s hand-made element that set it apart. Eschewing Photoshop, the party’s flyers were Xeroxed and included “some tape I stole from a guy I had sex with” or “a diary entry from when I was 20.” Andersen would often screen shot messages and texts from MAXILLA’s friends and family, as well as its Facebook group, and in five years she estimates she’s amassed 400 flyers, now preserved in various notebooks that are stacked in her studio or carried around in her bag.

But after 15 (or so) parties – and a move from Maxilla Social Club to the Portuguese Working Men’s Club – Andersen felt its time had come to an end. As it closed the doors for the final time at the end of May, we sent filmmaker Joe Ridout to capture the ‘break up party’. “It’s easy to be negative about what’s happening to bars and clubs in London, but what Lotte does is look for new spaces to bring people together,” explains Ridout. “I hope people see that big things can be done with just what you have to hand, some inspiration and some love. I hope that people are inspired to create their own MAXILLA’s.”

As we premiere the film, I catch up with Andersen to talk about London’s nightlife, how to create a community and how she plans to evolve.

One of MAXILLA’s most loved qualities is its DIY approach. Can you tell us about that?

Lotte Andersen: All imagery, posters, all the work for MAXILLA is made by hand. You do not need a computer (to throw a party, you need) a phone at the most. In fact, computers stop you because they are distracting. I fell out of love with the internet the moment Tumblr appeared. Too accessible, too many filters... the same three pictures of Kate Moss and the Britney Spears circulating… I did, however, make a private Facebook group and an event. I love the idea of how limited Facebook is, visually. The way we used the group/event page was still very DIY. It became a resource, a way to practically get the party moving, from people getting in touch to help, to DJ's finding out if people had spare headphones. Communities build naturally when you’re all working on something together.

Were you living in west London then?

Lotte Andersen: I’d just moved out of home and was living off Walworth Road in Elephant & Castle. It was a nostalgia for the area that pushed me to do it. MAXILLA, as a party was so much about what I grew up amongst, my parents, Portobello road, the 80s, a mood when west London still felt very mixed. It still is in some ways and then not. There aren’t so many places to go out. It’s not a sob story, it’s a result of very extreme gentrification and whitewashing. There was a moment where it clicked that we were all doing things and no one had noticed because we weren’t telling anyone outside of the area about it. My sister, Nancy, is doing the same thing now with her band Babeheaven. I’m so happy they are building something separate of their own. It’s all about those quiet pockets of creativity.

When east was so popular with young people, at that time, was it risky to do something in west London?

Lotte Andersen: They are tons of kids (in west London), it’s about making a space expressing that. The first poster I wrote ‘Something's Changing In West London And It's Not A New Fucking Shop On Westbourne Grove’. It didn't occur to me how loaded a political a statement it was.

I was very cross – in fact, I still am fucking furious. Once you say something like that people start coming out the woodwork. At the time, the infrastructure of our city was being dismantled, it still is. Things felt a bit sad; nightclubs, youth clubs, all of it was being squashed out. I didn’t tell my friends outside the area about the parties I was throwing because it seemed like such a contradictory statement coming from an affluent area. Despite all my moaning, the point isn't to complain, it’s to try and find a solution. A party doesn’t save the day, but it might serve as a reminder to someone who came to start making something. It’s about getting together to make something euphoric. The kids that came from west gave it the sentimental value that I now associate with it. It’s all them.

Your mantra is ‘availabilism’.

Lotte Andersen: That's Kembra Pfahler said that – availabilism, you use what's there.

Do you think people do that now or do you think people are too self-aware?

Lotte Andersen: I hope people are resourceful. It takes a certain kind of character to adopt that kind of mentality, though. Personally, I love making something out of nothing – its the basis of being creative. I get a massive kick out having to work on my feet quickly.

“It just felt so different and at (other places) the emphasis has always been on music. Whereas with MAXILLA I was interested in the look and creating a social club” – Lotte Andersen

You said that you'd only done three parties a year out of five years. How seriously were you taking it?

Lotte Andersen: I never took it so seriously, there wasn’t a grand plan. To speak about it now, I can see in hindsight there was a very strong intention but at the time it’s fun. The best things are fun, they fall into place.

I got shouted it because I didn’t take it so seriously enough, “It's really silly” or “It's not proper”. It just felt so different and at (other places) the emphasis has always been on music. Whereas with MAXILLA I was interested in the look and creating a social club. By about 2014 it occurred to me that what we’d been doing, cultivating something by hand, offline, without Photoshop, was totally relevant and no one knew. In some ways it’s been great that at some points the party was overrun by teenagers, or that all of the music kind of cuts out, that it ends at 2am, the posters, the balloons, or that it's in a restaurant – all of those things are actually the things that make it... there wasn’t anything else like it.

