Happy Days for The Karova

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Happy Days for The Karova

Talk of the state of the live music scene can elicit a bit of a groan these days. Not because it continues to be a hot topic of debate, but because it has a stronger pulse than some would have you believe. It’s just sometimes we need to look to our regional cities. With The Karova family set to celebrate their tenth birthday, we thought we would gatecrash their celebrations and share a drink (more likely a few) with the Ballarat favourite.
“A good friend of mine, Paddy O’Driscoll, wanted to open up a live music venue in Ballarat,” Shaun Adams, Music Programmer for the venue since it opened, told us. “He knew I was passionate about the local scene and got me on board to book the acts to play at the venue. I really didn’t know what I was doing for the first year or so but he obviously saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
July 23, 2004 was the date the venue opened its doors to the public. It was a year in which Usher would have the highest-selling album of the year. Music legend Ray Charles would pass away at the age of 73. Jet would write their place in the annals of Australian rock by cleaning up at the ARIAs. Australian bands including Birds of Tokyo, The Audreys, Howling Bells and The Getaway Plan formed. It was also a year in which Soundwave made its festival debut, then known as Gravity Soundwave and run within with Gravity Games.
Locally, Ballarat had been travelling along at a decent pace. However, bigger dreams were envisioned. “Ballarat has always had a great live music scene. Before Karova there were a few places where acts could play, but there wasn’t a regular venue so a lot of the local acts had disbanded and the scene died down for a while. It was hard at the start to try and get in on the national touring circuit – most acts were just playing in Geelong – but we were lucky there was bubbling excitement around the start of a new live music venue and a birth of a new era for the scene.”
The birth of a new era is right. Not only has the venue played host to a seeming endless list of Australian and international talent including Okkervil River, Birds of Tokyo, 360, Ben Kweller, Girl Talk, Wolfmother, You Am I, The Jezabels, Boy & Bear, Something for Kate, Art vs. Science, Magic Dirt, Augie March and Architecture in Helsinki, but they have also championed backyard artists including Epicure, Yacht Club DJs, Hunting Grounds and Goldfields. Given how well we have got to know the locals, The Karova is a little like the record store clerk you get friendly with who turns you on to the good stuff out back.
All this begs the question: What is in the water at The Karova? After a pause for thought, Shaun hits the nail on the head. “It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly has kept Karova Lounge open and thriving for so long. We have a very diverse audience, a thriving local music scene and touring acts genuinely like playing here … The key to our success at the end of the day is that the whole team – door staff, security, venue management – are passionate about live music and work really hard to create an environment that people want to keep coming back to.”
You can’t fake passion. And if you do, sooner or later you’re going to be caught out. The locals love The Karova because it is like hanging out with family. They know the venue is putting on music not for the bucks but for the love of it. It is something that bands sense too. “Most definitely,” responds Shaun when we ask him whether having a good venue/band relationship is important. “What we try and do is to think objectively about the fact that a band is coming all the way to Ballarat to play a show – it’s normally cold, wet, and we’re very appreciative to them for touring our parts. It’s an intimate venue; you’ll see security guards line up to purchase merch. It’s not your typical atmosphere for a show.”
girltalk forte
An article such as this would not be complete without a trip down memory lane, so we take the opportunity to ask Shaun about the craziest night he has witnessed. “It would have to be Girl Talk. By the time he played he was one of the hottest acts in the world – the show sold out in four minutes or something stupid like that. He was out here for Laneway so in the middle of summer Ballarat turned on a nice 35 degrees day, which basically turned the venue into a sauna. I still don’t think I have felt that kind of heat again – people were drenched in sweat. 50 people on stage … his table breaks 10 mins into the show … a crazy night!”
With a look at the past, we now look to the future and what we can expect with their 10th birthday celebrations. On the line-up you have, fittingly, a local affair with Yacht Club DJs, Neon Love, Bel Air, Them 9’s and DJ Salinger. “Karova’s 10th birthday is a celebration of the local acts that have meant a lot to the venue over the past decade. Some acts unfortunately weren’t available, but we’ve got a great line-up of acts that were really popular with us and the punters and we’re also giving the opportunity to some of the newer acts to play. It’s as much about looking to the future as remembering our past.”
Also be on the lookout for a book to be released in late August. “It will be a scrapbook of types featuring photos and memories of acts that have toured, poster artwork from previous shows – a real snapshot of the past 10 years.”
We raise our glass to you.
When&Where: The Karova, Ballarat – July 19
Written by Wylie Caird