Swapping bagels for turntables – London nightlife with a Jewish twist

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Swapping bagels for turntables – London nightlife with a Jewish twist

Community events that are not focussed on politics or anger are much needed after October 7

A jazz band played at the DJ event
A jazz band played at the DJ event

I am knocking on a red, sequin-covered door on Stoke Newington High Street to no answer. After five minutes, roughly the amount of time it takes to realise that the door isn’t actually locked, I let myself in. I wander down the narrow staircase into a small, foggy basement room dimly lit by red LED lights. Sitting around is a handful of people from cooler walks of life than mine – DJs, band members and event organisers.

On the stage area, a jazz band are waiting for their sound check. Their instruments are propped up against them in a way that makes them look effortlessly stylish. One of them looks up at me and sees my sensible collared blouse and sweater vest combination.

“You must be the journalist.”

It isn’t often that I’m at a DJ event where within the first hour I’ve spotted several people I went on summer camp with, and a distant cousin.

Seven Species is a Jewish DJ night, where Jewish performers are at the forefront, and celebration of Jewish culture is ubiquitous. Run by political protests, candle-lit vigils or synagogue services (@yyy.zine), an independent print publication and event platform operating in London and Tel Aviv, the night offers the opportunity to put Jewish artists front and centre, while welcoming people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds into the space.

“We felt like the only options you have are to go to Jewish community events which are religious or political, and they’re not very – for lack of a better word – cool,” says Gaby Maestro, co-creator of YYY zine alongside her friend Anna Mimran. She adds: “This is more about having fun, celebrating our identity.”

I understand what she means. As a Jewish twenty-something living in the heart of Hackney, I haven’t been able to connect with my community following the atrocities of October 7 in a way that resonates with me. Events often take the form of political protests, candle-lit vigils or synagogue services. These displays of solidarity definitely have their place in the collective healing that Jewish people are doing right now, but I have found myself craving a Jewish community event that isn’t focussed on feeling serious, or sad or angry. I have spent so much time on those emotions already.

There is a sense among Jewish people that now is a time to prove that our tribe will always come back from tragedy stronger – a concept with which, unfortunately, we are all too familiar. To me, there is no better way to do this than to thrive in my Judaism, fostering a sense of enjoyment and pride around my religion and culture. So when my friend sent details of the Seven Species event, I jumped at the opportunity. Even the ticketing platform YYY used, Dice, is synonymous with a big night out for me. Everything about this event felt familiar to my experiences of London nightlife, but with a Jewish twist, and that really excited me.

After the soundchecks had finished and the event doors finally opened (we were undeniably running on what my mum likes to call ‘JMT’- Jewish Mean Time) I really felt the night-out ‘buzz’ come to life. Drinks were flowing, people were chatting, and all against the background of Jewish selectors on the decks. It felt somewhat surreal to be experiencing the type of night out I find myself having most weekends, but with an all-Jewish lineup.

I wasn’t the only person drawn in by an authentically Jewish night that felt trendier than others.

“I came to this event because Jewish events with good graphic design and interesting content that I haven’t seen before are really exciting,” says Joe Hyman, who works for Jewish organisation Limmud. “We love Donya [the event venue] and have been to other events here, so to see something interesting and Jewish happening in a place that we think is quite cool is really unifying and integrating.”

The night’s lineup also included live music, with Nadav Schneerson’s (@nadavschneerson) Middle Eastern Jazz quartet performing in between Jewish DJ sets from Saul Peleg (@letsaulmove), co-founder of Bubala records (@bubalarecords), and Zipporah (@miazipporah), a founding member of Stamp the Wax (@stampthewax).

“I 100 percent think being Jewish has played a really big part in how I make music,” says Schneerson, the drummer and leader of the quartet. “My writing of music, my approach to music, and even the way I spiritually approach music has been influenced by some of the values in Judaism.”

At one point in his set, Schneerson announced that his next song was a niggun passed down to him by the 13th rebbe of Lubavitch, that he had jazzified.

Honestly, I had never fathomed a niggun being a feature of a DJ night, never mind seen somebody make a religious song into a tune so smooth and sultry. The reinvigorated niggun embodied the meshing of progressive Judaism with London nightlife that I was experiencing, the presence of each element genuinely bettering the other.

Schneerson told me he was drawn to this event by a sense of community. “Over time, I’ve learned how much more important it is to be around other people like me. I’ve not grown up with a lot of that experience of being around other Jewish people. So this feels like a really great opportunity for me to be around more Jewish people and share my music.”

It would be remiss to say that this event felt completely free from political weight. Tensions have been high both within and towards the Jewish community, made even more worrisome by a recent 1,300% increase in antisemitic hate crimes in the UK capital. I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of audience an event like this could attract. But there was a notable moment during the evening, with both Jews and non-Jews present, where I felt myself reach for my Magen David to take it out from under my journalist-outing sensible collared blouse. It’s something I hadn’t done in public for three months.

This is the environment the creators of YYY zine had hoped to facilitate. “It’s easy to feel isolated and it’s a really hard time to navigate,” says Maestro. “People feel misunderstood in a lot of spaces and it’s so nice to know that you’re going to a space where you can just be yourself.”





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