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Venue Spotlight: Misfits in Melbourne dances to a different beat

Farah Azizan speaks with Music Director Jerry Poon of The Operatives on raising the bar for Asian representation

  • Words: Farah Azizan | Images: Misfits
  • 15 April 2024
Venue Spotlight: Misfits in Melbourne dances to a different beat

The recent opening of Misfits bar may only have launched for a little over a month, but it has already hosted international acts like neo-soul rapper Smino and music collective Soulection.

Run by a trifecta of nightlife heavyweights and good friends who run Naarm-based music institutions, namely Jacob Bell (Whitehart, Ferdyduke), Amber Hahipene (Section 8, Comet Beverages), and Jerry Poon of The Operatives, the new music and art space promises community-focussed creative events around music, workshops, panel discussions and live recordings.

Taking over a wine bar space Baby Snakes, the trio’s brainchild will be a shifting space reflecting the city’s vibrant cultural landscape and a welcome addition to Footscray’s bustling nightlife.

Footscray is a multicultural inner-city suburb that reflects the successive waves of immigration experienced by Melbourne. Previously a centre for Greek, Italian and former Yugoslavian migrants, it became a hub for Melbourne's Vietnamese and East African immigrants.

“I think Footscray is a great, vibrant suburb with a diverse, Asian community and traditionally a very immigrant-focused part of Melbourne. The food and general culture are very reflective. I find myself at home here and think the comfort of its multilingual, multicultural perspective makes me feel immediately transported back to my youth,” says Poon.

Speaking of the new venture, Hahipene said: “We want Misfits to be a platform for new talent, a stomping ground for the local community and a home to people who love music and hospitality.”

Featuring a fresh lick of paint, new floors and a revived interior, Misfits offers its guests a warm and inviting experience, complete with comfy leather bar stools and trailing plants. The interior is adorned with pieces by Singaporean artists the likes of Reza Hasni, Kiat, as well as architect and painter, A.kid and Sahil Silk Roy, both Naarm-based artists.

The venue also features a sunny terrace, for Sunday sessions and knockoffs.

Punters can expect community-focused events such as workshops, panels and live recordings, with a diverse selection of local and international DJs and musicians rounding out the weekly program. The trio also have big plans for the square behind their bar:

“We want to activate this space, promoting Footscray and all it has to offer through laneway parties and festivals,” explained Bell.

Rather than offer an exclusive experience, Misfits will be a home for everyone: “I think there are enough ‘specialty’ places in Melbourne and we want to focus on just being a great venue that ticks all the boxes,” said Hahipene.

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Misfits will serve a wide range of wines, limited-release beers and tasty cocktails, with a few nods to the local culture of Footscray, and Asian flavours such as Pandan, Longan and salted dried plum cocktails.

Punters can also enjoy a pizza delivery from the downstairs Slice Shop Pizza. Previously named one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world by Time Out, Footscray has no shortage of interesting stomping grounds and Misfits will be no exception.

“A local bar hop is one of my favourite things to do, so I would like to think we’re adding another option to the area,” said Hahipene.

With Operatives head honcho Jerry Poon behind the helm as Music Director, curation and sound will be of the utmost importance.

“For me, sound is a major factor, and we’ll work on getting that right and perfect for the space,” said Poon.

Poon, also known as JPS, originally hailed from Singapore and came to Australia as an international student in 1999, and experienced ambivalence assimilating with the scene.

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“The group of Singaporean friends who I was living with were all aspiring DJs as well and at that time, we quickly established that we too wanted to play out. This was where we met our first barriers to entry. No one would give us gigs. Too fresh. Too young. You’re not from here.”

It was then that something sparked - it felt like the right time to build something and a platform to promote a community of the untapped world of Asian and Asian - Australian musical talent.

Driven by a passion for underground sounds, and the representation of cultural diversity, he has since established himself in Melbourne’s nightlife through his significant contributions as a DJ, producer, promoter, and founder of The Operatives.

Since its inception in 2004, The Operatives has been a booking and agency touring a collective of multi-talented musicians from across the globe, from across Australia, New Zealand and Asia, aligning local and international musical talent with mind-bending visuals and unique venues.

Today, urban nightlife and Asian cultural experiences in art, design, music, and food are celebrated in Australia, especially with the recent thrusts of events like Nongkrong, an Indonesian festival, and locally based artists with Asian heritage like Komang, and Elle Shimada, of Indonesian and Japanese descent respectively.

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“Historically, we have been dedicated to including Asian artists in our line-ups through our roster of artists, such as Nam, Jade Zoe, Hans DC, Swerve and Silent Jay.”

The representation is also maintained through local and international bookings, such as Mirasia, Ciara, Ahadadream, Yung Singh, Jyoty, Cherry Chan and more.

With his unwavering dedication to pushing boundaries and nurturing artistic talent, JPS continues to leave an indelible mark on Melbourne's vibrant music and arts community.

“You will feel discouraged, despondent, disappointed, unrecognised, at your wit's end and all of the above…but never give up.”

“No one owns this space (of music) — it's music, that’s why we are here, for the love of it, for the parties.”

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The growing appreciation and platform of spaces like Misfits explore how nightlife and culture can engage with the audience in a meaningful, ongoing way - all while weaving in a touch of cultural experience.

30 Chambers St Footscray Vic AU 3011
[email protected]
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Farah Azizan is a freelance writer for Mixmag Asia, follow her on Instagram.

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