By Julius Grafton
Sydney music club The Basement is set to close in late March, after negotiations to sell the venue failed. Landlord AMP Capital said they had agreed to end the lease early. The Basement faced trading difficulties. Saddled with an astronomic rent north of ten grand a week, the venue needed a lot of sales to turn a profit.
Its closure was announced by a musician on Facebook, potentially killing any last-minute reprieve. A day of rumour and uncertainty followed until AMP confirmed the closure later on Monday 26 March.
Beyond trading difficulties CX understand there was friction between the partners who bought the venue in 2015 – restaurateur Dave Wallace and lawyer Andrew Robinson. Wallace runs the successful Opera Kitchen at Sydney Opera House. Under his guidance the food and beverage offerings were improved, much of the Basement turnover came from dinner and show packages seating 200 patrons, and the venue then did well from the bar for a further 200.
Originally established 45 years ago, the venue has operated most nights and was booked by Nathan Farrell. It has a program booked well into the year, all of which will need to be cancelled. The current location near Circular Quay is the second location for the venue.
Hosting many of the major names in music, The Basement is beyond iconic. It has traded well when the program is right, but in recent years struggled to find enough success. It boasts a custom designed PA system that was acclaimed by most users and which delivered a full band mix – and more than enough onstage fold back.
Ironically, the day the closure leaked was the same day reports emerged of the scope of a NSW State Parliament inquiry into the state of the music and arts economy.
Committee member John Graham, Upper House MLC, told Fairfax: “In the city of Sydney area we have lost 61 per cent of venues over 10 years”.
“It’s our oldest licensed music venue,” Mr Graham said of The Basement. “It’s a fantastic venue. My question, though, if this was London and they have had these sorts of problems with venue closures, this would be declared an asset of community value and protected.”
“Is this the sort of approach which has been considered in NSW? Have we looked at London and the approach they have taken?”
Music NSW made a submission where they described as the “alarming” state of live music attendance.
“What used to be considered a thriving industry in NSW is now often derided — not just by local industry and audiences in NSW, but across Australia and internationally,” managing director Emily Collins told Fairfax.
“The overarching perception is that we’ve killed off our industry, there’s no thriving scene here, and you’re better off moving somewhere else that actually supports and appreciates music.”
In other ominous news, Playbill Venues are anxiously awaiting the results of a tender to renew the lease over the Hordern Pavilion, Sydney’s only 5,000 seat live venue. The historic building is slated for a fresh lease from August 2019, and Sydney Swans Football club are believed to want the building as their HQ.
Which would further decimate live music in Sydney.