In the mid 2000s, Melbourne’s loosest indie club night was the infamous Shake Some Action at 161. Every Thursday night, the most fashionable of Melbourne’s rock, punk, indie and art crowds would make the hike across the Yarra to party in the middle of Prahran’s commercial club strip. Shake Some Action was that rare beast: a club / DJ night that also included a focus on live acts.
Many of the bands that played the Shake Some Action stage went on to huge things - The Presets, Midnight Juggernauts, Children Collide, Love of Diagrams, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Wolfmother, and My Disco all played early shows there. The night was integral in solidifying the relationship between live music, club culture and conspicuous partying in the wake of the fading new rock revolution. Hugh Waters (aka DJ Streetparty) was the man at the helm - booking the bands, wrangling the DJs, spinning records and mostly keeping things from getting completely sideways. We caught up with Hugh, plus a selection of Shake Some Action alumni, and asked them to share their (understandably hazy) memories of this legendary night.
Noisey: What years did Shake Some Action run? What was your initial concept for the club?
Hugh Waters: I'm not sure what years it ran, but I guess there wasn’t a place that played the music we were into which was a mix of 80s/ 90s /2000s alternative/ indie/60s/ 70s rock, and soul.
How did running the night at 161 come about? How much would you say running the night on the south side of Melbourne influenced the culture of the night?
Originally it was Woody McDonald and I, just DJing at the Rob Roy (now the Workers Club), but they kicked us out after a few weeks. We put a proposal to 161 and they gave it a shot. Obviously the south side wasn't the best location for people into that kind of music, but I guess because it was one of the first places like that, it got a following. I would say at the start it wasn’t that influenced by being on the south side, but eventually it did develop a “private school rebel” following.
The night was known for being a pretty loose time. How was your relationship with the club owners?
It was great. They were very supportive and generous.
How important were the bands to the culture of the club? Why do you think this format is so rare in Melbourne these days?
The bands were very important, especially in the beginning. People came for the bands and stayed for the party at the start, but then the party started being the main focus. It was rare then (and is rare now) because it is difficult to work out the money between the event promoter and the bands.
The promotion for the night had its own very unique visual aesthetic, with a huge focus on photos of the clubbers themselves. How did this style develop?
I guess the patrons had a certain style, and using photos of them for promotion would attract more people who had similar taste.
Many of the Shake Some Action bands went on to become huge. What role would you say the club had on the development of these acts?
I think bands get big from their own hard work. Live exposure plays a part for sure, especially back then, but most bands played a lot of other venues too.
What were some of your favourite performances at the club?
Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Cut Copy, Muscles, My Disco. There were too many to remember really.
Yama Indra – Damn Arms: For me Shake Some Action was pivotal and one of the centre points of the scene. Hugh was curating amazing bands but with a totally punk/DIY ethos. What was happening there consistently brought together what I see as probably the most fun and interesting people in Melbourne, who all seem to hold a feeling of "family" about everyone that was there in those times. People I met became housemates, collaborators and lifelong friends. My friend Brett Davis from Love Like Electrocution came to Melbourne to stay and we decided we should form a band and play a gig while he was in town. Hugh put us on the following week without hearing a single song. He just wanted to know what to put on the poster. Five minutes later I texted him Damn Arms. With the gig booked, we then wrote a seven-song set with Tim Sullivan (Snap Crakk/Love Like Electrocution). Damn Arms evolved to be a band I toured UK, Europe and Japan with multiple times. I remember Jordan Redealli (Bird Blobs) getting out of control when Hugh Owens dropped The Stooges' “Down on the Street”, to the point where he was leaping up and swinging around the dance floor while hanging on the chandelier. And Henry from Die!Die!Die! kicking open the window behind him mid-song, then stepping out the window while still playing and dance about on the very small window ledge facing Chapel St, yelling at passers by.
Antonia Sellbach - Love of Diagrams / Beaches: It’s all a bit hazy actually! I guess that meant we all had a really good time? I had recently moved from Hobart where I was going to a lot of rock gigs, but also going to warehouse raves and techno parties in the bush. So coming from that environment, having gigs where you could see a few bands play and then dance for hours after seemed fairly normal but also important. I was in my early twenties and I remember being kind of intimidated and in awe of the scene at first. It seemed super glamorous. I came out the other end of the 90s quite tomboyish, but when we started going to those nights I became more excited about ‘glamour’. Leather, colour and lipstick, high heels and stuff. Around that time a lot of people were influenced by early 80s no wave and stuff like that. You’d definitely go for ‘the whole night’ not just the bands. I saw my band mate Gill Tucker’s first band The Young Professionals at Shake Some Action and we went on to form Beaches a few years on. We met the band Cut Copy there too - they went on to do an electronic remix for Love of Diagrams after that. There was also a great intersection between the fashion kids, rock n roll kids, people who came to dance to the DJ. I met a lot of people on the dance floor. There were a lot of hijinks and it never felt too serious which was a really good thing.
