Interview: Sketchy Beats Cafe

Orginally posted on Channel7A

Founded in 2015, Sketchy Beats Cafe has become a hub for creativity in Leith. We spoke with Cosima Canneti about the project.

What was the motivation for starting Sketchy Beats Cafe?
I thought there was a need for an alternative night out to the typical pub or club set up. Instead of sitting round a table having a pint or getting lost on the dancefloor, I wanted to create an intimate space, like someone’s house, where the entertainment is created collectively by everyone in the room – whether it’s life drawing, acoustic jamming, live hip-hop or knitting, everyone can get involved and feel part of it. People come away feeling a sense of achievement, or some kind of creative release, which can help bring the community together and break up the monotony of daily life.

It was also important for the space to be affordable and unintimidating for people who have never organized events or shared their talent before. Creative people often need to get past that first step before they can go on to do bigger things. We don’t charge to hire the space or use our music equipment and we don’t sell any alcohol on the premises, so money isn’t an obstacle. This means that people who may not consider themselves artists or musicians can explore that side of themselves. Quite a few people have said that it’s been years since they picked up their instrument or art materials, until they rediscovered their creative side in the café.

As a non-profit business, how can people help to keep it going?
The easiest way to help is to share and invite people to our events on social media, so that more people find out about them. Any small donations are much appreciated and really help at the end of the month and every time people buy a hot drink it makes it worth us having such a good coffee machine! As I mentioned earlier, the space only works when we have event bookings – so we rely on people booking the café for their events and private parties to keep going.

More recently, you can support the café on Redbubble and Patreon. On Redbubble you can order T-shirts, hoodies, phone cases and more with Sketchy Beats Artwork on it and we get a small percentage redbubble.com/people/sketchybeats

Patreon works like a pay-in-advance scheme or membership – whatever you spend you’ll get back from the café in free hot drinks, corkage etc. It means that we have a reliable stream of income each month to go towards all the running costs of the space.

The best way to support the café right now is to pledge a small amount on Patreon. If you pledge $2, you get a free hot drink each month worth more than the amount you pledge and you can also opt to turn them into suspended coffees for struggling people in the local area. If we get enough people on Patreon to pay-in-advance, one day we can cover all the running costs of the space and we can make everything in the space free. We have almost 3,000 likes on Facebook – if 1/3 of those people pledged $2 on Patreon, we would be able to comfortably cover all the running costs of the space!

Has the increasing popularity of the Leith area had an effect on the project? 
I think that there are small pockets of Leith which have increased in popularity but the café itself is on Great Junction Street, just by the bridge and overlooking the Water of Leith, which is more of a thoroughfare than a destination and is untouched by gentrification. During the day it’s filled with bargain stores, fishmongers, butchers, takeaways and hairdressers. At night it’s pretty much barren, whilst Leith Walk and the Shore area are alive with trendy pubs and restaurants. Since Sketchy Beats is off the beaten track, it only works with an event based system – people go out of their way to come to a particular event or workshop at the café that they hear about through word of mouth or social media. A few weeks ago, Leith Theatre (just round the corner from the café) reopened for the first time in 28 years for the Hidden Door Festival – this will hopefully bring more footfall to the quiet bit where the café is tucked away.

Sketchy Beats
Sketchy Beats

The venue has an open door policy, do you think this is important to allow creativity to flourish? 
I really like the mix of people who use the space – many different ages, backgrounds and tastes seem to find common ground in the café. It also keeps it interesting for us, so many different characters from so many walks of life bring fresh perspectives and alternative methods of artistic expression. It’s amazing how the space transforms according to who is using it and how such different people can make it their own in unique ways. Most of the stuff in the café has been brought in by people who have visited the space. When we opened (just under two years ago) I didn’t buy much more than a few tables, chairs, speakers and empty book shelves. Then bit by bit people brought in musical instruments, bits of sound equipment, books for the book swap, artwork for the walls, so the space you see now is the sum of everyone who’s been in it! Someone once said that the café looks like a giant canvas which is constantly changing – I think being surrounded by creativity helps it to flourish.

There are a wide range of events that take place, can you tell us bit about those? 
Our regular events take place mainly on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays – Fridays and Saturdays are when we get most of our bookings. Wednesday is the most art-focused day with Stitchy Beats (knitting and upcycling) from 4pm and Acoustic Sketching (sketching and acoustic jam) from 7pm. We provide some art materials and musical instruments and people are free to create music or art, whatever inspires them. The sketchers often end up drawing the musicians or each other and the musicians seem to enjoy having a quiet, meditative audience.

On Thursdays we’re an open house for musicians, from 4pm-2am. Sketchy Sessions kicks off around 8pm and is an open jam for people of all musicals tastes and levels of experience, where people who have never played outside their bedroom end up playing with seasoned musicians. We have a drum kit, bass amp, mics and various instruments people can use. People also bring a whole range of instruments for the night, one night someone even brought in a didgeridoo!

On Sundays at 4pm we have Leith Conversation Cafes, who bring a different topic of conversation to the table each week with the aim of bringing together the different nationalities and cultures of Leith. We’re also open to bookings for smaller events and workshops on Sunday evenings. All of these regular events are free to take part and everyone is welcome, we just ask for a small corkage fee if people want to bring alcohol. We also give away free bread every Wednesday and most Thursdays, as part of the Food Sharing Edinburgh initiative.

Our other longest running and most popular regular night is the Hip-Hop House, organized by Werd, a well-known Edinburgh hip-hop artist and co-founder of S.O.S (Sons of Scotland), who is very community minded and supportive of the local scene. Each month (usually the first Friday) he books in a range of live acts, who perform over electronic backing downstairs and live music upstairs. Rappers from all across Scotland have performed at this night, travelling from as far as Livingston, Glasgow and Dundee.

We’ve had many other nights, from charity fundraisers to noise gigs, poetry slams, documentary screenings, exhibitions and Boiler Room-style livestreams (59th Degree). If you have an idea for an event or workshop or want to book the space for a private party, just send the café a message! We normally get booked up a month or two in advance for weekend nights but sometimes we have the odd free night (even this August!), so it’s always worth asking.

Do you have any event highlights from the last few years? 
There have been moments at some of the Thursday night jams when the atmosphere has been unreal and it seems as though a whole new genre or sound is being created – I always wish I could capture it on camera but these moments are fleeting and somehow the atmosphere changes once people notice they’re being filmed. The Hip-Hop house has also had some really magical moments. Another special night recently was the fundraiser for the Little Seeds PortaVibe Hifi – a sound system hand-built by Sketchy Beats volunteer Cory and his sister Skye. It was amazing hearing the room downstairs filled with such a warm, rich sound.

What’s next for Sketchy Beats, anything big in the pipeline? 
This year we’ve been offered the opportunity to bring Sketchy Beats to a music festival at the end of August – we’ll be setting up a tent at Lindisfarne Festival with Mantra and Northern Soul kitchen and will be bringing a slice of the café to the field. We’ve invited along some of the best musicians who have performed in the café to play and lead an open jam session each day, Werd will be running a smaller version of the Hip-Hop House, some of the artists who have contributed their work to the café will be bringing their work and doing live demos and Cory and Skye are bringing their homegrown sound system. We’re very excited for our festival debut, hopefully this will just be the beginning!

For more information, check out their Facebook Page. You can also donate to the project by clicking here.