Melbourne's Live Music Scene

Melbourne's Live Music Scene

Melbourne's Live Music SceneMelbourne's Live Music Scene has had its ups and downs, open and closed doors.. but without doubt, Melbourne remains the live-music capital of Australia.

Melbourne's Live Music Scene is in great shape

A few short years ago it seemed many of Melbourne's best live venues were being lost to pokies and cover bands, and audiences lost to dance clubs and computer games. Meanwhile, soaring costs for larger international acts priced a lot of bands out of the reach of many of us.

Yet all is not lost - far from it. With a bit of research, you'll find there are plenty of places where you can catch cheap, even free, quality local music. With a bit of inside knowledge you can even catch the big, expensive acts for virtually nothing - at one of the "secret"shows that abound at the small venues. Prince, Blondie, Lennie Kravitz and Pink have all played in Melbourne pubs and bars - you just had to know when and where.

Rochester Castle
202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy

Holds two enviable nights catering for the fans of indie and UK-flavoured alternative pop music. It's a friendly, indie-groovy party environment with frequent giveaways and sweet treats. Fanclub is held on the first Saturday of the month with a more indiepop-based focus, and Pop Lounge serves up more relaxed eclectic alternapop grooves every Sunday from 5pm. Free admission on both nights. Expect stripey t-shirts and floppy fringes aplenty from the blissed-out, dreamy-eyed shoegazers enjoying the likes of the Smallgoods, the Tranquilizers, Talkshowboy or Mid-State Orange.

Corner Hotel
57 Swan Street, Richmond

A firm favourite with mid-level alternative acts, The Corner hosts many rock festival "sideshows"such as the upcoming (and sold out) Peaches and the Darkness, along with record launches. Upcoming shows - France's Francoiz Breut and legendary post-punks Wire.

The Empress
714 Nicholson Street, North Fitzroy

The dowager of the inner north was one of the first places to book silverchair.

The Prince Of Wales
29 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda

The Prince has been a part of the local band scene for more than 20 years (when it rivalled punk melting-pot The Ballroom for "Thursday crawl"audiences). Although renovated seven years ago, there's still many opportunities for sticky carpet. Recent international visitors have included memorable shows by the Super Furry Animals, Teenage Fanclub and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, as well as hip-hop acts and international DJs, with Jurassic 5 being a favourite of the bookers. Lenny Kravitz, Jack Johnson, and Pink all chose the venue for "secret"or industry shows. Upcoming highlights include Gang Starr, Afrika Bambaataa, Tony Joe White, Salmonella Dub, and many Byron Bay Blues Festival bands.

The Esplanade Hotel (Espy)
11 The Esplanade, St Kilda

Just around the corner from The Prince is the legendary Espy, a grand old structure housing a cornucopia of characters and personalities. It has hosted bands since the 1920s when your grandmother danced with a serviceman there. There are four separate stages, in effect different venues. Except for special occasions like New Years Eve, the front and public bars are free admittance, with larger acts and a regular comedy night in the Gershwin Room. John Farnham recently made good on a comment that he'd like to play The Espy, and other popular shows include Jet (regulars just knew they were going to do well), Tex Perkins is always a favourite, and the Whitlams ( far too long since they played). Acts with residencies are Phil Para on Saturdays (25th year as a residency!) and Nudist Funk Orchestra on Sundays (6th year).

The Green Room
Downstairs 33 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne

The odd-shaped room was previously a TAB. Renovations completed, patrons are now, in the words of the band booker, between 18 and 40, good looking and well dressed. Warped chose the Green Room as the venue for a secret show, and at recent first birthday celebrations a supergroup of members of Warped, Bored and the Bloodsucking Freaks jammed out some rock classics.

Ding Dong Lounge
Upstairs at 18 Market Lane, Melbourne

Relatively new to the scene is the Ding Dong Lounge, taking up the reins from the previous incarnation as the International Lounge and hosting bands since August. Members of Blondie chose to hang out at Ding Dong after their Melbourne gig, and it has already built up a record for fine, memorable performances. Booker Luke Roberts's favourites include a secret show by the Melvins, Y-fronted loverman Har Mar Superstar, and Tucson, Arizona's Bob Log III, managing to convince Melbourne women to join him onstage to twirl hula hoops, dance vaudeville-style and sit on his knee, the whole time managing to keep his one-man band in motion - a genuine champagne hour. Upcoming highlights are Triple J's Hot 100 Party featuring the Morning After Girls, current kings of NZ hip hop Scribe and King Kapisi, German proto legend Damo Suzuki from Can and the What Is Music? festival.

