“There are not a lot of secrets in Melbourne,” admits Starr Guzman, partner in production team Marksthespot along with Kevin Karlberg. With interrogative punctuation in its clever title to illustrate its point, the secrecy behind the location of Where?House has transcended the space into a real life version of the Batcave. Not even the hypnotic effects of my powerful, seductive moustache were strong enough for Starr and Kevin to reveal the location. Following the success of the spectacular and refreshingly distinctive KUBIK pop-up installation for last year’s Melbourne Music Week, Marksthespot were once again approached by the City of Melbourne to design, develop and produce another cynosure for Melbourne Music Week.
“What we did with KUBIK was bring an idea and make it Melbourne…and that’s what we’ve done with Where?House – we’ve taken inspiration from the creator’s project and other similar arts reclamations but we’ve given it a Melbourne flavour, hence the food, dining hall, workshop space, sonic garden, they’re all components of Melbourne that already exist but we’re bringing it all together and binding with the best music programming that’s underground, but it’s still eclectic and broad”.
Where?House will undoubtedly act as the focal point of Melbourne Music Week, with an impressively comprehensive lineup of musicians, events and workshops.
“The hub by day is open 11am to 8pm, and there’s two main spaces. One is the main hall – a grand rave hall style concept. Think of Hi-Fi Bar in this weird bizarre context. And then there’s a whole other space which is more like The Night Market but it’s open all day and it’s free 11am – 8pm. Touché Hombre, Huxtaburger, I Love Pho Fancy Hanks, Phat Brats etc. all coming in there to cook every day. We’ve got Learning Curve in there, all the master classes and workshops and screenings. We’ve got a free Wi-Fi lounge being run by Intel, that’s a space you can come and use internet. There’s a bar that runs all day with a café, there’s some interactive spaces where you can do different music related things and basically hang out. It’s like a multi-purpose Revolver during the day.”
Kevin adds, “Because of liquor licensing and sound limits within the city and especially the nature of what Melbourne Music Week is, to encourage people to go on multiple nights, we close Where?House at 1am or 2am each night but then what we did, was after KUBIK last year, you’d be like, ‘Where are we going after? I wanna have a drink or something’, so we’ve engaged all the different venues that we use throughout the year that do interesting music so people can go and explore other parts of the city afterwards. Some of the events over the weekend will run right through the night”.
Whilst the whereabouts of Where?House are tightly confidential until November 16, Starr is more than happy to describe its design and function.
“It’s an epic space that’s really traditional, Melbourne, historical with a touch of absolute decay. It’s been disused, hasn’t been touched in however many years, it’s falling apart, it’s well loved but uncared for, and the themes that we’ve gone with are a response to the buildings. So rather than go with, ‘We’re gonna beautify this ugly space’, we’ve gone, ‘How beautiful is this decayed space! Let’s work with the materials that are already here and feature that and not take away from the space but add to it’. Reclamation is one of the main themes, nature reclaims buildings all the time. You find moss, you find ivy, you find animals, you find all sorts of things just growing in this space and that’s very much what we’re doing. We see ourselves as a living organism going into this building for a temporary amount of time and creating and thriving in the only way that we know how, within this space. Then we’ll take it all apart and disappear, and leave it as it was.”
An astonishing feature of Where?House is the depth of interesting workshops that will run, as Kevin explains.
“There’s always been information workshops and production scheduling things in Australia from time to time, but usually when there’s a new software like if Reaktor bring out a new plug-in or something there’ll be a small demo or something like that, but it’ll always be isolated to 20 or 30 music professionals, whereas the public can’t get to see from start to finish, literally from like birth to death music culture, where you can actually go, ‘Okay, these guys designed the software, these are the guys who DJ the music that’s made from those producers with the software and this guy who just showed me the software he made, this is him playing live tonight’ – it’s the whole spectrum”.
Starr adds, “And all of the workshops are the industry talking about the industry, and not so much from a ‘oh we’re gasbagging about what the industry is’ but everyone’s talking about where they’re specialists in, and taking that in to producers and DJs and anybody that wants to find more about that music – law, the sustainability – the entire programming of Learning Curve is people talking about their learnings within these very specific industries, and that’s something Melbourne hasn’t had for a very long time.”
When it comes to programming the lineup, Where?House adopts Melbourne’s embracement of all musical genres (heed my advice from KUBIK: if you have a smartphone, you’ll be using the shit out of SoundHound or Shazam), and as Kevin and Starr both emphasise, the concept of a style or genre of music is futile.
“The program is not electronic-based, as such. It’s quite a cross section between live bands, and even on the more electronic-based nights, there’s still bands like on the experimental sound night that has bands like Vladislav Delay and Richard Devine play. Tantrums, which are a Melbourne live band that have an electronica element to them because one person in the band has some crazy modular synthesiser, gives them that kind of flair and so we thought it would be good to kind of cross pollinate both genres. We’ve done that with the big distant tempo night, where it’s kind of a fusion between live band and electronic artists with a bit of a crossover. In the late ‘80s, in [some] places in the UK and stuff, bands like Orbitor and Underworld through to the Sex Pistols, U2, Joy Division – they all started in a warehouse party,” Kevin elucidates.
