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Cultural activists Laia Gasch and Bia Oliveira launch Le Palais des Chats at Chats Palace


With an artistic programme spanning thirty five years, Chats Palace holds a special place in the heart of Hackney citizens. From its first production The Hackney Show, a theatre performance telling the story of the area, the venue has kept the community at the forefront of all its work.

New venture Le Palais des Chats, a variety show devised by cultural activists Laia Gasch and Bia Oliveira promises to uphold this tradition with a showcase of homegrown talent. But with the area undergoing constant change and its gentrification drawing comparisons with Brooklyn's Williamsberg, how do they intend to create a cracking night out for everyone?

They talk to Run-Riot about their fondness for the venue, honouring its artistic and social legacy and creating a programme for London's creative heartland.

Matthew Cook: I have fond memories of seeing wonderful performances at Chats Palace from artists like Frank Sanazi and Ida Barr. What has your forthcoming programme got in store for us?

Laia Gasch: Many artists started out at Chats. People remember the venue during the 80s and 90s with music from Adamski, ADF and Fundamental, and poetry from Benjamin Zephaniah and John Hegley amongst many others. Leona Lewis learnt ballet at Chats. Rudimental started there, Labyrinth backed young DJs and PLAN B launched his charity at Chats and supports youth bands there.

This Friday We have cult cabaret artist Ursula Martinez (she had her first ever gig at Chats) - she'll be coming from her world tour with La Soiree - straight to Le Palais des Chats. It'll be a night to remember!

Bia Oliveira: You’ll hear from American Suburbia, find out if Budhism is just for losers, and witness the unfoiling of people, plus you'll savour a rose-eating diva. What else could you want? Ah, some delicious arancini, two fantastic DJs and the amazing Bikini Beach Band!

Matthew: Where did you come from? How long have you been here?
Bia: I'm Brazilian…
Laia: … and I am Catalan - and we've both lived in London for many years. I consider myself a Londonder really. We met about 15 years ago.
Bia: I was putting the Pick-and-Mix nights at Chats at that time and we worked together on the first LIFT club.
Laia: So we could say that we met because of Chats! We are both cultural activists and local to Chats. This night is about our love for Chats Palace and passion for Homerton. With us being Brazilian and Mediterranean, you get passion in buckets!

Matthew: Tell us about being Claptonites. What attracted you to the area?
Bia: It was 1999 and free rent attracted me to Homerton in the form of a squat. I thought we would be out in the street the following week, but ended up staying 4 years in a lovely house on Daubney Road. I haven't left Hackney since, only now instead of living in a squat, I develop properties to sell [she jokes] - not really, ha ha!
Laia: When we moved here more than 10 years ago, this area was called 'murder mile' and it felt very edgy. Now I call it 'the village'. We've seen a lot of changes particularly over the past five years or so; cafes on every corner, boutiques, restaurants, a Sunday Market and a lot of independent shops. Some people compare Homerton with Brooklyn, and I guess Chatsworth road is our Bedford avenue.

Matthew: What is it about Chats Palace that makes you want to get involved and support it?
Bia: Chats is where I did my first performance in London, where I was an artist in residence for a few years and it is a FANTASTIC venue.
Laia: Chats Palace has a great history, in fact, it celebrated  its 100th anniversary last year. It was a library funded by Carnegie to improve the lives of the people of the East End, and when it closed down in 1974, it was taken over by the local community and reclaimed it as an arts centre.

It was set up by community activists and quickly built up a reputation as a radical venue, but always very rooted in the community. When you mention Chats to people, it tends to conjure up a mash-up of memories from punk gigs to community pantos. I think that’s what makes the venue so endearing; it’s got a quirky edge without loosing sight of its East End roots.

In a way, that’s the right balance for Chats. It is our local arts centre and we want to see it as a vibrant place.

Matthew: The venue has captured the hearts and minds of Hackney residents for years. Why do you think the venue has been so under used in recent times?
Laia: Chats Palace is very much at the hearts of people from Hackney, everyone has a story about Chats, just ask around. It's a charity, and like many other community arts centres, it has faced challenging times, and also it's an old building so it needs maintenance. It is now in a good place and is at the epicentre of Homerton and Clapton, where it belongs. I have recently joined the board and there’s a strong sense that Chats is back on the map, with a great offering for young people, music gigs, dance nights and theatre. Chats is also a great venue for private parties.

Matthew: Chat’s Palace has traditionally been very engaged with the local community, with an emphasis on Hackney from the very first production The Hackney Show. With the community changing in recent years, do you intend to carry on this tradition and if so, what are some of the challenges this poses for you as programmers?
Bia: Chats has a varied programme and we are only doing a tiny portion. Le Palais des Chats is a programme with mostly Hackney artists, a sort of Hackney Show, you could say - but we welcome everyone, and Hackney is full of artists anyway, it's not a secret.
Laia: Chats continues to have the community at its heart as well as artists. Chats has a new director, Candy Horsbrugh, who has already made great strides: there’s regular Swing on Thursdays and Cut-a-Shine host regular nights. The venue has a fantastic programme for young people with music, theatre, karate and ballet, and a range of activities for the community, from knitting to singing and more. Chats is adapting to the fast changes in the area whilst continuing to offer a space for the locals, as it was set out to do. If you haven’t been to Chats for a while, come and see it for yourself.

Matthew: What inspires you? Are there other variety nights in London you particularly admire?
Bia: Artists trying out ideas in a supportive environment, while making sure the audience is having fun.

Matthew: If budget was no issue, what would be your dream line-up?
Laia: Hang on a minute, we already have the dream line-up! And we have a queue of artists wanting to perform in the next gig in October. You mention Ida Barr, she has been invited and she’s from Homerton… watch this space! Perhaps just add Joseph Beuys and Carmen Miranda to that list. Also Jarvis Cocker leading a sun salutation from the stage, and maybe Prince could drop by next time instead of Leyton....

Matthew: Some of your artists, such as Ursula Martinez, involve an element of tease in their performance. What do you consider to be too risqué? Where do you draw the line?
Bia: We don't know what too risqué is, we'll tell you when we see it.
Laia: We draw the line when an act is not interesting enough.  

Matthew: Do you have a particular agenda or is it all about having a cracking night out?
Laia: A cracking night out…  
Bia: … and a shout out for Chats Palace!

Matthew: What do you hope the audience will take away from their Le Palais des Chats experience – in a bite-sized one liner?
Laia and Bia: A cracking night out!

Le Palais des Chats
7.30pm, Friday 6th June
at Chats Palace
42-44 Brooksby's Walk
London E9 6DF


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