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...