London’s The Garage celebrate 30 years: “It’s the perfect room for gigs”

The team behind the iconic Islington venue – and Mogwai, the band who've played there more than anyone else – tell us about The Garage's enduring legacy

The team behind London’s iconic The Garage – and Mogwai, the band who’ve played there more than anyone else – have spoken to NME about the venue’s enduring legacy as it celebrates its 30th anniversary this week.

The Islington venue have been hosting shows to mark three decades of operating under the same name and banner over the last year, with the gigs culminating this week with appearances from the likes of Mogwai, Sugababes and The Futureheads.

Over the years, the venue has played host to both classic and formative gigs from the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, Suede, Jeff Buckley, Green Day, Oasis, Blur, IDLES, Ellie Goulding, Fontaines DC, Muna, Beabadoobee, Wolf Alice, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Marina & The Diamonds and many more. However, no act has graced the venue’s two stages more than Scottish post-rock pioneers Mogwai.


“The Garage has played an important role in our lives,” frontman Stuart Braithwaite told NME. “We went from no one knowing who we were to being able to fill it. We were lucky enough to play some of our early headline shows upstairs there.”

Looking back on his early memories of playing there in the mid-to-late ’90s, he said: “We once played an all-dayer for a great label who put out a seven-inch for us called Love Train with loads of good bands like Ligament. We played a show there for John Peel; I think it was us, and Kenickie. Then on our first headline tour we played the main room. It was a very memorable gig for all kinds of reasons.

“I remember seeing some amazing shows there back then too. I’ve got a lot of memories of that place. It’s going to be nice to go back.”

Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai performs on stage during All Points East at Victoria Park on August 26, 2022 in London (Picture: Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

Asked what it is that makes the venue so special, Braithwaite replied: “To me, it really typifies that time when we were first coming down to London. There were less venues back then, so it was where most touring bands on the up would play once they’d gotten beyond playing in bars. It was The Garage, then the next step from there was The Astoria – which is sadly no longer there.”

As well as planning to return to the studio this year to start work on the follow-up to 2021’s Mercury-nominated ‘As The Love Continues‘, Mogwai’s two shows tonight (Monday February 6) and tomorrow (Tuesday February 7) come ahead of the band reissuing their first two albums ‘Young Team’ and ‘Come On Die Young’ on Friday (February 10).


Asked if their Garage sets would be heavy on early material, Braithwaite said: “I don’t know; we haven’t decided what we’re going to play! I’m sure we’ll play bits and bobs from the first two albums because we’re doing the reissues, but I think we’ll play stuff from all of our records.”

Support tonight comes from Cloth, before fellow new Rock Action signees bdrmm join them tomorrow.

“They’re both really great bands,” said Braithwaite. “Cloth are a band we’re just putting out on our label Rock Action. They’re twins, they’re super-talented, their songs are beautiful and I think they’re going to have a really good year.

“We’ve been playing a lot of shows with bdrmm. They’re really imaginative, really energetic and just so excitable. They remind me us a lot of us 25 years ago!”

Jeff Buckley performs on stage at The Garage, Islington, London , United Kingdom, 1st September 1994. (Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)
Jeff Buckley performs on stage at The Garage, Islington, London , United Kingdom, 1st September 1994. (Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

The Garage’s programmers Scott Kennedy and Conrad Rogan told NME how they’ve been overwhelmed by rediscovering the venue’s colourful and celebrated past lately.

“We were just  looking at the history of the shows that have happened here, which is just a fun thing to do because they’re insane, and spotted that the 30th anniversary was coming,” said Kennedy. “To be under one name for 30 year is rare.”

Rogan agreed: “We started looking at ways to celebrate that, so we booked these underplay shows and wanted to mark what an institution The Garage is.

“The alumni of the acts who have been here is insane. Whenever they do a site visit they’re always like, ‘I’m not sure I’ve ever been to The Garage’. Then they walk through the door and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah! I’ve definitely been here!’”

With the pair listening early gigs from Wolf Alice and Arctic Monkeys alongside intimate underplay gigs from the likes of Harry Styles, Suede, The 1975 and The Killers as a few of the historic highlights, they said that all manner of artists were flattered and excited to be approached to play their anniversary series.

“Pulp were the first big band to play here when it opened in ‘93, then the whole shoegaze movement came through here too,” said Kennedy. “There was a lot of the US grunge scene coming here too. We were keen to get some of those bands back because that was the sound of this venue back then.”

Rogan continued: “We were especially keen to get Mogwai down. They’ve played this venue more than anyone else, whether as support act or headlining. They had to be the band for our 30th. They love the venue so much.

“We wanted to approach bands that had real history here. We hit up some huge artists and the feedback from all of them was, ‘We loved playing there, it was really memorable, it’s really special’ – they all replied and thanked us, rather ignored us!”

On the DNA of The Garage and the secret to its survival, Kennedy spoke of it as “a really flexible room”. “I can’t describe it,” he said, “but you know what you’re getting here.”

Rogan agreed: “It used to be an old snooker hall in the ‘60s, and there’s still no heirs and graces about it. It’s not trying to be anything flashy. There’s no VIP spot – it’s just a big room with a big PA and a big bar. Bands sound fucking good in there and everyone can see the stage.

“It sounds basic, but what makes it so special is that you can do anything with it. You can’t ruin it. It’s the perfect room for gigs.”

The 1975 live at The Garage, February 2019

While the anniversary is a landmark one, The Garage were adamant that they “don’t want to be a legacy venue”.

“MUNA played here last year and they’re going to amazing places,” said Rogan. “New artists are still super important to us, especially in our 30th year. We have a lot of fun with our room upstairs, The Grace, where Arctic Monkeys played their first London show and we put on a lot of new bands.

Kennedy added: “We’re also becoming London’s prime spot for K-pop. We put on a lot of K-pop acts and do monthly nights. They’re fucking amazing and people queue from 7am outside, which causes quite a lot of problems for us but it just so cool to see!”

So what would the walls of The Garage say if they could talk?

“‘Give me a wash’, probably!” laughed Rogan. “You can sense the air of 30 years ago and the sweat soaked into the walls. There’s going to be a lot more.”

Visit here for listings and more info on The Garage. 

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