When considering what defines a festival or an event as 'extraordinary', thoughts are usually drawn to one crucial question: which artists will be performing? It takes an incredibly unique and groundbreaking venue to become the star attraction of a festival, and KUBIK Melbourne stunningly achieves just that as the flagship program for the second year of Melbourne Music Week. KUBIK - a concept designed by Balestra Berlin and brought to Melbourne by production company Marksthespot - is a touring art installation built from a series of interconnected and colourfully illuminated water tanks. Visually stunning lighting effects are programmed to change colour to synchronise with live music performed within the installation. Having already toured 22 cities around the world, this innovative temporary outdoor live music venue will be brought to Birrarung Marr by Marksthespot for its Southern Hemisphere debut. I sat down with two Directors from Marksthespot, Kevin Karlberg and Starr Guzman, and judging by the passion and affection in their voices it became immediately recognisable that they weren't driven by financial or fame intentions - but rather by a vision.
"I went to [KUBIK] twice when it was in Barcelona, in two different seasons. Even with the brand of techno that I'm involved with in Melbourne, most of the artists and concepts and ideas that I got for that whole brand came from experiences I had with KUBIK and so for a long time I've been trying to work out how to do that here in Australia. So many different little events and working on other people's festivals and stuff to get to a point that this would be possible. Ever since I've known Starr we've been talking about KUBIK and one of the managers at Melbourne Music Week I had spoken to her along time about KUBIK and she had been there before, so it helped nudge it along a little bit. We really wanted to do it where we could have it run 24 hours and really make it a crazy party like it is overseas but I think sacrificing all-night trading to have it a Birrarung Marr is well worth it. You're right on the river, you're in the city, you can walk there, the trains are over the road," explains Kevin.
"It's a fusion of a couple of different things: sustainability, music and entertainment obviously with a visual aspect, and then a café and bar so it's a tailor-made experience that's also functional," adds Starr.
Creators of KUBIK - Balestra Berlin - overlook the logistical part of the installation and team up with production companies around the world looking to bring it to life in a particular way that will match the style of their city. Melbourne's reinvention of KUBIK will double as a 700-capacity venue which will function as a café (catered by Chez Dré) during the day and as a distinctive licensed venue for Melbourne Music Week at night - boasting acts such as Cut Copy, Midnight Juggernauts and Metals amongst its extensive lineup.
"How it came about for us was that Kevin really wanted to realise it here in Australia and we started talking about doing it in Docklands and we started talking to the City of Melbourne. They were a little iffy about it at first but they really understood the idea and the concept and normally runs for three months over summer. We were a bit reluctant to have this thing pop up in Docklands for three months and it was bit of a reputational risk for them, and it's a kind of risk for us to try it without testing the market," explains Starr.
"Especially for something that people haven't seen before. You can show a million videos and stuff and you can give them a full experience visually but unless you've physically been there, it's really hard to grasp," interjects Kevin.
Starr and Kevin affectionately highlight the importance of the City of Melbourne's involvement, encouragement and support of bringing the KUBIK concept to Melbourne.
"The market here in Australia is just coming to pop up venues. Like Section 8 is relatively a new concept. That kind of artistic approach to venues and music is a whole new thing so we kind of identified that it was a bit of a risk to do it like that," says Starr.
Thus, it seems, that the union with Melbourne Music Week seemed like the perfect opportunity for KUBIK to be brought to life in Melbourne.
"City of Melbourne had this brand new concept that's only run for one year that they really want to take somewhere to a whole other level and it just met somewhere where it was really good for them, and then we spent probably three or four months trying to tailor it to fit within Melbourne Music Week so obviously it normally runs for three months - this is ten days. In Europe and Dubai it runs all night - here we can only run it to a certain time for sound restrictions. We spent three or four solid months just tailoring a concept to potentially do Melbourne Music Week and then we obviously thought that it was going to be possible and went ahead with it. They're co-producing but it's more them supporting us to do it within their program and supporting it as a flagship program for their Melbourne Music Week program," informs Starr. "It's really forward-thinking by the council. They saw it as a real opportunity to bring something to Melbourne but also they really believed in it like they had a lot of sessions with their councillors where they really worked to make this work and to bring some of the other councillors around to the concept which is amazing. We're jumping quite a bit…the expectation from the industry is that Melbourne Music Week will develop into something similar to South By SouthWest because Face The Music is on, AWME is on and several other things starting to happen at that time. They're looking that this will be a creative hub for people all over the world to see Melbourne showcased but also see other stuff from around the world and that's the expectation in the next five to ten years to build into something like that," she adds.
However, constructing something so unusual like KUBIK in Melbourne brings several challenges not just from a logistical standpoint but also from a legal one considering Melbourne's tight laws on late night music venues.
"The hardest thing is the sourcing of the reclaimer tanks. We really struggled with that. We wanted it to be sustainable but we didn't want to get new ones and there's so many of them - we've got 170 tanks with I think another 120 frames alone and then fencing and shipping containers, and just the red tape around the time restrictions and sound restrictions," says Starr.
"A lot of the laws are from a long time ago. The people that we're working with from the City of Melbourne are amazing. They're really helping - we never hit a brick wall. Really heavy duty problem solving. Every document we've had to adhere to with the council - there's been no precedence. Nobody's ever made something like this before…every step of the way we've had to reset the rulebooks," explains Kevin.
"The City of Melbourne were really supportive in trying to find a way to do that and this like a test run for their late night activation as part of their Vision Melbourne 2020 document which is where Melbourne wants to go and…it's been in development five or six years and a part of that is that they really want have Melbourne be a night city and you can see at the moment it's starting to get there but the late night restrictions are still difficult and all of this kind of comes out the 3am lockout and all the rallies…was what prompted the City of Melbourne to reviewing their policy on live music venues and then being inclusive of other music kinds because they were getting so much feedback from the populous that have to be more supportive and the industry's worth so much. Forward-thinking of them to do that and for us the most important part is that they've been so supportive of electronic music and for them to let us program something - the flagship of Melbourne Music Week - as a beat-driven space is phenomenal," says Starr.
One of the major benefits of KUBIK is also the contribution it makes to Melbourne's thriving yet disadvantaged electronic music scene. When I ask Starr that perhaps rock music is heavily favoured by the music industry in Melbourne more so than electronica, she is unequivocal in her response.
"Oh without a doubt…the audience is ready for it but the issue at the moment is that the actual music industry, the way it's set up is very rock oriented. All the key bodies are rock focused. Even until this year the funding ran for Victorian Music Program was called 'Victoria Rocks'. Everything is so biased towards rock music because that's what's known".
Kevin interrupts her, mentioning, "The gap is starting to get shorter and shorter. I went to The Buffalo Club a couple of weeks ago and just the programming alone for quite a new venue to have indie rocks bands playing early and then it went into some guy playing dubstep and then there was a live electronic act where it was spoken word with a piano, and then there was like a hip hop live show and then there was a techno DJ."
Kevin and Starr intend for KUBIK to be the vanguard of the entertainment industry, opening up possibilities for the Melbourne music scene and reaching its level of potential.
"I think [KUBIK is] breaking boundaries of what the entertainment sector can offer. We're pushing boundaries of what can happen and this will open the floodgates to such a different level of thinking of what can be created," says Starr. "It's really about boundary stretching."
KUBIK Melbourne will be located on the Lower Terrace of Birrarung Marr from Friday November 18 - Saturday November 26, featuring performances from acts such as Alexkid [FRA], The Gaslamp Killer [USA], DJ Krush [JAP] and more. Check kubikmelbourne.com for more information.