Live Music Lives - Hyping Up The Retreat's Comeback Special
The firm feel of the bar as you sidle up to order your fresh first pint of the night. The sensation of spongey carpet and a sticky dance floor under foot. The arresting awe in seeing some band you’ve never heard of completely captivate both you and everyone else populating the pit. Cruising into the eclectic atmosphere of the vibrant beer garden full of friends already known and those soon to be made. These details are ones we failed to notice before March 2020 and they’re now subtle attributes of venues we’ve sorely missed since.
The Retreat Hotel is one such pub we’ve been pining to come back to. A water cooler of Brunswick and the surrounding inner-city suburbs, it’s poised to celebrate both its birthday and the return to form of the live music industry with a free, all-day extravaganza. Ahead of this Saturday’s first big event for the venue in near-on 2 years, we spoke with booker Juliette Lalli about the rigours of wading through the pandemic and how she put together a line-up full of familiar faces and shining stars of the underground.
Having worked as the booker for The Retreat since 2019, Lalli and other workers at the venue have all had to sacrifice so much over the pandemic to keep the pub afloat; “It’s been really hard. There’s been periods where all of us have been in and out of working and only really wanting to work when it's essential because that means the pubs spending more money”. Her role as booker has especially extended Lalli beyond the standard responsibilities when assisting bands with COVID queries; “So much of my job is thinking ahead of time and when you have no idea what the world is gonna look like, that can be tricky. The main thing we’ve tried to do is find out as much as we can, be positive and be communicative. A lot of people come to me asking for news about when things are happening, but I know just as much as anyone else. When that happens, we just try to support the artists, let them know we’re not gonna give their show away and work through a plan B”.
Just as much as Lalli’s role shifted, so too has the pandemic changed the way The Retreat has structured shows; “We used to do solely free shows with a guarantee vs per-head entry deal but we’ve switched that. Due to everything that’s happened we have a bigger program of ticketed shows now which, originally I was a bit hesitant to do because of it being nice and accessible and free for anyone that wanted to come”. Turning a negative into a positive for artists, the new ticketing model ensures artists receive their worth whilst punters appreciate the value of a gig; “Artists have been making less money than ever so it’s a good time to get punters to realise that they’re a part of it all too and they can help the artist put on a show. It’s been nice to find a solution in all of this where we show people that music is an art form that should be valued just like anything else you pay for; dinner, movies, visual art shows”. The pub’s future will see a mix of free and ticketed events alike.
Pulling no punches for the first set back in town, Lalli’s devised a line-up comprising some of the biggest names in the Melbourne underground with Good Morning, SnowyBand and Girlatones. Familiar faces Elsie Lange and Winnie McQuinn of Sunfruits fame similarly represent the artists who’ve all become part of the furniture at the pub through regular sets at The Retreat; “A lot of the bands have played at the venue before but in various forms and at different points of them being formed. I think Snowy played their first ever gig when it was a duo supporting Elsie.” There’s also a bevy of fresh talent in that of Delivery, Partner Look and Quality Used Cars that befits the pub’s openness in promoting new art; “We tried to draw on the community who supported the venue when we were closed. Have it as a celebration of what’s happening in the community. I always like to have some bigger bands with some newer ones so they can hang out and play and support one another later down the track”.
As a full day festival, the beer garden will also be hosting DJs from the Flightless Records regulars and Erik The Jugoslav to ensure that everyone’s able to catch a piece of the action; “You can hang out in the beer garden with your friends and have a bit of a chill in between bands. The flow of the show will be a bit different because we’ll be moving people through after each set so that as many people as possible get a chance to be in the band room”. With the day free of charge and capacity limited, Lalli affirms the early bird will get the earworms; “I’d encourage everyone to come and get down early. It’s gonna be a big day and it’s limited cap so get down and hang out at the beer garden all day and punk in and out of the band room”.
While delayed shows and backlogs have added to the stress of venues opening up amid restricted rules, Lalli was keen to reinforce that now is as good a time as any for bands to reach out about a set; “Definitely get in there and hit us up. We wanna get as many people on the stage with money in their hands as possible, so we’ll be doing as many shows as possible”. In an effort to pioneer the new wave of the Melbourne music scene’s resurgence, bookers like Lalli are always on hand to help; “No matter how big or small the idea, it’s always worth hitting someone up and seeing if they’re interested. Most of the time you’ll get some sort of reply but you can always ask for tips about booking shows from me or any other booker and we’ll always be happy to answer questions”.
Harnessing the palpable sense of excitement and buoyed by the prospect of rebuilding our once thriving scene, The Retreat’s Comeback Special represents a significant moment for Melbourne music. Like any other punter, however, it’s the little things which have driven Lalli to push through the pandemic all the stronger for it; “I’m really looking forward to going to shows and seeing my friends up on stage or in the audience and enjoying it all together. I really miss that tangible moment when you’re at a gig and you’re really loving it and you see other people really loving it and you know you’ve been a part of putting that together. It really feels special and it helps drive that passion that’s kept me going over the last 18 months”.