In terms of bands and crowds, one of the defining characteristics of The Arthouse has always been the simple fact that it provided a forum for all and sundry. A metal night one evening, a punk show the next, then a couple of alterna-rock bands topped off by a rockabilly night the day after. Every aspect of music from Melbourne, around Australia and the world, has been covered at The Arthouse; if its walls could speak they’d probably yell: ‘turn it up’.
Sitting with booker Dave Collins and manager Mel Bodiam, and Jack the black Lab-in-residence, it’s with a clear sense of sadness that The Arthouse is ceasing to be. Having been run by the same family for 20 years, it was that sense of unity that kept The Arthouse running on blood, sweat and tears, and fostered the sense of community that has always been an Arthouse trademark. There are few other venues that would engender as many folkloric stories among so many people as The Arthouse. Hell, even your humble writer’s crappy high school band imploded onstage at The Arty in an impromptu farewell show. A show or two before that, that same crappy band’s bass player put his bass and himself through one of their windows, without anyone really noticing.
“I think the biggest thing is that everyone has their own stories, and that The Arthouse really belonged to everyone, no matter what scene, or what genre of music you liked,” offers Mel. “That’s been on the best things about the last couple of months – just hearing people reminisce about The Arty and the times they’ve had – it’s really helped jog my memory as well. I’ve forgotten all these shows, then people are telling each other stories and I’m suddenly like ‘oh. Yeah. That was a great show!”
The Arthouse will have played host to many, and in its last month, it willhave hosted about 30 more, with an epic farewell four-plus weeks celebrating all the great bands, punters, scenes and groups that have made The Arthouse the totem it is.
“It’s been hard because we’ve known that the lease is coming to an end for five years, and it’s always been in the back your mind,” explains Dave. “The fact that it’s come so quickly feels like a shock, but it’s not really. In some ways you wonder if it was pulled out from under you without any notice if it’d be easier, like a bandaid, as this has kind of felt like an execution date looming over you. But the good thing is we’ve had the time to plan the most amazing month ever in our small pub’s history. It’s going to end up with heaps of these last shows sold out, and the love that has come with that has been overwhelming. It’s hard, but it’s never going to be easy.”
As for getting The Arthouse to this point, it has centred on the fact it’s a community-based venue. “It’s been tough,” Dave acknowledges, “as it’s in a great location, but it’s not exactly an entertainment precinct, or a hip ‘burb, so you’ve got to make sure you’ve got good gigs, as the amount of walk-by customers isn’t huge. It’s a little bit of beacon around here. But I never though when I got the job I’d be here 11 years later – it definitely becomes a life and a lifestyle – and that’s part of its charm. It’s been that definite family vibe – between the actual Kelly’s (the family who own the lease) running the pub, and all the staff and bands – but nothing lasts forever.”
Memories do, for some. “After so long, I’ve got a few,” Mel laughs, “but they all mould into one – there’s constant good ones. Something even my mum said to me years ago is that you’ll see someone on stage, and if there’s something about them that stands out, you’ll see them again and again in different bands or different stages of their career – you get to watch them grow up. That’s one of the nice ideas about The Arthouse, watching the progression of some of the bands and people who come through.”
Adds Dave, “Yeah, it’s been a unique venue – people spin out that we’ve never had bouncers; the first people you see at the door are us. And it’s that idea that it’s not dangerous; if we needed bouncers, we’d have them. That’s why classing music venues as high risk was a kick in the guts everywhere.”
As for what The Arthouse should be remembered for – personally, it will always be the fact they gave bands, regardless of genre or status, a go, and seeing crowd surfers in such small confines – Mel answers simply: “Probably that we were always really fair. And,” she adds after a pause, “that we’re music fans rather than industry or business people; that sort of thing. That’s what I love about this place. It’s far exceeded anything I could’ve dreamed of. We’ve always been on a slight, natural progression and utilised every little bit of space and effort to make the venue better. Dave’s office – once we put in the studio in – got moved into a closet, so we’ve all made sacrifices,” laughs Mel. “It’s all those little additions that have helped make it what it is,” agrees Dave. “I’ve always thought this room, with a good band, a good mixer, this PA and room sound great.”
“But,” adds Mel, “there are so many bands – and my mum will have so many different bands she booked ages ago that she feels very proud about, watching as they progress – that have made The Arthouse what it is. They have been, along with the staff, the lifeblood of the venue.” Dave agrees: “The spirit will live on; Melbourne’s an amazing city, there are great bands and so many active people that hold live music dear that will keep the idea of what we tried to foster alive.”
The Arthouse will finish up their farewell month in the only way they could – H-Block 101 playing two sold out shows on the Saturday night. “H Block are doing two shows,” Mel explains, “then on the Sunday it’s no bands, just a day to come down and say goodbye. “But this entire run of shows this month has been a way to say ‘thanks’ to everyone who’s been involved in The Arty – from my parents who’ve spent so long working on the place in keeping it going, to the bands, the punters, all the people who hold it near and dear. Just, thanks.”
No, it should be Melbourne thanking The Arthouse for all they’ve done in fostering a sense of musical community in Melbourne. Without it, countless bands never would’ve formed, never would’ve made it big, never would’ve even played a show – and with that gone, Melbourne will be all the poorer. So thank you, The Arthouse, for giving music a chance. Thanks.