Best Live Music Venues in Melbourne’s Northside

Rachel Chipp

Nowhere is the distinctive cool vibe that Melbourne’s northside exudes more evident than in its live music scene. If you venture across the Yarra to the northside, it is extremely likely that many of those nonchalant locals whose paths you cross are in a band and if they aren’t then you can guarantee that their flatmate is. With the abundance of live music spots on the northside on offer for bands to play in, it is no wonder why.

Brunswick has actually been found by APRA AMCOS to be the suburb that contains the most songwriters in Australia for two years in succession, reigning supreme in genres as diverse as pop rock, folk, blues, classical and metal, with Northcote following close behind, housing the most jazz and country songwriters in the country. Coburg, Collingwood, Thornbury, and, of course, the famously hipster Fitzroy all dominate the top 25, meaning that music really is in Melbourne northside’s DNA.

If you are planning to explore this music lover’s oasis, then these are the top live music spots that you won’t want to miss.

Northcote Social Club, Northcote

Northsiders spend the majority of their free time seeing gigs at Northcote Social Club, so much so that the cosy atmosphere in the band room starts to feel like a second home. As a focal point of Melbourne’s live music scene, this music spot’s reputation attracts artists and music lovers from far and wide. It favours smaller, underground and emerging artists over big names, with a particular penchant for attracting indie talent.

The Workers Club, Fitzroy

Open daily until 1am, The Workers Club captures the trendy, hipster essence of the northside in abundance. Upstairs, the artist studios for rent provide a calm and serene environment to hold esoteric art exhibitions, while the throngs of people in the small band room below clamour to see a more boisterous type of artist on stage launch their latest song.

The Tote, Collingwood

The Save Live Australian Music (SLAM) rally in 2010, drew attention to the importance of live music to Melburnians. Between 10 and 20,000 live music aficionados loudly protested The Tote’s closure, as a result of proposed alcohol licensing laws, wielding placards containing supportive phrases, such as, ‘I Tote and I Vote’ and ‘No Music No Melbourne’.

With speakers including Australian music legend Molly Meldrum and Australian music artists including Paul Kelly and Missy Higgins who thrive on Melbourne's live music scene and the RocKwiz orchestra playing throughout, the rally was monumental in driving forward the notion that live music venues are an essential part of Melbourne’s lifeblood and it really shone the spotlight on The Tote as a fundamental live music venue in Melbourne. The protest was successful in driving the Australian Government to change tack and allowing live music venues to apply for exemption from the new alcohol licensing laws.

The Tote plays host to rock bands in all their guises: whether punk, metal or even psychedelic. It likes to shine particular focus on Australian rock, both emerging and renowned. You can guarantee that the band room will be packed at its live music gigs from Wednesday to Sunday. The Pretty Things, led by Dick Taylor, Mick Jagger’s very first bandmate, have chosen The Tote to play one of their last ever shows in October before they retire.

In addition, The Tote has a rotation of artists playing month long residencies in the front bar, to offer quality free live music entertainment. This month, the featured artists include A+ who will casually be going into the soundbooth to record right after they perform at The Tote! So northside!

Howler, Brunswick

The contemporary Howler is very northside; make your way through its thronging beer garden, past the cinema, which plays arthouse movies, to the charming, dimly-lit, intimate band room as it plays host to global alternative music artists. It was only built in recent years, yet it manages to retain an old-school vibe which can be attributed to its decor and ambience.

Yah, Yah’s, Fitzroy

More than just a port of call, Yah, Yah’s is essential to visit when you’re in Fitzroy. You can while half a day away here - literally: it plays host to some of Australia’s best live music acts starting at 5pm and you can still catch DJs spinning tunes at 5am on weekends.

The Gasometer Hotel, Collingwood

The distinctive feature of The Gasometer is that its band room has a retractable roof, making it perfect for both balmy summer days and dancing underneath the stars. For many Melburnians and performers, ‘The Gaso’ is considered a second home, attracting both music artists and music lovers back again and again. Regular month-long residencies mean that artists have time to really develop a relationship with this music spot and the returning fans.

The Grace Darling Hotel, Collingwood

A staunch supporter of local live music, Melbourne’s second oldest pub has evolved from its 19th century origins to become one of Northside’s must loved live music venues. Like the foundations on which it was built, it is a cornerstone on the Melbourne performing circuit, with two band rooms. Its elaborate internal decoration creates a classy atmosphere while evoking a cosy ambience at the same time.

The Evelyn Hotel, Fitzroy

Hosting live music seven nights a week, The Evelyn Hotel, or The Ev’ as its patrons fondly know it, is a Fitzroy institution, thanks to the reputation of the live music performances in its 350 strong packed band room, which hosts both local talent and international stars. It doesn’t let this go to its head though, staying true to its working-class roots to emit a down to earth, friendly vibe. This is the kind of unpretentious live music venue where the bands drink with the patrons at the bar before they go on stage.

The Evelyn supports an eclectic range of diverse music, offering residencies to new local talent to give them chance to gain performing experience. The Ev’ has also earned itself a reputation among musos as a great place to launch their albums due to its large crowd capacity and great acoustics.

The Croxton Bandroom, Thornbury

The Croc, as it is affectionately known by its many frequenters, has a colourful history, having played host to Australian music legends including AC/DC, INXS and Men at Work. Today, it is open to wider experimentation. It recently played host to electro duo, Autechre, and offered a strange request to ticket holders to the event: as the band would be performing in complete darkness, listeners were asked not to move from the spot they were on! This was quite different from the wild concerts that Melburnians are used to but just relying on the auditory sense to enjoy the performance added an intensity that resulted in an amazing gig.

salsa night

The Night Cat, Fitzroy

A fun location to dance the night away to Sunday’s salsa beats - you are guaranteed to walk into work the next day with a spring in you step! These Sunday night sessions include salsa dance lessons before the best live Latin artists in Australia take to the stage to give you the chance to show off your new moves. With the Latin artists performing on a stage in the centre of the room, the boundless energy of their performance seems to emanate off them to transport the new dancers all around them.

Hume Blues Club, Coburg

As one of the only places dedicated solely to the blues in Melbourne, this hidden gem is a haven for blues lovers. It provides a great community for like-minded blues devotees and artists to share their passion and budding blues artists are always encouraged to get up and perform.

Hume Blues Club hosts weekly Blues Jam Nights every Thursday night in the cosy surrounds of The Shake Shack. These evenings feature a different blues artist each week, performing original music. The club extends an open invitation to attending blues artists to get up on the stage and jam together, in designated time slots before and after the featured artist performs, which creates a collaborative, supportive atmosphere for blues musicians.

The Jazzlab, Brunswick

Owner Michael Tortoni’s deep passion for music is evident in the fact the he picked Brunswick to be the home of his latest venture. After the closure of his previous endeavours, Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club, Tortoni threw his passion into his new project, The Jazzlab, and he knew the perfect location for it. ‘A lot of musicians live in Brunswick. In fact, the 3056 postcode has more musicians than anywhere in Australia.’ Marrying his love for jazz with a suburb with music ringing out of it was the perfect fit and it has been a great success.

Open every night of the week, the midnight sessions are designed to appeal to musicians on their way home to Brunswick from playing a gig elsewhere. They can feel free to follow their inspiration and get up on the stage and jam with another band to create a unique, improvised sound in the moment.

Tremolo offers the best musicians in Melbourne, in a wide range of styles, from pop, rock and dance to soul, jazz and blues, to perform at public events, private events and birthdays and wedding celebrations. Check out our list of artists and take advantage of our tailored live music packages now.

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