“Don’t park too close to the venue, we don’t want to draw any unnecessary attention. Please be respectful of the local residents and keep the noise down when approaching and leaving. Most importantly, enjoy yourself and look after your mates.”
“Turn left up the street… Can you hear that? Yeah, that’s it. That’s gotta be it, mate. Alright, park it here somewhere and let’s just walk the rest of the way like the thing said.”
It’s an indistinguishable but instantly recognisable sound. For the initiated, it’s a reticent din, a monotonous patter that draws you in, calling you closer. The distance beckons, pulling you along as you walk the path into what most would consider your run-of-the-mill, barren industrial area – some revellers know better. That metronomic thud. Static in the air… The warehouse, that’s where it’s coming from.
“I knew I shouldn’t have worn these. Seriously, they’re that dirty already”… “Oi! Do you need a hand carrying that?”
The journey in is half the fun. Electric. Invigorating. Excruciating. Be it through industrial desert, or desolate bush, the sound guiding you and your mates, leading you towards the night ahead. Supplies in tow. The esky on its last legs, slowing you down. “Which way did we come from? Where are we even going?” It doesn’t matter once you see it. This must be how those tourists feel when they set eyes upon the Acropolis. The Mecca of the evening.
“Hey, how’s your night going?” … “Find it alright? Just a tenner please, boys” “Cheers.” “Enjoy…”
You walk up to the door. No doorhandles. Crouching down, you peer through. Nothing… Can you feel it? Yep. The vibration, pulsating through the building’s skeleton. Dark. Smoky. There’s something sweet in the air. Like you can taste it. Feel it. You reach out into the shadows as your hand brushes velvet, then pull back a curtain to reveal the belly of the whale. This is you for the evening, where the weak become heroes – deep inside the carcass of what was once a bustling factory; visions of a buzzing warehouse, now nothing more than an empty shell filled with smoke, sweat and sound.
Florian Kupfer. Undisclosed warehouse. 2018. Photo: Thomas Clarke.
It’s a pilgrimage that has evolved, more on impulse or perhaps instinct than anything, as a natural progression for Sydneysiders looking to reclaim their once burgeoning nightlife scene. It’s a call taken up by those who’d rather swap the confinement and mundanity of a now gentrified club circuit for plumes of thick fog and shrouded, cavernous, open rooms. Mixing the unmistakable scents of rented smoke machines with the waft of fast-warming cans of beer, amidst a sea of bodies, all smiling, all dancing; the warehouse has blossomed as a legitimate response to Sydney’s current nightlife predicament – sporadic and spontaneous, its nature is self-effacing and lends itself to (for lack of a better turn of phrase) owning the time, rather than the venue. In other words, it’s the being there rather than the whereabouts… whether you actually own the keys is beside the point.
There are a number of reasons as to why the warehouse celebrates a disavowal of, and disregard for, the concept of ownership, but none more-so than legislative measures effective February 24, 2014. Lockout laws transformed the locus of Sydney’s nightlife from one of insular centrality to what can only be described as an effective urban, industrial sprawl. Kings Cross was crossed out. Today it’s been replaced by that building out back by the old ‘Kings Furniture’ store, or at a crossroads somewhere deep in the inner West. The hub was dismantled, the remaining parts and partygoers strewn across our Portside capital and left to their own devices.
With nowhere else to turn, they turned to ‘nowhere’. Whether it’s a gutted, low-lit showroom that still lingers with the mystique of its retired, wheeler dealer salesman or a fairytale scene expertly hidden under a main road bridge – the setting itself is primarily a foil for those often intangible elements that make a night so great. The beauty of the warehouse is that it encompasses and envelops these, and conjures them into moments. Anyone who’s been to one has a story, the reminiscings of a time or place or song that they can’t quite forget:
“We had these fuck off JBL speakers that sounded fantastic. They were huge and way to [sic.] loud for the space they were in. I could hear them at the service station down the road. There were people everywhere. Dancing, chatting, and laughing.” – The Eviction Party, 1995.
The Eviction Party. 1995. Photo: Sydney Rave History.
“The first one I attended was under a bridge in a suburb I’ll keep close to my chest for obvious reasons. A generator and decks at one end draped in fairy lights that glittered all night; two of my mates selling ‘coffee & vodka’ and cans of beer at a makeshift espresso martini bar at the other. There would’ve been a couple of hundred people, all of us hidden beneath a freeway underpass.” – Name withheld by request, The Tunnel 2017
Organic and spontaneous, there is an innate sense of freedom to be found in the warehouse. Its occupation of the peripheral is liberating; while the fact that everyone who attends is in essence a contributor to the evening breeds something else entirely. There is a divinity that surrounds the music in this element, transcending the way a song may normally be received in a club setting.
