Music

A Loving Goodbye To Newtown Social Club, One Of Sydney’s Very Best Venues

Our favourite memories from everyone's favourite venue.

Despite routinely selling out shows and generally being regarded as one of the best bandrooms Sydney has seen in a very long time, last weekend saw the Newtown Social Club — inexplicably, heartbreakingly — close its doors.

DAVID JAMES YOUNG spent his fair share of nights upstairs at the Club, from its opening weeks to its final gigs. So to mark the passing of one of Sydney’s finest venues, he’s revisited 20 of the shows that brought King Street back to life for almost three wonderful years.

Kishi Bashi, July 1 2014

It was clear from well before Kaoru Ishibashi took to the stage that the venue had sold quite a few more tickets than the room could handle. Thankfully, Ishibashi had a clever idea – audience members were invited up to literally surround him on stage and fill up the otherwise empty space.

Once that was sorted, he treated us to a beautiful collection of songs from the two studio albums he had out at the time; craftily building them up with his loop station and allowing us in on his deepest, innermost secrets.

Fishing, September 5 2014

Russell Fitzgibbon of Fishing was a regular bartender at Newtown Social Club for many years. To have him not only take to the Club’s stage in his own right as a musician, but to sell the place out entirely, was a wonderful moment of the scene rallying behind innovative, interesting and exciting dance music.

Bonus trivia: Fitzgibbon had broken his hand in an accident that also involved Alister Wright of Cloud Control incurring the exact same injury. The band expanded into a trio for the show, as Wright and Fitzgibbon literally lent one another a hand.

Kevin Devine, November 16 2014

Having spent time touring as an opener for longtime friends Manchester Orchestra, Kevin Devine packed out a couple of intimate headlining shows while visiting in late 2014, much to the delight of his small but wholeheartedly dedicated fanbase.

Crowding around him, and with only his acoustic guitar as accompaniment, Devine drew from his entire catalogue — both on his own accord and on a whim from audience requests – over an unforgettable hour. A resonant, powerful voice made for an emotionally-fulfilling Sunday.

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Photo credit: Claire Machan / via Newtown Social Club Facebook page

Youth Group, January 15 2015

To commemorate a decade since the release of their breakthrough record Skeleton Jar, the inner-west veterans made a triumphant return to perform the LP in its entirety.

It remains one of the finest albums the city has produced this century, as well as one of its most crucially underrated. Having Toby Martin and co. bring the record to life after to so many years was a timely, important reminder of that very fact. For one night only, Newtown became Shadowland.

Perfect Pussy, February 4 2015

“Bonus points to vocalist Meredith Graves, who spent nearly an hour after the show speaking with every single fan that had taken the time to come and see them”

As one of the outsiders on the Laneway Festival lineup, Perfect Pussy were never going to fit in with the rest of the indie darlings taking to the stage.

In the throes of Newtown Social, the noise-punk outfit found their place and made the most of their frenetic 35-minute set. If ever the term “joyful noise” was applicable, it was watching the Syracuse band push their sound well into the red.

Bonus points to vocalist Meredith Graves, who spent nearly an hour after the show speaking with every single fan that had taken the time to come and see them.

Collarbones, February 6 2015

Collarbones are one of the more unique success stories in Australian dance music in the 2010s — having started making music together before they actually met in person, the duo have gone onto create bold, rhythmic albums that are at once indebted to retro movements and futuristic musical elements.

Their live show is a blend of post-irony internet humour, aggressive booty-shaking and wall-shaking volume. In other words, you don’t miss your chances to see it go down — especially not somewhere like the NSC. Rave on.

DZ Deathrays, March 11+ 12 2015

How crazy did DZ Deathrays’ headlining shows at Newtown Social get? Put it this way: they brought their own barrier.

A mess of bodies, howling guitar and pummelling drums reaffirmed DZ’s status as one of the best live rock bands this country has to offer. Ample support came from American noisemakers Bass Drum of Death, as well as the sprightly upstarts of Hockey Dad, who were well on their own way to greater success at this juncture. Last one to stage-dive is a rotten egg.

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Good Counsel / Photo credit: James Machan, via Newtown Social Club Facebook page

Waxahatchee, July 3 2015

This was an evening to celebrate three remarkably talented and powerful singer-songwriters back-to-back: Newcastle’s Jen Buxton, Melbourne’s Ali Barter and Alabama’s Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee.

This was Crutchfield’s maiden voyage to Australia, and the sing-alongs generated during her set were a reminder of how overdue it truly was. All three women presented songs that, while diverse in approach, were unified by their emotional depth and resonance with the sold-out audience. If ever one wanted to feel all the feels, as the kids might put it, this was the show to do it at.

Owen, July 7 2015

By the time of this show, Mike Kinsella had finished a whirlwind national tour with his band, emo comeback kids American Football. He was exhausted, but boozed up and in a good mood.

“He even went backstage and brought out his entire rider to share with the audience”

For a rare solo show under his Owen moniker, Kinsella went from moments of pure tranquility to genuinely hilarious between-song banter. He even went backstage and brought out his entire rider to share with the audience and when he broke a string, he made do by just covering The Cure and The Smiths.

A sweet comedown from what was an emotional weekend for many a sad Sydneysider.

