Friday, 19 June 2009

Cafe Oto

Last time I went to Café Oto I was dumped. In the middle of the date. Feet pointing away (apparently a classic sign) the date suddenly stated...

“You are not my girlfriend you know”
He continued:
"I mean if I met someone else, I wouldn't say no".
We'd been 'seeing' each other for about three weeks.

"Ok" I replied in a small voice.

"In fact, coming here reminds me of my ex-girlfriend who I split up with two years ago. She lived nearby. I realise now that I'm not over her. She meant a lot to me. Plus she was quite wealthy which was good". He laughed slightly.

"Right" my voice was now a strangled squeak.

Politely excusing myself, biting back the tears, I sought refuge in the loo. Called my sister:

“Walk out. Pick up your coat. Don’t even say goodbye” she ordered.
As I was leaving the date said
“does this mean I can’t come back to your place now?”

We’d been to see a ‘noise’ concert. While it may be a truth universally acknowledged that all music consists of noise, this is, I kid you not, a specific genre in Avant-garde music. It's the aural equivalent of static. I quite like it.

Set up by an Anglo-Japanese couple a year ago, Café Oto specialises in contemporary music, sometimes importing musicians from Japan. Tonight’s acts comprised of a British jazz group, a Japanese pianist and a group on tour from Japan “Tennis Coats” described as ‘folkadelic’.

Café Oto, a disused shop front space, is situated down a back street in Dalston, an area in the process of being overhauled, possibly for the Olympics. It was a hot night, and many of the hipsters that frequent this place (“Hoxton twats’ said the date) were sitting on the kerb outside.

Inside, there are two Japanese people, dressed in that curious stylistic combination of geekiness and cool, taking money for tickets. Surveying the audience sat on assortment of candlelit tables, sofas and chairs, a girl walks by wearing fishnet popsocks. I wished I’d worn something black, asymmetric and modern.

This is a venue where people sit and listen to music, quietly and respectfully. There is no sweaty pit, and conversation is hushed. The British jazz act with a slightly out of tune guitar (I assume on purpose) leaves the stage and a small Japanese man in Harry Potter glasses starts banging out dissonant springy notes on the grand piano. After 15 minutes, he stops and says 'sorry'. But the ‘mistake’ sounds the same as the rest of his music.

Next up is Tennis Coats. There are no such garments as tennis coats. It’s a Japanese mistranslation of ‘tennis courts’ says their drummer. A married couple who look like brother and sister, this Japanese group play sweet melodic music; the boy on a bright orange plastic guitar (looks like a toy) and the girl, wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, on a little plastic piano with a mouthpiece. Every so often the girl does cute bunny hops.

In between songs, they spoke to the audience in Japanese. We all smiled politely. None of us understood a word. Tennis Coats are the musical equivalent of a Haruki Marukami novel…quotations from occidental music, innocence, idiosyncratic humour and matter of fact alienation…

I felt cool and intelligent just being there.

At the moment food is rudimentary, cupcakes and crisps, despite it being named by ‘top model’ Erin Wasson as one of the ‘world’s coolest places to eat’ in the Observer recently (well we know what gourmets models are, don't we?) but a Japanese chef will soon be cooking at weekends.

Café Oto,18-22 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL

020 7923 1231


  1. Brilliant opening to the post. That guy sounds like an absolute tool.

    What an interesting venue and concept. Will be even better when they start serving real food although I'm sure there are some models who do think crisps followed by cupcakes is a blowout meal.

  2. Your intro reminds me of the date I went on a few years back where the guy said to me...

    "I want you to know that I really want to have children. That I'm serious about this. But at your age...well, with every passing day your ovaries are dying."

  3. Oh god aren't some guys just awful?
    Verging on Aspergers in terms of how to behave socially that is...


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