The crowd is there. Purposeful, absorbed and engaged in a sense of unity that’s hard to pin down and wholly unattainable outside of its realm. It’s for these reasons that every weekend (almost without fail) you’ll see pins being dropped routinely by enthusiastic DJ’s and party organisers across the city, attempting to spread the good word and breathe new life into a scene that’s been nestled firmly behind the 8 ball for some years.
Dope Tings Crew. 2018. Photo: Thomas Clarke.
THE BELLY OF THE WHALE:
“Oi mate, can I borrow a lighter please?” “I don’t smoke mate, sorry.” “All good brother, cheers.”
Packed like sardines, but still with room to move. Room to breathe. The room is alive and you breathe it in. Energy. Bouncing off the walls, between bodies. Coursing through your veins. Are you shaking? Nah, you’re just that close to the speakers, mate. Life-affirming. The bloke next to you says something, maybe a question. “…” You smile and nod. No one can hear anything but the music. The sweetest sound. This beautiful night.
“How gooooooood!” “Just unreal…” “Mate, this is best ever.”
That’s when you hear her. Sade. Smooth like Kahlua. “I couldn’t love you more”. You knew he’d play this. We all did. “Time was runnin’ out”. Where is everyone? They need to be here for this. You spin ‘round, but don’t recognise anyone. They’ll be close you think. You make some room, shuffle over a little and look again. Those hands, that hat. It’s them… How good.
You might hear it on the grapevine as a passerby muffles the new-age adage, “This is where we’re going tonight… bring some comfortable footwear.” The warehouse has become, for all intents and purposes, a parable of renaissance. Its emergence has been an all encompassing, immersive transition, and one that’s particularly reminiscent of the halcyon days of Sydney rave culture in the early to mid 90’s. There are no gimmicks here, and the recipe is simple – space, smoke, sweat, sound; channelling the otherwordly and summoning the ethereal.
“But how does one get the knowledge of the raves? That too is half the fun. Trying to get the right phone number, then getting tickets with no address on them, then find a map in one of the shops/clubs/pubs around Darlinghurst, or ring the 0055 for instructions on how to find the place to get the map.” – Lotus, 1992.
What we’re witnessing is undoubtedly a revival of culture, sound and style, but while the resurgence of the warehouse aesthetic might represent a quasi political reaction to the restricted freedom of youths across the city, it’s also unmistakably a natural progression for up and comers paving their own way and seeking a new path. The government imposed nightlife void may have been replaced by pretty shopfronts or conversely, what the naysayers refer to as ‘the dubious goings on of those doing business illegally in abandoned buildings under the cover of darkness’, but what rings true is the fact that the revellers know better, and have claimed these empty spaces as their own.
Sabotage. 1995. Photo: Sydney Rave History.
“We just stumbled on the spot by chance, out of sight, easy to find… plenty of room. It’s a bloody nice tunnel.” – Tunnel Party Curator, name withheld by request.
“For those that came down last time, you know the vibe, you know the drill. Keep it hush, invite your nearest and dearest.” – Night At the Wax Museum, April 2017.
Perhaps the greatest dilemma facing this fledgling trend is the fine line it seems to tow. Is the ‘illegal’, ‘outlaw’ reputation of this scene undermining the legitimacy of its intentions? The main problem lies in whether or not ‘the warehouse’ itself and the ideas it represents are a detriment to initiatives seeking positive change, those such as Keep Sydney Open and Reclaim the Streets. For all the defiance that the warehouse symbolises in challenging the status quo – in its current form, it is an important outlet and a very necessary evil.
If you’ve ever attended one, then you appreciate its significance. The scene itself nurtures harmony and camaraderie, built on values that substantiate a mutual respect between party organisers and partygoers. Leave no trace. Look after your mates – foundations that are a stark contrast to what politicians would have you believe about established Sydney nightlife trends. These are foundations from which change could very well be born. To cultivate an environment where those in attendance feel safe, and are safe is something not many establishments are able to achieve. Somehow, the warehouse does this exceedingly well. It gives back to those who deserve it, those who’ve built it; such is its nature. The question now revolves around whether change is really necessary for the initiated. What good is a $10 drink when you could spend $10 and have the night of your life? I know where my money’s going…
“Where the hell are we?” “…” “Absolutely no idea.” “Let’s find a cab and go back to mine.”
When the dust settles and the cans are lukewarm, when the lights switch on and you can’t find your keys, when you finally retire and swim up for fresh air – when the night’s ending and you reminisce about that time, that place, that song. All under one roof raving, you head off back into the distance… beckoning until next time.