this is the sound of london's nu jazz scene
“We have a space which allows emotionality and vision and dreaming – with craft, practise, analysis, political discussion.”
London's jazz scene is kind of a big deal right now. Head southeast on a Wednesday night and you'll find yourself at its epicentre, Steam Down, a weekly jam session turned dance party at Deptford’s Matchstick Piehouse. More than just an event, Steam Down is a core collective of musicians surrounded by a wider community of artists, poets, MCs, singers, producers and dancers. “It’s a subcultural organism waiting for you to join in,” says founder and bandleader Ahnanse, who is also a producer, vocalist and skilled saxophonist. “It’s not about spectacle. It’s about live experiences and bringing people together to enjoy the co-creation, to be a part of something.”
Since its conception in summer 2017, Steam Down has scored guest appearances from the likes of California jazz wizard Kamasi Washington, brought their relentless positive energy to Glastonbury, and hosted their own series of shows at Camden’s Roundhouse. “It was all born out of the idea of bringing people together through music,” Ahnanse continues, “of giving musicians a central spot to meet and perform.” One of the central eight, And Is Phi – a vocalist and half of soul duo Sawa Manga – echoes this thought. “Steam Down is a place of passion to create new realities, to activate gifts and make that journey,” she says. “It’s very technical and people are really good, whether self-taught or classically trained. There’s no hierarchy here.”
Nadeem Din-Gabisi, an MC, poet and Chelsea School of Art grad, is also part of the crew. Go to a Steam Down party, he says, and you can expect "transformation and transcendence". After all, while music is emotional at its core, as And Is Phi points out, “it’s almost like to be emotional is to be unserious, whereas we have a space which allows emotionality and vision and dreaming – with craft, practise, analysis, political discussion.” There’s energy in music too, and plenty of it. “I think us making the choice to bring positive energy into the space hopefully means that we’re leaving people in a better space than when they came into the event,” Ahnanse says. “Expect sounds and rhythms that you feel in your body; melodies and harmonies that reach down inside of yourself and pull something beautiful out of you.”
Together, they’ve created one of the most exciting things happening in London, and are building a space and a culture that’s open to all. “We’re doing something that’s a bit unprecedented at this time,” And Is Phi continues. “There aren’t that many elders who are doing what we’re doing, so it’s almost like a challenge to become the young elders that we seek. There’s also a growing sense of responsibility because there are so many people who are drawn to what we’re doing, which is quite telling, because yes, there’s hype, but I think a lot of people need these regular nights.” Ahnanse signs off with his ultimate aim: “I’d like Steam Down to be remembered as a space that broke down the boundaries for connection between people, as something that created music that represented what’s happening in our world right now, and that left a positive mark on people’s lives.”
Photography Josh Olins
Styling Max Clark
Hair Cim Mahony at LGA Management.
Make-up Ciara O’Shea at LGA Management using Fenty Beauty.
Nail technician Trish Lomax at JAQ Management using Cnd.
Set design Max Bellhouse at The Magnet Agency.
Photography assistance Jeremy Young.
Digital technician Brian Cleaver.
Styling assistance Giovanni Beda, Joe Palmer, Monica Armario and Gal Klein.
Hair assistance Tarik Bennafla and Rohmarra Kerr.
Make-up assistance Jade Smith.
Set design assistance Miranda Latimer.
Production Etty Bellhouse.
Production assistance Molly Senior.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.