Australia’s best underground party crews give their hot tips to throw your own
Since the inception of the genre, electronic music has been a tool to bring people together across multiple experiences. In Australia, we are in a unique position where the scene is bristling with music lovers, but their cultural contributions are not fully embraced by the ‘establishment’ at large. All around the country, whether it be due to restrictive legislation, underlying prejudice or just the watchful eye of The Man, music is finding alternative ways to be heard.
Music lovers are taking the experience into their own hands, starting their own celebrations of the music they love in unconventional spaces. Australia’s DJs, producers and visual artists are getting creative, working with and around the system to create free music environments, make space for themselves in the scenes they can’t find in traditional means and create environments that are more inclusive, financially and personally. These grassroots parties happen all over the Australia every weekend; it’s a bustling scene that’s just under the surface if you look hard enough and keep an ear out for a bass line in your local industrial estates.
Parties like Methods in Perth, Shade in Brisbane, Unicorns across Melbourne and Sydney and creatives like Ayebatonye Abrakasa who is behind House of Ayebatonye presents, also from Sydney, are all working to push an underground community of music lovers and create a counter culture in their local areas. We gathered these passionate Aussies running underground parties all over the country to talk advancing their local scenes, the good and bad of running parties and building their own communities.
What made you want to start putting on parties?
METHODS: When we first started up it was just for a bit of fun – there [was] a big group of us and we were just putting on a couple shows at some smaller venues. It kind of snowballed from there until we decided to move into a club environment, that was a more conscious decision because we didn’t really see an existing, recurring night that was playing the kind of stuff that really interested us.
UNICORNS: I wanted to create a space where all members of the queer community could come together and celebrate identity. I didn’t like that the Sydney queer scene was segregated. The guys had Oxford St, the girls had Newtown. But I couldn’t find anywhere that was safe for my trans/non-binary/bi/pan/femme pals. I had also been living in a fetish warehouse in St Peters and the people who ran the space threw the best parties! They put so much thought into how to make the space safe, fun and comfortable.
SHADE: We wanted to create a safe, inclusive space to bring to people the music that we respect and cherish, music which was not necessarily on offer thus far in Brisbane. We knew the sound we wanted to push, and if you don’t do it yourself, who else is going to do it and do it right?
AYEBATONYE: I started putting on parties because I worked to foster an inclusive, welcoming and judgement-free community for queer/trans/non binary POC/allies because it is so important to have a community that you can share and exchange knowledge with, with whom you can feel a bond simply through similar lived experiences. I was so disheartened by the after effects of the lockout laws on the queer community, and wanted to facilitate an Australian adaptation of Ballroom Culture based off what I had experienced during my time in Berlin. Through Ballroom Culture, Vogueing has provided an outlet for those who were marginalised to express themselves creatively, and it is so much more than just striking a pose. I wanted to promote visibility and awareness at the talent pool of amazing performers we have in Sydney, but build more awareness around the history of Vogueing because it was something that existed long before Madonna sang about it… I just wanted to create an interactive and immersive safer space for people to have fun.
What are you bringing to your local scene that people can’t get anywhere else?
METHODS: I don’t think I’d say we bring something that people can’t get anywhere else – there are a heap of really passionate and driven people in Perth who are putting on fantastic events. We try to bring our energy and ideas to the table to contribute to the overall culture of the city and keep the scene thriving.
UNICORNS: The best thing about Unicorns is the community vibe. The place radiates with warmth, kindness as well as shit loads of glitter. I’d like to also think the line up is well curated and a bit clever. I spend lots of time plotting themes and integrating interactive activities, shows and music that aligns with the theme. I care about the small details and spend endless amount of time on cute extras like cutting up rainbow confetti for the live wedding ceremonies or make presents to hand out to people at the door. I once filled up 400 mini bottles with vodka I had dyed blue and then made hand made 400 ‘shrink me’ labels that were tied onto the little corkscrews. I wanted people to get that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ vibe as soon as they walked in the door. The attendees costumes are also pretty fucking magical!
SHADE: We felt there was a gap in the market in terms of the artists we wanted to showcase, so we focus on bringing artists to Brisbane who have not necessarily been invited here before. We also like to find and utilise unexplored spaces within our scene for gigs, which we feel provides a connectedness to the wider local community. Our aim is not to simply showcase an artist, but to amalgamate music, art and community to form safe and inviting dance parties.
AYEBATONYE: I don’t really have an answer as to what I’m bringing to the local Sydney scene that people can’t get anywhere else, I feel like answering this question perpetuates the negative competitive nature of Sydney. I think that all parties thrown in Sydney appeal to different individuals, and I commend every promoter/event organiser/curator that puts in the hard yards to create fun spaces for people to go and party in, it takes a hell of a lot of work!
Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own parties?
METHODS: Firstly, just get out and do it. You’ve got to start somewhere. Find a good venue with a low capacity if you’re worried about not getting big numbers for your first event – if you get 100 people through at a 150 capacity venue it’s going to feel good in the space, if you get 100 people through at a 400 capacity venue it’s going to feel pretty average. Always try and make sure that your party is worth what you’re charging – it’s going to be mostly your mates at the first one, so make sure you’re giving them good value for what they’re paying at the door. Make sure that you’re engaged with the people who are supporting you, it’s a community after all.
UNICORNS: 1. Do it because you want to create a beautiful space.
2. Create the event you would be excited to attend.
3. Make your event as accessible as possible.
4. Carefully curate your line up so you are showcasing diversity. And prioritise people who often get looked over. Showcase all the talented women, people of colour, non-binary folk, trans individuals and not only able bodied people.
