Amongst the wave of quality small clubs that have revolutionised the scene in Sydney in the last few years since licensing laws relaxed, Spice Cellar is a standout for its creativity and the dedication of owner, spokesman and resident DJ Murat Kilic and his wife Rebecca Alder. The pair, along with partner Warren Faulkner, staked their fortunes and livelihoods on the belief that underground music deserves a permanent after-hours home in Sydney.
Two years later they’re still standing – no small feat in such a fickle industry – and so it was with appreciation that we found ourselves at the rather dazzling birthday party last Thursday, which featured an inventive and super-fun Japanese pop-culture theme and the stylings of Detroit legend Carl Craig on the decks. Here are five things we learnt on the night.
Kilic and Alder have thrown some pretty outrageous dos over two years – including their wild “Your Animal Instinct”-themed first-birthday costume party – so it’s no surprise they went all-out for this one. But still, damn. This time the theme and dress code was “Harajuku Neon,” a tribute to the district in Tokyo known for its hyper-postmodern fashions (more on the dress code in a bit). Not a detail was missed, from décor that included countless maneki-neko (lucky cats) placed on all the speakers to costumes for all the staff members; from the multiple banks of lasers and the cage dancers to booking none other than Carl Craig for the night. It made for an epic night – and keep in mind this was a Thursday.
From the DayGlo smileys and glowsticks of the early rave days to the tragic excesses of the last decade, fluorescent fashions and accessories have haunted the music scene forever. But if you think it ended when you donated that electric-lime-green singlet you got dirty at Parklife 2007 to charity, think again. The “Harajuku Neon” theme of the Cellar’s birthday bash gave us a new twist on fluoro madness – with radioactive colours frequently incorporated into the crazy cosplay common in the Tokyo district that gave the night its name and inspiration. (Think punk, Goth, schoolgirl, dress-up doll and burlesque puréed together with lots of stripes, polka dots and plaid, and all the filters on max. Do an image search – but put on sunglasses first.)
The sight of a roomful of revelers flaunting the eye-popping neon rainbow of colours and patterns (not to mention the fluorescent plastic jewelry, wigs, backpacks, parasols and platform sneakers that were also flashbacks to the New York club kid fashions of the ‘90s) made us realise that fluoro is like a killer cyborg that simply refuses to die. But with C2 tearing the roof off the place, and all the ludicrous hues and patterns in motion under the blacklights, there was something kind of cool about it too. It was like being in a ‘90s raver’s hallucination of the future. (Your intrepid correspondent was an unwitting rebel in black T-shirt and jeans.)
OK, if you’re a fan of electronic music, and unless you’ve been living in a basement on Neptune’s outermost moon for the past 20 years, you don’t need us to tell you this. But it was really great to hear the man rocking a small, relatively intimate party on a weeknight in Sydney. (He was down under for a mini-tour that included last Saturday’s Harbourlife.) His aerodynamic beats, crisp, funky basslines and cool minimalist melodies were the perfect counterbalance to the wild costumes and colours of the Harajuku madness; but despite his famed restraint, the place was absolutely jumping.
And his repertoire is so deep that a comparatively minor work like his warped remix of Faze Action’s 1996 orchestral nu-house classic In the Trees can be the centrepiece of a set – on the decks, as with his productions, the sense of astonishment is as sneaky as it is consistent. Bonus points for getting on the mic to shout out his Detroit brethren Moodymann (also on the bill at Harbourlife) whilst playing one of his tracks.
Don’t get us wrong, the Cellar is a gorgeous room, with terrific interior design that plays on the woody, earthy feel of its former incarnation as a wine bar, whilst living up to the expectations of a world-class music venue. It’s more than ideal for its numerous uses, from Thursday-night jazz sessions to after-hours deep-house jams. But the limitations of the (literally) underground space also, on a big night, make it feel packed tighter than a Harajuku sushi roll, with the L-shaped layout creating a bottleneck of crosstown traffic right in the middle of the dancefloor. Fortunately there are a number of crannies, alcoves and dark corners to choose from that will accommodate serious dancers and a partner or two. By all means don’t miss the many high-profile nights the place has to offer, just choose your spot on the floor wisely.
More small, creative, world-class venues in Sydney… More high-profile clubs that favour underground music… More crazy anniversary events… More weeknight parties with international talent… More intimate DJ sets from the likes of Carl Craig… More cage dancers… More Harajuku Girl fashion…