Crossed views on London and Lisbon’s cultural scenes with Village Underground

What do the art scenes of London and Lisbon have in common? Village Underground. The cultural center, which serves as both a venue for alternative events and a co-working space, was first founded in London before a second location was opened in Lisbon. You might say Village Underground is the point where the two city’s visions intersect—and each has a very different way of approaching the world of culture…

In 2007, Village Underground London was established in response to skyrocketing rent prices for art studios in the capital. Located in a beautiful red brick warehouse, the spot has converted old metro cars and shipping containers into lovely co-working spaces on its roof.

After working at the London location, Mariana Duarte Silva decided to create a similar space in her native city of Lisbon. Thus, Village Underground Lisboa was formed in 2014. Like its predecessor, it offers co-working studios housed in former shipping containers; but it also features an outdoor space decorated with street art, where local art and sporting events are held. It even has an adorable cafeteria in a renovated school bus. Below, Mariana Duarte Silva and Amelie Snyers of Village Underground London speak to us about the art scenes of their respective cities, and in doing so, highlight some of their differences.

Low-Key London and Bold Lisbon

VU london
Once in Fado at Village Underground London

“Culturally speaking, London is at least fifty years ahead of Lisbon”, says Mariana Duarte Silva, who’s had the opportunity to immerse herself in the cultures of both cities. London has a thriving scene with something to satisfy every taste, on any day of the week. But events tend to be pricey and there are so many options, people are often unable to attend everything that interests them. “The city offers a wide range of activities, but is lacking in free events like the Walthamstow Garden Party festival that would make culture more accessible to everyone,” laments Amelie Snyers.

Although Lisbon’s cultural scene is not as well established as London’s, it makes up for it with a freshness and vivacity that can be difficult to find in the streets of London. Take, for example, the many innovative cultural venues that have sprung up in the past few years, such as Casa Independente, Damas bar, Centro de inovação da Mouraria, EKA palace and Largo Residências. While this is especially true for Lisbon, other cities in the North of Portugal, such as Braga, Barcelos, and Porto, are also enjoying a total art scene renaissance.

Rising Rents and Closing Clubs in London

New Year World Rock Festival au Village Underground London
New Year World Rock Festival at Village Underground London

The rising cost of rent and non-renewal of club leases to facilitate office building construction have contributed to the changing cultural landscape of London. As a result, major concert venues such as the London Astoria and London Astoria 2, the Marquee, Cable, Hammersmith Palais, and Turnmills have had to close their doors. The impact of this trend inspired the Music Venue Trust to launch a charity to protect the iconic music venues of the capital. In Lisbon, while rent prices are lower than in London, local artists still have trouble making a living from their art, with the exception of those who manage to become well-known outside their country’s borders.

Hackney Attracts Artists

Rooftop session Village Underground London
Rooftop concert at Village Underground London

The city of London is well aware that they could lose their reputation as a major player in the art scene if the current trends continue. The mayor’s office is working to ensure that London remains attractive for artists, but so far its initiatives have had few concrete results. “Hackney, where Village Underground London is located, is a neighborhood known for its diversity, open-mindedness and progressive attitudes, which makes it a perfect neighborhood for artists,” explains Amelie Snyer. “But the budget allocated to local authorities has been cut, forcing the neighborhood to find new funding. As a result, they’ve been granting construction permits to large companies and increasing rent prices for cultural organizations. All of that can have a huge impact on a neighborhood’s artistic community.”

A New Village Underground in the Near Future?

Village Underground Lisboa Band
Concert at Village Underground Lisboa

In Lisbon, the city is doing its best to encourage and support new cultural establishments cropping up in the area. With that goal in mind, StartUp Lisboa was created in 2011 to help new businesses during their first few years of opening. “When I was still searching for a place to set up a Village Underground in Lisbon, the city contacted me to ask how they could help. They were a real encouragement to me in this project,” recalls Mariana Duarte Silva.

And speaking of projects, after London and Lisbon, other cities might also get a chance to enjoy the cultural energy of Village Underground. There is talk of possibly establishing one in Barcelona… Stay tuned!

Discover more alternative spots in our city guides Indie Guides Lisbon and Indie Guides London.

Photos: courtesy of Village Underground, Carla Cuomo (meal), Zoë Klinck (party) & Heiko Prigge (rooftop concert)