Get out the party poppers! Oxford city centre’s last truly independent music venue has just turned 18.

After a difficult few months which saw staff, supporters, musicians and this newspaper unite to fight plans by the building’s owners to close it down, it looks like The Cellar is here to stay. And it is now old enough to have a drink!

We celebrate with some of the people who have made this iconic subterranean venue what it is, by asking them for their best moments...

THOMAS DARTNALL – aka ‘House of Lords’ of Young Knives

It’s mostly a bit of a blur. I remember an early gig of ours where we got everyone to do primal screaming and sing random space harmonies in the dark. We also handed a toy guitar to an audience member who then gave the greatest mime guitar performance I have ever seen, completed with Jimi Hendrix style guitar destruction. I don’t know if this was a good or a bad gig, but The Cellar has always been a good space for just trying stuff out in a creative supportive environment.


One of my old bands ‘Why’ was the first live band at The Cellar. Ron put us on, and I had to route a Yamaha four-track recorder through the DJ mixer so we could have vocal mics. Sound engineering before I was a sound engineer. That was a messy night. I got beaten up in my sleep too.

RONAN MUNRO – Editor Nightshift

My favourite moment ever down there was seeing Young Knives for the first time. They were still called Ponyclub back then and had only recently moved to town.

Me and my cousin Steve, my regular gigging partner, used to have a standing joke any time we saw a particularly bad or boring band we would bet each other a pint if they suddenly played a Throbbing Gristle cover.

Obviously it never happened, but while watching Ponyclub, who were brilliant and very slightly weird, they stopped half way through Easy Peesy and launched into Throbbing Gristle’s Subhuman. It was just astonishing, totally knocked our socks off.

We went to chat to them afterwards and it turned out they also had a tendency to play a particularly obscure Gary Numan track during gigs sometime, so next time we saw them they played that for us and we got a dedication.

They’re still one of my favourite Oxford bands ever and I’ve seen them dozens of times since but that first show will always stick with me.

My other one would be from when it was still The Dolly and Gary Numan’s old backing band played down there under the name Rock Museum and we ended up terrifying them with our exuberance.Brian Briggs’ rambling monologue at an early Stornoway show about what eats wasps was pretty funny and endeared me to the band enormously from the off.

The Oxford Times:

Forbidden fruit: Young Knives

DAVE CHARRIS – Promoter, Freerange club night

The best moment was DJ EZ headlining Freerange 2011. A personal favourite for me, being a huge EZ fan since the emergence of the UK Garage scene in the late 90’s.

To have him not only headlining for my own event, but to also have the pleasure of seeing him perform in such an intimate venue was one of the highlights of my entire time promoting music events. EZ has reached new heights in the last few years and can only be seen headlining festival stages and huge capacity venues, so this was super special to witness.

Another highlight was raising money for Project APE 2009, helping a charity project run by a team of nice students to fund raise, design and build an adventure playground for an orphanage in Tanzania.

With our entire team working free of charge and our DJs volunteering to perform for no fee, we donated 100 per cent of profits to the charity - a grand total of £1,160 and the final bit they needed to reach their target!

The playground was built in October 2009 and the best thing about all of this was seeing the photos of the orphans playing on the equipment with big smiles on their faces!

Another key moment for me was having Andy C headlining Freerange in 2011.

We’d booked him to play various events in larger venues, but to see him perform in the intimacy of my favourite venue in the country was incredible!

Like with DJ EZ, you simply wouldn’t get to see Andy C play in a small, local venue these days.

The energy in the club was pretty special, and I still remember Andy tweeting about it being the perfect way to spend his birthday!

COUNT SKYLARKIN’ – aka Aidan Larkin – of Skylarkin’ Soundsystem

The relaunched Cellar actually first opened its doors the same weekend I visited Oxford for the first time, so it feels like we’ve grown up together in a way. Although I didn’t tend to make it down those hallowed steps too much for those first few years – Cowley Road was always my spot. But one Sunday night in late 2004 my friend Nav and I went looking for a party and The Cellar certainly provided one in the shape of Addis Ababa Sound at Sunday Roast.

Addis were (still are) one of Oxford’s real foundation reggae soundsystems. Danny Whitaker, Johnny Roots, Tyrone Glasgow and Gary Constant have got tunes to burn.

Then there were those two nights with Dawn Penn in February 2011.

One of the less financially-sound decisions I ever made as a promoter was to book the multi-platinum, multi-award-winning Jamaican singer and pair her with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s backing band in a venue so small it was always going to be impossible to break-even, then add a second (further loss-making) night due to overwhelming public demand! I have no regrets though, the place was bouncing and a few hundred people squeezed in and got the show of their lives. Dawn loved it, too.

When The Zodiac called its last ever lock-in in 2007, The Cellar was the obvious place to move my monthly Oxford operation, and it’s been home ever since. Nights with the likes of Mungo’s Hi-Fi and Massive Attack’s Daddy G are the stuff of more recent legend. But any time we ever had DJ Derek in the building the place was roadblock.

