In Depth: A conversation with Pride of our Footscray Community Bar and Exude Group
I sat down with Mat O'Keefe from Pride of our Community Bar and Shaemus Corcoran from Exude Group to discuss all things music and community in the west.
Gabby: So I'll start off with you, Mat. Pride Bar is one of the most beloved venues in Footscray, tell us about the background of the bar, and how you got involved as manager?
Mat: Pride is a very, very different place. It's a small bar owned by 200 people, which is very unusual. In 2017, 200 people came together and chipped in what they could to create this venue, which is why it's called ‘Community Bar’, it's owned by a community of owners and wants to represent and celebrate its community and Footscray. From the very start (2017), we wanted the bar to be “Proud of Footscray”. So proud of Footscray is POF. And we thought we could put in the extra ‘O’, so that the acronym would be POOF instead of POF. So we went with POOF as an in-joke given so many involved were from LGBTIQA+ community and Pride was always going to be extremely queer-friendly. We then added Community Bar to reassure everybody it was for everybody. And that's how it got started. And since then, you know, it's really lived up to it, very few places have such a diverse crowd and staff. We do so many different things. On Tuesday, we have a poetry evening in one room and a dance class in another.. On Wednesdays, we have drag Bingo. On Thursdays, we have a drag queen playing games like Wheel of Fortune or Sale of the Century. On Friday, where Shaemus is involved, we have indie bands or punk bands or rock bands or whatever band you can imagine being hosted by a drag queen. You've got Shaemus booking bands and there's another person involved with the band booking, Jess, they book great bands, they’re hosted by a drag queen, the crowds half queer and half straight and everyone has this crazy time.
Gabby: Yeah, definitely. I've been a couple of times and the energy, just in the room. It was wonderful. Now over to Shaemus, give us a bit of a background about Exude Group, what prompted the creation of Exude, and what kind of services you offer?
Shaemus: Yeah, we started our artist management very early in 2018, I went to school with Alex and Sam, they’re both in a band called Franco Cozzo, after a couple band chats we started working with them. I've always been deeply sort of ingrained in the music industry, my uncle works in it and so I've always been able to go to his shows and stuff like that, which has given me this passion towards wanting to achieve what he's been able to achieve. When we started working with Franco Cozzo, we booked a couple of shows which were fairly successful at the Dancing Dog and Reverence, which have both since closed their doors. The Dancing Dog and Reverence were iconic venues in the western scene. And so after booking some shows there, we booked a show at Pride around January 2018. Mat was a ridiculously kind host, and we had great experiences. So we decided that we were going to book another show there and Mat was like, “look, you have gotta stay here and work for us”. And you know, we did that and it was definitely a building experience, we hadn’t booked for any venues and going from booking three shows to booking for a venue is a pretty big step. We learnt pretty quickly on the fly, but it was a huge opportunity to start booking for Pride. And then recently, we've just started booking for another venue. We also manage a couple of bands such as Redferrie and Stimpies and we just picked up an artist called Arnt Mae who's absolutely incredible. She's definitely one to keep an eye out on.
Gabby: Awesome. That's great to hear I've been across Exude for a little bit and when Mat mentioned you, I thought it was a great opportunity to reach out, just brings home that we’re all connected in the west, in one way or another.
Shaemus: That's another huge thing in the western suburbs, the scene is just incredible, especially the indie-rock scene. You’ve also got your rap scene, electronic scene, jazz scene, and punk scene. You'll see venues that really focus on a specific genre, but Pride is one of those venues where there are no limitations when it comes to the bands and artists that perform on our stage.
Mat: That's a good point that Shaemus raises, it is a risk for us to do different types of music all the time. So it might be punk one week and then indie the next and then soul the next, so people don't really know what to expect. It's not like you've got a dedicated fan-base of one particular genre coming along. We're basically doing a separate concert every Friday, which creates enormous challenges in some respects. But if we can keep those Pride fundamentals where you know, you're going to be welcomed in a friendly place, and you’re going to have Joclyn Bosoms the Drag Queen there, and all that sort of stuff, there's enough consistency. It certainly creates a bit of work for us to do something different every week, but we did want to reflect how diverse this community is.
Gabby: Yeah, I think that's a common thread, everything is very, hands on and community based. It's communicating with all different types of people, you know, making those ties and then working together to put on these great shows and events. The west sometimes can feel a little bit disconnected to the heart of the city but we really take it upon ourselves to kind of create those communities ourselves out of pure passion for what we do.
Shaemus: It's a young person's industry. You need a lot of energy. You need a lot of spark to make any project you know, succeed. It's a super competitive industry in that as well, I saw when you guys did your Rude Baby TV, it was great to see young, hard working industry workers who are popping up, which is fantastic, especially in Melbourne. Internationally, Melbourne hasn't been, you know, centre stage, which I think that is going to change in the next few years. But you know, people like yourself are definitely going to assist with that growth of Melbourne as a global music hub.
Gabby: So from here what's it like operating in the west of Melbourne? And what do you think makes it different? And I guess I can pose this to both of you, because you'll each have your own take on it.
Shaemus: The western suburbs are just home for me, I've lived here the entire time I've lived in Melbourne so I'd give a very biassed answer. The western suburbs are the best. There's no denying that. And Pride specifically is like a home away from home for me.
Mat: I think from the venue's perspective is that if you go to South Yarra or you go to Brunswick or Fitzroy, and you walk along those great streets, it's bar after bar after bar, and there's people walking up and down those streets. But after dark in Footscray it's very quiet, Footscray empties out, there's nobody around. Exude and Pride can't rely on people just walking past. There's no accidental guests, basically, because Footscray is not there just yet. You have to attract people and you have to make it that they're coming there on purpose. It's just more difficult to attract people to the west, because there's just not that foot traffic. So, yeah, we have to work just incredibly, incredibly hard to provide what we're providing. And that's fine because we love the area and we love what we do. And it's crazy and there's an energy around, that keeps us going.
Gabby: Okay, well, we are coming to the end of the questions, but I've been enjoying the chat a lot. So thank you so much. Basically, to finish off the interview, I want to ask you both who are some of your favourite artists out of the west at the moment?
Mat: All right. This is difficult. Redferrie are so much fun, they’re like a pop-punk band from the 90s. They've had great shows, Shaemus organised a show with Redferrie and the line was down the street, it was just so much fun. I'm gonna say Franco Cozzo, they’re amazing. You look at those boys sometimes and you wonder whether they're old enough to get in, but the music they produce is such a mature incredible sound. I do like Bowlos (with Bill), The Inkermen, Marlings, Bronze, Commissioner Bourbon, Claim, Miles Recommends, My Twin Sister Lulu, Sneakerheads, Dom Rogers & the 'Scray City Rollers, Rusted Tongue, Apollo Blue, Jxcky & Would be Cool!
Shaemus: I’ll fill in the gaps, so Stimpies, they’ve got some incredible music coming out in a couple of months. And Arnt Mae, I will say those two and that is my roster pretty much, so I'm happy with that. Hollow December, I worked with them for a little bit. They're fucking incredible. Johnson's a beautiful, beautiful man. Milk is great, they’re releasing a bunch of new stuff at the moment. They’d probably be my other two favourites that I'm not directly associated with.