The Rob Roy Hotel
51 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Once the grimy "home of Melbourne's underworld", the Rob Roy has had bands for about 18 months now. Low door charges and frequently free shows have made it a must for inner-city indie kids and students. Among the venue's favourite shows are Love Of Diagrams' CD launch, Richard Buckner (US), Lou Barlow (ex-Dinosaur Jr.) and a Sodastream Sunday afternoon residency.

Honourable mentions

The Evelyn, 351 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
The Tote, 71 Johnston Street, Collingwood
The Cornish Arms, 163a Sydney Road, Brunswick
Good Morning Captain, 20 Johnston Street, Collingwood
Shake Some Action (Thursdays), 161 High Street, Prahran
The Builders Arms, 211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
The Greyhound, 1 Brighton Road, St Kilda
The Underpass, Terminus Hotel, 492 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill
Pony, 68 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Cherry Bar, 103 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Barwon Club, 509 Moorabool Street, Geelong
Ruby's, 1648 Burwood Highway, Belgrave
The Rainbow, 27 St David Street, Fitzroy
The Standard, 293 Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy
The Wick, 259 Brighton Road, Elsternwick
Dan O'Connell, 225 Canning Street, Carlton
Town Hall Hotel, 33 Errol Street, North Melbourne
Hi-Fi Bar & Ballroom, 125 Swanston Street, city
Duke of Windsor, 179 Chapel Street, Prahran
Goo at the Metro (Thursdays), 20 Bourke Street, city

Source: Kerrie Hicken | The Age
January 24, 2004

Pubs, clubs and festivals face new challenges

Suddenly , it appeared, the cracks were showing. Melbourne's deserved reputation as the live-music capital of Australia apparently offered little protection in 2011, with bad news and intimations of more to come dogging the small venues at one end of the city's gig-going spectrum and massive outdoor festivals at the other.

Whether the desired audience was 200 or 20,000, problems loomed for an industry that contributes more than $500 million to Victoria's economy.

But soundings taken by EG indicate a more nuanced situation.

Elements of the live music sector are facing serious problems but others are in rude health, or at least quietly forging new identities. As 2012 looms, live music in Victoria, though not about to collapse, is undergoing often profound change that will yield varied results.

Most surprisingly, given the rollcall of venue closures this year - North Melbourne's Arthouse and Public Bar, the East Brunswick Club - and confusion about the status of the Prince of Wales in St Kilda as a band venue beyond March, there's optimism about pubs and small band rooms of 100- to 500-person capacity that form the backbone of the city's live music culture.

'' We are still spoiled for choice when it comes to venues in Melbourne,'' says Sophie Best, cohead of independent record and touring company Mistletone. '' The live scene has never been more vibrant. There were several nights this year when there were three or even four shows going up against each other on the same night with similar audiences - which would have been calamitous clashes in any other city - but all our shows ended up with full houses.''

James Young, co-owner and band booker of Cherry Bar in the CBD, predicts a looming golden age for live music in Melbourne. Cherry Bar had been open for eight years before it introduced gigs in 2007 and now has bands, most of them local, six nights a week in the 200-capacity room. Business and the number of young groups in Melbourne are booming, he says.

Young and many of his colleagues see the recent highly publicised closure of the East Brunswick Club, which will be redeveloped into apartments , as simply part of the changing, patchwork fabric of live venues. The EBC has been replaced by new destinations such as the Phoenix Public House in Brunswick, Collingwood's Grace Darling Hotel and the city's Buffalo Club.

If there is a problem, it's geographic . Almost all the new venues are in Melbourne's inner-northern suburbs. '' That particular area is unequivocally the new heart of the Melbourne music scene,'' Young says, and the competition between music north and south of the Yarra River is fast becoming a rout.

