03 – Open Studio (204 High St. Northcote)

Images: (a) Vardos at Open Studio in 2017. Photo by Peter Cahill. (b) Open Studio layout (c) Open Studio Ambience (d) Saffron Connection. Photos courtesy of Open Studio.

03 – Open Studio (204 High St. Northcote)

Next: 04 – Northcote Theatre/Italia Hall (216 High St. Northcote)

Featured track: Vardos- Path of Sapphires vardostrio.bandcamp.com


Tania Bosak: I actually have a theory that there are ley lines under that area. I don’t attribute it, what’s happening there, to me personally, it was happening way before I came on the scene. There was that natural, this is a home base and a place to go to. You can go on your own. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, you’re welcome. It’s just a friendly place to be. There’s something energetically in that place.

Narrator: You’ve arrived at 204 High Street, home to Open Studio. In 2006 Eloise Bowden and Taegen Hannah opened the venue as a bar for gypsy swing and Balkan musicians to play and hold poetry readings. In 2014 Tania Bosak became co-owner and director of Open Studio and worked hard with the business model to bring in more bands and musicians that reflected the cultural diversity of Melbourne. The world came to Open Studio and what excites Tania is it has given many artists the chance to collaborate and share their cultural experiences with the audience.

Tania Bosak: I think it’s roots were really in more of the Klezmer and Balkan realm initially. For Teagan and Hannah the idea really came out of running live gigs under a bridge in the Darebin area somewhere. They had friends who were playing Gypsy swing and Balkan music. Then when they opened the venue that music continued.

Since then we’ve really diversified towards more Latin, Colombian, Brazilian as well as Greek and Italian and specifically Arabic Music. There’s a fantastic band that just came on the scene called Tarab Band. They’re made up of Middle Eastern musicians from all parts of the Middle East and they were starting to do gigs in our venue as well and that was bringing in that element as well. We’ve had sitar players and Indian music so it’s really representing the cultural diversity of that area, but also Australia in general, and Victoria, particularly Melbourne.

The audience continue to make a venue what it is and as long as they’re engaging and being engaged it becomes like a biofeedback loop which just keeps repeating and getting stronger and clearer as a foundation of a community centre or a place to be.

Obviously a lot of those people who play that type of music are from those cultures and living in the area, but not necessarily. Now we’re getting musician who are coming from all over Melbourne and some from interstate as well as overseas. Or we were before the lock down. And it became known as that home base or place to be that was playing your music. Somehow people would find it.

It wasn’t like a cultural centre, for example, that just had specifically one cultural group visiting it and engaged with it. It was engaging different cultural groups to one centre. What’s interesting about it. If you grew up going to Yugoslavian clubs then it was a very particular group going to one centre as kids and as adults and they’d all be from the one region. The difference that Open Studio brings is that it’s really celebrating on one night a particular culture but everyone from different cultures is engaging with it. What tends to happen is that it becomes this incredible melting pot of different people from all walks of life as well as cultures. Musicians start to meet one another and start to form collaborations from different cultures and then suddenly a few months later they’re on stage doing something different again. It’s really incredible actually that sort of melting pot has continued to develop over the years.

Narrator: Open Studio became a home base for the Vardos trio when the venue first opened.  I remember when I first saw them perform at the High Vibes Festival and Open Studio and I was blown away by this energetic and extremely fun three piece band. Vardos specialises in music taught to them from Hungarian and Gypsy Roma masters in Eastern Europe. Back in Australia Alana started up Vardos in Perth in 1993 and Sofia came on board in 1998.  Sofia says Open Studio became a place for the Bohemian underworld and she shares some of her fondest memories.

Sofia Chapman: As far as Open Studio goes we got to know some of the people who were behind the whole thing early on. Before they opened Open Studio there used to be parties under a bridge somewhere. We only ever heard about it towards the end of it. We heard that at these parties there were these amazing Eastern European musicians playing. It just sounded like this Bohemian underworld.

In the early days there were fires in open drums out the back, musicians playing, people dancing on the tables. As the years went by there was a certain amount of gentrification of the area and they had to get more sound proofing and curtail things a little as far as at outside noise went. Certainly those early days were pretty fun.

 We specialise in Eastern European  music, Hungarian and Romanian specifically. When Alana first started the band she hadn’t been to Hungary yet, but she got some funding from Arts WA to go and study in Budapest. Then she relocated to Melbourne in about 1998 and I had just moved over from Tasmania as well. We both went into this Eastern European music. She was looking for an accordion player. I was looking for a violinist. That was perfect.

Then we spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe travelling around trying to find the old masters, sometimes females as well, to learn from. That kind of rustic village music was still very much alive. I mean I hope it is now, we still managed to find it last time we were there five years ago. Those study trips were pretty much a time of putting performance aside and really trying to learn as much as we could. I would transcribe the music and try to get as much detail about the ornamentation and things as we could. We’ve made six or seven trips of that nature, also combining a bit of touring.

In Australia it’s been great because a local Hungarian dance group who come and play with us and they know all those regional differences. Different dances from different villages. On a number of occasions they’ve also come to Open Studio and livened things up with that kind of Hungarian boot slapping dancing where the men jump in the air and the women do some dancing moves as well. That’s certainly a fond memory from Open Studio.

Narrator: For many people Open Studio has been a place to come home to. A space for people to be themselves and enjoy life, dance and immerse into a world of culture and experiences. Darebin has always nurtured a healthy music culture and now many venue owners looking at ways to restore shows in a different business model when COVID restrictions lift.

Tania from Open Studio says it is now more than ever that community support will be the heart of keeping Open Studio thriving.  She says that the business model will be different but she is looking forward to opening the doors again to Open Studio and hopes the community will support the venue and the artists.

Tania Bosak: The thing that would be really good for the community to know is that we need you. We need you to engage and be a part of it. There might be a little bit of a transition. Shows are not going to be able to be free or that cheap. People will have to get used to the idea of paying for live music and I think most of our community are certainly used to a door charge and they know that that money goes to the musicians. But ultimately venues are going to struggle to make ends meet even with the door charge and limited capacity. So we welcome people who welcome a door charge and also kind of acknowledge that that’s going to be the big shift that needs to happen. We look forward to seeing you at the bar.

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