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…
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.
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.
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.
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 2017Marcus Winstanley
Eventually Winstanley moved on and Nick Vassar (a musician with popular local Surf-Rock group The Wendys) and Feather Shaw became the new co-owners. Galaxy Records and NEXT Gallery both eventually left the site.
Vassar encountered tough times running the bar when COVID restrictions hit; resulting in a (successful) crowd-funding campaign through the Boosted website that helped keep the bar afloat:
Co-owner Nick Vassar says that “Darkroom’s ethos has never stuck to just one genre or audience demographic. The venue prides itself on encouraging diversity in our line ups and audiences alike – across age, genre, culture, gender, sexuality, and musical ability.”
With the doors currently closed, the bills have not stopped. Vassar explains “we are very grateful to have received the government wage subsidy, and a temporary reduction in rent from our supportive landlord, but our savings buffer is quickly being chewed through and we’re now struggling to keep on top of rent and other ongoing bills such as monthly utilities, accounting, and insurance payments.
“With the Boosted campaign we hope to raise $10,000 to help cover up to 3 months of rent and utilities, which will hopefully see us through to the other side.”Nick Vassar – We Love Darkroom crowd fundraiser on Boosted
Further trouble followed in 2023 with an abundance of new apartment complexes sprouting up near Darkroom’s previously entirely commercial St Asaph street location; bringing concerns about noise limit complaints; whilst nearby 12 Bar closed, Darkroom and Space Academy have lobbied the local council to update the noise restriction plans to protect live music venues:
[Darkroom co-owner Nick Vassar said] music was art and should be treated as such. He believed Ōtautahi would benefit by taking a leaf out of Dunedin City Council’s book.
“They’re probably a year ahead of us, realistically. They’ve had acoustic engineers and so forth doing analysis of venues and what the city needs. There’s quite a good hundred-page report that they’ve done, which is really cool.”Christchurch venues call for updated noise plan to protect live music culture (Radio New Zealand)
As of Winter 2023, Darkroom is the most active live music venue in Christchurch, with firm connections to up-and-coming bands 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 the local RDU (formerly student-run) Radio Station.
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.
Also known as: Part of ‘The Archive’, along with Galaxy Records and Next Gallery
Location: 336 St Asaph St, Central Christchurch
Current Status: Running!
Active as a live music venue: 2011 –
Bar Manager: Nick Vassar and Feather Shaw
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 (The Undercurrents) takes over the proprietorship of Darkroom.
2016: NEXT Gallery opens in adjoined back room.
2018?: Nick Vassar (The Wendys) and Feather Shaw take over ownership / management of Darkroom. Galaxy Records and NEXT Gallery both close.
2020: Hit hard by COVID lockdown restrictions, a Boosted crowd-funding effort is successfully completed.
2023: With new apartments nearing completion; nearby 12 Bar closes in June; with 12 Bar, Space Academy and Darkroom lobbying the Christchurch City Council to update the noise plan to protect live music venues.
- For booking enquiries: email@example.com
- Official Website
- We Love Darkroom (crowd fundraiser on Boosted)
- Christchurch venues call for updated noise plan to protect live music culture (Radio New Zealand)