Exposing Sydney's underground party scene

Exposing Sydney's underground party scene

From disused goth temples, churches and warehouses, Sydney party crowds are on a secretive search. Here are those elusive spaces
Partygoers at Milk Beach
Revelers at one of summer's legendary "Milk Beach parties."

Most don't know where underground parties are, let alone when they're on -- hence the 'underground' bit. Underground movements are experimental, communicated through hushed networks, in hushed tones on quiet street corners.

Tripping troupes are constantly seeking that new, and relatively unknown, creative space.

The quest for an unrestricted blast has led party promoters to the sublime.

The Kirk -- Madame Lash's fetish den

Sydney’s perennial underground venue, The Kirk, is owned by ex-dominatrix queen (and Archibald prize-winning artist) ‘Madame Lash.’ This gothic-style, blue-gray temple at 422 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, has hosted everything from rubber and fetish parties to "vacuum parties," where patrons deprive themselves of oxygen in a quest for pleasure.

This infatuation gave birth to Tim Winton’s novel "Breath."

But decadence isn't all The Kirk has hosted. It’s launched the long-running community gig, "Brackets and Jam," in which scores of musicians bring their own instruments and create sounds all night. Steve Kilby of The Church gave a musical rendition to "The Merchant of Venice."

With a red-draped interior fit for Shakespeare himself, the space hosts inspired many off-the-wall performances.

The Kirk has gained the ire of local authorities; so all parties held there now are technically illegal.

“The Kirk is a work in progress, and we’re seeking approval so we can have above ground events," says Madame Lash. "It’s always been, and will continue to be, a creative space. When we’re back, we’ll have curtains from Baz Luhrmann’s film, 'Moulin Rouge.'”

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Eastside Arts in a real church

Jesus Christ is rumored to have thrown people out of a church for drinking. That hasn’t stopped the Paddington Uniting Church from initiating Eastside Arts at 395 Oxford St. Paddington, which houses live theater, multi-media events, progressive-tracked yoga and even a rock band of ex-crims.

“You can’t sell alcohol in a church,” says event co-coordinator Graeme Richardson. “But you can give it away. And promoters are just plugging charges on the door, and serving wine and champagne.”

“We’re fairly liberal and open-minded, but we had to draw the line when a vodka company wanted to promote a rock band in here,” he adds.

As far as acoustics go, musicians describe the space as "spiritual."

Photography studio by day, party venue by night

Fashion parade at Raglan St.On the catwalk at Raglan Street, an inner city underground party den that's risen to the surfaceThe Eastern Suburbs’ underground chose 136 Raglan Street Waterloo for the infamous, annual "Circus Party," and private singles parties. But this photography studio by day and party venue by night has now risen above ground.

Photographer and owner, Matt Lee, has gained an alcohol license and now hosts fashion parades and X-Box launches in his upper-level, warehouse space.

“Unfortunately, when you legitimize something, you take some of the fun out of it,” Lee says. “I can now only operate until midnight, for a maximum of one hundred people.”

“But when something’s underground, it’s always going to rise to the mainstream. That’s where diverse culture comes from.”

He says patrons try to compare the space to New York.

“They need a reference point, but it’s part of the new Sydney," he says.

“There’s a lot of people in Sydney who are bursting at the seams for new party venues, so places like mine will always exist,” Lee says.

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McKenzie's beach -- Rocking in coastal crevisses

An Australia Day, 2011, Facebook and text messages directed people to McKenzie’s Beach, a rocky section of coastline in between Bondi and Tamarama. Flat rocks are accessible during low tide, and this was enough for DJs and promoters to turn the area into a makeshift party venue.

“We set up a marquee over the turntables and brought speakers," says a man identified only as "Rob," a promoter of the event. "We set up tables and chairs, and other people danced on the rocks and sand, and floated around in the water on lilos. People were having the best time of their life. It was a celebration of where we lived."

Secret beaches

Milk BeachHot summer days often see Sydney’s eastern suburbs party crowd looking to secret harbor beaches down cliffs in Vaucluse. Milk Beach is a perennial favorite.

Harbor views are interrupted only by passing ferries.

“We had to sneak the sound system in by boat, and we just turned up the volume and hoped the police didn’t come to close it down," says "Party P," an organizer of a recent event.



Matt Khoury likes to write. He's been a freelance journalist for a decade
and an editor of five publications -- including CNNGo/CNN Travel's Sydney and Australia section.

Read more about Matt Khoury