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The Hopetoun Hotel closed down and the Sydney live music scene didn't die

the Hopetoun Hotel

Disclaimer: Although it has been reported that the Hopetoun Hotel is planning to re-open, for consistency sake I am going to refer to the venue in the past tense within the context of this article. Call me a pessimist if you will, but I had to choose one or the other.

There has been plenty of talk over the past few weeks about the impending apocalypse of the Sydney music scene. This was originally sparked by the news that iconic live venue the Hopetoun Hotel was shutting it's doors, amidst problems caused either by failed council regulations, money issues or family squabbles depending on which media outlet you believe. In typical mainstream media opportunistic fashion the Hopetoun saga was jumped on, with several stories running about it's closure signifying the death of the local music community and even suggesting that several other local venues, including the Annandale Hotel, were destined to follow suit.

Before you crucify me for not supporting local music and/or 'spitting on the poor old Hopetoun', let me just make one thing clear - I liked the Hopetoun. I attended countless shows there. I lost my musical virginity several times at the venue while watching performances from some of this country's finest under appreciated bands. I even had probably one of the greatest musical experiences of my life while standing on the Hopetoun's creaky wooden floorboards1.

Most of the discussion about the issue has been focused on the music perspective, and how an iconic venue like the Hopetoun is a critical part of the art community of Sydney. There hasn't been too much discussion about what hotel was first and foremost - a business.

From a music community point of view the hotel's closure is a tragedy, but it doesn't take a business mastermind to pinpoint several reasons that likely contributed to the Hopetoun's demise:

Day trading

I work only a few blocks from the Hopetoun. We often shoot off to a pub for lunch and quickly down a couple of sneaky beers before heading back for the afternoon grind. The Hopetoun never seemed open for regular trading until later in the afternoon. I highly doubt this was because of a restricted license that would affect the hotel opening from lunchtime and putting on a regular pub menu. The upstairs restaurant, which seemed to continually be changing management and operating independently from the pub, never seemed to be open during the day.

Surely this option of day trading would have brought in some necessary income to help support the ongoing maintenance of the hotel, in a similar way to other pubs in the area.

Competition kills

The opening of the Oxford Art Factory, which has a much more central night life location obviously took a lot of the business from the Hopetoun. The bands the OAF are hosting are bands that previously would have been a perfect fit for the Hopetoun's size - between a warehouse space and the Annandale Hotel.

If you can do-it-yourself, why wouldn't you?

In addition to the emergence of new licensed venues, the ever-expanding number of DIY warehouse spaces popping up around Surry Hills, Marrickville and Redfern has obviously offered some serious competition to the Hopetoun's regular clientele. There are several pluses and minuses of attending a show at a licensed venue like the Hopetoun compared to a warehouse space - including cost, sound quality and the overall atmosphere. The $6 beers in plastic glasses didn't help the hotel's case though.

These venues have also slowly transformed from being renegade art spaces into more widely supported venues. Red Rattler and the CAD Factory, both in Marrickville, are professionally run venues with a clear objective to remain as a supportive space for local artists, as well as those visiting from out of town. They also seem to have successfully broken down the stigma that these are closed societies that are unwelcoming to outside visitors, and are becoming increasingly welcoming and enjoyable places to see bands perform.

Ghosts Of Television
Ghosts Of Television at some warehouse in Marrickville

It's called Surry Hills, not Slurry Hills

I am too young to ever have experienced Surry Hills as an inner-city bohemian paradise (my older friends tell me it once was) but the suburb has been heading in the direction of becoming another Sydney yuppie stronghold for as long as I can remember. The lifestyles of the residents of the suburb obviously dictates successful commercial operations, and a noisy rock venues doesn't really seem to fit in. This has been the main opposition the Annandale Hotel has dealt with for decades and something, given it's residential position, that was always going to be an ongoing issue for the Hopetoun.

The Hopetoun bucked the trend of the changing social landscape, not by attempting to capitalise or even accommodate the shifting demographic of it's neighbours, but instead by digging it's heels in, posting a couple of 'please respect our neighbours' signs and simply hoping that people just leave after the show instead of going on a standard drunken late night waltz.

Your band is at the Hopetoun this week? I had no idea

I think it's also necessary to address how the hotel was managed from a promotional point of view. Communicating to people what was happening at the hotel on a week-by-week basis was something that, in my opinion, was never really handled properly. While this is purely from an outsiders perspective, its important to note that:

1. The Facebook and MySpace pages for the hotel were rarely up to date. It was very hard to find out who was playing at the venue without going past the noticeboard out the front, flicking through one of the shitty local street press magazines or actively seeking out external gig listings. Other venues in Sydney (ie. the competition) have weekly mail-outs, up-to-date websites and several others of the standard Internet Marketing 101 boxes ticked.

