Popping up and cropping up in Hackney Downs


Buying a house can be a stressful experience.  Hectic enough with packing, renovations, vulpine estate agents and being able to afford the bloody thing, let alone deciding to throw undercover events for all and sundry in your new living room. But this is exactly what Gabriel Prokofiev has done.

Grandson of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, Gabriel is a composer in his own right – veering from classical, to electronica, to garage and back again without needing anything so much as a sweatband. He has his own independent record label, Nonclassical, and has recently taken to using his as yet un-renovated lounge as a space for strangers to park their bums and indulge in an experience much like crashing somebody else’s house party.

The 1930s park rangers lodge backs onto Hackney Downs and stares into the Pembury Estate, tucked into an unlikely pocket of residential Hackney between the playing fields and stretch of life heading up to Hackney Central.

My first experience of his impromptu event space was this years Future Shorts film festival. Forget the British Library or an arthouse cinema. We wandered along Downs Park Road to find, literally, someone’s house. Unsure whether we were about to knock on the wrong door and disturb an elderly couple eating their tea, we instead found a dimly lit hallway fragranced with musky incense – its focal point a mantelpiece held up by two pairs of shapely fibreglass legs, dressed in scant knickers and spiked heels.  A beautiful woman welcomed us and offered us homemade brioche and popcorn. We felt as though we had been invited, as opposed to having bought tickets online.

The living room in question was a bare, Polyfilla-d shell which had been transformed into a wig wam between four concrete walls. Cushions, beanbags, benches and chaise longue were scattered between guttering candles and carved Buddhas. A coal fire seared along one wall and we took our seats to be surrounded by friends of Gabriel – it turned out that we were pretty much the only ones that were complete strangers.

The short films ranged from an insight into what turns ordinary Somalis into merciless pirates, an evicted trailer park couple and their pet American alligator, a Greek tragedy played out through Belgian roosters and a couple rediscovering their sexual chemistry by way of a truck backing through their bedroom wall.

This was an ad hoc event, housed in an in progress building. It was also a unique experience with all the atmosphere of an underground cataphile meeting and all the polish of a niche gallery exhibition.  It’s an Aladdins cave of flea market treasures with chipped paint and no lock on the toilet door – and I cannot wait to go back.

From pop up short film festival, the space is moving on to pop up restaurant. Grub are setting up shop for four nights only to bring their nomadic site-specific dining to Hackney. With a seasonal menu encompassing mussels, duck and fried custard, and only 25 diners per night, it promises to be an intimate underground experience – hopefully as wig wam-esque as ever.

Downs Park Dinner Party

About Amy Victoria Gray

Perpetual scribbler, drifter and wanderluster – Blighty born and bred, and settling in London again after jaunting far and wide from the crashing surf of South Africa to the outback wilds of North Western Australia. Writing, dusty bookshops, fire spinning, Jimi Hendrix and the ocean make her happy. Spiders, salad cream, chick lit and shark finning have the opposite effect.


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