The second storey of the beloved Prince of Wales Hotel might feel like a shadowy nightclub, but the Prince Bandroom continues as a vital music hot spot. Overlooking St. Kilda’s Fitzroy Street party/vomit strip, The Prince is closely linked to the seaside suburb’s chequered musical history. Yet it’s also a mecca for international stars, with clued-up bookers have bringing quality hip-hop, electro, indie, roots, and rock to the Southside for decades. The sunken dancefloor is a steamy pit of guaranteed good times and the surrounding levels ensure everyone gets a proper view of the onstage action. St Kilda.
Everything to everyone, it’s the iconic Espy! Any day of the week will see this sprawling old hotel heaving with music, from metal to dubstep to acoustic – sometimes seemingly with no rhyme or reason. Crowds stream like ants up the imposing staircase and into the front bar, the theatre-sized Gershwin Room (revered home of RocKwiz), and back down into the edgier basement refuge. A restaurant clings to the side, outdoor tables spread from the foot of the stairs, palms sway in front of the bay, and everybody gets their picture-postcard version of sunny, seedy St Kilda. As of March 2014 it's been placed on the market, so while we hope its future as a live music venue is safe, better frequent it thick and fast just in case another beloved house du rock bites the dust. St Kilda.
There’s nary a venue as punk as Collingwood’s favourite sticky-carpet pub. It has been threatened by ‘the man’, resurrected by the fans, and is routinely battered by furious rock n’ roll outlaws both young and old. The gig-guide-strewn walls stand tall as a symbol of the indestructibility of Melbourne’s live music scene. It’s the launching pad for countless misspent careers with guitars - you’re not really in a band unless you’ve played the Tote, and you’re not really a music fan unless you’ve left a few litres of bodily fluids there either. Collingwood.
The gorgeous, gargoyled and garlanded Forum on Flinders St provides a window back to a more genteel time of theatre-going. That is, until it heaves with hip-hop heads, or trembles under the feet of hundred of rockers. In the star-spangled main theatre, stalls cascade into booths and culminate at a broad dance floor. Crowds amass to witness marquee-level comedy, films and musical acts, all under the stony gaze of giant Roman statues. The baroque foyer also leads to a tiny antechambers and a precipitously-tiered upper theatre. Regardless of what’s on, the Forum is all class. Melbourne.
Deep below the streets of the city wallows The Hi-Fi. The cavernous spot has a decades-long lineage of delivering the best in (mostly) heavy music and, on the lighter side, big shows from comedy superstars. Those who haven’t plumbed the depths have surely spotted the queues regularly snaking down Swanston St. Those who have will fondly recall the sweat and rock that reverberate around the stepped main room to crash up against the glassed-in mezzanine bar. Or the laughs booming off the walls during the Comedy Fest. Melbourne.
Brunswick’s coolest come together at Howler, which could be described as a sheltered workshop for the painfully hip. Half the roof of this ex-warehouse venue has already been torn off, so when it comes to bringing the party, a good part of the job has already been done. The genre hardly matters (think: insouciant indie rock, outré hip-hop, dangerous DJs), Howler only hosts that which has been anointed the Best of the Newest. This vibe extends to eats and drinks as well, making a night out a Howler a proper Northside experience. Brunswick.
Some may be prettier, some may be bigger, some may be trendier, but no other venue is better for live music than Richmond’s Corner Hotel. It’s not due to the oddly-elongated main room (say goodbye to the band if you’re stuck behind one of their infamous poles), nor the sprawling upper deck beer garden, or the humming, old-school front bar. It’s just that the Corner gets the best bands, hands down. For the pure joy of seeing your favourite artists, side-by-side with fellow fanatics, this venue is the undefeated champion. Richmond.
Put your headbanging days behind you and settle into a seat for an enveloping experience at the Palais. The stunning double-tiered Art Deco cinema was built in the '20s, adjacent to Luna Park and backing up against St. Kilda beach. More suited to audiophiles seeking a transcendent musical experience, artists performing at the Palais tend toward heritage rock and pop. It’s also a perfect spot for comedy and elaborate stage shows. This stately beauty is sure to humble even the most occasional event-goer. St Kilda.
This inner-city venue is certainly a chameleon. For decades it was named Billboard, and hosted a panoply of club nights, then inexplicably added international punk, rock and metal live shows to the roster. Taken over by the Corner Hotel amalgam, it has been renamed named 170 Russell but retains the bizarre mish-mash of heavy guitars, heady beats, wordy rhymes and indie upstarts. Luckily, it’s renowned for having an impeccable rig so no matter what your musical flavour, or what the sign out the front says, the sounds are sure to blow your mind. Melbourne.
Any night of the week, true music fans can trundle down to the NSC for a tidy snapshot of what’s going on in Melbourne’s independent music scene. In fact, if you’re lucky you might catch international superstars (like The Pixies or Lady Gaga) sneaking in for a secret show or a mad party. It’s that kind of joint – a boxy old-man pub repurposed as an unassuming hub of quality tunes from Melbourne’s surrounds and some odd corners of the globe. Surprises abound. Northcote.