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a city by city guide to the best indie clubs, bars, record shops and local bands

Brisbane, Australia
By Duncan McKimm

Brisbane has long been referred to as "a big country town", and it’s hard to make a strong argument against that assertion. It’s not as bustly as Sydney, and doesn’t have the enormous pub scene that Melbourne has, but scratch the surface of Brisbane and you find a vibrant and eccentric music scene, that has turned out some world class bands like The Go-Betweens, The Hard-Ons and The Grates. The nightlife scene is a lot more relaxed than most other capital cities, and if you know where to go, you can avoid the pretentiousness and see some really eclectic music. Brisbane has a divided cultural heart that straddles the city (which like most CBD’s is largely devoid of worth). Fortitude Valley and West End are where all the action takes place. The two areas have two very distinct identities, but each is important in providing Brisbane with creative expression.

The Valley
Situated just north of the CBD, Fortitude Valley (just "The Valley") is the centre of Brisbane’s live music and nightlife scene and is based around the Brunswick Street Mall. The Valley was Brisbane’s seamy area, with prostitutes, sweatshops and standover men, but now it’s more hipsters and artists. The Valley is home to some of the most individual venues and nightspots in Australia, with a strong reputation for live music. For the vast majority of Valley venues dress code is non-existent, or so relaxed that you won’t notice. Basically if you’ve got pants and shoes you’re a good thing. Covercharge is largely non-existent at most pubs and smaller venues, depending on the gig.
   Valley fiesta is a three day free music festival in mid-September where the two parallel malls of Brunswick St and Chinatown host stages with local and national acts. If you’re in town it’s a must see, with some of the freshest talent Brisbane and Australia have to offer, and what’s your excuse? It’s free!

West End
West End is on the south side of the Brisbane River, behind the Southbank tourist area. In and around central West End is teeming with tiny cafes that serve cheap delicious food. The cafes are great for chilling out in, and are particularly valuable after a night out, with their all day dirt cheap brekkies. The locals of West End are predominantly students and artists, and the main drag has a very bohemian (hippy) feel. You can get cool clothes (although they’re getting more expensive) and find some really cool little art shops.


Clubs


The Empire – Valley

399 Brunswick St
Sitting on the corner opposite the top of the mall, The Empire is a super pub/club that caters more for a dance crowd. That said, it’s great to people watch from the corner bar and it’s not so pretentious as to be unbearable.
(www.empirehotel.com.au)

Ric’s Café – Valley
321 Brunswick St
This is a stalwart of the Brisbane scene, situated near the top of the Brunswick St mall. Split over two levels, the upstairs gets some of the best local hip hop DJs to spin breaks, while the downstairs is a hangout and gig space for the sort of scuzzy punk rock that Brisbane’s famous for. Many young bands have cut their gigging teeth downstairs at Ric’s, where the management is willing to give most talented youngsters a shot at a 45 minute set. After the bands wind up, the tiny stage is packed away to clear a dancefloor while they play new indie rock and classic punk tunes till 5 in the morning.
(www.ricsbar.com.au)

The Waterloo – Valley
Cnr Ann St/Commercial Rd
The Waterloo is on the northern edge of the Valley and is most often a place to see raw punk and hardcore bands plying their trade. One of the few pub venues in the Valley that still hosts rock and punk shows.

The Troubadour – Valley
322 Brunswick St
The Troube is a narrow comfy venue, with some great cocktails and awesome couches. Like most of the café style venues in the Valley, you’ll see the artists hanging around in the crowd before they head onstage, which creates a great atmosphere. Generally the music is more laid back, guitar based stuff — gets some of Australia’s best up and coming indie acts as well as some internationals like Diamond Nights.

The Columbian – Valley
14 Constance St
One of the newer venues in the Valley, the Columbian is a good mid sized venue/club, that gets some of the funkier hip hop acts as well as thrashy noise punk.

The Orient — Valley
560 Queen St (Cnr Queen & Ann St)
The Orient is a wedge shaped corner pub on the border between the city and the Valley. Doesn’t seem to have a regular setup, but keep an eye on it for young punk/goth bands.


Venues

 

The Tivoli – Valley
52 Costin St
The Tivoli is an old theatre that has been converted into a venue. Has two levels which means it can handle bigger crowds. It’s the biggest indie venue in Brisbane, and gets international acts like The Hives, as well as Aussie faves like The Presets.
(www.thetivoli.net.au)

The Zoo – Valley
711 Ann St
Used to be a sweatshop in a former life (and is reportedly haunted), The Zoo is now an awesome gig space. Simple layout, bar at one end, stage at the other, stairs in the middle, the Zoo is intimate when you’re up the front but you can get away up the back if you need to. Gets some big name bands (Broken Social Scene), and is about as small a venue as overseas bands will play in Brisbane.
(www.thezoo.com.au)

The Arena – Valley
210 Brunswick St
One of the bigger venues in the Valley, the Arena is a size up from the Zoo. Gets a lot of hip hop, but also gets bigger indie bands, like Hot Hot Heat and Arctic Monkeys. Two levels with bars on both, the Arena also gets a lot of international punk and emo bands.

Judith Wright Centre Of Contemporary Arts – Valley
420 Brunswick St
If you want to see local artists do their thing, the Judith Wright Centre is the place. It’s mostly an avant-garde noise rock sort of joint, but it’s a great place to catch some up and comers too. If performance art is your thing, check it out.
(www2.judithwrightcentre.com.au)

610 – Valley
610 Ann St
This on again off again venue is styled very much on underground NYC. The walls are graffitied and the hipsters are abundant, but it’s a great place to catch some edgier noise-rock and local punk. One of the few places to see really avant-garde bands perform. Lots of scene kids, but very worth a look if it’s functioning.

