16/10/2015
Pushing the boundaries.

Words by

James Di Fabrizio

Melbourne Music Week are renowned for pushing the boundaries. In 2015, the team have outdone themselves. The central locus and beating heart of the festival this year will be the abandoned basement of the Former Royal Women's Hospital. Oozing with a rich history, the team have cleared away the cobwebs and cleaned up the crumbling walls of the space to create a new flagship venue for 2015. As Kate Hannaford of Moth Design reports, the eerie space once played host to opulent balls back in its prime of 1858. Now, the walls will once again be bursting with life, music and art when old and new worlds collide. 

“All that really remains of that bit of history is the parquetry floor, which is slowly crumbling away,” says Hannaford. It’s easy to imagine the area’s former grandeur, a relic of a time gone by. As time took its toll, the space took on a more industrial aesthetic. It’s within this juxtaposition however, that fertile ground for creativity was provided. “It looks like this vast, cavernous underground space but with this parquetry floor, which is slightly reminiscent of what it used to be,” Hannaford says. "Down in other little rooms there’s generator rooms and pipes – all the underbelly of the hospital."

Hannaford is a realist, and – as beautiful or unique as Melbourne’s historical buildings are – knows that many are knocked down to make way for newer developments. Just as the century-old Palace Theatre is set to be demolished for a shopping mall, the Former Women’s Hospital will most likely suffer a similar fate. Its upcoming reinvigoration for Melbourne Music Week may offer one last chance for curious city dwellers to explore its mysterious interior.

“It will make people notice bits about the building that will probably disappear once it finally gets knocked down and rebuilt,” she says. “So for us, it’s a dark space and we’re trying to keep it that way.” The dedication to repurposing the building in its current state is also a commitment to a more environmentally friendly event. For the first time, Melbourne Music Week will offset all greenhouse gas emissions to be completely carbon neutral. “We’re trying to re-use elements that were there to recreate things," says Hannaford. "We found a lot of fluro tubes, so we try to use them for lighting systems.

We’re trying to use normal materials in an interesting way to create the space. And then us, but particularly the guys from Swell are working with a lot of artists to create interventions into the space that are site specific to get people to move around and explore.”

Melbourne is the live music capital of Australia. With so many events happening, the crew at Melbourne Music Week are using the hub as a prime example of a venue that will go toe-to-toe with the best of them, without harming the planet.

“The problem with events is they’re often so unsustainable and wasteful," she says. "I feel with Melbourne Music Week always [utilising] some empty, unused space, you can really focus on the space and can have a sustainable feeling to it. It sets the example that you don’t have to be brand new, every time.”

If anything, reinvigorating an older space that has stemmed from a different era filled with a history of its own enriches the experiences that will take place there. “People were born there, people’s mums worked there – people have got that memory of it,” says Hannaford. “It’s not a depressing scary space, although it is quite spooky downstairs.” Until its final closure, the Royal Women’s Hospital was the leading institution for women’s health and innovation. On top of that, it has been the birthplace of six generations of Melbournians and was the home to medical breakthroughs such as the world’s first IVF quadruplets.

Making the most of the space’s winding halls, narrow corridors and expansive breakout spaces is Melbourne Music Week’s premier event, Swell. Interactive, enigmatic and avant-garde, Swell reimagines what a live music experience can be through bringing together art and design for a immersive and visceral experience. The reinvigorated hub will play host to a hidden labyrinth of painstakingly designed spaces, creating a hazy fantasia that feels both familiar and strange at once.  

“We’ve allocated Swell a series of small rooms and zones – exciting little snippets of space,” says Hannaford. “They work with a whole lot of different artists and musicians to create a journey that you can take through the space.” With a lineup of events as diverse and unusual the hub itself, curiosity will be rewarded for those who explore everything Melbourne Music Week has to offer. It’s astounding to consider the amount of life that once burst from the Women’s Hopsital – and this may come as a final chance to add your own story to its walls. “It’s good to give people a last opportunity to be in it a space and recognise the history of it before it does disappear,” she says. “Reinvent it.”  

Melbourne Music Week will take place from Friday November 13 until Friday November 20. The launch party, held at their new flagship venue, the  Former Royal Women's Hospital, will host a completely Melbourne line-up of Gypsy & The Cat, The Harpoons and Dorsal Fins. Visit the MMW website for more details. 

melbourne.vic.gov.au/mmw

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