While it would no doubt be contested by countless other cities around the world, from a statistical point of view, Melbourne has a claim to be crowned as the world's live music capital. Based on the numbers, Melbourne had more music venues per person (in 2016) than any other city in the world, so it shouldn't be surprising that there's plenty of room for an underground music scene amidst the gamut of the city's musical spectrum. This is after all the city that gave the world both pop princess Kylie Minogue and post-punk icon Nick Cave. Melbourne's place in 20th Century underground music, art and Australian independent cinema can't be denied, and many of the spaces that the scene grew up in are inherited from Australia's colonial past, with Victorian and pre-war hotels providing much of the architecture. We take a look at some of the places that make up today's Melbourne music scene.
Situated in the innercity suburb of Collingwood on the fantastically cinematic sounding corner of Johnston and Wellington Street, The Tote began life in 1876 as The Ivanhoe hotel. The Victorian building got a new lease of life in 1980 when the Australian punk scene had built up momentum. In the same year that The Birthday Party left Melbourne to relocate across the world in London, The Ivanhoe became The Tote and established itself as one of the key places for Australian punk, post-punk hardcore and metal.
With upcoming lineups painted onto the wall and chalked onto blackboards, The Tote is the real deal and the posted on the venue's Instagram profile suggest that the punk spirit is alive and well in its rooms.
The Workers Club
A pub that provides its services as a venue for local bands and visiting artists, The Workers Club is another Melbourne establishment with a delightful sounding address being situated on Gertrude and Brunswick. The pub's band room is a 260 cap room is well equipped for bands and DJs.
The Old Bar
Boasting live music seven nights a week including Mundane Monday, a weekly night showcasing all manner of unsigned and undiscovered bands and artists, and Sunday residencies that see bands bring along a range of supporting acts for each Sunday evening of a given month.
"With a whole bunch of who's who of Aussie bands getting their start at this 170 capacity band room such as Courtney Barnett, Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Camp Cope and way too many more to mention you are guaranteed to see some of Melbourne's best muso's plying their trade on the stage here. With a late license and a steady crowd of locals, the Oldie is an inviting and welcoming dive bar where people come to get loose, watch and play in bands and generally hang around the bar or the courtyard until late in the morning." - Joel Morison, The Old Bar
A seaside pub that makes the most of its beach location, The Espy has a 140-year story beginning life as the Esplanade Hotel with some history in the Australian art scene. The hotel once the home of Alfred Felton, a Victorian philanthropist whose legacy still affords The National Gallery of Victoria greater purchasing power than the Tate and London National Gallery combined. In 2018 the building was opened up as The Espy comprising five levels of spaces that now host everything from live music, to comedy and arts. Though The Espy might be a little on the gentrified side for some, there is no denying the ambition of its programming nor the charm of its setting.
John Curtin Hotel
With a specialism in crispy fried chicken that results in a seemingly never-ending stream of positive online reviews, The Curtin, as it is known, is a fairly intimate 300 capacity venue in a former pub. The bands on the billings include some visitors from the US and Europe, but its the local punkish indie-noir scene that provides much of the bookings.
The Bendigo Hotel
Despite its exquisite Art Nouveau exterior and listed status, The Bendigo hotel was voted best live venue in Australia for punk and metal by specialist Australian music site HeavyMag in 2015. The hotel has become one of the best places to experience Melbourne's grassroots punk/metal scene with plenty of lineups throughout its lineup ticketed at around $10 for five bands.
A largely outdoor venue sited around an upcycled shipping container, as you might expect, Section 8 prides itself on its casual approach. Decorated with graffiti and furnished with pallets, there's a menu of cheese toasties and decadent cocktails to ensure the party keeps going all the way along its fairy-lit alleyway. Bookings this year have included the like of Bobbito Garcia, the DJ and producer credited with helping kickstart the career of Wu-Tang and Jay Z.