Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Funny Little Thing Happened on the Way to the Disco

Earlier this year Maurice Fulton came to Melbourne. I was excited. Fulton’s betalounge mix had been one of the key therapeutic mixtures that had got me through the silly season, and now I was getting the chance to see the man play on what was, according to my memory from a Trus’me gig a year or so earlier, a decent venue with a proper sound system and dancefloor. I know it seems wild to say this, like: ‘wow, a restaurant with tablecloths and cutlery’, but in Melbourne in 2010, a such things as a proper space to dance and a proper system are…. luxuries, pleasant surprises, or flat exceptions to the rule. A question that keeps repeating on me like a bad King St kebab (but that I won’t answer until the end): why is it that so many nightclub proprietors treat their patrons with such utter fucking contempt?

Back to Maurice: I made my way down, past the amity line, over the hill, beyond the Pale, to King St: home of said kebabs and site of moral panics about random knife attacks, as well as the actual possibility of random knife attacks, strip clubs of the calibre of Peppermint Hippopotamus and the Minge Gallery, and… Sorry Grandma.

Sorry Grandma had opened to much fanfare last year, the bold new venture of Michael Delaney*, ex of Honky Tonks. Honky Tonks was a venue whose early snobbery was outmatched only by its good taste in DJs and its consistent commitment to programming the world’s best house DJs for Sunday eve parties. True, at times it was a snootfest full of nasty wankers, but it was also one of the best clubs that Melbourne has ever had, and it was a place in which I had some of the best nights of my life, such as I remember them… (And say what you will about that nasty doorbitch Dylan/Dillan from back in the day, but he did keep the munters out… ah, the vicissitudes of exclusion…)

But Honky Tonks went the way of player pianos, was replaced with Third Class (pronounced with an Irish accent it’s a more apt description) in the same space (a gutted version of HTs for Gen Ys on rave juice and worse), and when the shutters mercifully rolled down on the space, a lot of people were wondering what Delaney was gonna come up with next.

The answer: Sorry Grandma. And, I'm sad to say, it is a sorry state of affairs, if my experience is any indicator. You can get the general context here, in this extensive interview with Andee Frost, a long-time friend of Delaney’s and now one of Melbourne’s best-known selectors.

I hadn’t been back to Sorry Grandma since the Trus’me gig. At that time, the place still had the shiny sheen of fresh minting, and the not yet nervous tick of approval from the club hipster gen Ys that the club appeared to be pitching its patch to. But already you could see the subtle effects of the initially gentle, but eventually no holes barred munting any nightclub is gonna get when it gets who’s coming to it, especially when who’s coming to it is coming from the vicinity of King St, probably with a still warm kebab and an equally fresh dose of syncopated clap from a Rihanna-led lapdance underneath some hussy’s um-bah-rellah (ella, ella, hey, hey, hey). Well, of course, not initially, when such pre pole-danced punters can be barred with little more than a ‘sorry mate, private function’, but: when you have a dancefloor for 700+, you want the cool kids to come, but you’ve entrenched yourself over the bad side of town, and there’s a moral panic going on in the media about glassings, knifings, fisticuffs and fistings in the area, well… how are things gonna play?

But with the benefit of the doubt and Maurice in mind, I was back in the badlands in the diminutive queue outside our Unfortunate Generatrix. I went in, but I didn’t stay long. But when I got in: the whole upstairs closed, the downstairs mostly empty, the smoke machine in full effect, and the sad spectacle of a old husk, a withered, dried up, very sorry grandma indeed. Maurice was in the corner looking miffed; my friends and I didn’t want to stay in a room with more fake smoke than real people, so we left, went elsewhere, had a great night, and thought no more about it, no more than: ‘well, I’m never going there again.’

So much so far so what? Well.

About three weeks ago, I received a pink letter in my snail-slimed mail box (there had been rain). In it was a direct marketing campaign from none other than the aforesaid female ancestor who I’d just disowned. The direct marketing thing contained this smarmy letter that read, to me, in that same shit-eating female voice that’s common for female announcers on Channel 7 and/or at the airport (you Australians will know, the ‘attention passengers’ one) …apparently I was one of her favourite grandchildren’. The letter invited me and a friend to some ‘VIP’ soiree with free champagne on arrival; it smacked of desperation. I felt sad, I tore it up, and put it in the recycling bin. But (asked my lady): how did they get my address?

