State of Play: What is happening to Adelaide’s live music venues?

‘Long-running music venue shuts its doors’. It’s a headline all music fans dread, and October saw it attached to no less than three Adelaide live music institutions.

On the surface, it seemed a horror month for Adelaide’s live music scene. But beyond the outpourings of grief and nostalgia, what does the news mean for artists and audiences?

First came the Ed Castle. Adelaide’s oldest continuously licensed running pub went up for sale not long after owner Tony Bond took to social media to complain that the construction of a neighbouring development was making business impossible. According to Bond, road closures and parking zone changes from the build meant bands, and the all-important beer deliveries, get near the place. There’s a chance the Ed Castle will reopen under new management, as it has before, but the words ‘Exceptional Development Opportunity’ atop the real estate listing do not inspire confidence. And one less band room could mean at least 100 less shows in Adelaide annually, not to mention the loss of the venue’s beer garden. A petition to heritage list the venue has attracted over 5000 names, but holds little sway over its future as a music venue.

The Ed Castle Hotel, 1926 (Photo: State Library of South Australia)
The Ed Castle Hotel, 1926 (Photo: State Library of South Australia)

The prognosis for Fowler’s Live is more upbeat. The iconic red brick building’s status as a live venue has for years been in a state of long term limbo, its potential closure regularly flagged by outgoing proprietor Peter Darwin. It was almost an annual tradition, usually coinciding with a lease renegotiation with its State Government landlords. 2018 was the year it finally came true however, but when it did there was a surprise footnote: the venue would be taken over by new tenants Five Four Entertainment.

In some ways it’s a changing of the guard; Darwin is himself a long-time concert promoter who has worked on tours by AC/DC, A Day on the Green, Elton John and the Vans Warped Tour. Five Four on the other hand run the local leg of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, and a series of Adelaide-based Splendour In The Grass offshoots. They also manage acts including rapper/singer Tkay Maidza and look after bookings for several venues including the Crown & Anchor and, until recently, the Ed Castle.

“It will feel familiar, we just hope to revitalise the space and make it feel fresh and sound great,” Five Four Entertainment’s Jesse Coulter says of the space’s future. “The main focus will still be on live music and we hope to increase the number of shows coming through every year. But in addition we’ll be looking to host workshops, panels, arts rehearsals, theatre, exhibitions and all manner of other programming.” The first acts confirmed  perform in 2019 at Fowler’s Live – soon to be relaunched as Lion Arts Factory – vary from the triple j-favoured Montaigne to reformed English post punks Gang of Four, along with heavier acts like Converge, Ne Obliviscaris and Thrice.

It does however, coincide with the changing character of Hindley Street’s west, as the new hospital and expanding UniSA footprint sees venues like the once-grimey student pub the Worldsend given a polished rebrand as the West Oak Hotel, and HQ relocate to the thick of Hindley Street.

A similar change may also be afoot down North Terrace, with the sticky carpet and stage of the University of Adelaide’s UniBar to be ripped up in favour of a new bar to be located in the ground floor of Union House. Once at the heart of student life, Union House has been noticeably quieter in recent years as students and services are drawn away to newer buildings. A multimillion dollar University plan seeks to reverse that, hastened by a recently announced partnership with RCC Fringe that will turn large sections of the campus into performance spaces come Fringe time.

The University administration does remain open to the idea of the UniBar returning in some form, and the student union and former operators the University of Adelaide Club is planning a joint bid to tender for the new space. “Live music, a cornerstone of the UniBar, will be a key feature of the revamped bar,” Virginia Deegan, Director of Infrastructure at University of Adelaide says. “An expression of interest process for an operator of the new bar has now begun. The Adelaide Uni Staff Club is aware that it can make an expression of interest in the new bar on the ground level.”

For Coulter, who also fronts local punk trio Grenadiers, the recent upheavals and changes shouldn’t overshadow the city’s otherwise healthy music scene. “The Ed Castle meant a lot to myself and the Adelaide music community, and it was really sad to see it close its doors,” he says of the venue he booked up until its closure. “However the loss of one venue isn’t a death blow by any means – it might be a painful wound but it heals, new skin grows over the old and life goes on.

“As long as there are bands that want to tour and punters that want to see live music, there will be places to house them.”

Header image:
Lion Arts Factory / Shutterstock

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