The culture of a city is an expression of the people that inhabit it, it’s chaotic and cannot be orchestrated. It’s the sum of architecture, the arts, music, food, performances, and people. It’s the exchange of ideas, all day and all night.
At night in Sydney, our beautiful harbour city straddles a chasm. On one side there is a soft underbelly of pubs and “five-star dive bars”, on the other side there are mega venues. Whilst there’s room for both in our cultural economy, we need diversity in what’s on offer as well as diversity in the people that are offering it.
What gets in the way of growth is an abundance of red tape, legislation, lockouts and lockdowns; the former estimated to have cost the Sydney economy $16.1 billion annually. The parameters have been in a constant state of flux; we’ve gone from a simultaneous lockdown and lockout lift earlier this year; to seven day bans for Bondi kerbside bars. It has been, and still is, a wild and stop-start ride.
Enter Alcatraz, the culture-child of Cian Lopez and Obi Kyei, working with Kiran De Silva as a consultant for the soft launch in February to June of this year. The duo have a unique vision of what is possible in 2022 and beyond. Their goal is ambitious, reshaping the Sydney culture scene with a 120 capacity, versatile warehouse space in Annandale.
What’s the present state and future goal of Alcatraz?
Cian: “This is just the beginning, we’re establishing a much needed venue for our city, despite such challenging times. Pre-lockdown 2.0, we’ve been hosting underground pop-up events for local creatives and providing a blank canvas for Sydney promoters and artists.
Big picture, our intention with Alcatraz is to make a positive contribution to Sydney’s entertainment, arts, and nightlife.
Our first priority is establishing a live music venue, broader genre spectrum with day events. But ultimately, we want to become a credible venue that has a stronghold over the scene, portraying culture as it evolves. I believe Alcatraz is a shell for culture. Our ultimate goal is to build Alcatraz beyond simply a venue, but rather an iconic cultural identity recognised on a national and international scale by activating events in new spaces and places.
Inspired by Vice style journalism on music, I believe venues have to be more than just informing the community ‘what’s on’ and a link to tickets. We need to use our platform to create a link for artists, creatives, event promoters and businesses.
Live music is paramount. Alcatraz will aim to deliver a cutting edge live music space suitable for a wide range of performing artists. One hundred to two hundred capacity venues are imperative to the growth of a vibrant live music scene within a city and play a vital role in the development of burgeoning artists looking to grow both their live performance experience and audience followings.”
What makes Alcatraz more than just a club space?
Obi: “Alcatraz, or ‘Traz has three facets; live music, the arts and community. Everyone is welcome here and building a community of like minded people that actually represents the multi-cultural melting pot that is Sydney, is paramount to everything we do.
We want to create a space for artists of all calibres and disciplines to perform and connect with each other, letting the creatives and party-goers determine what’s hot on the scene. As certain genres, parties and all the cultures that come with them have been historically marginalised by the NSW political climate. Our job is to give these creatives a shot on the back end of Coronavirus, to use the venue as a pilot for a significant cultural shift in music, fashion and any related industry.
Weekdays and weeknights are the perfect opportunity to house cultural events like art exhibitions, album launches and brand activations. We see ‘Traz as a cultural injection for the Inner West community, curating art exhibitions that host both established artists as well as up and coming student artists from places like COFA/NAS/Art Xpress.”
Arts wise, you also house a clothing label- Obiri?
Obi: “Obiri is my namesake label. I played professional basketball for the Adelaide 36ers before venturing into fashion and design. The Obiri label has grown immensely on the local scene, having special mention on Champion’s sustainable fashion campaign.
It’s cornerstone is sustainability, ‘Obiri Homage’ is a boutique line dedicated solely to reworking vintage designer pieces into urban garments, and revamping dead-stock forgotten fabrics. Think logos from authentic Fendi and Chanel garments, mixed with leftover fabric from Guess’s 1996 collection.
What is Traz’s biggest obstacle?
Kiran: “As everyone who lives in Sydney is probably aware by now, opening and operating any kind of venue, especially live music spaces, isn’t straightforward by any means. With the government’s agenda seemingly doing a firm one-eighty in comparison to the last five or so years since lockouts, a lot of the legislation has changed and is still changing. Navigating the licensing restrictions, limitations on trading hours and doing all the necessary applications and work to change that is definitely time consuming and tricky.
The other hurdle is to do with the cultural paradigm shift we are trying to initiate and lead. As with anything new, there’s always going to be adjustment periods and when you’re trying to change such ingrained business models like venues; there’s always going to be difficulties when something hasn’t been done a certain way before. We want to draw a cultural line in the sand and create a venue that instills a meritocracy inherently.”
Cian: “We have submitted a modification to our consent, which now sits in the Inner West Council portal for review; in order to bring some exciting changes to the venue and extended trading hours. Between the desired fit out, approvals and national vaccination rates reopening may not be on the cards until January.
Hopefully everyone who has seen or showed interest in the venue can get through these hard times happy and healthy, so we can all tackle a bigger and better 2022 with more hours at ‘Traz!”