I wondered. I figured it must have been from my street press days, and forgot all about it. Then three weeks or so later, early last week, I got an email from a friend of mine who was there with me on the abortive Fulton excursion. Not only had he also received the pink letter, he was being pestered by Sorry Grandma to become facebook friends. Irritations aside, the question was raised again, in the plural, and with emphasis: how did they get our fucking addresses?

The only clue was this: our third friend with us at the time, who doesn’t have a drivers’ license, did not receive any marketing material…

I sent a polite email to Sorry Grandma asking them to explain how they obtained my details and requesting that they remove me from their lists. At the time of writing I have not received a reply. Then I contacted someone I know who I figured might have the skinny on what happened: what they confirmed shocked me.

Sorry Grandma had scanned our licenses and then used our personal details to market stuff at us.

But we had been presented with a fait accompli at the door: it was demanded as a condition of entry that those of us who had drivers’ licenses allowed the bouncers to scan them. No ID, no entry. Drivers’ licence = ID. No scan-ee license, no entry, Mistah Fulton fan. This seemed very odd to me. My friend asked for an explanation, and was told that the scanned details were kept for the same amount of time as the security video, and then destroyed.

I can’t emphasise this enough: it was explicitly represented as a security measure, and no further information was given or even indicated.

My friend was luckier than me: he received a reply from Sorry Grandma, which explained the following:

“Sorry Grandma is a private club that makes our "Conditions Of Entry" very clear.
Below is the exact wording on the posters displayed outside the building during trading hours, in the foyer, above our scanner andnext to our liquor license.

1. "It is a condition of entry that your id will be scanned and added to our guest list data base"
2."This guest list is accessed by Sorry Grandma alone and not sold to third parties"
3. "You may opt out at any time after your initial visit"”

At best, this might represent a series of lapses, oversights, and poor training. But really, even if it could be said to be defensibly legal, the de facto situation Sorry Grandma involved us in – music lovers who came to a place to support an artist whose work they love – could also be said to be sneaky, deceitful, cynical, and manipulative.

More than that, it could be seen as an act of bad faith; an abuse of trust, and a transformation of those particulars proper to a person into ‘details’ that, once translated into data, can and are explicitly and intentionally used as tools for the pursuit of private gain. My warm trust was transformed into a cold tool to grab some chump change. And that makes it a sad episode in a sorry story that, to me, speaks volumes about how low you can go when profit and legality are the aim and limits of your behaviour.

What I’ve just explained is what happened to us one evening at Sorry Grandma, but, more broadly, to return to my opener: why is it that so many nightclub proprietors treat their patrons with such utter fucking contempt?

Anyone who lived in Australia up until the 70s (ask 'yer mum) will tell you about the standard of restaurants (shit, or French), bars (those are called pubs, love, and women don’t drink at the bar, I’ll bring you a shandy in the beer garden, there’s a good girl), and cafes (70s White Aussie Male says: are you a wog or a poofter or somethin'?).

But people educated themselves and each other, and, over time, Melbourne at least has produced a healthy ecosystem of restaurants, cafes and bars catering to myriad niches of interest, place, budget, perversion, etc… Some scenes are a bit smug, true, but mostly they are also healthy, competitive, dynamic – and if ANY café, bar, or restaurant treated its patrons the way so many clubs do, they would go out of business within weeks, rightly.

Of course, we need to talk about the hideous impact on clubland of the licensing laws, securitisation, gentrification, the smoking bans (read the checklist at the end of Frosty's interview), and – my two cents on the red elephant in the room – energy drinks, which can make drunk people (even more) aggressive.

Those are all important factors in the mix, but they let off the hook certain club owners and the very insulting, very cynical, very unethical and generally shithouse kinds of treatment they offer their patrons in Melbourne in 2010. It is bullshit, and it should not stand. If you don’t like the venue, don’t go; if you were treated badly, tell people; if you know it’s rubbish, if you know it’s not right, then refuse it. I'm not saying 'all clubs are bad'. I'm going out this Saturday to a good one, and maybe you should do. I urge: support the people you love, negate those you hate. I'm not sorry as I wish: champagne for my real friends; real pain for my sham friends.

