Picture this: an underground carpark reverberating with the sounds of string quartet, solo didgeridoo, techno music and DJs in a wonderful collision of styles. Beneath Collingwood’s monster 20-storey public housing tower, this has now become a regular occurrence thanks to the initiative of local residents in 2012 to turn its former disused underground carpark to a variety of community uses including musical performances.
Play On is the concert series that takes place there. Typically what it does is pair up classical musicians with electronic artists in two halves of an evening concert. The feel is vibey and invigorating in the way it connects different styles of music and draws together a variety of audiences. Among the artists who perform there are the Clara Piano Quartet, Penny Quartet and Affinity Collective, William Barton, local techno guru Chiara Costanza (aka Chiara Kickdrum) and Melbourne DJs Tim Heaney and Chris NG.
As organiser of the series, the Collingwood Housing Estate Arts Committee, says its unconventional location and approach to programming has “upended and revitalised the concert experience” in Melbourne. And its success has led to a spread of similar concerts in other venues around inner Melbourne such as the Seafarers’ Norla Dome, Collingwood Arts Precinct and the Grainger Museum.
At Music Australia, we have looked elsewhere at how classical music has been performed in a range of different contexts and venues including supermarkets, cemeteries and other improvised public spaces. Going to where communities gather, rather than necessarily expecting people to attend traditional concert halls with music being performed in a traditional format, seems key to building new audiences.
So a local carpark – suitably adorned with row seating and bar facilities, and minus any cars of course – seems a terrific answer. Collingwood Underground Theatre, as it calls itself, feels a delightfully accidental place where a neighbourhood can come together and enjoy music in an unthreatening, friendly atmosphere. Its acoustic is described as “quite magical”. Roller disco, hop-hop, theatre shows and a range of other community events also take place within. It even has its own artist-in-residence program.
Naturally, not all carparks are going to be up to the task as concert venues. However, Collingwood Underground Theatre serves as a great example for local communities anywhere to be on the lookout for ‘accidental’ places to stage live music.
Coming up in March, Play On presents violinist Kyla Matsuura-Miller, Guzheng player Mindy Meng Wang, and classical percussionist Thea Rossen with the Ad Lib Collective and Sleep D. Look out for these and further upcoming events here.