Adelaide after dark: How music and art eclipse drinking, drugs


By Dani Brown

West Thebarton are a mainstay in the Adelaide music scene.

Outside Fat Controller, a nightclub on the corner of Bank Street and North Terrace, Adelaide, a girl is waiting outside. Both she and her friend are visibly intoxicated, and the security guard standing by the door looks at her suspiciously. As she hands the guard her identification, she steels herself for the response. The guard notices she looks different from the picture on the card she just handed to him, so he asks her to recite her address and write her signature on a blank piece of paper. The girl recites the address correctly but fails to write the same signature on the card. She and her friend are rejected entry into the 18+ club; the guard watches them walk off, shaking his head in disappointment: “The kids are getting braver,” he says to the girl on the door.

Downstairs, in the office, there are a stack of confiscated IDs sitting in a tray above the security camera feeds. They represent the allure of Adelaide’s nightlife for people that – for a range of reasons – shouldn’t be participating in it. Under-aged people are not the only problems that clubs and bars face in vetting customers and making sure everyone is following rules and laws.

“We have to kick out about 20 to 30 people a weekend for a bunch of reasons,” says Patrick Shrestha, a bar manager at the club.

“Unruly behaviour, consumption of drugs, damage of property, and excessive consumption of alcohol are the main causes of eviction.”

This behaviour doesn’t just occur inside the clubs, where drinking and partying is encouraged; it spills out onto the streets as well. Eighteen-year-old Cyrus Stusser faced court after being accused of leaving a man with serious head injuries during a late night brawl on Hindley Street in July. Ugly incidents such as this have tarnished the reputation of “one of the country’s most infamous strips”.

“On Australia Day this year I saw a guy smash a guitar over another guy’s head on Hindley Street,” says a 24-year-old venue host who has worked at a range of venues in the city’s West End.

The host, who wishes to remain anonymous, has “heard war stories from older security guards who have been in the job for 20-odd years, who used to get into multiple scraps each night.”

This paints a portrait of a city overrun with troublemakers, drunks, and reckless young people, but they are a vocal minority.

“But it’s important to remember that the large majority of people in the city go out with good intentions,” the host says.

Adelaide’s CBD is also home to a massive family of young artists, who have – collectively – turned our bars, clubs, and cafes into hotbeds of creativity, while also utilising these spaces as hubs for establishing new personal connections.

Photographer and journalist, Dani Brown, pinpoints this as a primary reason that more people should get involved in the inchoate scenes that are finding new homes across the city: “Take Fat Controller,” she says.

“Fats has expanded its usual audience post-coronavirus, particularly with its In the Shrubs series.”

In the Shrubs is an initiative that showcases local acts. The performances are acoustic and the audience stays seated, creating an intimate atmosphere and offering a unique and welcoming experience for audience members.

Glowing at Exeter Beer Garden, 2020. (By Dani Brown)

“Younger or newer indie, punk, and rock artists have performed at the venue primarily known for its DJs and club nights,” Dani says.

“I feel like the dynamic has changed and more people feel like they are welcome there as the number of genres it caters for has grown.”

This foray into different facets of nightlife and entertainment is a safer and more fulfilling alternative to the club nights the venue has predicated its reputation on, purely because clubbing as an activity is tightly interwoven with the idea of alcohol consumption.

“I feel like gigs have more of a purpose [than clubbing],” Dani says.

“At a gig, a band or artist is performing, and you’re there to enjoy the music and the stories they tell, whereas at a club, you’re there to spend time with your friends.”

An important difference to observe here is in the way people behave. The environment that a venue creates – in its ambience, its entertainment, and its marketing – has a profound impact on how people carry themselves on a night in the city. This, according to Dani, is another reason why people should explore niches that revolve around creativity and forming relationships: events that focus on artistic performances generally facilitate a more friendly and safe climate.

“…the communities are expressive, accepting, encouraging and fun,” she says.

“It is easier to build friendships in the live music scene than at other social settings because there are different ways to connect, which cater for different personality types.”