Lotte Andersen: That's Kembra Pfahler said that – ‘availabilism’, you use what's there.

Do you think people do that now or do you think people are too self-aware?

Lotte Andersen: I hope people are resourceful, it takes a certain kind of character to adopt that kind of mentality, though. Personally, I love making something out of nothing - it’s the basis of being creative. I get a massive kick out having to work on my feet quickly. 

Were you inspired by any other club nights that you used to go to when you were younger?

Lotte Andersen: No.

Did you  go out clubbing a lot?

Lotte Andersen: Yes.

Where did you go?

Lotte Andersen: (club nights) were quite cool but the thing that used to wind me up about it is it felt very boy. It felt very awkward, and that said I'm not bubblegum, I'm quite a tomboy, but there’s huge a sense of humour there and I want everyone to feel good.

MAXILLA wasn't inspired by anything that existed already. If anything, it was inspired by the people. It's really easy to have the idea, it’s venues that are the fucking nightmare, the council blah blah. I guess that's why having a party in a restaurant is... If that's all you've got... its great, it’s immediately something else. I don't want to get involved in minimum spends. I don't want to get involved in your fucking ID policy. I loved going out when I was underage.

Those are the things that inspire me; it's people. They're hilarious – the queue. My friend said a year ago; “It's funny, Lotte because it's like you aren’t too interested in the party anymore. You just want to set it up as an experiment and just like sit and watch”. There are the first timers, there's someone's dad, there're the local people who come and drink there every weekend. The room is dead and then there're loads of people. No one’s inside for four hours and the whole party's in a courtyard at the front.

“A party doesn’t save the day, but it might serve as a reminder to someone who came to start making something” – Lotte Andersen

Did you do MAXILLA by yourself?

Lotte Andersen: No, it’s always a gang. There's always the early gang, the dinner gang, who get together before the party. I guess that’s the strange irony about all this now – I don’t know how to put it – I’m attention seeking, but I never wanted MAXILLA to be about me. I wanted it to be about us, the community, the space. The tone comes from me but it’s a way to speak about what whatever we were collectively talking about.

The party before the election last year, “MAXILLA does the general erection” with manifestos hanging from the bar, or the “The family Portrait” after everyone had left to study. I've been out and had people ask as if I’ve ever been to MAXILLA. Even better, “Oh my god, have you been to MAXILLA? I really did not get it. Like what was that? The music was so weird. It was really awkward” (laughs). It’s only recently people really associate me with the party. I’m not a PR, I’m not gonna give a list of the artists, photographers, designers, that came. It’s naff. The community that made MAXILLA are busy getting on with it! The people who deserve the most praise are the countless people that put posters up, DJ’d, made portraits, Paula and the Boss at the Portuguese, the door girls, those who wanted to be involved for the love of it.

You said the hardest thing about it is finding space. Some people would say the hardest thing is finding funding or money to do something.

Lotte Andersen: Funding?! Why does everyone go on about that? I suppose it depends on what you’re doing. We didn't really need much, apart from a goal, common sense and maybe optimism... and also, what have you got? What's in the street? The more I'm looking around, the more I'm like ‘what can we use?’ There's always something.

Why are you stopping it now?

Lotte Andersen: Because we did it, you move, next. I learned everything from it, I learned how to art direct, how to excite people, how to do a proper build, about lead times, how to make something 360, how to work and enjoy the end product… and it feels so wrapped up in my early 20s.

I find once you know how to do something smoothly you’ve got to move on, and apply it to something new. I don't know. I think, it's about carrying that scene, that ethos, that aesthetic forward. Fashion's suddenly changed again, everyone is making a fanzine out of fucking Photoshop and InDesign, you know? I hate it. It's bollocks. I don't want to be part of that. I find myself lined up with people who have no spirit whatsoever. I don't want to be associated with that. Suddenly everyone knew about it, it’s time to move MAXILLA into something new.

What do you think of the club scene now?

Lotte Andersen: What club scene is there now? My sister and her friends, I just ask them. I mean none of them really go out anyway. She's younger and they never went anywhere. The south kids stay south, the east kids stay east, there's no cross-pollination. There's nowhere that we all go. I mean, there are nights but they feel quite “one scene” – where’s the mix? I want to make a space where there’s some old Londoner stood next to some kids are having their first experience of going out. 

What are you going to do next?

Lotte Andersen: I’m working on a show in September, exploring the common strand amongst a small group of us making work in London right now. I would say it’s all very physical work, that is concerned with collage culture; physically and combination. It feels like the right time to bring us together. It’s a force in the end when you’re working together. There will be aspects of MAXILLA – all private, and maybe a celebration. To integrate people into what you make, lifts it and gives it a new dimension. I guess it literally gives it life.