2. The hotel had very few (if any?) proactive campaigns - competitions, membership and loyalty rewards and the like.

3. There has been a 'Save the Hopetoun' web address written on the side of the hotel since it's closure. The initiative, obviously aimed at getting some media attention and pressure some powerful people to get involved, is a great idea. The only problem? The URL is wrong. It has remained unnoticed and unchanged for weeks. And now some wicked little whipper snapper has set up a Nick Cage shrine at the advertised address, while the correct address - featuring a petition to Mayor Clover Moore - doesn't receive anywhere near the same level of promotion.

-----------------------------------

There have been a fair few opinion pieces written from several internal and external sources regarding the issue. Most notably, local writer Shaun Prescott has pretty much nailed the argument of the emerging DIY local scene, which seems as though it is an unknown entity to those in the mainstream press declaring this as a world-ending event. At the other end of the spectrum there are people like Symon Madry at The Punch who puts forward the lazy argument that a simple increase in patronage could have not only saved the hotel, but also ensure that other venues are saved from a similar destiny. There is also Sam de Brito's failed satirical analysis of the issue, whereby he declared the solution was simple - more good looking people and overpriced drinks at gigs.

Although not completely convinced on their positive impact, I am also aware of the recent changes to the POPE licenses and their possible effect on this discussion. People have pointed out to me that the alterations wouldn't have necessarily impacted on the Hopetoun's case, but more on businesses attempting to add live entertainment to their current space. I think that whole issue is another kettle of worms that should be boiled and digested at some later stage.

And now I throw the floor open. Really interested to hear people's thoughts on this.

Notes:
1. Let's save that for the My Top Ten Shows Of The Decade post.

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Hopetoun Hotel

 

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Comments

Sean

Great insight, Jonny. I totally agree. While it may be shame that the Hoey closed its doors (temporarily or not), live music is hardly going to die in Sydney because of it. If venues close down, new ones will pop up.

Here in Vancouver the local scene has been thriving over the past five to ten years. And all this has happened after the "live music is dead" snap reactions to numerous venues closing in the late 90s through to this year. More condos means venues shut down but new ones that do a great job fostering local, independent music have popped up. It's crazy how many new venues for live music there are in the city at the moment that did not exist when I moved to Sydney in 2005.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

Dude, before the last 4 weeks of operation I was the one who updated the facebook and myspace and I did that weekly so I disagree with your comment regarding that. But I agree that more should of been done from a publicity view point, but what do you do when owners won't spend ANY money doing so?
Also, I think bands have a bit to answer to. So little bands tried with promo, and weekly the hoey was used pretty much as a rehearsel space.

1 decade ago

donny

that site is sic with th e pics of the con air dude lol.

1 decade ago

Tricks

On two separate occasions during the last two weeks of operation the hoey closed without letting the headliners go on due to the fact there was one payer(or less) in the room. They were given the opportunity to play and decided to shit all over it by not bothering to promote their shows whatsoever.

Just backing up Kaity's post y'all

1 decade ago

Jonny Yes Yes

i might have been looking in the wrong place.. but .. the last show listed on the facebook page i had 'bookmarked' was for september 13.. with the hotel posting their closed sign on september 28

it's not really that surprising to hear that there was a lack of money from the owners being put towards promotion.. i just thought a lot more of the free options could have been utlised a bit better..

1 decade ago

Jonny Yes Yes

@kaity @tricks... completely agree.. bands should be doing their own promotion as well and they shouldn't expect the venue to completely take care of this..

1 decade ago

Jonny Yes Yes

@kaity - i may have misread your point there regarding the facebook/myspace updates.. so you were doing this up until the start of september? ...

1 decade ago

josh.o

heavysunday

1 decade ago

josh.o

heavysunday

1 decade ago

sci_fi

I play in a post-punk band that's been actively gigging since early April. We've played in warehouses, art galleries, record shops, book shops, anarchist libraries, car parks and nondescript halls. The only two legit, licensed venues we've ever played at are the Red Rattler (the perfect live music venue) and Newcastle's Croatian Club, neither of which felt much like playing at a pub or club. Although I've been to some freakin' incredible shows at the Hoey, we haven't felt that places like the Hoey or the Annandale (or Spectrum or World Bar etc etc) are necessary to our survival as a band thus far.

