Grapeshot Arts Guide: Find the hidden spaces giving vitality to Sydney’s streets


Melbourne is often thought of as the arts and culture capital of Australia, but Sydney is also home to many alternative spaces where independent music, performance, film and art are thriving. Stop whingeing about the lockout laws shutting down generic bars and clubs and instead take advantage of the niche cultural venues that are scattered through the inner city suburbs.

Words || Amanda Burgess

Blackwire Records

219 Paramatta Road, Annandale

Blackwire Records is a not-for-profit record store, venue and label, run by artists and volunteers. Whether you’re playing in a band, checking out some records or watching some live music, it makes for an unforgettable experience. It’s a small space, but it’s filled with energy. The walls are covered with punk show posters, and a walk down the back stairs brings you to a garden where you can sit down to hang out with your mates, or meet some new ones. Blackwire has hosted some of Sydney’s most iconic punk and hardcore shows, including the Foundation secret show, and Blkout’s last ever Sydney performance. Recent shows have featured the likes of Melchoir, Skin Prison and Disposessed — some of the most important bands in the hardcore punk circuit right now. Blackwire is brilliant for the punk and hardcore inclined, but it also showcases indie and alternative acts.

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Hibernian House

342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills

Hibernian House is the place to be in Sydney if you love art, music, parties and culture. Hidden on Elizabeth Street in Surry Hills, you need to be paying close attention to find the entrance. Since the 1920s, Hibernian House has hosted Sydney’s artists, performers and free thinkers, and the building remains a place where Sydney’s creatives can thrive. As well as the live music events and roof parties, it’s also home to some small businesses, a theatre, and a tattoo studio. All of these can be found up a series of dingy, graffitied stairs. Hibernian’s nondescript door is like the Narnia wardrobe of urban arts. The beauty of Hibernian House is that for the most part, it’s up to you to find your way in — many of the businesses and events rely on word-of-mouth marketing and advertising.

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Golden Age Cinema

80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills

The Golden Age Cinema and Bar is one of Sydney’s best kept secrets. Screening films from the old Paramount Pictures House, Golden Age prides itself on showing cult classics and select new releases. Upstairs you can find one of Sydney’s best cafes with art deco interiors, locally roasted coffee and a stack of outdated Vice magazines. The bar is filled with tantalising drinks and is open till 12 so you can make a night of it. Upcoming films at Golden Age include Kill Bill, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Chasing Asylum, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and All About Eve.

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The Depot Theatre

142 Addison Rd, Marrickville

Running out of The Depot theatre in Marrickville, Crash Test Drama – a competition for aspiring short-playwrights -occurs once a month. Eight plays, each under ten minutes in length, are shown, and the audience votes for the one they liked best. The winner and a few runner ups receive cash prizes, and can advance to the next round. Crash Test Drama is a great opportunity for writers, but also for aspiring actors – the casts for the evening are crowd-sourced. Simply turn up 90 minutes early to be cast in one of the plays. Of course, this means that the actors are holding scripts, and the plays themselves can be incredibly hit and miss. But that’s part of the fun.

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The Red Rattler

6 Faversham Street, Marrickville

Walking from Sydenham station past old, run-down warehouses, it’s almost hard to believe that down a nearby side street lies one of Sydney’s best performance spaces. Priding itself on its volunteer-run eco-friendly warehouse venue and artist studios, The Rat is a place for live music, activism, dance, comedy and theatre. It’s a welcoming space of acceptance and happiness that holds a strict policy against racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic behaviour. The Rat hosts events like the Queer Provocations Festival, which incorporates film, workshops, performance and art installations. The venue also hosted the recent Elixir Fundraiser, which promoted sexual diversity and the creation of a safe space for Indigenous and non-Indigenous LGBTQIA+ people in the Northern Territory. It has also held the Damnation festival, a celebration of hardcore and punk music in Australia, and it continues to host a variety of Australia’s best live music every week.

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245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh

Whether you love theatre, dance, art, film or daring installation works, Carriageworks has something for everyone, and it possesses an entirely different aura to the popular galleries found throughout Sydney. The building itself is beautiful – it’s the old Eveleigh train maintenance workshop, revitalised. The vibrant gallery is the perfect location to immerse yourself in unconventional and avant-garde art, and it guarantees Instagram-worthy photos no matter where you look. Every Saturday from 8am to rpm there is a Farmers Market where you can pick up some of the best produce inner Sydney has to offer. Carriageworks is currently hosting Francesco Clemente’s ‘Encampment’, a series of large-scale tents featuring beautiful embroidery and fabric work. Ross Manning’s light sculptures are due to move in soon. Good food and great art – what more could you want?

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