Every city has one, a well-loved punk club that for whatever reason is forced to close it’s doors leaving the local punks even more bummed. For Melbourne’s punk, hardcore and metal scenes that spot was the Royal Artillery Hotel better known as the Arthouse or simply the Arty.
In April 2011 the Arty closed it’s doors after 20 years of operation but not before a number of sold out send off shows that included H Block 101, Mindsnare, The Nation Blue and the Smith Street Band. Photographer Anna Brown was there over the finals days taking over 1400 portraits of band members and fans, some of which have been collected in a new book Parting Shots: The Last Nights of the Arthouse in Mugshots.
As Tom Lyngolgn of the Nation Blue and Harmony mentions in the book’s introduction, the Arty itself was by no means a remarkable building and like most great punk venues it’s design was not the best. “It had a classic bottleneck that military strategists could only hope to devise …. that would erupt into a kinetic clusterfuk and your chances of escaping the immediate vicinity were extremely limited”, he says of the bandroom.
But the angled stage hosted some great bands over the years and brought together punks of all stripes. We spoke to Anna about the book and her memories of the Arty.
There’s a lot of black band shirts in the book!
Anna Brown: The best thing about the band shirts is that it extends the scope of the project. It's a reminder that its not just about the band members and people I had stand in front of the camera. The shirts include absent mates and idols who are all part of the Arthouse community in a way.
What is your earliest memory of the Arthouse?
I grew up in Canberra and a friend who moved to Melbourne would send me mixed tapes and rave about bands she'd see every weekend. I made the Arthouse out to be this mystical, magical place where there were endless awesome bands playing.
I deferred university and moved to Melbourne in the mid 90s for a year and there was always a good band at the Arthouse or the Punters Club. Whenever I travelled back to Melbourne, it was always planned to coincide with seeing a band and often that was at the Arthouse.
What was so special about the place?
I felt a part of it and I also recognised how important the place was in terms of the music I liked. It's connected to everything I think is good musically. Through the project I came to understand that the sense of community wasn't accidental but was fostered by the Kelly family and the venue they created.
There’s no distinction between bands and audience in the book.
I've wanted this to be a body of work that presents a community so, that's not just about the musicians. If I made full-page spreads of my musical heroes and small images of the people I didn't know, the book would just be a subjective collection of who I think is important in the community. Sometimes that's hard to avoid but I've really done my best to be objective about what makes a good portrait. I wanted this book to be a solid body of photographic work and not just a piece of nostalgia. I chose the portraits that I found to be most compelling.
What were those final days like?
It was a very exciting, overwhelming, exhausting, emotional and fun time for me. I met some heroes, made lots of new friends and saw almost all of my favourite Australian bands over the course of two weeks. Over the duration I ended up using three different cameras and taking more than 16000 images of about 600 subjects.
What are some of your favourite photos?
Tom Lyngcoln's portrait is a favourite. Not just because of who he is and how much I like what he does but I just love the hands, that his face is relaxed and his head is bleeding from having just been split open during their last show.
I really like the shots where the subject was able to just relax and be still with the camera and I manage to catch it.
'Parting Shots: The Last Nights of the Arthouse in Mugshots' is out now through Parrot Press.