The Globe – Valley
220 Brunswick St
Through the week it’s a cult cinema that plays themed nights — on the weekends the seats come out and it hosts some small gigs with lots of local artists. The slanted floor takes a little getting used to, but it’s a comfy venue with pretty good sound.
(www.globetheatre.com.au)

The Rev/Echelon – Valley
25 Warner St
This is an old church that’s been converted into a gig space. It’s on again, off again, changing owners pretty frequently. At the time of writing it’s undergoing a name change from The Rev to Echelon, but don’t be surprised to see it come back as something different. It’s in Warner St, which runs parallel to the main mall, and is one of Brissie’s best venues. It’s split over two levels, and has great sound. Has local nights for punk and harcore, as well as scoring some excellent national indie acts like Gerling and some internationals.


Record Shops


Skinny’s – City

85 Elizabeth St
Good instore gigs from touring and local punk bands and rare indie titles.
(www.skinnysmusic.com.au)

Butter Beats – Valley
709 Ann St
The place to go for hip hop records and vinyl.
(www.butterbeatsrecordstore.com)

Rockinghorse Records – City
245 Albert St
One of the Brisbane scene's few surviving indie record stores. Situated in the city, Rockinghorse is a great place to find rarer indie stuff and gets some good signings. Also is the place to go for tickets to local gigs.
(www.rockinghorse.net)


Local Bands

 

I Heart Hiroshima
The Brisbane scenes darlings, they’ve got a catchy brand of indie-pop. Members also part of the annual Fancy Boys gig at 610.
(www.ihearthiroshima.com)

Flamingo Crash
Awesomely eccentric band — Flamingo Crash pull out poppy, synth rock with great lyrics and some very danceable tracks.
(www.myspace.com/flamingocrash)

The Mean Streaks
Staunch local punk band, the Mean Streaks are a wild show, complete with screaming frontwoman — Jean Nicotine. Can be found at Ric’s (either playing or hanging out) most of the time. A definite to see the local flavour.
(www.myspace.com/themeanstreaks)

The Grates
‘Duh’ I hear you say, but before they were a worldwide phenomenon, The Grates were kicking around the Brisbane scene with their infectious pop. You can still catch them when you’re lucky. They’ve played just about every venue on this list.

The Go-Betweens
You won’t see these guys anymore obviously, and to be honest, you probably wouldn’t have seen them in Brissie even when Grant McLennan was alive. Unfortunately at the time the band formed, Brisbane was oppressed by an almost dictatorial Premier who tried to strangle the arts. Ironically, this directly led to the formation of the Go-Betweens as a protest. Grant would have been stoked to see young bands encouraged and gigging freely in Brisbane, although he would doubtless hate the ridiculous 3am lockout.

Regurgitator
The Gurge are one of Australia’s most enduring indie bands, part of the wider scene for the last decade. Almost Beck-esque in their genre-mashing, they’re one of the nation’s most exciting bands to catch live.


Miscellaneous


The Alibi Room – Valley

720 Brunswick St
Situated in New Farm (next to the Valley), the Alibi Room feels more like your friend's loungeroom. Upstairs is a groovy little café, while downstairs is the "Tiki Room", which is like a secret Hawaiian themed bar that plays cool music and has some pretty good vintage arcade games. Tuesday nights it has $2 tacos, nuff said.
(www.myspace.com/thealibiroom)

Trash Video – West End
1/73 Vulture St
Bills itself to be Australia’s largest cult video store, Trash is a great place to go if you’re after a rare zombie flick or some other B-Grade horror gem.
(www.trashvideo.com.au)

Three Monkeys Coffee Shop — West End
58 Mollison St
A quirky little coffee shop right in the heart of West End. Surprisingly big with some great couches to chill in.

Espressohead — West End
169 Boundary St
You can pretty much pick any of the cafes on the strip and you’ll get a good feed, but Espressohead is one of the granddaddies of the area. Might have to battle for a table on weekends, but it’s worth the crush.

Fatboys — Valley
321 Brunswick St
This is one of the Valley’s best known eateries, and gave the title to local hip-hoppers Butterfinger’s debut LP — “Breakfast at Fatboys”. Awesome brekkie for $4. Exceptional people-watching in the mall too.

4ZzZ fm - 102.2 fm on your radio dial
An independent community radio station which broadcasts from the old Communist HQ in Brisbane. The whole station has an avant-garde feel with eclectic announcers (DJs) who get to choose from the incredibly abundant local and underground music scene and also provide local and alternative news. No playlists means that there is the serious potential to learn something to broaden or just enhance your musical knowledge; and you can tell that the presenters are genuinely interested in what they play. With specialist shows dedicated to ska, garage (60s to present), funk, reggae, dub, electronica, jazz, arts, world music and oh yes northern soul (only the coolest station would have a weekly northernsoul show!) and a good healthy smattering of current music in the daytime it beats any other Australian radio station with duplicate letters in its title hands down. (KP)
(www.4zzzfm.org.au)

Extra review by Kirstie Paul

If you'd like to recommend a club, bar, record shop, band or any indie delight for inclusion in the Indie Travel Guide, please email us. If we've included a link to your band/shop etc, it would be lovely if you could link back to us. Thank you!

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