Format got Kicked Out of its Weird Little Nerd Hole
And Adelaide now sucks that little bit extra.
Photo by Kat Botten
Adelaide's Format Collective have been using their downtown space and DIY credentials to incubate artists and bands since 2008. We heard of their landlord's plan to kick them out of their digs so entrepreneurs can be incubated instead and thought they might need a place to vent. Here's what the group's Stan Mahoney has to say on getting the boot, and what it means for the local arts community.
VICE: So you’re getting kicked out of your venue in favour of another trend-aping government pop-up space.
Stan Mahoney: That's about the size of it. To be fair, the new landlord would have kicked us out anyway. We're scruffy punk kids - it's our job to get kicked out of stuff. And the trend-aping pop-up space that the government is moving in is less pop-up and more "incubation hub" for "young entrepreneurs." They sort of look and sound like Scientologists, but they're basically nice folks, and pretty much innocent in all this.
What does The Man have against you guys?
We don't blame The Man. His methods are logical in their own perverse way. Format is sort of on a mission to convince The Man that subcultures are a big deal, and that without them people will find themselves living in Pyong Yang. Or, you know, Adelaide.
Also we do a mural out the front of the building each year, and we're pretty sure the landlord hated this one. Murals fit into The Man's vibrancy schema, but only if they look like something.
Have you tried to get in a room with them?
Yes, we're talking to a lot of grown ups right now. And a lot of grown-ups are talking to us for the first time. When everybody started crying on the internet about what happened the government sort of freaked out and now they want to help. So we're talking to a group of people in the Planning Department called the City Vibrancy Task Force. "Task Force" sounds reassuring, especially when bricks fall from the ceiling and manky water drips on your recording gear and your landlord just laughs and says he's gonna turn up the rent.
Think they’ll listen?
Maybe. They can tell that people in Adelaide are angry, and they seem to think we know how to make them not so angry. We have this grand idea of government giving as much funding and support to DIY stuff as it gives to clean-cut enterprise stuff. Employing real artists and musicians to set up galleries and rehearsal rooms and venues, then letting artists run it all for themselves, without the sanitised taint of public bureaucracy.
Public funding for DIY? Isn’t that against the rules?
Fuck the rules. Show me a hardcore kid who turns down funding and I'll show you a luddite. Decades of over-regulation and patronising top-down cultural policy have caused a mass exodus of skills and talent. If the government wants us to rebuild an atrophied cultural sector it needs to pony up. Then it needs to get out of the way. Imagine a suite of artist-run institutions run by scruffy collectives - they know about contemporary art because they are contemporary artists, they know how to "engage with the community" because they are the community. Plus they work cheaper and omg they have decent taste in music.
How did Format start anyway?
Some nerds back in 2008 got some seed funding and a two-week run of an empty shop on Hindley Street. The idea was a "fringe of the Fringe" type festival. It wasn't a fancy fine art festival or a car race, so all the other nerds in town got pretty excited about it. So eventually they raised enough money for a permanent place, and they asked me to book the bands. Pretty soon we were hosting Thee Oh Sees and Bitch Prefect and Batrider and Super Wild Horses and Home for the Def. Last Format Festival we got 400 people on the street to karaoke 'Eternal Flame'. There was a choir and everything. People cried.
What has it meant for Adelaide bands?
Right now eight pretty decent Adelaide bands practise in the basement. Most of them store their gear there too. It's amazing they haven't killed each other. They pal around and share gear and organise shows together. They also come to openings in our gallery, buy drinks and dance to terrible R&B and sort out the recycling and one time I saw Angela from Swimming with a mop.
We think the shows we put on are unique. They're not like shows anywhere else - strangers help bands lug gear, they gather up their own empty bottles, chalk up handball courts, keep an eye out for bored cops and Hindley Street derelicts. It's touching. Everybody is in the Collective, and there are never any fights. Also loads of people hook up at Format. It's kinda gross, but it explains the nostalgia.
There must be a bunch of public support.
We have this Mayor in Adelaide, Stephen Yarwood. He's sort of like the cool dad Mayor. I hear he was a pretty upset when he heard we were closing. After the “Eternal Flame” thing he hugged me and punched me on the arm.
The flame war that broke out when the internet discovered what had happened was also amazing, in a disturbing sort of way. I'd never witnessed so much righteous anger. It was like watching 3,000 tiny, shrew-like boyfriends beat a guy to death for disrespecting you.
And so you’re having a party. What’s happening and what’s the ideal outcome?
It's called FORMAT ALWAYS WINS. A Two-day street party, about twenty bands, all kinds of weird art things with lasers and tinfoil and paper mache. Terrible Truths are coming back from Melbourne, and every good band in Adelaide is playing - Big Richard Insect, Swimming, No Action, Doe, Home for the Def. Plus fancy vegan burgers and shuttlecock and handball and fake cocktails and lots of hurt-dancing and crying and hooking up.
Basically we want it to be two things: an insane party that people will remember forever, and a show of force. While we find ourselves playing this weird "lobby group" role, we also believe in being the change we want to see - showing what the world will be like when we win the war. It sounds cornball, but we think the most powerful kind of activism is partying. If you're partying, then you're already winning.
And after the party?
After the party Format finds a new place and we turn it into a shining beacon of good taste - an autonomous nerd enclave in a sea of bogan shit. It will happen and everyone will be sorry. Don't doubt it.
Format Always Wins: The Peel Street Farewell Symposium happens Easter Weekend, March 30-31. See the Format facebook page for more details.
Watch the video we made with Super Wild Horses at Format a couple years back.