Interview: Steve Dix of Paper Dress Vintage talks Independent Venue Week, a Venue Revamp & Hints at the Identity of Secret Headliners

Vintage clothes shop by day, music venue by night, Paper Dress Vintage is one of our favourite London establishments and with an upgrade underway and a secret headliner soon to be unveiled for one of their Independent Venue Week shows, we caught up with Steve Dix to talk about what’s going on at the Hackney venue.

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Tell us a bit about the history of Paper Dress Vintage – how did a music venue end up in a vintage clothing shop?

Ha yes, good question! My wife, Hannah, started Paper Dress as a vintage boutique in Shoreditch back in 2007, but then the financial crash happened and paying the rent became a struggle so we started putting on parties now and again, booking bands for the shop window and selling cans of Red Stripe out of a dustbin full of ice and some cheap wine… and people liked it! So we kept on doing it to bring in some extra money – even when the economy is going tits up people will still spend money on booze.

It was very ramshackle and DIY to begin with, the PA was the home stereo system we had in the shop. After a while we realised we were onto something, got a booze license from the council and started doing it on a bigger scale, they only gave us till 10.30pm to begin with but we edged it up till midnight with good behaviour. And then, in 2015, our landlords told us they were selling the building. Fortunately we found a new premises quickly so we were only closed for 3 months, and in the new place we were able to actually setup the building in a way that made sense, having a separate gig and clothing space, investing in better equipment and were blessed with a backyard too, which we’ve now expanded. In hindsight, it was a lucky escape getting out of Shoreditch when we did… it’s not a pleasant place to be late night on a weekend now, Hackney is much more of a friendly neighbourhood vibe which suits us.

Out of the hundreds of bands that have played at Paper Dress, are there any that have particularly stood out, or that have a special place in your hearts?

Tough one! We put on lots of cool up and coming bands who’ve now gone on to play much bigger places (see our Youtube playlist below) but I really enjoy our weekend party nights where we have, upbeat fun party bands, whether it be funk, soul, afrobeat or rock n roll… Oh! Gunquit, Dat Brass, MFC Chicken, The Fuzilis, Bikini Beach Band, Bare Hunter, Future Shape of Sound, Lit FM, 7Suns and Joro are some names that stand out… bands who can get the place jumping and don’t take themselves too seriously… also The Action Men who are not strictly a band but are definitely worth investigating. We had Mike Flowers play for our 12th Birthday which was much fun. I think this kind of booking alongside all the emerging artist stuff differentiates us from a lot of the other venues around. Putting on parties and making people happy is what we live for!

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We’ve heard a lot over the past few years about the pressure that small venues are under, and we’ve lost many cherished music spaces, have things got any better recently?

The big challenge is holding onto your lease… in London you’re never less than 6 feet away from a property developer (or I think the saying goes something like that anyway), and landlords have all the power. There are some great initiatives which have sprung up over the last 5 years though which champion and lobby for the sector, the Music Venues Trust (MVT) have been doing some absolutely vital work and it’s reassuring to know they’ll be on the end of the phone with their emergency response scheme if any problems crop up. I think in the past all venues have been isolated but now there’s a real community. Independent Venue Week is another great initiative which helps champion the sector and gets great media coverage, keep an eye out for the new film from Philip Selway (Radiohead): ‘Long and Winding Road‘.

What could be done on a music fan’s level, within the music industry and on a governmental scale to keep to keep these vital spaces running and thriving?

A big bugbear of mine is free entry nights, I’d love them to be banned or for all venues to come together and decide not to do them. I understand why venues want to do them, and why they’re attractive to artists who want to reach as many new people as they can when starting out, but I think they devalue live music. The public should pay to watch live music and put a value on that, it’s crazy seeing people walk away from the door when faced with even a small entrance price like a fiver which is the price of a drink when there are 3 great bands and a club night on, they know they can get it free elsewhere, are used to it being free and it puts a real downward pressure on prices.

The best thing music fans can do is to get out and support their local venues, don’t blag guestlists from their mates, pay to get in, round up their friends, get down early to see the support bands and buy some drinks!

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Paper Dress has recently benefitted from an upgrade thanks in part to an Arts Council grant.  How did that come about and what can we expect at our next visit?

Venues have been desperate for funding like this for years so it’s extremely welcome news indeed. The announcement of the new Grassroots Live Music Fund in May last year (after some dogmatic lobbying on behalf of the sector by the MVT). There’s 1.5 million in the fund and I understand that if it all gets spent this year they’re going to make it 2.5 million next year, so if you know anyone who runs a venue make sure they know about it!

We’re spending the grant on a new D&B PA, a whole new lighting rig, a new website, extending our stage and some less glamorous stuff like replacing the floor and sorting out the electrics. I’m hoping we’re going to have enough left for some lasers. For the past 12 years we’ve had to scrabble around on Gumtree for second hand gear…it’s lovely being able to buy shiny new things, as much as we do love vintage!

To celebrate you’re holding a re-opening show as part of Independent Venue Week – what do you have in store (and can you give us any clues about the secret headliner)?

We sure are, Sat 1 Feb, as the highlight of our week of shows for IVW2020. We wanted to make a bit of noise about the relaunch and everyone loves a bit of mystery, right? It’s a great excuse to ask a favour of one of our favourite bands and get them back to where they started out (their first show was with us in Shoreditch around 2011). I can tell you their live set is pure fire and you’ll thank the gods you got to see them…

We’ve also got 2 great new artists in to support in the form of Famous & Ellie Bleach and are teaming up with Hairy Recodings who will be spinning some World, Funk & Disco alongside Oli and Jordan (Telegram) who run our monthly 70s club night Cherry B who’ll be taking the party into the small hours.

Tickets are just a tenner and we’ve got less than 30 left now so grab one now before we announce our secret guests.

Check out Steve’s Paper Dress playlist featuring a selection of bands who’ve played the venue over the years:

Interview by Paul Maps
Cover image by Alessandro Ruggieri
Photography provided by venue

Keep up to date with what’s going on at Paper Dress Vintage: paperdressvintage.co.uk

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