Cactus Room’s immersive psych-rock returns: ‘People always say how unique it is’

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Cactus Room’s immersive psych-rock returns: ‘People always say how unique it is’

Melbourne's live music venues
Cactus Room
Words by James Robertson

After an unexpected hiatus, the iconic Thornbury venue Cactus Room is pleased to bring back its immersive night of psychedelic rock this week.

Aside from that, owner Dave is excited for the venue’s future after battling with the lockdowns over the past few years. Since the venue only opened in October 2017, the pandemic has been a major obstacle for the fledgling Cactus Room. But this hasn’t held them back from supplying Melbourne with a venue that champions unique experiences and new bands.

Cactus Room like to give “the smaller bands that aren’t headlining the bigger venues on weekends […] the chance to play weekend shows and get their name out there,” says Dave. “We [also] provide a rehearsal space for artists. You can practise in the room you play on for that weekend; you hone it all in and can play a tight show.”

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Having once been just a mere warehouse, Cactus Room now boasts multiple rehearsal rooms to play in at affordable rates and even a recording studio. They even champion local artists with their homegrown label, Cactus Records. But it’s the venue itself that is the most memorable aspect of the Cactus Room.

“People always say how unique it is,” says Dave. “You come in from the street feeling closed up when you come through the small entrance. As you go through the rooms it opens up and you can go out to the back to the courtyard. You wouldn’t really suspect it from the street.” A mysterious energy pervades the place. “That’s what people say when they come in for the first time.”

Music is not the only focus of Cactus Room however. “We have exhibitions entwined with our gigs,” says Dave. “Underground art is involved with it more than your average pub.”

Their most exciting upcoming gig is the second iteration of Cactus Cult: a night of psychedelia for the eyes and ears. Having staged such an event before, Dave is super excited for punters to experience this collaborative gig. “Our good mates, a band that rehearses here all the time, the Black Heart Death Cult,” says Dave. “We decided to put on a show together with them. It feels like only a year ago, but it was three years ago now. It was meant to be a yearly thing, but with COVID there’s been a three-year gap. First one we did was in July 2019.”

Cactus Cult, a combination of Cactus Room and the Black Heart Death Cult, was such a success back in the pre-pandemic times, that Dave knew that it just had to be brought back. “It was a psych-focused night: it was awesome last time,” he says.

As for this year’s line-up, the best of local and interstate shoegaze and psychedelic rock have been brought together. Headliners Grinding Eyes hail from Sydney and “they’re pretty heavy driving psych, loud and shoegazey kind of band. They put on a really cool show.”

The Howling Fog will be joining in from Adelaide as well and in comparison are a “very wall-of-noise, soundscape kind of psych band.” Rounding out the line-up are local band Wild Meadows. Black Heart Death Cult will be making an appearance again of course, but not as you’ve seen them before.

“Black Heart Death Cult are playing, but they’re doing a bit of a different show,” says Dave. “They’re doing a three-piece band with a sitar and a tabla player. It should be a pretty unique, one-off show. It will be completely different and they’ll probably never do a show like this again.”

The visual aspect to this night is just as integral as the wide range of bands playing. Accompanying the music will be visual artist Electric Light Brigade, bringing a suitably psychedelic vibe to the space itself.

“I don’t know how he does it,” says Dave. “He brings a whole van – no, two vans – load of gear and loads it in and sets it all up. We always we get him in a spot where people can walk past him because he’s as much of a performer as the bands are. He’s doing the visuals live, it’s not a pre-recorded thing. He’s doing it bit by bit, by hand. It’s displayed on the projectors he brings in. We try to put him right at the front entrance: he looked like a mad scientist in a shop window doing all this crazy stuff. After that he went and got some lab coats and now he rocks lab coats at all his sets. He really adds an instant vibe and huge dynamic to the whole room straight off the bat.”

The night should be one to remember, but Dave is just thankful that Cactus Room is even here to be able to put it on. “Pretty stoked we’re still around to even manage to pull it off,” he says. “As with all COVID-related things, it does feel like the last one was last year. It’s cool that we managed to wrangle another one together.”

Featuring the best of local shoegaze and psych-rock, Cactus Cult II is sure to be a staple for the following years: just as it was originally intended. “The whole room feels like you’re submerged in this psych-light show,” says Dave to end on. “It just feels like the full immersion into a different realm.”

Check out Cactus Room at 614 High Street, Thornbury. See the latest upcoming events at the website here or by liking them on Facebook here.

This article was made in partnership with Cactus Room.