Darkroom

NOTE: This post probably contains quite a few errors and an inaccurate timeline – there is very little info online about old Christchurch venues, so I welcome all corrections and additions!

Also known as: Part of ‘The Archive’, along with Galaxy Records and Next Gallery

Location: 336 St Asaph St, Central Christchurch

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Current Status: Running!

Active as a live music venue: 2011 –

Bar Manager: Marcus Winstanley

Bookings: info@darkroom.bar

Website: http://darkroom.bar

Capacity: 100

After the devastating Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 closed (or even destroyed) virtually all of Christchurch’s live venues, entrepreneur Jasper Bryant-Greene and local musician T’Nealle Worsley (Bang! Bang! Eche!) saw a vacant hole in the local live music scene.

With virtually no previous building experience, the duo started the conversion of an old clothing manufacturing warehouse on St Asaph street, stripping the site back to the bare wood before installing a full bar, stage, upstairs accommodation, toilets…

Charlie Ryder of Bang! Bang! Eche! at The Archive’s opening party

Initially an all-ages house-party was held in May 2011, christening the building as ‘The Archive’ with performances from Valdera, The Transistors and Bang! Bang! Eche! – an absolutely stonking welcome back to live music in the garden city.

Once the full renovations were completed the bar itself was christened ‘Darkroom’ – Bryant-Greene developed the in-house ordering / payment himself and Worsley brought substantial inside knowledge and previous experience (despite her young age) to booking excellent live acts and running the bar.

The duo put substantial care in developing strong craft alcohol selections and creating a relaxed environment with comfortable refurbished furniture – even the outside (but enclosed) drive-way was utilized as a smokers area.

Log Horn Breed at Darkroom

Darkroom lives up to its name – the venue is VERY dark, particularly around the stage itself. They have a great PA system with strong foldback wedges and a powerful PA that is more than a match for the size of the room (which itself is quite small).

The mixing desk sits opposite the stage and is sheltered from other noise in the venue, making for nice and clear band/desk communication. A 2nd floor space beside the desk has been used in the past for a 2nd stage, allowing for long band line-ups with quick change-overs.

Hannah Harding aka Aldous Harding, at Darkroom in October 2011.

Darkroom was immediately successful. An early show by Bachelorette had people queuing out the door, and as one of the few available performance spaces in Christchurch they had their pick of live acts. Though as is the case with most venues – even some future super-stars found it tough to draw large crowds at times:

I used to play there with Aldous Harding every 3rd Wednesday to approx 5 – 10 people, for free.
– Simon Gregory

Marlon Williams did a short residency, playing to similar crowds, sometimes only to the staff. And The Unfaithful Ways. And All Seeing Hand, plus many, many more.

– John Bell

Galaxy Records moved in to an available space in the Archive, and for a period RDU ran a remote studio from the site, too. The last space in the building was refurbished and turned in to an art gallery, originally called Room 4 – however after this closed an additional stage was built and this back room space became available for paid gigs (Mick Harvey, Die! Die! Die! and Shayne P Carter etc), while Darkroom retained a free entry policy.

With the venues general success (and a keen interest in upmarket liquors), the duo decided to open a 2nd venue – the New Regent Street whiskey bar The Last Word. Eventually Worsley would take over running The Last Word.

Photo I took of Peter Gutteridge at his last Christchurch show at the Darkroom, March 2012

However in 2015 some financial issues were unearthed encompassing both bars – as a result over the course of several months several changes would take place.

Fine whiskey importer Whiskey Galore decided it was in their best interest to keep The Last Word open, and took over the running of the bar as it looked like it was to close.

Marcus Winstanley would take over propriety of Darkroom, starting a new chapter in the venues promising history. Thankfully Winstanley is a fixture of the local music scene (as a guitarist or drummer in a variety of bands – Barnard’s Star, The Undercurrents, Minisnap etc) and was previously a tutor at Christchurch’s MAINZ music recording school – for a period he was the venue manager of the Media Club, and has been involved with several other venues over the years as well.

Winstanley made several changes on taking over the venue:

I decided all shows (Darkroom included) needed cover charges and it was a lot of work to have both venues going and personally, I thought the sound quality in the back room was sub-par, so I decided to flag it.

Rebecca started up the gallery again so it’s been running as NEXT Gallery since 2016. After they moved from New Regent Street (Next door to The Last Word), the Canterbury Society of Sonic Artists operated their venue The Auricle out of NEXT Gallery from July 2016-July 2017

– Marcus Winstanley

Darkroom Alleyway

As of Winter 2017, Darkroom is the most active live music venue in Christchurch, with firm connections to up-and-coming bands (through Winstanley’s connections to MAINZ, plus a young clientele), as well as plenty of established bands up-and-down the country on tap.

