PLAYING MELBOURNE: A Virtual Tour In Recognition of Record Store Day Australia

Photo provided by Chris Gill of Northside Records.

Melbourne is a city of laneways and Victorian Gothic buildings, which has earned the city its many comparisons to European capitals. If you’re brave enough to look away from Google Maps, you could dedicate an hour or a day to just wandering randomly from street to street, lane to alleyway. If you really find yourself lost, Melburnians are hugely friendly (usually) and there’s trams going in every direction so you won’t be stuck for long. What’s this got to do with record stores, you ask?

Many of Melbourne’s laneways are home cafes, boutique clothing stores, vintage shops and record stores. These semi-hidden shops often have piles of free street press magazines and flyers for live shows, which offer the best way to stay attuned to the local scene. Every year around the world, Record Store Day celebrates the community that grows around record stores with special releases and events; normally held in April, Record Store Day in Australia has been postponed to 20 June.

Whether you intend on visiting Melbourne when travel restrictions lift, or whether you want to take a virtual tour of Melbourne’s music scene, I’m here to guide you through. This isn’t a definitive list, since some record stores may not survive the high rents and lockdown period we’re currently just emerging from. Record stores in my own inner city neighbourhood of Collingwood have remained open throughout the lockdown though, with hand sanitiser and limits on how many people can enter at a time. Anecdotally, it seems more people than ever are buying record players and vinyl. The call of nostalgia during crises has been well documented – what better time to listen to high-quality recordings at home for extended periods than now?

Rocksteady Records

For over 30 years, Pat Monaghan has been selling records. Prior to opening Rocksteady Records, he worked at the cult Melbourne record store Au Go Go until it closed in 2003. The store is a bit tricky to find. At the intersection of Lonsdale and Elizabeth Streets in central Melbourne, walk into Mitchell House and take the elevator up. Timber shelves are neatly stocked with local and international records, mostly new. There’s turntables, books and CDs too.

Monaghan recommends a few Melbourne outfits he’s currently loving listening to, and which are providing some soul therapy. “Nat Vazer, a Melbourne singer-songwriter, the new Karate Boogaloo, a great Melbourne band who are kinda jazz, funk and instrumental. I also recommend checking out a band called Close Counters, another live jazz and house outfit from Melbourne. I also want to mention Big Yawn. Their album No! was meant to be launched at iconic music venue The Tote Hotel on the same day all venues were closed.”


When in doubt, ask a DJ. That’s my mantra, anyway. Even better, bypass the asking and head straight for a record store owned and run by three Melbourne DJs, Mark Free (who also owns nearby cafe Everyday Coffee), Tom Moore and Mike Wale. It’s been a local favourite in Collingwood, just five minutes from the city by tram. The store is a sacred place for DJs, with sections divided into house, techno, disco and Balearic. Check out local producer Escape Artist, a favourite of the owners.

Basement Discs

Just as the name implies, this underground store has championed live music and artists since 1994. Suzanne Bennett and Rodney Jacobs transformed an abandoned basement into both a record store and a live music venue, stage included. In addition to vinyl from various genres, you’ll find second-hand CDs, DVDs and books with a music focus. Since 2018, there’s also vintage clothing and jewelry. They’ve hosted lunchtime gigs almost weekly, including Melbourne favourites Jen Cloher and Saskwatch.

Northside Records

All your soul and funk needs are satiated here. Chris Gill has a network of friends who perform in store, do record signings, drop by for coffee and suggest local artists he should know about. There’s even a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, which feels apt, given all the disco, dancehall, dubstep and jazz on vinyl; you’ll also find CDs, DVDs, books and magazines. Most of the records are new, but there’s a good selection of second-hand vinyl and rarities.

“For US readers and visitors looking for great Melbourne acts, I’d start off with a band called Cookin’ on 3 Burners. Check out their album Soul Messin’ and the song ‘This Girl‘ from 2009,” Gill recommends. “I’d also steer towards Nai Palm; her latest release is Needle Paw. We had an in-store signing for [the release, and] she brought her pet bird, Charlie Parker, in for the event. Sampa The Great is doing amazing things with her great album The Return.”

Check out the Record Store Day Australia website for the full list of participating record stores and updated news on how the event will be recognised.

