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Canberra’s underground music scene

Emily Allen

They’re not the large arenas packed with thousands music fans.

No, these places are something far more unique. We discover five Canberra venues dishing up live, local music.

Ainslie & Gorman

Ainslie_+_Gorman_Opening_Party._Photo_Andrew_Sikorski (1)

Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres are twin centres, located just 400 metres away from one another in Braddon.

As Canberra’s newest dedicated music hub, the Ainslie Arts Centre has a beautifully restored concert hall that hosts a wide range of performances, including the very popular 2015 Out to Lunch lunchtime concert series, a monthly jazz night, a monthly concert series presented in partnership with preeminent Australian cellist, David Pereira.

At Gorman Arts Centre, the focus is multi-arts, with an extremely popular bimonthly performance poetry series, The Salt Room; a monthly experimental art and music event, Playful Sound; plus a fortnightly Art Doco series.

There are events happening every single week at Ainslie and Gorman, with something for everyone. With over 42 resident artists and organisations, including 5 of the ACT’s Key Arts Organisations, there are multiple programs happening across both centres every single day…it’s a happening place!

Ainslie Arts Centre | Elouera Street, Braddon | agac.com.au

Gorman Arts Centre | 55 Ainslie Avenue, Braddon | agac.com.au

Smith’s Alternative


Café and bookstore by day, music venue by night. Smiths Alternative was purchased in April 2015 by Canberra Musicians Club founder and event coordinator Nigel McRae after the stalwart venue went into liquidation the month prior. Standing tall since 1976, the bookstore once drew committed crowds for its controversial literary selections.

Now re-open for business, Smiths house non-genre specific, local and touring music, theatre, cabaret and burlesque as well as pulling focus towards Smith’s potential as a bar and coffee house.

Whilst a small selection of books that can be perused in store or borrowed will still feature, a new addition to Smiths will be that of visual art displays and ‘mini galleries.’

Smith’s Alternative | 76 Alinga Street, Melbourne Building | facebook.com/smiths.alternative.canberra

Beyond Q | Books | Bar | Barista

Set aside a morning or afternoon of a weekend and do yourself a favour; Beyond Q is a little different. Tucked away downstairs at the Curtin shops, you would be forgiven for getting lost in the isles of literary delights and live music.

The eclectic, relaxed little space showcases local, interstate and occasional international vocalists, classical guitarists, jazz bands, sliding steel guitars, Irish jigs, piano recitals, choirs, bluegrass, blues, flutes, harps and trumpets.

The team at Beyond Q have been onto the winning formula of adding a little aural pleasure to your weekends for years now and to top it off, a BYO service is available as well as a themed menu to keep you on your toes.

Beyond Q | Curtin Shops, Curtin Square | Saturdays and Sundays, morning and afternoon sessions. Café and bookstore are open 7 days a week
Cost: Donation
More info: beyondq.com.au

A Bite To Eat

A lively little gem that has called the Chifley Shops home for over a decade now. The award winning café is dotted with mismatched couches and vintage pieces, a backdoor courtyard with streaming sun, tap beer, food 7 days a week, plus free, live music every Sunday from 5:00pm; a popular tradition for locals in its fifth year.

Their Sunday musical offerings are a mix of mainly local artists but occasionally showcase interstate and international acts edging towards contemporary folk, jazz and off beat catering to all demographics.

A Bite to Eat | Chifley Shops, Eggleston Crescent | Sundays, 5pm-7pm |  Free | abitetoeat.net.au

Hashemoto playing at the Bloom festival at Gorman Arts Centre

Hashemoto playing at the Bloom festival at Gorman Arts Centre

Wesley Music Centre

Looking to get out of that desk chair at lunchtime and experience an increasingly popular 40 minute aural delight? The Wesley Music Centre’s Lunchtime Live concert series ran from February 2015 through to December 2015, every Wednesday, and featured students from the ANU School of Music, secondary school students, scholars, through to travelling professionals. One can only hope it’ll be back in 2016.

The Centre also holds music courses, recording sessions, private lessons, examinations, master classes and lectures. The purpose-built, acoustically pleasing, 140 person venue houses some of its own instruments was set up to promote music and education.

Wesley Music Centre | 20 National Circuit, Forrest | Paper note donation | wesleycanberra.org.au/index.php/wesley-music-centre

Read this article and more in our latest edition of Magazine, Edition 3, The Hidden Issue. Find it at these stockists. 



Emily Allen

Emily is an arts administrator with a background in writing and music. By day, she works at the ANU School of Music, and by night she moonlights as a contributing writer, the Communications Coordinator and Secretary for MusicACT, and dabbles in freelance marketing, social media and communications for the arts. More about the Author