His show in January 2013 sticks in my mind as it was the night before my wedding, and Derek was already in full flow when I arrived – playing I’m Getting Married In The Morning by Yellowman, which he quickly followed with I’m Getting Divorced... by the same artist as soon as he saw me enter the booth.

That was Derek: a big tune, a joke or a put-down for every occasion. The Cellar misses him.

The Oxford Times:

Out of his shed: Count Skylarkin

DEEP COVER’s Simon Devenport

In many senses, for us at Deep Cover, club manager Tim Hopkins is an odd godfather figure. When he gave us the green light to start running events at The Cellar in 2013, our baby was born. We even went back and forth on names for the sprat.

That same child is now over four years old - terrible twos and tiresome threes behind us - and it’s now almost starting to look a bit grown up.

Over the years The Cellar has delivered more memories than we can possibly mention, but some stand out.

Our first big DJ booking, and arguably our most outrageous show to date was in June 2014. Kevin Martin aka The Bug & legendary grime MC Flowdan descended on a sold out Cellar for our final show before summer, with extra subs installed, to deliver a performance so high-octane that the turntables broke under heat fatigue. In the words of The Bug, in his post-show war report: “Oxford was disgustin’ tonite, Oxford was so ‘orrible tonite, Oxford was pure filth tonite. Water was streamin down the walls, my sweat was sweatin’ and equipment was on the verge of melting down. Yeah, I loved Oxford tonite... a hugely positive experience...XXX-large!”

Then there was Flowdan’s Serious Business Show, in October 2014.

So happy with his experience of The Cellar alongside The Bug, Flowdan decided to return to Oxford to deliver his Serious Business EP launch party alongside an A-list selection of grime superstars.

The majority of Boy Better Know arrived under the guise of ‘Lord of The Mics Special Guests’, with Skepta delivering ‘That’s Not Me’ to an astonished crowed just days before winning a MOBO for its £80 music video. Jammer & Logan Sama kept the room electric before Flowdan tore the roof off once again, proving that Cellar’s low ceiling and unique sound set up delivers a incomparably electrifying experience, and undoubtedly the best chance to see some of the country’s greatest talent in such an intimate setting.

More recently, in March, The Cellar delivered an unforgettable night of local music when YK & Eaz and their huge, raucous East Oxford fanbase packed out the venue in true 8 Mile style.

It was almost impossible to move for excitable young hip-hop fans showing love for their true local heroes, and two of the most exciting new voices to emerge from the Oxford scene in years.

Catch a glimpse of the energy of this unbelievable debut performance at the opening of their recent music video for Woes, and start learning the words – everyone knew them that night!

The Oxford Times:

Definitely 'Maiiby': Maiians. Picture by Marc West

JAMES CUNNING – promoter Divine Schism

A highlight was hearing Jeffrey Lewis bring his astute world musings to town on a packed out Sunday night in June, 2014, amidst the 1st round fixtures of the World Cup in Brazil. We were treated to a great, meandering set-list from his many lo-fi and scuzzy albums with the highlight being a then-new song Support Tours with the New York City three-piece singing the praises of being a support band and dedicating it to local support, The Cooling Pearls.

The song has since been released on their most recent album Manhattan and continues to be dedicated to local support slots.

A self-depreciating and high calibre act, they appreciate the small details that go into shows at this level and this highlights that, with the Cellar being a big part of the journey for bands.

Then there was Maiians! We’d booked most of their shows in Oxford since they started, and when they announced they were going their separate ways we knew we had to do one last knees-up!

They’d just released their debut album, and they played it in their entirety to a sold-out crowd in a venue they’ve since described as their ‘home turf’. Indeed, only seven months previously they’d headlined one of the independent venue week gigs at the Cellar. It ended up being quite emotional in the end, but now the dust has settled we can reveal we’re bringing them back for one more, on the 22nd December this year for our Christmas Party. Of course, it’s at the Cellar.

Many highlights involve our own club night Progressively Less Elephant, which we started in the dark days of 2010 when the only indie-ish night in Oxford was Transformation at the O2 Academy.

Since then we’ve moved the indiepop/ motown/ electronica night all around town but our most memorable nights have been at the Cellar.

From the Idiot King Xmas party in 2016 to various nights Tim Hopkins and Vez Hoper have asked us to fill in on over the years, we’ve loved every one.

There’s nothing like a crowd shouting along to LCD Soundsystem at 3am to close off a night. Again, we’re back on December 22.

JACK RICHENS - DJ and blogger

The Cellar’s air conditioning was never capable of cooling the club but it became legendary on the DJ circuit. When the right tunes were played rowdy crowds would bang on the metal air shafts to signal their appreciation. Every DJ who played there wanted to hear that sound, it meant you were doing your job right.

One night Someone played a particular great remix and the whole thing just fell to pieces.

Who knew you could get so sentimental about a broken air con unit?