Playing Melbourne: An Introduction

Image provided by Toff In Town

Welcome to Playing Melbourne! A little on me, your host. I was born and raised in Melbourne, so this city is in my veins and deep in my neural cells. It’s part of me, basically. Melbourne is known for three things, primarily: our music scene; our coffee; and being enormously diverse in terms of cultures, ethnicities and subcultures.

I have written on and reviewed music for just over a decade, but I’ve loved music as far back as I remember. Isn’t it funny that when you love something so much, you assume everyone else does? Perhaps that’s why I took Melbourne’s incredibly rich range of music venues, the artists and creatives who make up this industry for granted for so long. Melbourne’s music scene encompasses world-class live performances, albums, studios, videography and art, to a ready audience of local and international fans.

Right now, there’s more opportunity than there has ever been for international audiences to engage with Melbourne’s music scene. You can check out a playlist on Spotify, watch a weekly gig on The State of Music, a government supported platform for Victorian musicians, or buy a ticket to support artists at Delivered Live (live streamed on Saturday evenings, Melbourne time).

Melbourne is home to over three times the number of music venues per capita than Austin, Texas; this city hosts over 62,000 live music events annually (though currently, those events are on hold due to the pandemic). Right now, venues are at risk of closing down permanently and many in the music industry are questioning whether they have a career when restrictions ease. As dark as this is, there’s also a lot of good news. Music Victoria has been prominent in championing the need for casual and freelance workers in the music industry to be eligible for government income support as well as ensuring grants are open to artists and venues to enable them to continue creating and operating in some capacity while they can’t do their usual thing.

We’re fortunate to have a number of community radio programs that champion local music, as well as state and federal funding and arts/music organisations that support and promote music and the people who work in the industry. Our community radio stations really reflect how diverse this city and its population is and if you’re truly curious about this city in regards to music and to its spirit, it’s worth tuning in live or listening back to recordings of Melbourne’s community radio stations online, like 3RRR, PBS106.7, and Australia’s first and only LGBTQI+ community radio station, JOYFM. Triple J, a national radio network that has supported and discovered many local acts in their infancy, provides another great sources of Melbourne sounds and culture.

But it’s the musicians themselves that make Melbourne what it is, and there’s no one genre that dominates the scene. Ngaiire performs soulful R&B, combines glitchy electro with melancholy instrumentation. She was born in Papua New Guinea but has really been adopted as a Melbourne music identity. In March, she released “Boom,” the first official single from her third album, which will follow 2013 debut Lamentations and 2016 sophomore effort Blastoma.

Likewise, Sampa The Great was born elsewhere (she’s Zambian and was raised in Botswana) but has been adopted as Melburnian. She raps about her own life and cultural observations over hip hop beats. Her 2019 album The Return was nominated for the NME Award for Best Australian Album. A prolific collaborator, she’s features a wide swath of Australian artists on her own releases, as well as appearing on tracks by Wallace, Urthboy, Jonti, and Ecca Vandal.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring are a garage rock band that has shied from doing much media promotion in favour of plying their trade. They’re favourites locally for their blistering live sets and no-frills, no-fuss personas. Along with associated acts like Total Control, Dick Diver, and UV Race, they carry on the lauded “Little Band” scene of the early eighties instigated by Primitive Calculators.

Lupa J (aka Imogen Jones) got her start by posting a couple of tracks on Soundcloud as a 15 year old. Now 21, she’s got two albums under her belt – 2016’s My Right Name and last year’s Swallow Me Whole – combining synth, soul and R&B to deliver personal, melodic songs. She carries on that tradition with her latest singles “Half Alive,” “Out to Wreck,” and “Limbo.”

Alice Skye is a Wergaia woman from Horsham, just outside of Melbourne in Victoria. She released her first album Friends With Feelings in 2018 and has toured with like-minded female folk singer Emily Wurramara. Her identity as an Aboriginal woman and her connection to the land in this way has informed her sound and her songwriting.

Whether you know one or two Melbourne acts or your knowledge on the Melbourne music scene rivals Wikipedia, I hope to bring you insight, profiles, interviews and recommendations that convince you – once travel is available and safe again – to spend some time in this city. If you love music, Melbourne loves you.