Earlier this year, VICE magazine debuted ‘I Spent a Night Touring Adelaide’s Worst Rated Nightclubs’ through a contentious analysis of some of South Australia’s supposed worst clubbing spots. It also limelighted HQ as hedonistic sacrilege, Red Square is apparently full of wailers and bailers, and contrary to its title – Mansions doesn’t seem to bring in the affluent nor Belvedere-swigging elite. But it’s unfair to tinge all of Adelaide’s music and clubbing culture by someone’s subjective opinion of its primal pens.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Adelaide has cultivated an underground. This is because an alternative scene is growing, and the 5000’s revel in its solidarity. If you’re into the same anti-mainstream music as another diehard, you’re very likely to see the same pair of spikes/sneaks ticket at another familiar door.
Whether it’s the Ancient World ecosystem that churns out harlequin sounds in a dank basement, or Sugar club dropping beats from domestic house dons and genre godfathers alike, these underground hangs punch out four-to-the-floor bangers from artists that tickle our weekends in a way no mainstream club could.
Ancient World is like an eclectic one-sided mirror. While regulars get a view of Adelaide’s central clubbing district, its geography down an unlit alley removes it from walk-ins and an unsavoury crowd. Surrounded by a bed of cacti and corrugated iron, the clubs position pumps a ‘Hindley Street counter-consciousness’.
‘Our clientele range from 18 to 50 year olds’ says Brad Cameron, Ancient Worlds co-owner. ‘It’s so broad. Once we even found the 50 year old regulars dancing to crazy, aggressive English grime in the basement’ he laughed to me.
Events range from DUB and JUNGLE NIGHT! To information sessions about INSECTS IN THE HUMAN DIET are examples of the club meeting a demand from its kaleidoscopic partiers.
‘For us, it’s more of a project’ co-owner Brad clarified. Opened over a year ago by David Apps and Brad Cameron, the pair envisioned Ancient World as much more than a club.
‘It’s meant to basically offer young people a space where Brad and I would’ve enjoyed when we were that age… I remember hearing about a dub night when I was really young and I checked it out (I had only just got into dub and I was quiet), but the night was a really nice vibe… From that I realised clubbing could be a different space – it could be different from the level of aggression I’d felt clubbing at 18’ says Dave.
Joy Sparkes, an Adelaide electronica artist and Ancient World barkeep, colourfully illuminates the mechanisms of her working universe. ‘Basically you’ve got the beer garden which is knowledge sharing; and the bar which is knowledge sharing (chatting) but at a slightly louder decibel; and then you’ve got the lets-forget-about-fucking-everything dance floor.’
The punters of Ancient World look like furniture, as prickly cacti standing closely standing to coarser boys, with a push to be eccentrically underground. Monthly events like WildStyle cater to an all-inclusive party of dizzying techno and RnB toppers. With a dogma of, ‘Come topless or pant-less, go ahead. If you want to come as a bacteria from a Delhi sewer, go ahead’ on a night like this, the sense of this community is rabid. Catering to the anti-mainstream, it also features darker music.
‘It’s small and dingy in the best kind of way’ says Daniel Moyle, lead singer from stoner-metal band, Tombsealer. Dan says, ‘It’s the warm vibe’ that brings his drone-heavy band back, and ‘the low-end tones just sound tight in that basement.’
I asked co-owner Dave about this crossover. ‘That’s what we’re talking about! That’s where the big difference comes from – and it helps everything. And it’s just more fun as well. We have a very big range, and in the long run it will build up stronger scenes in Adelaide and encourage different people to hang out.’
Sugar club on the lip of Rundle Street is another underground spot pushing the touch of art deco and sweaty dancers. Owned by Adelaide’s own Andy Warhol – Driller Jet Armstrong, the club grooves with digital music to a sect of weekly attendees and walk-ins. Driller tells CityMag, ‘Sugar embraces everyone who is there for the music.’
You’ll be assured to dance amongst some of Adelaide’s most devout; whether it’s throwing ‘bows with a fellow 20 year old, or shuffling pairs of New Balances with a 35 year old rave veteran. Local reveler Stefan Jonasson fondly remembers Sugars’ Mixtape Wednesday as guru Jonwayne ‘Spat rap directly in my face.’
‘I was surrounded by kids on a sweaty dance floor, and it was probably the best show of its type I’d ever seen’ he says. Sugar has thrown some wild nights for the underground: from techno/house purists Moodymann and Jeff Mills, to hip-hop/rap icons like Cash Money.
As well Sugar exposing the 5000 to some of the hemispheres best acts, it nourishes resident DJs. One of FactMag’s ‘1 of 4 Australian labels to watch’ – Untzz 12” was helped nurtured in the candy factory. ‘Sugar and Untzz exposed me to a mindset of viewing a set as a cohesive movement’ says Mic Mills. Belonging to the heavyweight vinyl Untzz 12” collective, Mic resembles an analogue man. Pushing two-three rings per finger, he punches cigarettes while pulling at a slippery pair of slacks. As an artist he admits that Sugar’s In The Deep End residencies taught him the subtleties being a musician, and that he didn’t have to ‘sacrifice his own musical morals’ by playing to an unconventional tight-knit family that were behind him the whole time.
‘And it’s so interesting: half of the house and techno scene are metal heads, and a lot of them are the most committed dancers. They’re usually the ones who come to have the most fun.’
After the DJ clears the deck, Sugar’s staircase doubles as a smoking area and is thick in discussion over which tracks were the best and who killed what. ‘People go more to listen to the music and hang out with friends rather than just get laid and fucked up.’ And the dance floor is heavy with the consciousness of everyone actually listening, and a sense of family is even stronger. It’s also not unusual for a night to end shirtless and kissed by a fellow soldier. ‘It’s always an experience’ smirks Stefan.
Beneath the EDM stomping from a white pair of Windsor Smiths, and shrinked away from a gyrating lady in an onsie, clubs like Ancient World and Sugar offer an oasis. Instead of palm trees in these places, you’ve got some catci and partial mannequins. Even better – instead of thirst are hungry minds.
Joy colourfully explains this to me. “Even if you’re not into the same stuff, you’re able to have the ears to listen to new music. This is so special, and it’s a new realm! At these clubs you’ll be like ‘WHO THE FUCK IS THIS?’ instead of ‘play me fucking Blurred Lines.’ You’re open to what they’re giving you, and the lesson they’re teaching. It’s beautiful.”
Clubs like these are worlds apart from Royce Kurmelov’s choice of five, and Sugar and Ancient World welcome anyone not a dickhead, and enough of a clubber to explore alternative digs.