*Clarification from Frosty's interview: "I should make this clear: the management is not Michael [Delaney] (who has also resigned now). The management of Sorry Grandma! is a company called EMS. It is run by Peter Iwanik who also owns the following venues: Bubble, Mens Gallery, Inflation, Centerefold Lounge and a few more I can’t remember, but basically the guy owns half of King Street." PC adds: my understanding is, however, that Delaney was still managing on the night of the Fulton gig. May have even been the last night, but this does not exclude him from implication with the swiping malarkey...



  1. the scanning of IDs is pretty normal in many of the major cities i have been to in the USA. it's not by any means a practice you see everywhere/at every club but i have had it happen every so often here and there. big brother must be a clubber.

  2. i agree the scene in melbourne is fucking terrible, but who cares they scanned your ID and sent you something in the mail! receiving a letter from a nightclub is hardly going to ruin your day, they are obviously struggling big time, which is a shame because sorry grandma brought out some good acts over the last 12 months or so, which is not something i can say for many other clubs in melbourne at the moment.

  3. the reason why someone would be pissed off at having their licence scanned and letters sent to them is that it is inherently wrong. i live in ireland, and even though there is a lot about the clubbng scene here to be desired (aformentioned smoking ban, licencing laws and clubs closing at 3, yes 3!) at least we dont have to deal with having our information effectively stolen from under our noses in return for paying in to see someone, paying for drinks and generally making money for an establishment. that is utterly disgraceful.

  4. I moved away from Melbourne the day after Honkytonks closed, and that actually had a fair bit to do with it.

    Also, I read that article with Frosty last week, enjoyed it, and paticularly noted this part:

    "I should make this clear: the management is not Michael [Delaney] (who has also resigned now). The management of Sorry Grandma! is a company called EMS. It is run by Peter Iwanik who also owns the following venues: Bubble, Mens Gallery, Inflation, Centerefold Lounge and a few more I can’t remember, but basically the guy owns half of King Street."

  5. Isn't there some sort of Data Protection registrar in Oz that they could be reported to, like there is in the UK, if you feel so annoyed by this practice?

    I know that in the UK, if an company/organization hold private data, they must register their use of it, and more importantly, what they use it for and for how long. If they need to use it for more than one use, they need to say so.
    If not they can be fined, possibly heftily.

  6. You say that you're going out to a good club this Saturday. Which clubs (or nights) in Melbourne in your opinion are good?

  7. I think the best solution is to vote with our feet. Support gigs and clubs that work hard to provide a good experience, maybe even sacrifice seeing a big name act that is toured if the set/setting is sub-par (Likes Of You, Future etc).

    Get back to the grassroots people!

  8. @ Dirty: my understanding is that Delaney was still managing SG as of the night of Maurice Fulton, but I should add your comment as an edit to clarify that, thanks...

    @ Lachlan: I'm not so sure there are good 'nights' in Melbourne anymore, nor clubs that are consistently good. It's necessary to be incredibly choosy; there are no guarantees, except (partially):

    revolver: strangely, this fella is the 'last man standing' from the old days... I think, as long as you are there early and miss the recovery freak show (unless you've abandoned yourself to being one of them) there are still some excellent DJs and often a good floor.

    Toff: the beer is expensive, but the main room is acoustically quite good, the sound system is very clear (though very 'bright' and a little fatiguing after a while) and if Ransom is playing, or Frosty is playing, or Jan is playing, the music is good...

    I'll be heading out to this one, also in one of my favourite old venues:


    Basement of the Mercat X, home of Centriphugal (RIP).

    But it seems to me: the best parties in Melbourne now are warehouse parties or tour-based events at live venues... ...the clubs in general have utterly failed anyone who was ever there primarily for the music...