Not only is the traditional hub in St Kilda facing uncertainties at the Prince of Wales - which has announced a new band booker and the return of live music to the front bar but faces unconfirmed reports that it is not accepting band bookings for the main room beyond March - but gigs have fallen away at other venues such as the Greyhound. Even Barkly Street's Pure Pop Records, which holds courtyard gigs, is on the cusp of ceasing live music owing to notices served by the Port Phillip council.

'' St Kilda is in dire straits,'' says Wally Kempton, a veteran musician (Even) and manager who books the Gershwin Room at St Kilda's Esplanade Hotel. '' I hate the word but there's just no vibe,'' he says. '' There's no sense of community, no general area for entertainment. '' You go to Fitzroy and you've got Laundry and Old Bar, and around the corner are Bar Open and the Evelyn. That's four gigs in one block.'' There's more pessimism at the premium end of the market - the big music festivals with their dozens of overseas and domestic acts, and tickets costing hundreds. The internationally renowned resilience of the Australian touring market, which made us the lucrative first stop for many American and British bands during the southern hemisphere summer , has dipped, and that may be particularly felt in Victoria, where the festival calendar is crowded. In recent weeks, the industry's traditional behemoth, January's Big Day Out, has scaled down its Adelaide and Perth stops - losing Kanye West and his $1 million-a-show fee - and hasn't sold out as it usually does in Melbourne, with West and grunge veterans Soundgarden headlining . Another festival, February's alternative-oriented Laneway, is also well short of capacity for its local leg. Some in the industry believe there are too many music festivals and many have lost their sense of distinction. Festivals that succeeded in December, whether it was the eclectic Meredith or electronic music gathering Stereosonic, are believed to be those with a strong sense of identity . In industry parlance, they attract '' purists'' , or repeat attendees, not the more fickle '' tourists'' .

'' Any festival that isn't bringing an experience beyond the stage is going to hurt,'' Young says. '' That's why Meredith is bulletproof.''

The problem is exacerbated by the lack of obvious significant international drawcards and catalytic buzz bands - such as MGMT or Vampire Weekend in recent years. In a nichefocused music scene it's getting harder to find acts that cut across all divisions.

'' That's partly just a fashion thing, as urban-leaning pop is dominant right now so there aren't any new Red Hot Chili Peppers breaking through,'' a leading Australian band manager says. '' It's also partly due to the fragmenting of the media, particularly among younger music fans.

'' The days of everyone being into either Pearl Jam or Nirvana are gone. It's hard for promoters to come up with a couple of big names that everyone will want to see.''

While competition for a choosier audience continues - industry figures say the Future Music Festival has secured reformed Manchester icons the Stone Roses to top its March 2013 bill - the festival scene may be approaching a turning point and, temporarily at least, must cut back either its ambitions or the simple number of festivals. It feels as if something has to give.

Source: Craig Mathieson | The Age
December 2011

Historical Mentions

Who can forget Melbourne in the 70's and 80's during the Countdown and Rage era.. Hard Rock on the corner of Spring and Flinders St where AC/DC played some of its first ever gigs in Melbourne (I think I read somewhere that their manager Browning owned it).

Then there were the suburban classics like the Southside Six, Sentimental Bloke, Burvale Hotel, Doncaster Inn (Donny Inn), Prospect Hill Hotel, Mathew Flinders all pumping out live music every weekend.

We saw Johnny O'Keefe (pissed out of his tree) late in his career out at Croydon, Cool for Cats (without the girls) at the Doncaster Inn, Rodney Rude live where Victoria Gardens now is in Burnley St Richmond, in other words many venues have long since gone or turned into Tabaret Venues.

Plus all the Aussie groups at the time like Australian Crawl, Mental As Anything, Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, Mondo Rock, Johnny (sorry John) Farnham, Men At Work, Pseudo Echo (sorry), Richard Clapton, Models, Kids In The Kitchen, The Radiators and man oh man, the Divinyls (Chrissy was sooooo hot).

We saw Split Enz, AC/DC and Skyhooks on one bill at Festival Hall.. amazing. We saw Peter Frampton and Billy Thorpe at Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Cold Chisel at the showgrounds (he groped my girlfriend in the crowd).

And a good night was always had by all when Marty Rose pumped out the Piano Man. It was Marty who first played us a recording of You Are the Voice by John Farnham.

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