Life at Foam Doam has nothing to do with making money or turning a profit.

A gig at the infamous London house venue presents an ecosystem of music and art at its most honest: a straightforward, authentic experience for audiences and performers alike.

The house’s come-as-you-are policy invites bands to set up in the kitchen and let fly. Audience members cough up five bucks and arrange themselves in the kitchen, hallway, and living area. From there it’s down to alchemy and remaining available space.

The Foam Doam kitchen heating up before the shows get underway. Photo by Allan Lewis.
The Foam Doam kitchen heating up before the shows get underway. Photo by Allan Lewis.

First timers may find the experience unconventional. Romantic characterizations like “intimate” and “cathartic” are in reality better expressed by terms like “cramped” and “chaotic.” But this is part of the attraction.

“When people tell me it’s like a movie, then I think I’ve done it right,” says Nathan Patrick, one of four Foam Doam housemates. “It’s like it’s not even real. If you could make it into a cartoon it would look the same.”

Being packed into a kitchen with a band giving it all they have just a few feet away is a thrilling thing.

“I like the intimacy of it,” says Nathan. “You get to just hang out. You’re usually meeting the people who own the venue.”

These people could be your friends or total strangers. But once you understand the only two rules – be yourself and be kind to everyone else – the setting and the experience morph into something special.

The Space

Nobody owns Foam Doam.

It’s a collective run out of a rented house by four London musicians, and  a space known more by its name than its location.

Its address is a sworn secret, hiding somewhere in a little corner of the city’s north, south, east or west end (like all things with a little cachet, you’re just supposed to know where to go).

With its ramshackle bohemian aspect, Foam Doam is what you might expect for a house-as-venue run by musicians.

Nathan Patrick (L) and Bob Calwell (R) in the Foam Doam kitchen. Photo by Allan Lewis.
Nathan Patrick (L) and Bob Calwell (R) in the Foam Doam kitchen. Photo by Allan Lewis.

The rear entrance leads into the kitchen where the bands perform. The hallway to the second floor bedrooms is papered with live music ephemera. Random artwork, instruments and curated memorabilia lay scattered throughout the main floor living space. Piles of gear line the hallway in the basement.

“There’s like, generations of people’s gear down here,” Bob Calwell, another house resident, says of the house’s furnace room.

Lifestyle

A 1/2-inch tape machine sits in a corner of the kitchen, where Nathan is working on new music for his band, Foam.

He’s not the only one recording at Foam Doam. Bob Calwell (King Pin, Heavy Gloom) and Patrick Briggs (Grievances, Never Betters, Limbo) are at work on their own solo projects and new material for their bands. Fourth housemate, Craig Gignac (Legal Kill), is often found with a guitar on one couch or another, strumming chords, building riffs and generally holding the place together.

If you go to shows in London the Foam Doam guys are usually there, either on stage or in the crowd.

Mics have needs, too. Taking a recording break atop a homemade baffle. Photo by Allan Lewis.
Mics have needs, too. Taking a recording break atop a homemade baffle. Photo by Allan Lewis.

And while putting four dudes with strong artistic identities and different bands together in the same house has the potential for friction, there is clear respect among them as artists and housemates. Asked if there’s a rivalry among their bands, Bob laughs and looks at Patrick before responding: “We sound too different to even be rivalrous to one another.”

In fact there’s a sense that one needs to be prepared to pick up an instrument at a moment’s notice, regardless of creative stripe, such is the collaborative mood of the house. Calwell explains: “Nathan writes a lot of the Foam stuff. When he was making the Foam stuff he’d need a drummer. Same with Pat. So I’d jump in.”

Showtime

The stasis of creation and collaboration shifts when the house transforms into a venue.

“I run around all day when the house is being turned into a venue for the night,” says Nathan. “I want it to be really exciting for the people that come to the shows.”

Preparation is less about tidying up than it is finding places to put things. Foam Doam doesn’t have a kitchen table for the express reason that there would be nowhere to put it when it came time for a show. But the commotion and stress of preparation recede as the night takes shape. Bands arrive with equipment, and the first guests shuffle in through the rear of the house.

Creativity in every corner. And a knife in the wall. Photo by Allan Lewis.
Creativity in every corner. And a knife in the wall. Photo by Allan Lewis.

New relationships find a spark and old ones a new gear as the house comes to life.

Hardcore, metal, doom, noise and punk music shakes the walls. Young men and women stand outside, smoking and talking while their counterparts absorb the scene indoors.

The atmosphere is equal parts violent and celebratory. Bands dance and flail across the kitchen. People jump from things. They run into each other – on purpose and by accident – but always with care, and always with respect.

On Time People Spend at the House

What’s compelling about Foam Doam and the scene it supports is the mindset of its visitors.

Everyone is ready to share what they have with those around them. With this attitude comes a sense of equality. When it’s proposed to Nathan and Bob that they’re in a unique position at the centre of a scene, Bob responds, addressing Nathan, “Didn’t we just talk about that a couple weeks ago? You were talking about how what we were doing was important to the scene right now, even if we didn’t realize it.”

And he’s right. Foam Doam connects its audience with unique experiences, and its bands with the chance to play a good gig with other artists’ bands.

Calwell in the thick of things during a set by Cheapside. Photo by Allan Lewis.
Calwell in the thick of things during a set by Cheapside. Photo by Allan Lewis.

“We’re tossing them the ball,” Nathan says. “They just have to do their best to hit it. And it doesn’t even matter if they fail. That’s the best part about this place.”

Of course, at some point the lifestyle in a house like Foam Doam can be too much. In the midst of it all the housemates seem to understand the astonishing amount of energy required to do what they do.

“It seems like there’s a time limit for people that take over this house,” says Nathan, who, after two years at Foam Doam, will move out in June.

Bob, just a year into his time at the house, continues: “I think it’s like a rite of passage, like, living in this house. I feel like it’s good for discovering who you are as an artist. One day I’ll return to normalcy, but right now this is good.”

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