A Live Tribute to David Bowie at Freda's
© Imogen Grist
Nightlife

6 legendary Sydney parties, as told by the people who threw them

To look back on the last decade of Harbour City nightlife, we asked promoters and club-owners to tell us about the best party they ever held. Here's what they said.
By Katie Cunningham
9 min readPublished on
Some nights go down in history. Whether it’s because of the DJ, the venue, the crowd or just a special unquantifiable magic in the air, certain parties become the stuff of lore. If you were there, you’ll never forget the night. If you weren’t, you’ll never forgive yourself for missing it.
Sydney’s had a few in its time. So to look back on some of the Harbour City’s most finest blowouts, we asked six of our favourite nightlife heroes to tell us about the best party they’ve ever thrown. From Mardi Gras recoveries to Sydney Opera House soirees, they’ve taken us on a trip down nightlife memory lane.
Read on to relive the legendary parties they picked. Maybe you remember hearing about them back in the day. Or maybe -- if you’re lucky -- you were even at some of them.

Kooky’s Mardi Gras Recovery Party in 2020

As told by Jonny Seymour
We lost our Kooky venue only weeks leading up to the Mardi Gras recovery party and were forced to take on an untested venue in the CBD. Despite some overzealous school ma’am security, community spirit endured and together possibly had one of the greatest queerest gatherings ever.
Special secret guests Ayebatonye and Midland turned out truly wall-shaking magnificent sets. Highlights also included a massive group performance art show honouring native animals and also having an 800 people singalong to Electric Fields and Sister Sledge with DJ Gemma closing out the all dayer.
The next week the city went into lockdown, making this a remarkable and memorable Last Dance and a hopeful reminder of what we can do together as a community when it’s safe to rave again.

Freda’s Speed of Life: A Live Tribute to David Bowie in 2016

As told by Dave Abram
2016 was a really odd year with a number of iconic musicians passing beginning in January with David Bowie's untimely death.
We had already done a few live tribute nights featuring artists we loved with a band put together by ex-Swoop guitarist and Personal Best label boss Josh Beagley, and it was a no brainer to celebrate Bowie's life and back catalogue with a live tribute show. Beagley was joined in the band by Midnight Juggernauts Dan Stricker on drums, former Hack host and Client Liaison bass player Tom Tilley, and Joan Benoit's Julian Bright on keys. Singers included Bowie megafan Alex Cross, as well as Rainbow Chan, Alex Ward, and Dappled Cities Dave Rennick amongst others.
Freda’s Speed of Life: A Live Tribute to David Bowie in 2016 at Freda's bar in Sydney
Speed of Life: A Live Tribute to David Bowie
We already had a pretty good idea that the night was different when we had more than 2000 people say they were attending on our Facebook page, and it all came together in such a beautiful way it almost felt cosmic, as if it were touched by the Starman himself. People came dressed as Bowie, the band and singers were unbelievable, and the room stayed full and in celebration all night long.
Although we had many many incredible nights at Freda's, this one really sticks out. Something about Bowie's music touched so many people, while also maintaining its artistic integrity. A rare feat. The collective good will, energy and incredible music and celebration of the night still lingers long in our memory. It was a fitting farewell to an artist that meant so much to all of us.

Adult Disco feat. Bicep in 2013

As told by Chad Gillard
It was the first time that Bicep had come to Australia; they hadn’t put out a whole lot of original material at the time. They mostly were known for their blog back then. This was one of those parties where it sold out way in advance, which very rarely happened for our Adult Disco parties at the Civic. It was usually more of a turn-up-on-the-night kind of crowd. But it really felt like a lot of people were anticipating it.
I think they had just put out Vision of Love, which was probably their first really strong single. That night was also the debut live performance of Touch Sensitive, because he’d never really played proper live shows up until that point and the project had been dormant for a really long time. The second 12” we ever put out had a track from Mikey [Di Francesco] on it called ‘Body Stop’ and then ‘Pizza Guy’ had just come out.
We used to do our own version of decor, which usually involved printing something out and sticking it up and whatever it was, it would be printed in pink. And for that night we printed out a massive picture of Arnold Schwarznegger doing a bicep curl. I think people eventually took it off the DJ booth and started passing it around the room. But yeah, it was a proper, packed-in party.
Adult Disco feat Bicep poster for party in Sydney in 2013 at Civic Underground
Adult Disco feat Bicep poster

