Open for just over a year and a half, The Pangea Project in Stamford Hill (up the hill from Stokey station, opposite the huge supermarket) is both a tiny but buzzing venue and a community space. It hosts an eclectic range of performers, mixes a decent drink and serves up delicious veggie food from a hatch that opens out onto the street. We talked to Rosie Schura who, along with Selim Goksel, runs the project about how it all started, romance, recession and plans for 2010.
Rosie Schura from the Pangea Project. Photograph by Travis Hodges
When Selim and I met we had a shared vision of setting up a creative community hub with cooking, music and arts. We found the venue by chance when visiting our friends who were setting up Playground Studio downstairs. We had come in to do a recording, but by the time we left everyone was buzzing with the idea of a live music venue linked to a recording studio. Selim was leaving the week after for his visa, so we had to decide quick. When we returned, we built a stage and a sound booth in 48 hours with help from our friend Jon, put in two busted up Behringer speakers, two beer taps and unlocked the door...
Any romances to confess to along the way...?
I met Selim six months before we started the business. We got married three months after we opened, so it was a very crazy life changing year! I often feel like we went to marriage boot camp... living and working together 24/7 with little time for stroppiness... Everything was baptism by fire back then.
Who goes to Pangea Project?
Initially people would come only to see specific events and therefore the audience would differ from night to night. At this time we had doubts about the variety of our programme, a lot of customers were uncomfortable not being able to categorise us according to musical genre... are we a jazz club / are we a hip hop showcase... and we felt pressure to hone in on a particular scene. We've stuck with keeping it eclectic though, and I think people are now attracted to something beyond the gig. All kinds of people like all kinds of music, and that's what we seem to get.
Tell us about the food...
Chef and nutritionist Janos Atkins creates unique dishes and sauces from scratch. Thanks to him we have some of the most delicious vegetarian food in London. We're foodies; we don't say that lightly. It's probably some of the most hearty and nutritious takeaway in town. The products are ethically sourced, with as much organic and fairtrade goods as possible. Meat eaters are always surprised by our uncanny veggie lamb and chicken. If you're veggie or vegan, the food is not to be missed.
Rosie and Selim outside The Pangea Project. Photograph by Travis Hodges
Blues, Rockabilly, Flamenco, Afro-beat, Bluegrass, Brazilian Choro... these are styles that keep coming back with bands such as Awale, Fernando's Kitchen, London Afrobeat Collective, Ramshackle Union, Club Do Choro. The gigs are of a really high standard and we are now doing live recordings with Playground Studios who operate downstairs. Getting a CD after playing a great live gig is a nice touch for musicians. They spend way too much time and money on recordings...
How about comedy nights?
Ah yes, Tom Webb's outstandingly funny and ridiculous Party Piece. Demand for spots is high and we usually have 10 to 15 comedians every Tuesday night. This night has come a long way from where it started, when it was a few sweaty squirming comedians and one extremely uncomfortable audience member. It's now really busy. We're continuously amazed at how many people have the urge to get up on stage and place their ego in the drunken hands of the general public... Some of them are gems, some are terrible and some rather offensive. Same goes for the comedians!
And the venue is also a hub for community groups?
Transition Town Stoke Newington has been meeting at Pangea since December 2008. The Transition Town movement aims to build links in local communities and find ways in which to deal creatively and positively with the environmental and social challenges that lie ahead. We hold a social event every third Thursday of the month, which starts with a shared meal (bring a dish) and continues with discussion, sometimes a topical film and music.
And there's Pangea Chorus, a free weekly choir which I've been running since October 2008. It's just for fun - we stretch and sing and have a laugh, remembering that singing is good for everyone, not just for people who are amazing at it. It's a no pressure choir.
How important is the local area to the character of Pangea?
For those that don't know Stokey, we find ourselves in the Hasidic heartland of Europe plus little Istanbul, not to mention yummy mummy central and a very long established creative arts community... it's a very diverse corner of Hackney and the people who live here invest in it - they go out here, they shop here, we wouldn't have a leg to stand on without the strength of this community.
Did you have any doubters, any opposition to your plans? How have you dealt with that stuff?
I think the most doubt has come from within. Most people have really believed in us and been very supportive; probably because they havent seen the books... Ultimately, I hope we are learning to deal with the impossibilities of running a small business with some grace and valour...we're run ragged, but still kicking!
It's almost impossible for us to stand back on a busy night, but you do get those moments where the jam really hits a sweet spot and the whole room sets on fire. We're not at a stage yet where we can breathe easy and say we made it, but we know it's good. We're very proud of our project.
Any favourite moments?
It's hard to pick favourites, whether it's moments, food or music. I guess one of them was not so long ago. We had a very difficult moment before the recession apparently ended where we had almost lost the business. We had gone so far as to submit our notice, when everything turned around. Our landlord asked us to stick with it, Playground Studio fought for our corner, and Fernando's Kitchen and Ramshackle Union Band gave us our most successful weekend ever. This was the moment the scales tipped in our favour. It felt good being reincarnated by the support of everyone around.
What next? Any upcoming highlights in 2010?
Busy as always. The kitchen is starting food delivery, breakfast in bed, and off-site catering. Playground has just taken our first live recording, so we're looking forward to a Live at Pangea Project series. Bands have been extremely patient and supportive of us. I hope we can give them something back with some fantastic recordings. Once you start something like this the ideas go into overdrive...
Find out more at www.pangeaproject.co.uk