Starr inserts, “Joy Division obviously then became New Order. Electronic music doesn’t have its roots in electronic music, it’s a response to the new technology that came and I know that the industry and the public like to separate them both, we don’t like to separate music.
“It’s just music,” they both exclaim simultaneously, before Kevin continues.
“Even good friends of ours, the guys from Cut Copy, their influence is from when they were DJing in clubs and used to play live on a couple of drum machines at Revolver, and as they grew, they outgrew their electronic equipment and started needing more stage show and more presence, went to a full band, and from that band then brought back the electronic element. It kind of feeds itself, definitely.
“It’s quite interesting to have New War from Melbourne, they’re actually releasing 10 inch records again. Housse de Racket have never been to Australia and they’re gonna be exclusive to Melbourne Music Week. PillowTalk are made up of three really incredible DJs that have been here a long time but now they’re in a band, doing jazz-fused house and disco kind of stuff.
“It was a bit risky to put some big talent on there haven’t actually made it to Australia but I think also that’s what makes it good”.
Why would it be risky to introduce big talent to Australian audiences?
“Just because usually for a festival, your opening headline night you always put someone everybody knows who’ve been around a long time just to sell tickets, whereas this year we went for more content to hook artists that can really deliver stage shows and people haven’t seen. People can walk away and say, ‘Whoa I was at Where?House, it was incredible. Shit, you see that band? Who the hell was that?’ Literally Shazaming.’
Starr expands, “PillowTalk – perfect example. You don’t know who they are now, I guarantee you, by this time next year, they’ll be headlining Laneway or something; they’re really on the cusp”.
Just as many pondered after KUBIK last year, the overwhelmingly diverse list of activities held at the space begs for a set-up that isn’t so ephemeral. Will a set-up like this ever be permanently sustainable?
“Of course. I think it’s just getting past the restriction and I think as Melbourne moves towards a 2020 vision, which is a 24 hour city and having more arts focus and more culture focus. You know we’re a very new country and in Europe, the arts scenes there are thousands of years old whereas we’re really new and finding our ground, so it’s very much about bringing something to the audience that they can understand, and with KUBIK that was an experiment from our end, and it could’ve been a hit or miss, it could’ve been that the audience wasn’t ready and it many ways it wasn’t, and in so many ways it had opened peoples eyes as to what’s possible and what can be done when arts meets music and culture. I think that as a populous we may not be quite there yet but certainly, Australia’s ready for this type of meeting of multi-mediums.”
With a quick twisting of the ends of my moustache still not producing the revelation of the secret location, Starr explains the reasoning behind the confidentiality.
“The entire process is a homage to the roots of the underground electronic music scene in Melbourne. Back in the day, events were held in spaces that were illegal and abandoned, disused and you couldn’t reveal them. So what we’ve done is juxtaposed that with where we are now, and pay homage to that in a traditional method. We’re not doing what we did then; we’re taking it back and reminding people of the journey that we’ve been on the last 20 years – it’s been 20 years that the electronic music scene has been running in Melbourne – and just taking it back to full circle and pay homage to that. Melbourne is one the hot spots of electronic music still now as it was back then. When we tour people from Detroit they still say to us, ‘The love between Melbourne and Detroit has always been there for 20 years. If it wasn’t for you guys, Detroit wouldn’t be on the map as an electronic music hot ground because here is were we sold records first, here is where the music was picked up, here is where we had fans before anywhere else in the world’. There’s such a strong element of that and we don’t ever pay tribute to that, so the whole concept of keeping it a secret, people not knowing, Melbourne is truly an underground city and this is just really all about that.
“It was underground, it always has been until recently where now it’s above ground. We’re just understanding the roots of it and where it comes from and how is it so popular now? I think Melbourne is a true music in so many ways, not just electronic music but all styles of music, and I think that Melbourne Music Week is a great vehicle for acknowledging that, because we haven’t done that as a city. We all know it, but we don’t actually live it or practise it, so getting the industry to caretake the future generations that are coming and to be role models and mentor the new industry is something that hasn’t been fostered and this is the prefect program to do that through”.
“It’s hard to keep it a secret in Melbourne. Half of it is: is it possible to keep a secret in Melbourne? Is it possible to keep this venue under wraps until the day? We’ll see, who knows.
BY NICK TARAS
Photo credit: Rhonda Bonnici
Where?House will run as part of Melbourne Music Week featuring performances from Floating Points [UK], Mike Huckaby [USA], Ben Sims [UK] and many more at a to-be-disclosed location from Friday November 16 – Sunday November 25. The location will be revealed on the morning of Friday November 16 - go to where-house.com.au