High Tension, July 18 2015

Headlining the Social was a bittersweet moment for Melbourne hessians High Tension. While it was their biggest headlining show in the city to date, on the back of their exceptional Bully LP, it was also the final show founding guitarist Ash Pegram before he relocated to the UK.

Still, if you’re going to go out, it may as well be in style – Tenno’s style, at least. That means plenty of stage-dives, loud guitars and a killer local line-up of Mere Women, Narrow Lands and MSV BCP. A farewell and a victory lap that left ears ringing for days on end.

REMI, May 20 2016

Newtown Social was, at varying points, a hub, a safe haven, a rave den and a raucous pub. On this night, it was a hotbox – the weed was so thick in the air that you couldn’t see the stage before Remi Kolawole and Justin Smith got started.

“Newtown Social was, at varying points, a hub, a safe haven, a rave den and a raucous pub”

When they did, it was like the clouds parting to reveal a beautiful sunny day. With an all-star cast joining them and a mix of new and old favourites, REMI got the vibe to an all-time high and kept it there.

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Remi / Photo credit: Blunt Force Media

The John Steel Singers, August 26 2016

A triumphant comeback for the veteran Brisbane pop weirdos was, in an unexpected swerve, revealed to be a swansong — the tour in support of their Midnight at the Plutonium LP was to be their last for the foreseeable future.

Though ample support was provided by hyped upstart Alex Lahey, the Singers truly made the night their own as they spanned their entire career in an odyssey of funk, indie and sweet strawberry wine. Until we meet again, gentlemen.

Pity Sex, September 15 2016

Poison City Records always bring the goods for their annual three-day festivities known as the Weekender.

Four of its key drawcards — international visitors Pity Sex and Cayetana, Melbourne heroes Camp Cope and Adelaide lads Horror My Friend — promptly sold their Sydney show out, with each band bringing their own unique take on alt-rock to an audience that was resolutely up for all of it.

Think of them less as household names and more inner-west sharehouse names — that’s where they thrive.

Totally Unicorn, September 29 2016

It took a few line-up changes and a journey through hell and back, but 2016 was the year that Totally Unicorn were able to bring their chaotic metal-tinged party-starting to a wider audience.

It all paid off in the form of this messy, unhinged show — the biggest headlining show from the band to date — which pulled out all the stops and risked life and limb in order to keep the wildness going. For the uninitiated: think party streamers, chest hair, downtuned guitar and a half-naked man in his mid-30s getting all up in your shit. Get weird or get lost.

Jen Cloher and the Endless Sea, October 14 2016

It’s weird to think that many newer fans of Jen Cloher would have no idea of her folksy past. Still, Cloher uncovered it and got the old band back together to celebrate ten years since her debut, Dead Wood Falls.

Not only did the songs still hold up in a big way, the band — many of whom hadn’t shared a stage in years — didn’t miss a beat. Sometimes, you gotta look back to move forward and that’s exactly what Cloher did, with many happy returns.

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Winston Surfshirt / Photo credit: Blunt Force Media

Julien Baker, November 21-24 2016

For three nights in late November, a small and unassuming twentysomething turned what is normally a busy and loud pub into the quietest place on earth.

Julien Baker is a striking, awe-inspiring performer. Every last note hangs in the air, filling the room with her fragile and serene take on emotional indie-folk. Small in stature, her voice silences people twice her size. It brings more than a few people to uncontrollable tears. Unforgettable.

Son Little, November 30 2016

He may seem like a humble troubadour, but there is way more to Aaron Livingston — aka Son Little — than meets the eye. He’s a must-see in the live setting, both for his accomplished guitar work and his soulful vocals. He tells stories, shares around his booze and makes the entire experience feel like a warm, intimate gathering.

You go in as a fan of the man and his music, but you leave it wanting to be a mate. And that’s just the thing — Son Little was unquestionably everyone’s mate by the end of the night.

Donny Benet, January 14 2017

Let the record show that fewer things in life — including molten lava — are as shit-hot as when the incomparable Donny Benet dons his salmon suit and takes to the stage with his show band.

With the entire Club, wall-to-wall, in his command, Benet laid down impenetrable grooves and got all in attendance worked up into a major sweat. That’s not even mentioning the bonus heartthrobs of Kirin J Callinan and Jack Ladder turning up for a jam. What a party.

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Amy Shark / Photo credit: Blunt Force Media

Amy Shark, March 18 + 22 2017

How’s this for strategy: half an hour after the end of the Hottest 100, where Amy Shark took out a respectable silver medal for ‘Adore’, a national tour was announced.

The Gold Coast native filled out not one, not two, but three shows at the Social — and being there felt like something you’d brag about later on when she’s selling out the Metro or the Enmore. With a fantastic live band backing her and an impressive debut EP getting previewed, there was no stopping this Shark. And why should there be?

Holly Throsby, March 19 2017

A warm and cozy Sunday show that ends before 9pm isn’t exactly what Newtown Social was best known for, but it was shows like this that truly made you wonder why that wasn’t the case.

With a career-best LP behind her, After a Time, Throsby warmed hearts and gently raised voices to songs from across her career. It was an evening that can only be described as genuinely lovely — a replenishing, gentle and wondrous night of second-to-none songwriting. Thanks, Holly.

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Article image by ZK Photo