A Picture of what We would Lose

This was a feature article I wrote at Uni. What unit it was for doesn’t matter because the subject matter was something I worked into (somehow, any which way possible, I would make it work!) almost every single unit I studied.
This subject matter is, of course, the local music (of the Heavy Metal variety) scene in Melbourne. The article was then published in a university magazine (a proud moment for me haha) but I digress.
I am posting this because of the current situation facing fans, punters to use our colloquialism, of live music. Much loved venues such as The Arthouse and more recently the Palace, are being abandoned to property developers. We have already lost these places of history and culture. I cannot imagine the same happening to The Espy, but that’s what I would have thought about the Palace. It is places like these that make the scene. They are not just places to see live shows. They are places of our past and present married in such a way that it doesn’t detract from either. Places where we can support a scene we love and appreciate naturally good acoustics of their historic architecture. Please don’t turn them into horrible apartments that retain the facade of what it used to be. They are as important to the community as the music is.

Step into a piece of Melbourne, nay, Australian history when you enter the Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda, or as more commonly known, the Espy. Well, for a place still standing since 1878, that’s got to give it some historic credentials, right?

Any Australian with a passion for quality music has come across the Espy before and you certainly hear about it from mates who can’t get enough of the place!

One such mate, (and somewhat of an Espy aficionado) Trent Wilson, says, “I love the place! Never have a bad night there. I’m usually there at least once a week. I go there to see bands. I go there to play gigs. I go there to promote gigs…drink on a Sunday night. I go there for cheap late night pizza…”

I had the opportunity recently to see a favourite local metal band, Ne Obliviscaris, supporting Alarum, band also hailing from Melbourne, at the Espy. It was then that I knew what Trent meant when he referred to the Espy as being “the classic picture of a storied, historic rock & roll venue”.

Walking into the Gershwin Room, one of the three band rooms, you have to admire the lavish detail. With some imagination, it’s not hard to picture it as a ballroom in the 1920s when it was Melbourne’s premier jazz venue; a popular jazz band playing to a fashionable crowd of men and women, in ‘flapper’ dresses, dancing the Charleston under an intricately carved ceiling. There is indeed a certain vibe to the Espy. The history! It’s a wise move made by the many owners the Espy has had over the years to keep modernisation to a minimal and in places such as stage, sound and bar facilities, discreet.


Back to the Ne Obliviscaris gig. Sound wise, a great venue for heavy metal. No static or screechy feedback; the only screeching coming from the vocalist as it should be. And does not warrant the need for ear plugs! Although it is advisable to wear them if you tend to hang around the speakers for a prolonged length of time. According to Trent the stage itself has been made bigger. Example of the discreet improvements made to a historic room. No wonder the band members of Ne Obliviscaris, all six of them, didn’t look cramped up there.

Most metalheads, in the throes of headbanging, wouldn’t notice small details like lighting, but trust me, it adds to the experience! As Tim Charles floated into a violin solo in the middle of ‘Tapestry of the Starless Abstract’, the stage and its occupants were cast in what looked like dappled sunlight on a forest floor. Ultra cheesy, yes, but aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.

Now, I bet you want some dirt, right? Like any human being, I naturally have to ask about the Espy’s seamy underbelly; no question it has one being situated in St Kilda. Nothing against St Kilda, the opposite in fact, it’s the seedier side that adds character to the suburb and makes it far more interesting.

“Into the 50s and 60s, the hotel part of [the Espy] started suffering as it wasn’t getting anywhere near as many visitors…as a result of St Kilda’s decline from grand seaside suburb and attractive holiday destination into a seedy neighbourhood plagued by crime, drugs and prostitution that Melburnians shunned…” describes Trent. I especially like his description of neighbouring Fitzroy St as being a “filthy strip of sleaze” back then before it was cleaned up and all the drug dealers, junkies and hookers were forced into “main residential streets like Grey, Inkerman, Greeves and Carlisle” instead.

Having mentioned this ‘dark side’, I should warn people looking for a mainstream pub to not bother going to the Espy; if you’re looking for clean, modern lines and fresh décor, don’t go! But if you like a bit of grit, personality and a mix of all and any subculture, the Espy’s the place for you. Favourite local metal band playing there? Go down, check them out and bring friends! Or if you’re looking for a relaxing night out on a hot summer night, with the best view of the sun setting over Port Phillip Bay, a couple of jugs of beer and good friends, got two words for you: the Espy.



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