Brent Griffin – SPOD: As a Sydney guy, it was a definite must-play for trips to Melbourne. It had its own crowd plus whoever would come for you. I remember feeling really old, even ten years ago. It was a weird mix of music fans, VICE-ey kids and basically anyone wanting to get loose. My biggest memory was meeting Magic Dirt’s Dean Turner who came to check me out one night. We had a short chat and he said some lovely words about Spod, which is still a life highlight. I played with The Presets once there which was a top one, playing with the Phillips Sisters was a hot vibe too. The overarching memory is just meeting lots of top Melbourne folk at the formative end of my career, many of whom I'm still friends with. It was also a secret meeting place of the secret alter egos of mono.net (music website that later evolved into Mess and Noise) folk, which was a funny little world of its own.
Raquel Solier - Oh! Belgium / Fatti Frances: I was working full time and living in my own apartment so the weekends at 161 felt like Studio 54 to me. Although it was more of a club the live band nights never had pressure to finish up early and it all was so perfectly fluid. I struggle to think of a place like that existing now with our current live music / club DJ identity crisis. Although my memory of it was foggy, when I think back all I can focus on was it reflected a time when so many different artistic communities would come hang out together; the hardcore scene / art scene / rock dudes / fashion kids / underage kids / 'older' people. I guess Melbourne wasn't that big then so we would all hang out. Plus it was ten years ago so in my memory everyone is incredibly youthful, optimistic and good looking. I guess I should mention that I saw some incredible bands there and got to hang out with some very talented people who have now gone on to great things.
Johnny Mackay – Children Collide / Fascinator: It's amazing how many bands Hugh actually booked into that tiny space that became huge and influential. He really seems to be able to pick them. I remember a related party he put on over the road at Revolver and the lineup was Children Collide, Midnight Juggernauts, British India, Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Lost Valentinos - a band that of course included Kirin J. Callinan and Jono Ma of Jaguar Ma. There were maybe sixty people in the room. All of those acts were able to fill much larger rooms within a year of that show. I probably played there more with another band The Phillips Sisters. Which became The Amazing Phillips Sisters when Jim BBQ joined, then eventually turned into Electric Smile Band when the name came to our singer Jonny Goldcoast in a trance. Children Collide played there a handful of times though. One memory that comes to mind was seeing Spod for the first time. He's a fella that's definitely inspired a lot of us over the years. We had this crazy share house up the road and often ended up with a munted crew back at our place on Grandview Grove after hours.
Ali McCann - Beaches: In the early 2000s Thursday and Saturday nights at Cherry Bar were quite the party. Afterwards Hugh Waters would play music in his car and people would gather around and dance. From memory that was how his Streetparty nights started. I could be wrong as it was a long time ago and there was a lot of booze etc involved.
Vincent Juggernaut – Midnight Juggernauts: I first met Hugh when VICE magazine gave us our first proper press in 2004, and Hugh came to my house to take a photo. He then asked if I’d walk around with him putting Shake Some Action posters up on street poles. It all seemed quite DIY and fun. The south side had started its downward spiral for live music activities at that point. The majority of that Chapel Street strip was still commercial music clubs and not many live bands. Though it definitely helped Shake Some Action stand out amongst the surrounds. I liked seeing friends’ bands in their early days play in that small space - ’04/’05. Anyone from Cut Copy to Eddy Current to Wolfmother, before they all crossed over to larger stages. I also saw Talkshow Boy and Ground Components play a hell of a lot in those days. Good times. We went on to tour overseas with a few bands we started with at Shake Some Action, or we’d meet up at festivals on the other side of the globe
A lot of those circles are still quite tied to the music industry behind the scenes. Like Woody McDonald who jumped from being a teenager at Shake Some Action onto booking Meredith. Or Michael Kucyk from Noise in My Head who ended up in publishing and probably offered many of those acts deals. A lot of those people went on to start clothing labels too which are still dancing around.
Miles Brown is a Melbourne writer. Follow him @milesssbrown