Picnic’s Andrew Weatherall One Night Stand at Sydney Opera House in 2017

As told by Carly Roberts
We did so many shows with Andrew (RIP) and to be honest all were absolutely perfect (hello, Sydney Festival + Goodgod Jan 2012 and Oxford Art Factory 2014). But nothing will top years of trying to get him into the Opera House and finally getting in there off Vivid season -- which meant we were the first dance party to go into the Studio outside that winter festival.
Of course it sold out in weeks, Andrew was so honoured and he played like he was challenging the gods. The lights and sound were incredible and it just felt SO special. As far an (unintentional) last show for one of our most loved acts goes, 10/10.
Andrew Weatherall at Picnic's One Night Stand at Sydney Opera House in Novemebr 2017
Andrew Weatherall at Picnic's One Night Stand

Every Halfway Crooks party at Phoenix

As told by Andrew Levins
Halfway Crooks started in 2009 in this tiny little room on Oxford St called Bright'n Up Bar, which was nautically themed for some reason. We moved across the road to Phoenix after a year which is where the party really peaked.
It's crazy to think back to promoting parties 10+ years ago, you'd have to spend hundreds of dollars advertising your party in the back pages of a free street press newspaper and hope that people would choose that particular street press from the piles of them dumped out the front of record stores, turn all the way to page 132 and see the ad for your party.
Then in the early 2010s you could just make a free Facebook event, use a javascript code to invite every person you'd ever met in your life and suddenly you had over 1000 people attending. Usually you'd be lucky if a tenth of those people actually attended but for a few years Halfway Crooks was just the most effortless party to put on. Just me, Franco and Elston DJing each month, barely any special guests (a nice change from having to spend like $3000 to book some American bloghouse producer who had maybe four remixes out) and a line out the door each month within an hour of doors opening.
Halfway Crooks at the Phoenix
Halfway Crooks
Crooks went from 9pm-3am and sometimes I'd DJ for about 4 of those 6 hours, Franco and Elston cheersing me from the bar as I played yet another Waka Flocka Flame song or screamed a terrible Young Thug impression into a microphone before hiding it as local emcees made their way to the desk to ask if they could spit a verse.
There are a lot of scenes missing from those years and I'd wake up the next morning covered in Hungry Jacks sauce stains and bruises from trying to stand on top of the decks and falling, but give me bruises and sauce stains over DJing to a seated only dining crowd any day.

Motorik’s Second Birthday Party in 2013

As told by Vi Hermens
Motorik's had a LOT of highs. Every show has been beyond special. Ultimately, though, the one that was beyond special was our second birthday party.
It was deep in Marrickville, in a huge aircraft-hanger of a space, which the Santamaria Brothers had stumbled onto at a Christopher Esber runway show they played live at a few months previously. It took us months to persuade the owner to let us have at it, and it took a gigantic insurance policy, an even bigger envelope of cash as a bond, and a lot of phone calls to the location agent -- day and night. It almost broke us. We were, at that time, so scared that we'd lose everything, and the fear of being shut down early was weighing heavily on our minds. However, in the true spirit of MTK XTC NRG, we just... did the thing. And it sold out almost immediately.
I managed to persuade everyone that it would be a good idea to put a giant jumping castle in there, alongside a pretty enormous sound system. Looking back, it was cowboy as hell -- we now have medics, tonnes of security and a lot of safety procedures in place. None of that. Just the hope that our friends and wellwishers would do the right thing. Jensen Interceptor, Light Year, The Finger Prince, The Santamarias and I -- the original dream team -- we were on some next level that night. Even though we had to stop halfway through to talk down some idiot that had climbed to the top of the Dexion pallet racking. I reckon someone actually climbed up after him and managed to gently persuade him down.
I managed to persuade everyone that it would be a good idea to put a giant jumping castle in there. Looking back, it was cowboy as hell.
Vi Hermens
We had a queue around the equivalent of a city block at one point, and I was on the edge of my sanity, praying that we wouldn't get shut down. Somehow, someway, we kept going until 4am when a literal barrage of police turned up and demanded us turn down. Somehow we managed to get off scot free, even though the door money went missing (a question that keeps me up at night wondering, even seven years on) and a bunch of people did some pretty unspeakable things behind said jumping castle.
That, for me, was the moment where we went -- yeah, we can do everything we want, the special things, bucking the norm and taking chances, but from that point on, safely -- above all else. It was the real birth of the safe space to be whoever you wanna be for a whole new generation, and that informed everything we did from that point onwards. I still get asked about it -- even last weekend, in fact. It was just magic.
I think we'll get there again -- we felt just like that at Output Festival, our other baby (with UNDRctrl). Wait. Now I've just remembered the 3rd birthday at the paintball place... fuck. Oh well.