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Hideous Mink's Grassroots Spotlight: Lou Smith

Ursa Dissects: Lou Smith

Words by Ursa Gregson

You'll know Lou Smith as the arch-chronicler of South-London's glorious, filthy, irresistible, many-headed, infinite, mysterious, addled, confused, DIY, russian-hat-and-ski-sunglasses-and-military-clobber-toting underground musical scene since way back in the misty thither (about 2010). Behind the camera he has amassed a frankly unbelievable quantity of intimate front-row footage, largely based at Brixton's Windmill but with clips taken at almost every independent venue in the capital. Lou's lens has seen the rise and rise, rise and fall, fall and fall of countless rabid and haunting groups over the years, from the first and only gigs of bands designed and destined to burn for a moment to the sagas of success stories like Black Midi, Black Country, New Road, Warmduscher and first twisted muses, the Fat White Family. Comments from fans on Lou's YouTube videos ooze abject gratitude at their being so regularly and completely transported from around the world into the heaving, stinking pits of one of the world's most rabidly bleeding & rapidly breeding scenes. Lou may or may not have facilitated much of the early word-of-mouth success of many of those he mercifully shoots. Let us crack open brain and camera forthwith.

1. When can the public expect a feature-length Ben-Hur level production from you, Mister Smith? You've amassed a huge and glittering crowd of subjects - if they were all at your beck and call, what would you make? I do keep getting asked questions along these lines. It’s a tricky one to answer, mainly because it would require such a different approach to the work I usually do which is really quick turnaround, strike while the iron is hot, and being a lone wolf operator. I did make a start on a Fat White Family early years live music compilation, and it would be great to push that towards a more rounded piece. I am beginning to appraise what is now a decade or more of acquisitions and thinking how it may be collated in some way. It's definitely something that I am going to need help with though. 2. Was the dreaded plague lockdown more a time of relaxation or turmoil for you, a more dedicated regular front-rower than most? Have you all but forgotten it now that we're back to 'normal' and your uploads are flowing? I actually enjoyed the tranquility, novelty and return to more of a natural way of life during the first lockdown. I spent a lot of time with my daughter Iris and her mum, cycling and exploring, and also getting accustomed to a family of foxes that lived in my garden. Many of my followers were more than happy to immerse themselves in the unfolding dramas of those vulpine relationships as seen via the daily livestreams on social media. I made quite a few enduring online friends during that time when we had more time. The weather was great! A bit later on, I got involved with livestreams on a more professional level, starting with the Black Midi, New Road Christmas fundraiser for The Windmill ( threatened with closure by the lockdown measures ) which was pretty successful financially and culturally. Later I was part of an ambitious project, London Gig Weekly, to film and livestream a music magazine format with live bands and interviews interspersed with promo videos and archive live material. As this was considered work, it allowed us to continue during the lockdown, under safe practice conditions of distancing etc, but kept alive my joy of filming live music up close. My front row filming continued during the socially distanced gig formats, which The Windmill was very proactive in organising. 3. Have you ever been injured on the front line of your frankly dangerous escapade? I really don’t wish to tempt fate here … It is a potentially hazardous undertaking to stand in the epicentre of a frothing, frenzied whirlpool of (intoxicated) humanity and to maintain a steady eye on the focus of attention whilst being alert to incoming dangers. So far, I have escaped with just a few incidences of toe, and other foot traumas. I have been upended, sure, more times than I can remember but in every case managed to surface unscathed, and more importantly not losing the shot! Today, as I have become more well known for my exploits, there seems to exist a sort of benevolent forcefield which protects me from the worst excesses. As I can’t expect to maintain this indefinitely, if the going gets really rough, I seek refuge (whilst still filming) in a safer location. When I feel that the audience could get unruly, I check that my limbs are relaxed, rather than locked so I can absorb any sudden impacts without breaking (Tai Chi training) My cameras also, whilst battered by the years, are all still functioning. Sticky dials and buttons caused by airborne drinks are the most annoying but common problem.

(Lou's shot of The Fat White Family at The Windmill)

4. Do you feel at all responsible for the trajectory of certain bands? Have any of them ever told you that? It’s impossible to do the ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ view of how things might have been had I never existed. I guess maybe another Lou Smith would have seen the necessity of bearing witness to the extraordinary happening in the grimy grass roots music scene of South London that has reliably spawned a seemingly endless stream of talented and culturally significant bands. I have been fortunate to have been embedded in it for a little over a decade now which I guess must qualify me for the Gladwellian 10 000 hours (and counting) approach to mastering a subject. Legend has it that my first twisted muses, the Fat White Family, were signed to Trashmouth after Clams showed one of my videos to Liam May, an event that quite possibly helped give birth to the whole first phalanx of band signings from that initial gene pool, Warmduscher, Meatraffle, Madonnatron … João of Children of the Pope travelled from Brazil because he wanted to be a part of the scene he saw portrayed on my channel, bringing his childhood friend and most wanted drummer in south London Fells from Portugal along for the ride. Meatraffle’s Warren and Members of Shame have always thanked me for my efforts. Isaac Wood of BCNR spotted me at the accreditation kiosk at End of the Road and said that my first two videos of them definitely helped them get noticed. My followers on YouTube are increasingly thanking me for shining a light into their worlds. It seems that the more recent bands to emerge have been the most vocal in relaying their gratitude to me, and there are many of them, like a dam burst after the constrictions of lockdown. Head up Displays, Dada Movement, Fat Dog, MADE, Paddywak, Alien Chicks, Black Bordello, Pink Eye Club, House Arrest, The Dinner Party, Romance of Baba Loco, Pigeonhole, Neuroplacid, Heartworms the list is almost endless, with new bands surfacing all the time. I get asked the question ‘are you Lou Smith?’ most times I go out to film, which is great, because I’m naturally quite shy and it’s a good ice-breaker. 5. What's the best hat you've ever filmed? Please give detail. There have been a few great hats along the way. Clams Baker and Saul Adamczeski both sport a good hat, but I think the award would have to go to the most identifiable, iconic and enduring Pink, perforated stetson as worn by Josh Loftin of Tiña, which was actually auctioned off as part of the great rock and roll auction in aid of The Windmill.

6. Could you tell us what, in your informed opinion, the most enduring and captivating element of the South London scene/smorgasbord/community/cesspit/glory-hole/seam-of-gold/situation/masterplan/paradise is? I always thought of the initiation of the SLS/s/c/c/g-h/s-o-g/s/m/p was due to the forces of gentrification concentrating the talent, (broke/brilliant musicians whose only raison d’être was to perform) in much the same way as encroaching deserts leave only oases teeming with vitality. South London was the last to fall with rents still affordable, though increasingly this is no longer the case. The area is also home to Camberwell and Goldsmiths art schools, whose students are increasingly finding their way onto stages across south London. Given the venue to perform in and the opportunity to do so (Tim Perry) a spark ignited a creative cauldron. What has allowed this to continue has undoubtedly been the nature of the people and the community, being the most inclusive and self supporting, interdependent group of people I have ever encountered. Bands, as can be seen, are a cross pollination of many other bands, all mutually supportive, sharing instruments, players and doubtless all manner of other things beyond the scope of this question! I would definitely like to think that a degree of the impetus has been from my efforts to bring it all to a wider audience. 7. Please invent, describe and name a cocktail that completely encapsulates everything & everyone you've ever been and ever will be. This has got to be the Hail Satan! Dark, powerful, euphoric. Containing an ill-defined list of ingredients to intoxicate, invigorate, expurgate and hallucinate.

Thanks, Lou.


Check out Lou's Youtube Channel here

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