A poor practice

Josh and Zach Nicholls from Koizilla. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Josh and Zach Nicholls from Koizilla. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Located at the top of a three-storey commercial building on George St, The Attic is the most important place you haven’t heard of.

As well as providing a space for artists to practice and record, it has hosted national and international acts. More importantly, it has been at the heart of the local indie scene since 2011.

Sadly, that era is mostly past. As a venue, it’s been officially gone since the main room was closed for earthquake strengthening in 2018, but over the past two years it has continued to exist as a practice space. That is, until last week.

"At the moment, like today at 7 o'clock, we’re going there to collect our stuff then we will all be moving out," Julie Dunn explained.

Dunn’s association with The Attic dates back to 2012, as a self-described "roadie", but today she co-manages the Trace/Untrace cassette label, publishing many bands associated with The Attic, and is in the band Bathysphere, which shares a practice space.

"Basically we’ve been in The Attic without a tenancy agreement officially since September last year, that’s when we got kicked out of the back room, you know, the other room, where we used to have gigs in the corner.

"So that’s just happened again with the new room."

Other than Bathysphere, Night Lunch also used The Attic, along with Koizilla, members of Fazed on a Pony, and a few other visual artists, who shared another room. In total, about 14 people share space in The Attic. It’s a lot of artists for two rooms, especially considering they were only able to use it after 8pm to avoid disturbing nearby eateries.

Dunn said at least four other bands were also keen to use the practice space, and approached the landlord in the hope that they could rent the unoccupied back room, but that didn’t work out.

The value of practice space is not often recognised. Every band you’ve ever loved will have practised to get to a state where they’re confident enough to share their music with the world. As Dunn puts it: "Music really does rest on the ability to have somewhere where you can jam with people. If you don’t have that, then you don’t have anything."

Unfortunately, practice spaces are hard to come by. Or more accurately, landlords willing to lease space to musicians are hard to come by.

Most musicians have stories about finding a space in industrial areas where noise isn’t an issue, only to be rejected by the landlord when they found out musicians would be using the space.

"It’s incredible how much you just feel like nobody wants you, or like you’re actual scum for being loud. It’s crazy."

Their plan is to form a co-operative of musicians, who will pay a small weekly fee for access to a practice space, which will ideally host gigs. But to achieve any of that, they’ll need to find both a space and a landlord willing to rent that space to them.

"You’re kind of just crowdfunding it, but people get to use the space because they’re a member, which, I think, is a bit more sustainable as a model.

"I just think that people have a certain idea about what musicians are like. What I’ve struggled with in The Attic is that I find those ideas get reinforced."

The reason given for the eviction, according to Dunn, was that the landlord wanted to develop the space. She also says that the relationship declined after graffiti was discovered by the landlord in a hallway leading to The Attic.

Dunn says the current Attic residents were not responsible for the graffiti, but the landlord, who has owned the building for about 12 years, has another view.

"They were evicted because of being irresponsible, and they, or somebody, graffitied the inside of the building," he explained.

"It’s a secure area, the door has a pin code, so they can say whatever they want to say," he says.

Rubbish and alcohol containers were left lying around.

"They’ve authorised, as we all do, their own misfortune."

Dunn doesn’t claim they were perfect tenants, but says they always tried to leave things tidy, banning glass at gigs, and always spent the day after tidying up. She believes a lot of the problems stemmed from the lack of a formal agreement.

Regardless of the reason, the closure of The Attic is a great loss to the local music scene because it was more than just a space for musicians: It fostered a community. Once you made the trek up those seemingly infinite flights of stairs and along winding corridors, you entered a space that felt important, valuable, and you felt a part of it.

The gig

Make Space 4 Music!! fundraiser, featuring Night Lunch, Dale Kerrigan and Bathysphere, Friday, October 16, at Dive. Tickets $10.

 - For more from Fraser Thompson go to dunedinsound.com.


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