Remember the days when people would congregate together in groups to observe live music performances? These events were often referred to as ‘gigs’ and took place in specially equipped spaces known as ‘venues’.
Distant memories aside, something that has become abundantly clear since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis is just how precious music venues are to the communities they host.
Even before 2020, music venues would typically operate on tight margins, and seeing a beloved music space fall victim to financial strain, property development, noise complaints, licensing issues, or just plain bad luck was sadly all too common an occurrence. It’s high time we talked about some of the legendary venues whose doors had to shut for good in recent years.
Magpies City Underground
It doesn’t get more ‘underground’ than actually being underground. Magpies was a nursery for Canberra’s punk bands in the mid-2010s. It was a place where newcomers would brush shoulders with touring international heavyweights.
Magpies sported two stages and the best sound in town. It was also ideally located, hiding beneath the floor of Gus’ in Garema Place. The cavernous space has been vacant for several years now, leaving a Magpies-shaped hole in the city’s punk scene.
Who played there: AJJ (formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad), Azim Zain and His Lovely Bones, The Smith Street Band.
What it was like: Watching your friends play to a warm, nurturing audience and then trying not to make eye contact with the pokie players on your way out.
La De Da
Perched high above Lake Ginninderra was La De Da. The upstairs bar took on many forms during the year, playing host to intimate jazz nights, multilevel music festivals, internationally acclaimed DJs and beatmakers, and many a Groovin The Moo afterparty.
La De Da was a shining beacon of creativity in the Belconnen Town Centre, operating on the simple principle of letting creative people do their thing. You were just as likely to encounter an experimental event format inside its art-adorned walls as you were a bustling party that spilled into the carpark.
Who played there: TOKiMONSTA, Teebs, 30/70.
What it was like: Watching some of the world’s best beatmakers and momentarily forgetting you weren’t in LA.
LoBrow Gallery & Bar
Another venue that found a home in a vacant room in Garema Place, LoBrow was all about showing off what Canberra’s artists were capable of. The bar was adjacent to Sancho’s Dirty Laundry and the gallery space was continually filled with work from local artists.
It all came together in a cross-disciplinary melting pot of creativity that became the go-to spot for single launches and parties. Later on in its lifespan, it brought a tear to the eye to walk in and see photographs of local songwriters adorning the walls.
Who played there: RAAVE Tapes, Hoodlum Shouts, Drawing North.
What it was like: Climbing up the stairs next to Beach Burrito Company for the first time, not knowing what to expect and being greeted by fairy lights criss-crossing the room and local art on every wall.
Tucked away in an inner-north suburban street, the carport of this unassuming house was like a warm, cozy blanket for Canberra’s music scene. DIY collective Mulgara would run regular house shows here, providing a safe and nurturing environment for the city’s musicians and music-lovers to thrive.
Whether you were there for a Sunday afternoon acoustic set, or a mid-winter Saturday night gig with mulled wine in hand, you could expect to catch your favourite local bands alongside acts from interstate who were following the house show trail up and down the east coast.
Who played there: Ben Stewart (Slowly Slowly), Rachel Maria Cox, Carb on Carb.
What it was like: Screaming your lungs out to Anticharisma by Azim Zain and His Lovely Bones and warming yourself by the fire in between sets.