From audience member, to management staff, to the artists themselves, there is a consensus when it comes to the main distinction between clubbing and going to a performance: while clubbing solely functions as a superficial social activity, there is an emotional resonance to participating in gig life. A kind of deeper meaning that comes to influence how a person feels, how they perceive their community and – to an extent – themselves.

Germein (By Dani Brown.)

“Performing in Adelaide’s local music scene has impacted me and my mental health positively,” says Finn Cameron, lead vocalist and guitarist in Colourblind – a local emo/alternative rock band.

“It’s given me a sense of accomplishment and a sense of purpose I’m yet to find anywhere else.”

Finn is unequivocal in his belief that kinship and personal enterprise are both conspicuously absent during your standard night out on the town:

“I like to think that the local scene provides a sense of community that doesn’t come with clubs and pubs generally,” he says.

These goldmines of purpose and meaning are not exclusive to the music scene, however, as Carclew’s resident creator, local photographer, illustrator and painter, Christina Lauren suggests:

“Carclew is a not-for-profit organisation, delivering arts programs and opportunities to individuals 26 and under,” she explains.

Opportunity is an important concept for Christina – one that profoundly influences the way she frames her work in the community and informs the things she considers most important. Namely, in this case: representation. This becomes abundantly clear when we discuss her favourite visual art venues in Adelaide: “ACE Open is a contemporary arts organisation in the west end of the CBD, delivering excitingly ethnically and culturally diverse exhibitions as well as artist workshops,” she offers.

“ACE Open to me holds the important promise of engaging young generations in the future of visual and contemporary arts by delivering what people want to see and experience – which is equal representation within arts as well as meaningful experiences for consumers.”

With representation lying at the heart of Adelaide’s artistic community, this means that a broad range of perspectives are added to an already diverse mix of creatives. This idea of pulling people from the margins and including those who are often alienated from the in-groups, on the basis of race or class or gender orientation, is imperative when it comes time to have conversations about what ‘community’ means to us.

Pinkish Blu. (By Dani Brown.)

“Art has this fantastical capacity to bring people together, across all forms,” says Christina.

“The language of art acts as a beautiful medium in which young artists can offer assistance or support [to others], providing a ripple effect from that interaction, to ones at home, to ones with friends, and so on.”

The arts is a field where people work together, where mediums are constantly intertwining, forming structures much greater than the sum of their parts. There is a constant “exchange of knowledge” – as Christina puts it – as well as a flow of ideas and resources that sees every party benefit from these interactions.

On an average night out, the dynamic is simple: a customer pays for entry and alcohol, and the venue profits off the customer’s desire to party. During a performance or an event, however, the benefits to all involved run deeper than those measured in monetary terms.

“The artists are encouraging people to come to these places, and because of that they’re contributing to the livelihood of the venue,” says Vinnie Barbaro, who writes and performs music under the moniker Divebar Youth.

“As more venues are able to open up again, I think it’ll continue to be that way.”

The relationship between creatives and the venues they use to host their art is a symbiotic one. The venues provide something tangible for the artists – a place where abstract concepts can crystallise into memorable experiences, and artists return the favour by having a noticeable impact on the venue’s reputation: “Especially with the existence of social media, having a sold-out show is certainly not a bad look for the venue,” says Vinnie.

With all these considerations – meaning, profit, opportunity, representation and safe environments – the many artistic sides of Adelaide’s nightlife dovetail to create culture. Meaningful culture (meaning a culture that extends past the shared lives of overnight lockups at Hindley Street police station) is what makes a city a safe and exciting place to live in. It’s what’s outside the boundaries of a regular life that makes having to live inside the boundaries bearable: “Feeling, as a young person, that there is something more than monotonous life and following rules, is exciting and life-giving,” says Christina.

Adelaide’s art scene is a welcoming group. It’s a culture of selflessness that encourages you to think outside the confines of the Saturday night that you’re used to living. “Explore,” the city whispers, “and next time you feel like painting the town red, get creative and starting thinking about using all the other colours, too”.