    ...Scuba is coming though, Ramadanman is coming, Instra:mental are coming, and so on, just off top of head... so there is a goodly trickle of talented people... and Melbourne also has some of the most skilled DJs in the world... and some of the best public radio, so the question is really one of venues and their practices to me...

  9. the quote at the end is actually 'champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends'. sorry to be pedantic...

  10. Excellent article. I totally share the view of the writer. Moving to Melbourne from the U.K. via South Africa, the clubs here are shit and full of shit djs and shit sound. Myself and my friends who still love techno etc.. and write and release electronic music, struggle to find the fire that a decent venue and artist can ignite. Fuck the venues here all together, it needs to be funktion-one in a basement. Simple and Raw. The ingredients for a scene are here though, they have just not been put together yet.

  11. “Bubble, Mens Gallery, Inflation, Centerefold Lounge”

    Sounds like a bunch of really classy venues!

  12. Should i feel miffed that i didn't get a letter from SG and they would have scanned my ID at some stage?

    Frosty was on the money in that interview!

  13. @ Test: hear ya, edited, tanks!

  14. @ 9X10BA:

    My two cents on this is that it's really necessary in Melbourne now to think a little bit laterally about 'what is a venue'; also important to add to times might be places.

    Using live venues at earlier times might be a possible way; Sunday arvo gigs might be another possibility. The trouble is that the promising venues north of the city do not have the same population density...

    ...perhaps what Lab or Messy Creations have done - occasional parties in warehouse locations - is a better bet.

    Or: run a side room in a gay night. The trade will pay the bills, then you can play what you like... this is, kinda, the Berghain/panoramabargain, no?

  15. But/and: I think one of the things Frosty's interview really gets at in detail is how different large numbers of the gen Y - in this context kids 18 after 2005 - were/are, and the influence the whole dayglo/neo rave thang was, and the way it interacted with the electro/shouty scene that Vice was pushing back then.

    I think Vice (and Modular) have a lot to answer for

    (not that I'm imputing 'cause' there, of course they're mostly a resonator, but also a perpetrator, but)

    ...it strikes me the historic shift is important:

    in the 90s, for the most part, scenes retained their identity via fidelity to a sound. There was an attendant fashion, but it was secondary.

    In more recent phases, the dominant way in which a scene retains its identity is via a visual aesthetic.

    But: this doesn't mean sound is secondary. It's actually tertiary now.

    Reason: social networking is secondary.

    I wrote about this a coupla years ago, then disagreed with myself, but I've come back round:


    ...this doesn't necessarily mean 'it used to be all about the music'.

    Actually, in the 90s it was also, in very important ways, about ecstasy. Let's be honest. BUT... note the shift...

    ...all these things are phaseoid, but given the way in which digital cameras, portable hard drives, networked computers, apps etc now all interact with the tactile graphical user interface (that's an iphone)

    ...I wonder: where too next?

    What happens when social life is a control surface?

  16. @ PC above.

    Cheers for the response, I pretty much agree that you've got to be picky as to where you head out these days. I was really disappointed to see that Robert Hood is playing at the next Likes Of You event.

  17. @ Lachlan: hmm, but even there, you have to know if he's playing upstairs or downstairs at brown alley... upstairs ain't so bad, downstairs sucks balls and smells of the likes of poo - remember Omar S?

    ...but/and: is that a choice Hood fans should have to make?

    And: there's a reason the likes of them have survived... and that's because it's a business model.

    My broader question: is a 'business model' the best/only/appropriate model for running shit? Seems like it's worked pretty poorly for schools, hospitals, universities etc...

    ...what about a subsidised venue for our arts? If classical music is entitled to millions, then...?


    This afternoon I received a reply from our unfortunate gran. Same wording exactly as the one that appears in the body text of the post: a cut and paster. Nice.

    I have also heard from a friend that Sorry Grandma had a person handing out 'VIP' tickets to retailers on Brunswick St. The person marketing the 'VIP' tickets would walk in, hand them over, and ask the person working in the shop to offer them to 'the kind of people you think would go to Sorry Grandma'.

    My friend refused, saying that she didn't really feel like doing SG's marketing for them on her own time in her boss' shop - for free

    ... she said the representative of SG was perplexed by this...


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