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Photo by Tim da-Rin. Opening night at VIVID Sydney.

Is The Opera House Sydney's Last Club?

Claudio Santoro

The Good God VIVID Festival installation, at one of the world's most iconic monuments, is an anomaly—and a beacon of hope—in the city's floundering nightlife.

Photo by Tim da-Rin. Opening night at VIVID Sydney.

When Jimmy Sing and Hana Shimada closed Goodgod Small Club in the Spanish Quarters in 2015, they were noticing a shift in Sydney's night culture. The lockouts were in place and the incentive to continue running a club in a city that imposed so many liabilities had lost its charm. "It's a mental health thing to be able to go out and dance and see people and feel free. Particularly in such an expensive city, I feel like people should have that." says Hana.

Shortly after the closure, they were invited to take over the basement of the Sydney Opera House and build a Super Club — a post club-running adult fantasy in which they were given the freedom to redesign the room, install their own sound system, custom lights and a DJ booth – and they went for it. But at the end of their four club nights, which hosted international guests like Kyle Hall, Asmara and Oneman, something didn't work for them. They saw everything they had constructed go into a massive skip bin and they felt they had to reconcile the impact with their design choices.

When the Opera House invited Jim and Hana back to host another four club nights in the basement this year, they were also asked to take over another space for an installation where people could sit, eat, drink and re-juice with Sydney's harbour views. They realised they had to think about the future. They considered cushioning what was happening in Sydney's night culture as well as how much of their temporary installation could be re-used, recycled or rotted afterwards.

They came up with the Soft Future Piano Bar in collaboration with furniture designer Todd Sidery — a zero-waste pillowy paradise in the Opera House's purple Northern Foyers. "Aesthetically, we're thinking of it in terms of Italian 1960s designers who had visions of the future, but at the same time, thinking about what sort of future we want to actualise now." Their club nights, which make up part of Vivid LIVE, will employ the same sustainable philosophy and host four international artists; Karizma, Steffi, DJ Harvey and Kenji Takimi alongside local selectors; Ben Fester, Magda Bytnerowicz, Nite Fleit and Noise in my Head.

We went to Jim and Hana's humble abode in Redfern to uncover how they're ideating, what their Opera House installations will look like and to talk about the social implications of Sydney's dire nightlife.

Photo by Sam MacDonald

Sustainable festivals are showing up more often these days – Off the Grid in Victoria and Terraforma in Milan are two that come to mind. Was creating a sustainable space part of the initial concept?
Jim: On the second weekend of the Super Club last year we saw everything that had been there over the four nights, which was only about 20 hours in action, then having to go into this massive skip bin.
Hana: It was such a brutal visual.
Jim: We thought if we were going to look at the future, let's create a space where everything can be re-used, recycled, the food waste from the bar can be rotted in compost and go toward zero-waste. We're aiming not only for our installation, but all our food and drinks in collaboration with Aria and throughout the whole festival, to come out with no more than one rubbish bag for landfill, which would be a flipside on what we inflicted on the world last year. It really sparked us to think differently about creating temporary spaces for enjoyment and if they're such short term experiences, it's so gluttonous to throw all these resources at it and not think about what happens.

Does that idea extend to the design of the Super Club?
Jim: We've taken that approach to our design this year for Super Club but it hasn't been foregrounded in the concept as much as Soft Future. For Super Club this year, we wanted to bring some architecture to the space in order to change the theatre feeling of The Studio. We've designed the the space with Jeremiah Wolf to build a lot of it out of scaffolding and use that in a way that isn't presented in a conventional sense - that looks like a construction site, but to suspend the scaffolding staircases and lead up to nowhere to create the feeling of…
Hana: Wonder. Shrinal wonder.
Jim: Inherent with that is a scaff company coming in with their gear, building in an unconventional way and then coming in to disassemble and take it away.

A staircase that leads to nowhere?
Jim: There are sixteen sets of staircases. We've built a grid that creates a Tron feeling in the space. A perimeter that changes the way you perceive things in there. The challenge with building a space for dancing is that we're using a room which is more of a theatrical convention space, so it's all about trying to transform that. Last year we just blacked out a lot of it and this year we've looked at trying to build it in a different shape so you feel the square nature of the room but using different materials to what's there already.

Photo by Sam MacDonald

I noticed the book about Area Nightclub in New York. Have you drawn on any of that in the development of ideas for the Super Club?
Jim: They've been so influential to us over the years because they were the type of nightclub stories that inspired us to go "let's create our own in Sydney." They'd change the theming every month for the club which obviously meant stripping out everything and throwing it in landfill? They could have possible recycled it because there was another whole section in the club that was in constant construction for the next month's install, so it was a massive theatrical props unit working.
Hana: And so much sick propaganda like their invitations. The details were out to the corners.
Jim: I really wish I'd walked through those doors. There was so much more money in nightclubs back then in the 80s, 90s, 2000s.
Hana: So much more freedom and less scrutiny.

How does the Opera House free you up from Sydney's nightlife limitations?
Jim: Doing stuff within the Opera House is very different to doing something out in the wilds of Sydney ha ha! It's very resourced. I mean the basic outright limitation to putting on parties and enjoying music together in Sydney right now is in there's so few venues around. It's a dire situation.
Hana: And why wouldn't it be? There is zero support and zero incentive because you're so liable for everything. There's no appreciation for the stuff we've been talking about and running these spaces - and they're really important. It's a mental health thing to be able to go out and dance and see people and feel free. Particularly in such an expensive city I feel like people should have that.

Do you think it's a cultural reflection of how Sydney is controlled?
Jim: What I've found is there is an emerging sense of self-regulation and self-compliance by everyone across the board here where the expense of policing and safety is paramount. So people think about every worst case scenario of what could go wrong rather than doing an actual risk assessment and whether it's likely, and what can be done to minimise it. People are so worried from the way the news has talked about the risk. Everyone thinks of that and there's no message about the positive need people have to enjoy themselves, like young people experiencing and socialising together in environments that are not supervised by the workplace or their parents.

Photo by Tim da-Rin

I can definitely see how young people are different in Sydney compared to other cities around the world. I think growing up in this environment has changed the way people socialise.
Hana: Yeah, how are they coming together? They're kinda not unless it's online. People are getting really fearful about what might happen to them when they do go out and meet up with people, which is fucked.
Jim: The other night we were talking about this exact issue and Hana said it felt like we're going through this great unlearning of how to socialise and use public space. Because people aren't experiencing any surprises and things are so regimented in terms of how everything is zoned for where certain activities happen, people are less used to interacting confidently with something out of the ordinary. It feels like we're unlearning that ease of interacting with one another.
Hana: We were at Arcadia on this beautiful warm night and thought it was bullshit that they can't have tables out the front even though it's on the widest pathway. It's terrible because there's a life out in the streets, and people are unlearning how to deal with someone maybe hassling them or saying this or that. If you don't encounter that enough then you start becoming more hostile. The more we put up these parameters, the worse people being get at looking out for themselves and others or they get really litigious. It's a disease of people not having basic social skills to be safe. I think it is really dangerous.
Jim: Something's happening across Australian society with people becoming a lot more segmented and less easy going about the person walking towards them, not being able to look them in the eye and say "hey"…or "g'day".

The Goodgod Super Club hosts DJ Harvey and Kenji Takimi with Noise In My Head and Nite Fleit this weekend. Final tickets available here . Listen to Nite Fleit's latest Remix the House.

To view the full VIVID program, go here.