Is the Oxford Art Factory Australia’s answer to New York’s CBGB? It’s not that outrageous a suggestion when you consider the calibre of acts that have graced the 500-person band room over its ten years of operation.
Did you know that Lady Gaga played her first Australian show there in 2008? Or that Dave Grohl still wears his Oxford Art Factory shirt that he got playing a gig here in his covers band, Chevy Metal? They even had a Bret Easton Ellis book launch – Ellis came on stage after the Models performed and he spoke for two and a half hours to a standing crowd and as OAF boss Mark Gerber recalls, “You could have heard a pin drop.”
Countless great bands have started their musical journey on the small stage in the narrow gallery bar next to the bandroom, too. “We saw the rise of the Jezebels, Chet Faker, the Rubens, and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard in that small room,” says Gerber. And although Tame Impala played for about 25 people at one early show, you could “almost smell it in the air, when someone’s got greatness written all over them”.
Over the last decade, live music venues such as the Annandale and the Hopetoun have withered and died, but Gerber believes that it’s his venue’s unique place in the ecosystem of live music that has ensured its survival in an environment increasingly hostile to late-night entertainment. “People seem to forget that in order for someone to play Laneway Festival, they need to do the hard yards and play the whole circuit to get from the small spaces like the gallery bar to the Lansdowne, and then back here on the main stage, and then the Metro – there’s a ladder you need to climb.
“All artists start somewhere, and governments need to recognise that it’s equally important to support the new artists coming up as it is the support the established art forms. You need to support every spoke on the wheel, otherwise you won’t be listening to the music that came out of this time in 100 years. We need to do everything to try and create a new Beatles all the time, or a new Janis Joplin or Courtney Barnett.”
Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing and sell-out shows. Gerber likens being inside the lockout zone as a kind of cultural ‘East Berlin’. But he sees resilience in Sydney. “The thing you can’t suppress is the feeling in people that they want to go out. I don’t see live music going away, and I would imagine that in ten years’ time the Oxford Art Factory is exactly as it is now. Whatever you do has to be for the long haul, so what I’ve done here is create something that can be around for another ten, 20 years.”