SHADE: Ya gotta get going! Start off by reaching out to your mates who promote and put on parties, and be sure to attend and support others in the scene who are doing gigs the way you aspire to. It’s important to attend other gigs and pay attention to how things run on the night. You must, above all else, listen to your gut and stick to your guns on the sound you love and want to push, even (or especially!) if you’re not hearing it anywhere else.
AYEBATONYE: The only advice I would give you is don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t all go to plan, because generally with events/parties sometimes things go awry at the last minute, and always look at party planning with an intersectional lens. People with disabilities like to party, non binary folk don’t want to have to try and choose what toilet to go to. Take deep breaths always, be practical and work with a budget, stay hydrated, always work with others, be kind and remember to look after yourself and those who you are working with.
Have there been any particularly low moments?
SHADE: Not necessarily low moments, but simply times when we have learnt lessons the harder way. Times can be tough when it’s a battle between your passions and your wallet, but after the losses come the wins and that pride that goes along with successfully pulling off an event with an artist you admire.
AYEBATONYE: I like to be transparent, and to be completely honest there have been some lows with throwing parties. I have learnt to be more weary after choosing to work with someone who didn’t have the event’s best interests at heart and wanted to further their own career at what felt like the expense of mine. I’ve had people take to Facebook and Instagram to criticise in ways that weren’t constructive, I’ve had times where I lost money trying to do these events because I tried too hard to please everyone rather than being pragmatic.
Is there a highlight from all the parties you’ve done?
METHODS: I think we’d all have a different answer to this question… personally for me it was around the fourth time we hosted a ‘Methods of Movement’ party. It was the first time we really got the venue right and had a heap of people come through. I feel like that night was the moment that we’d really built something special.
UNICORNS: I was told from one attendee that being at Unicorns was the first time they dressed in clothing that truly aligned with their gender identity. And after being embraced by the community at the event they came out as trans to some important people in their life. When I found that out I felt very happy. And it reminded why I first wanted to create queer warehouse parties.
SHADE: Getting ourselves to a position where we could book artists that we thought were simply “out of our league”, and too hard to get to Brisbane is something that we are both so grateful and enamoured by; sometimes you really have to pinch yourself when talking about an upcoming gig! We also love being able to showcase local talent, ‘cause there’s a damn lot of around here. It’s pretty special when you have a packed crowd because it’s such a highlight to see people relating to the music that moves us personally.
AYEBATONYE: I have had sooo many highlights, meeting people that had become friends or lovers through my events, who had been inspired to create beautiful art because they attended my parties, all the amazing people I’ve met and become friends with since throwing these parties, there are a numerous amount of highlights, more than I could ever mention.
What is the ethos of your party? How do you want punters to feel when they’ve left one of your events?
METHODS: We’re always striving to provide interesting and unique spaces for like minded people to come and connect with each other through music, and giving opportunities to local DJ’s to play to a dancefloor and their mates on a really solid sound system. Speaking of which, I gotta give a shout out to Voyager Sound System for what they’ve done for everyone way out West.
UNICORNS: This is a space for queer humans to be reminded that it is not only ok to be queer – it is fucking fantastic. I want people to feel elated, loved and reminded that they are surrounded by a beautiful community.
SHADE: Our ethos is all about creating positive spaces and experiences, and, of course, showcasing talent. We want everyone coming into the space to love themselves, love their peers, and love the music. At SHADE, we like to say love ya guts; we want people to be connecting from the inside out, and we want everyone attending to feel they can be entirely themselves for their dance with us. We create gender neutral zones where the focus is on the artistry and community, not on picking up for the night.
AYEBATONYE: I guess the ethos would be fostering community spirit and love, celebrating our own identities as well as one another. Radical resistance through creative expression. I want punters to feel like they’re not alone, like there are a bunch of people with similar ideas, aspirations, experiences that they can vibe with.
What is the best thing about underground party culture?
METHODS: Although we’ve only done a handful of them you definitely take a lot away from those kinds of events. Clubs and bars are safe and reliable institutions for holding successful dance parties – non traditional spaces give you a sense of freedom that you would not get anywhere else. Plus, it’s BYO!
UNICORNS: Less limitations. More freedom. And often way more inclusive posi vibes.
SHADE: Freedom! Freedom to connect with yourself and others inside a space with fewer of those restrictions that traditional venues simply can’t avoid due to legislation; restrictions which can really impact upon the vibe of the crowd and the experience as a whole. We concentrate on making our underground parties safe and super inclusive, where you can wear what you want and not feel judged for it. At our venues the barriers are broken down between artists and punters, bringing everyone together in an intimate and inimitable way. Plus, you can forget the bullshit overpriced drinks, intimidating police presence, and having an ID photo taken at the door… some photos just don’t need to be taken 😉
AYEBATONYE: I think the underground party scene is great as it encourages the creative DIY “bad binch on a budget” culture that I am ALL about. When you have limited resources and limited budgets you have to be so much more creative to make everything work. Also without all the rules that come with bars and clubs it makes people a little more relaxed, and more respectful because they’re being treated like adults. Depending on the party it also generally makes it a little easier to facilitate safer spaces as you have a smaller target audiences.
If you’re an artist, party goer or industry head, be sure to check out the ‘Where The Streets Have No Name; Parties Off The Radar’ roundtable at this years Electronic Music Conference. See Kate Becker (Music City of Seattle), Vi Hermens (Motorik) and Cathy Adamek (Adamek Productions) and more share their thoughts on the development of underground party culture in Australia and the world.
Electronic Music Conference 2017 visits Sydney’s Redfern for a two-day program seeing international music leaders and industry experts appear across an array of panels, talks, workshops, parties and masterclasses on November 29-30. Tickets are on sale now via electronicmusicconference.
WORDS BY HOLLY O’NEILL