One of the saddest sights I have ever seen occurred this past weekend when The Arthouse hotel failed to open its doors for business.
Marie and David Kelly’s lease on one of Melbourne’s best live music venues expired at the beginning of May.
The expiration of that lease closes yet another chapter in Melbourne’s live music culture. While venues like The Great Britain, The Punters Club and – prior to its resurrection – The Tote have garnered the lion’s share of headlines for their demise, it is The Arthouse that will be the most sadly missed for mine.
My association with The Arthouse goes back to late 1991 and bands I was a member of; “Punchbag” and “Devotchka”.
Some of the bands I can recall having the honor of sharing a stage with included (and sincere apologies to about 30 other bands for whom the days have dulled my memory) Frenzal Rhomb, Bored!, Velvet Sledgehammer, Front End Loader, Incursion, Martian Spud Humpers, Pet Earwig, Klinger and the greatest band this town has ever seen, Forcefed.
Marie and the team at The Arthouse were always welcoming. You were never judged, although to disrespect the venue, its fellow patrons or the bands on the stage would often see your papers stamped. I never saw a single bouncer at the doors of the Arthouse, but such was the passion and support for The Arthouse that there was no shortage of people willing to do the heavy lifting when it came to moving on the small number of those not welcome.
The Arthouse was a place – in my experience – where if you were strong enough as a band, you’d get a gig (although those who remember “Punchbag” may seriously question this assertion).
It was never about how many people you’d be able to attract that got you additional bookings, it was the strength of your passion for what you were doing and from a band’s perspective, it always helped that the rider would be there waiting for you as soon as you came off the stage (courtesy of the very lovely Melanie).
The joint sounded sensational. Bands would often bring their own sound engineer, but Shane Kelly had an unmistakable ear for what worked and what didn’t in the place. If Shane wanted less over-ring in your snare drum or some top end taken out of the bass, then you dampened your snare or adjusted the EQ on the bass head. May he rest in peace.
This is not a paen to “the-good-old-days”, rather, it is a mark of respect to possibly THE most under-rated venue in Melbourne.
Vale Arthouse. You will be missed, and unless its next lessees share a similar passion for bands who need nothing more than a place to gather, play and develop their sound and confidence, Melbourne is the less for your passing.