Where we play has partly been our own choice and an expression of how we feel a live music space should work (less concerned with profit, all ages, not alcohol-focused) - and partly because, so far, it's just *easier*. It's frustrating to have to try to prove how cool you are to whoever does certain club nights, and it's annoying to have to constantly and repeatedly field questions about what kind of crowd we'll bring and how many fkn payers we'll get through the door (and I say that as someone who has spent hours walking around putting up posters/handing out leaflets/promoting stuff on the internets). Not once have we been asked those kind of questions whilst playing in the DIY scene - it's assumed that you're passionate about your music and that you'll try to get people to come, to at least make back the cost of hiring the venue. Admittedly we've rarely been paid whilst playing in the DIY scene but we've accepted that we're never really going to make huge amounts of money from what we do. Who cares? That's certainly not why we started playing music together.

Maybe when we start branching out from Marrickville into the clubs an' that, I'll be a bit more emotionally involved?

1 decade ago

(nobody)

"anarchist libraries"

1 decade ago

sci_fi

well, bookshops. but it sounded cooler if i could name more places.

1 decade ago

sci_fi

and i didn't want to write 'bookshops' twice.

1 decade ago

donny

RT @Joel "anarchist libraries"

1 decade ago

(nobody)

People have liked live music for a long time and (like the posts above) I doubt that demand for live music itself will ever be seriously under threat in a city the size of Sydney. Arguing for the ‘death of Sydney live music’ on account of one ‘temporarily’ closed venue is a pretty thin assertion. The health of Sydney’s live music scene and the closure of the Hopetoun are two related but ultimately separate issues. If things go sour the closure of the Hopetoun may remain symbolic of Sydney’s situation but more so out of convenience than as a result of any direct link. As Jonny points out, if media reports are to be believed it’s not like the business was going along just fine until Sydneysiders suddenly decided they didn’t want to go see live music anymore.

1 decade ago

Jonny Yes Yes

jura?

1 decade ago

sci_fi

yeah, jura. black rose (the other one) is too small to host shows, i think.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

Business's will always come and go. Selina's was still the best Sydney venue for mine. DIY doesn't really have doors to close, so will always be around.

I'm sure the owner of a certain pub has shit all to do with the music and it's run by some person with a genuine interest in the local scene and they will most likely head to another venue and start something there.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

nice write up jonny

I think the best solution is to reduce the red tape and costs associated with running a live music venue - but good luck with that ..

1 decade ago

(nobody)

i havent really noticed any real change as a result of the reduction of red tape surrounding the drinking laws in sydney, barring a couple of places, and i dont really see the new live music laws really changing sydney all too much in the near future in the near future.
theres just too many music tastes in this city and too few punters

1 decade ago

bert88

I've always been treated like shit at the Hoey by the staff, whether I was attending a show or playing one. I know many people who had the same experience, some even boycotting the venue because of it.
It's a pretty simple point, but if you're treated like shit, you're less likely to want to go to a place.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

yeah the bar guy there was a fucking wanker

1 decade ago

(nobody)

i can smell when my girlfriend is on her period

1 decade ago

(nobody)

I imagine you can probably taste it too, dumbshit.

1 decade ago

Rough Day at the Orifice

Bar staff sucked, no good bands played there anymore, closure was probably for the better. Actually wait.....it did keep Laurels and Songs from clogging up the better venues though



1 decade ago

Remmy

The bar staff did suck... and that creepy door guy who was in a bad mood all the time... what the fuck was with him?
We are only sad the Hoey is closing because there is nowhere else to replace it... not because it was that great.... Still, I had some good times there...

1 decade ago

vomitingmirrors

check out this stabs interview from mess and noise: http://www.messandnoise.com/articles/3785908

Matt: I believe the cutting edge of Australian music isn’t in Melbourne these days anyway. It’s in Sydney, where there are bands like The Atrocities, The Whores and The Nevada Strange, who are harkening back to that Black Eye label sound that we like as well.

Brendan: Sydney is where it’s at, right now, because bands can’t get gigs in pubs. There are bands in Sydney who refuse to play pubs. It’s hard enough to get a gig there, and if you do, they treat you like shit. So, in Sydney there is an attitude among bands of wanting to do it on their own terms. All the good gigs are happening in warehouses, people’s backyards, house parties, art galleries – not traditional venues for rock’n’roll.

shit yeah!

