State of the Local Music Venues Report 2015
Fifteen years of participating in the local music scene has been a frequently dispiriting vocation, with decent venues coming and going with a frequency quite unseemly and bands leaving for greener pastures with depressing regularity. So it is a rare and great pleasure to relate that, in my humble opinion, the local music scene has seldom been in ruder health, at least in terms of number and diversity of venues to play in.
The Phoenix, which has always been my personal favourite, has been having a rough patch what with the fire and all, but has maintained its status as Canberra’s best and most interesting small venue and will soon redouble itself with the promise of expanding their program of entertainment to far more than the current three nights of music, a weekly quiz and monthly poetry slam. Natural tendency: non-judgemental (28) (booking policy)
Transit Bar, after trying and failing to be a decent venue for many years, finally put some effort into a well proportioned stage and ameliorating some of the extraordinary echoes a concrete cavern will commonly produce and now makes the list. Good on them, though I still hear complaints from musos and punters alike about less than perfect, more than ear splitting sorta mixes. Still, some local bands are playing there and having an alright time so long may they continue. Natural tendency: JJJ (22)
Magpies has been a thing about to happen for a long time but now seems to be achieving the regularity of activity and consistency of organisation and promotion required to make the grade. Joel Cabban is doing well at the helm and has a good pair of ears which helps a lot. Magpies may well become that mid-to-large size room Canberra has been lacking for quite a while. Natural tendency: heavy (23)
Smith’s? Well we’ll see. Hopefully it’ll fill an important niche in the boutique cafe/venue/hotbed of revolution space. Natural tendency: Cabaret Voltaire (35)
Hippo Bar is tiny and doesn’t really prioritise live music but is doing regular jazz gigs on Wednesdays these days. Natural tendency: pretentious (25)
The ANU Food Co-op is what a sound guy would kindly call a ‘difficult room’, but the dozens of scruffy cross-legged pastafarian naifs that crowd in monthly for a bowl of vegie soup and an eclectic Acoustic Soup line-up don’t seem to mind. Natural tendency: flour power (19)
ANU Bar has been a good venue in the past and is useful for some large touring gigs, but it’s value to the local scene has been low to zero for many years. Recently introduced, however, is Groovin’ the ANU (actually on tonight), a monthly local music night where the bar (and erstwhile Greenroom proprietor Garry Peadon) waive all fees, entry is free, beers are $3 and four local acts can play for nothing. Better than nuthin’ I guess. Natural tendency: various (?)
The Inner North
With the demise of Tilley’s as a venue, the Front has been the only commercial venue of note in the inner north for a while, and that only by the skin of its tooth, it being tiny, cramped and with barely adequate audio reinforcement. Now supplying real food, it’s got character, lots of comfortable lounges and a nice sunny veranda. Natural tendency: quinoa (29)
For many years a bikie blues bar, the Old Canberra Inn has recently changed hands and the new owners are taking steps to relaunch the joint for a broader demographic. Where will all the bogans go now? I heard a rumour they’re going to soundproof the games room and equip it for bands which makes sense. Another birdy told me they were quite happy to pay reasonable money for bands and production at their relaunch a few weeks ago, which went very well by all accounts. Natural tendency: we shall see (?)
In Turner, through the agency of the CMC, there are the four members of the Westbank Cultural Precinct:
*The newly re-opened Polish Club, about to crank out regular Friday nights for locals and touring acts. Natural tendency: Zywiec! (32)
*The Croatian Club available for acts able to fill a 500+ room. Natural tendency: beer barn
*Le Alliance Francaise, which is almost always overlooked but is quite a nice room for a small show: Natural tendency: BCBG
*The Turner Bowls is still open to gigs if bands want to use it. A good 150 room with a noisy kitchen behind the stage but soon to be remodelled. Natural tendency: rugger bugger
The inner north is also blessed by our house which hosts regular Backanalias, Bang! Bang! Bangs! and house concerts throughout the year. Natural tendency: boozy (33)
And in the near future, inner northians will be able to see what a couple of million in renovations has produced at the recently dubbed Music Hub at the Ainslie Arts Centre. With renovations of the Ralph Wilson and Bogong Theatres also nearly complete, AGAC, as it’s becoming affectionately known, could, just maybe, become a useful venue for local music. Natural tendency: hopefully not snooty
Belco now has two venues, with a possible third on the horizon. The Basement, long the natural habitat of the heavy/metal/punk end of Canberra’s music jungle, has had a fairly recent change of management and may be attempting a transition of clientele, a la the OCI. I do hear they’ve put thought and energy into making it a better venue with appropriate p.a. equipment and a second more intimate band room. Natural tendency: in transition (29)
And self-described ‘cocktail bar’ La De Da seems to have successfully staked a claim on Emu Bank, putting on fairly regular nights with a few bands/dj’s and attracting a presumably local crowd of young things. Natural tendency: aspirational (22)
The recent acquisition of the Pot Belly Bar by a quartet of youngish Canberran professionals lends itself to Belconnen having an almost unprecedented (at least in this century) three music venues at the one time. Personally I think they should give the place a good once over, lighten it up, reduce the size of the bar and forty or so other things I thought of while considering whether to buy the Pot. Natural tendency: TBA
Northside also has The Abbey, of which I have written recently, and whose hopes of being a useful part of the local venue scene lie chiefly with the chance of the tramline going right past, in which case, whole new ballgame. Natural tendency: wedding bells
Beyond Q is an odd but loveable little venue in a 2nd hand bookshop in a basement under the Curtin Shops. Approximately 12 people can squeeze into its ornate little music room. They seem to have something on most Saturdays and Sundays at various times of the day and night and have a cafe, often with liquor permit. Natural tendency: intimate
The Harmonie German Club in Narrabundah might be the Southside’s Polish Club (capacity 300/65). Home to the Blues Society’s monthly jam, they have regular Friday gigs, with a strong tendency towards country and blues, and a smattering of other events, Oktobfest of course, a choir and market day (not unlike the Polo’s Polish Sausage Sale).
A Bite to Eat is largely just a suburban eatery but they used to regularly run a Sunday afternoon (5-7) gig every week for quite a few years (a bit intermittent at present) and it seemed to draw a reasonable crowd. I believe bands had to bring and operate their own p.a. Natural tendency: family outing
Ojo’s Cafe at the Hyperdome seems to do music occasionally. I have no real data.
PJ’s Tuggeranong finally got rid of the bikies but has yet to live up to the occasional promise of it becoming a venue of any note. The main infrastructure, excluding a ready audience, is in place however.
So in total we are talking 20+ venues throughout town, each with their own character, each sprinkling their particular ordure into Canberra’s collective musical cesspit. We may have overlooked some places. Apologies if so. Please let us know if there’s a venue for original contemporary music we’re unaware of.