Darkroom also hosts comedy and performance nights, and has strong ties to both the gallery and record store, with the occasional market or special event that encompasses each.

The Original DarkSpace

Lastly Darkroom has established a strong connection with Space Academy – the multi-use venue opposite on St Asaph Street; so far this has resulted in a handful of co-hosted multi-venue events (i.e. ‘Dark Space’), plus shows are usually planned to accommodate each others crowds.

History

2011: The Archive debuts with a warehouse party in May – eventually Darkroom opens as the music venue, with Galaxy records following.

2013: Darkroom proprietors Bryant-Greene and Worsley launch The Last Word whiskey bar on New Regent Street.

2015: Marcus Winstanley takes over the proprietorship of Darkroom.

Contact Details

info@darkroom.bar

Links

Christchurch Venue Map

Note: This is a work in progress and will have additional content added both in the Map (i.e. venue images) or in the body of this post (i.e. a list of the venues in questioned, grouped by status etc).

Feel free to comment, give suggestions etc – this was put together as part of thebigcity’s on-going Venues archive.

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Christchurch Media Club

Also known as: The Winter Garden

Location: 191 Armagh Street, Central Christchurch

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Current Status: Demolished post-earthquake and replaced by the Margaret Mahy playground.

Active as a live music venue: 1927 – 2011

Bar Manager: Keith

Bookings:

Website:

Capacity: Around 300 in the main bar and 70 in the ballroom.

All-Ages: Occasionally

The Christchurch Media Club was a large building on Armagh Street, next to the notoriously seedy Centennial Pool. Broken up in to several parts – It had a mid-sized hall with hard-wood floors, a large performing stage and bar (used mostly for Media Club patrons, housing pool tables, darts etc), the smaller ‘Winter Garden’ ballroom where most live performances occurred – which was carpeted and decked out in ornate ceiling alcoves, plus a hallway, toilets and a small kitchen.

Though the main bar gave the appearance of an old tavern or sports bar, the venue had a storied history, with the Winter Garden Ballroom a notable part of Christchurch history.

Opened in 1927 as a cabaret and social hall, The Winter Garden was a sparkling venue in the Christchurch social scene. Originally a dance studio, the building was refitted for its opening with a sprung floor in the ballroom and the addition of a supper room and kitchen. The original décor was deep maroon suede, and there was a large mural depicting nymphs in a sylvan (forest) setting.

Christchurch Libraries

Sacred Heart Debutantes at the Winter Garden

This storied history continued through the 1940’s through 1960’s, with debutante balls and formal diners being a regular use of the dapper, ornately decorated ballroom. Remodeled in a ‘most delicate pink’ in the 1960’s, the venue surely reached it’s peak when the Queen dined here in 1964 – Christchurch Libraries noting:

During this time the venue boasted a 12-piece band – including drums, piano, saxophone, and clarinet. The band dressed in blue, Bermuda-style tuxedos.

Christchurch Libraries

However, as interest in ballroom dancing declined in the 1980’s the venue was purchased by the monolithic Lion Breweries, then passed on to the Trade Union Centre, who in turn leased it to the Christchurch Media Club.

Undercurrents in the main bar

By the 1990’s the lush interior was now vary faded and quite grotty, however it became a favorite location for local shows, particularly of the underground or experimental variety.

With thick carpet, a decent PA system, and comfortable couches – it was the easiest of places to put on a show, particularly if you got on with perennially grumpy barman Keith. It was also a great venue when it came to live music photography, as hopefully my own Flickr photo-stream shows.

Sandoz Lab Technicians in the Ballroom

The fringe music collective ‘Borderline Ballroom’ established themselves with shows in the smaller ballroom with regular shows over the course of the mid to late 2000’s. The Media Club was also a good choice for All-Age shows for a period, as the main bar was essentially a separate venue from the ballroom, as a result quite a few A Low Hum double-headers took place either in the ballroom or across both rooms.

The bar closed in 2009, however the Christchurch Music School MAINZ took over, using it as a teaching space and even hosting some All Age shows.

Unfortunately Christchurch lost one of it’s most beloved live venues when the Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 struck, however the site was incorporated into the wonderful Margaret Mahy Playground – one of the highlights of rebuilt Christchurch.

History

1927: Opened as The Winter Garden as a Cabaret and Social hall.

1960: Remodeled in light pink, ‘Sapphire Room’ added.

1964: Host to the Queen during her formal visit.

1984: Lion breweries buys the venue before on-selling to the Trade Union Centre, who demolishes half of the venue for car parking.

2009: Main bar closes. MAINZ takes over, using the venue for teaching purposes, plus putting on the occasional All-Ages show.

2011: Heavily damaged and eventually demolished post-Earthquake, replaced by the Margaret Mahy Playground.

Contact Details

Links