1 decade ago

whale

i wouldn't say the number of diy spaces is increasing.. maggotville, the pitz and dirty shirlows (temporarily?) in the past six months have all closed. Plus about ten others in the past few years.. but i guess that's just part of the turnover.

1 decade ago

bella

those DIY spaces are temporary by nature though... no one expects to make money from gigs that are free/donation, it's just a bunch of dudes covering costs and renting a house like anyone else. the people eventually move on but the beauty of it is that another venue will always turn up. LIFE.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

Ooh, Yeah
Oh yeah
Oh Life
Oh Life
I'm afraid of the dark
Especially when I'm in the park
When there's no one else around
Oh I get the shivers
I don't wanna see a ghost
It's the sight that I fear most
I'd rather have a piece of toast
Watch the evening news
Life, oh life
Oh life, oh life
Life, oh life
Oh life, oh life
I'm a superstitious girl
I'm the worst in the world
Never walk under ladders
I keep a rabbits' tail
I'll take you up on a dare
Anytime, anywhere
Name the place, I'll be there
Bungee jumping, I don't care
Life, oh life
Oh life, oh life
Life, oh life
Oh life, oh life
Life
So after all's said and done
I know I'm not the only one
Life indeed can be fun
If you really want to
Sometimes living out your dreams
Ain't as easy as it seems
You wanna fly around the world
In a beautiful balloon
Life, oh life
Oh life, oh life
Life, oh life
Oh life, oh life
Life, oh life
Oh life, oh life
Life, oh life
Oh life, oh life
Oh life, oh life..

1 decade ago

Jonny Yes Yes

it's true that a few of the diy spaces around town have started to shut up shop but as hellz bellz points out, this is how they generally operate..

but i do think there are more of them now (or at least more that are generally accessible and welcoming) than there was five or so years ago..

1 decade ago

bella

amen, anonymous... amen.

yeah I've noticed more of them or am at least going to more warehouse parties now than I used to, but maybe that's just because I started shopping at cream on king.

1 decade ago

gemdilem

Yeah I think there are more warehouse gigs these days... well at least more I hear about then say 5 years ago. Or maybe I am just cooler than I was 5 years ago.

1 decade ago

Remmy

Sydney still sux.
Warehouse gigs are nice... but they should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
Sydney still sux.
Its still way too pricy to get a live music licence at venues... Punters here are still lazy and dont attend many gigs during the week... unless its a "hype band".
Sydney still sux...

1 decade ago

(nobody)

agreed..it's embarrassing how few people in Sydney attend live shows mid-week. take lightning bolt on monday night for example...there was a tiny crowd at Hermans for how rad they are. I don't care if they played on sat as well...you're not seeing this shit every day.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

and how good lightning bolt was, although the crowd was alot tamer than at the manning, weird hey

1 decade ago

bella

oh that's just cause monday was my birthday, so everyone was at my house having a massive party. soz, lightning bolt.

1 decade ago

(nobody)

damn - i was seriously considering catching Lightning Bolt on monday but I wanted to avoid the hipsters. would've been a good move to go see them if all the hipsters were at Bella's house.

1 decade ago

bella

oh man, you lucked out anonymous. sucks! :(

1 decade ago

(nobody)

monday was better because people weren't trying to re-enact crowd scenes from 'the power of salad and milkshakes'

1 decade ago

(nobody)

Your initial comments are ill informed. The idea that a venue in Oxford street and and a couple more in Marrickville are some kind of business breaking competition makes no sense in a city of 4 million.. Bands that do not promote themselves, well, that goes with the territory. I think you conveniently bypassed the local council regulations and gentrification as probably being major factors in the end of both the hoey and live music in Sydney. To be blunt, live music, is, for all intents and purposes, against the law. The yuppies don,t like it, the police don,t like it, the real estate agents dont like it, and the politicians say they like it, but pass laws which indicate otherwise. Industry and live music existed in the inner city of Sydney for many decades - it is only the influx of real estate obsessed people with money and power who have destroyed what little culture this city once had - unless you consider small serves of overpriced food in quiet restaurants which take themselves too seriously as being culture.
The dispersed geography of Sydney means that once inner city gentrification has destroyed inner urban culture, it will be gone for good. The demise of the hoey has more to do with rent and local government unwritten policies of closing venues in response to property owner pressure than promotional difficulties.
Do not blame the hoey. Blame yuppies and the government they control.

1 decade ago

Remmy

Fucking oath Madon! Yuppies spell bad news for everyone. We need another recession to make the Surry Hills a scary shithole with cheap rent again :)

1 decade ago

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