Lanfranchi's Memorial Discotheque (2010) 

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Bitter Man Films

The story of a legendary DIY art space vs The Man: the last sixty days of Lanfranchi's Memorial Discotheque before Sydney's developers and police marched in

Lanfranchi's Memorial Discotheque was Sydney's favourite artist-run space, situated on the second level of an inner city warehouse. Lanfranchi's doubled as an unauthorised residence and performance venue for five years, growing from unlikely beginnings to become what director Neil Armfield (Candy, Belvoir St. Theatre) described as a 'major strand of our city's cultural DNA'.

The decaying warehouse hosted hundreds of shows and was an accessible starting point for Sydney's emerging performers, artists and musicians. That is, until property development got in the way and Lanfranchi's residents were given sixty days to vacate the building.

The story of Lanfranchi's is told through ex-residents such as Lucas Abela (Justice Yeldham): an experimental musician who plays amplified sheets of broken glass with his mouth-a show he developed at Lanfranchi's and has since performed in more than forty countries. Others soon to be displaced include Dorkbot-a community of electrical engineering artists; the bastard cover band Winner; experimental theatre-comedy group Cab Sav; and the Marrickville Jelly Wrestling Federation.

Despite the impending eviction, the parties roll on during the final days of Lanfranchi's until the building's owners and the police intervene. But with no replacement, and with Sydney's vibrant underground art communities fractured, where will the city breed its cultural DNA?

Bitter Man Films

  • At 09:58 on 17 Oct 2011

    A movie about a venue called Lanfranchi's A month after the illegal artspace Lanfranchi’s shut down in 2007, opinion columnists, journalists and other people who had never set foot in the place started lamenting about how it was “the end of an era” and “the loss of a major strand to our city’s cultural DNA”. Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque was a massive warehouse on the third floor of an old chocolate factory in Chippendale, Sydney, built from discarded parts of The Matrix set. It was home to some of the best live gigs and experimental electronica in Sydney. As well as a lot of crap, as usually comes with these types of venues. Margaret Pomeranz organised a protest screening of Ken Park there the week it was banned. Dual Plover (who put out early releases from Deerhoof and Naked On The Vague) ran their label from a bedroom next to the kitchen. Amazing acts like Captain Ahab, Kevin Blechdom, Pig Island and Justice Yeldham played alongside questionable performance artists and terrible acoustic nights that threatened to never end. Richard Baron was there a lot. He’s edited over 50 hours of cheap DV footage into an intimate doco about the art movements, parties and petty share house squabbles that happened there. The film is funny and unpretentious and makes you feel nostalgic for something that finished only recently, without glorifying it or make any concessions for what it was. Vice: What made you want to make this documentary? Richard Baron: My cousin lived at Lanfranchi’s and the space was closing at the same time. I needed to make a three-minute film for a course I was doing, so I borrowed a camera and rocked up one day. I thought the whole thing would be easy and started to film everything I could, which is pretty much the worst way to make a documentary. I just pulled the camera out of the bag and pressed ‘record’. I had never shot anything before. The whole thing ended up taking me three years. You can actually see the production value increase throughout the film. Vice: There are so many intense stories from Lanfranchi’s: all the garbage, avalanches of cockroaches falling on people while they slept, people hurting themselves and flinging poo around… How come that didn’t show up more? Richard Baron: I have a whole reel of poo stories. Yes! Vice: Where is it? Richard Baron: When you start talking fecal matter in your doco, you are gonna devalue the rest of it. Maybe not in everyone’s eyes, but… it wasn’t really central to the story. You can only say so much in an hour. Vice: That’s very mature of you. I also liked that you included a lot of the not-so-good stuff that happened: hippies talking nonsense, that gore-core hip hop group who looked like Insane Clown Posse. Richard Baron: Suicidal Rap Orgy. Yes. Vice: Most people would have tried to glorify it but you give it a Spinal Tap feel at times. Richard Baron: Well, you’ve gotta have some crap stuff with the good, usually. That was what was great about Lanfranchi’s. People were allowed to be crap, and good things often followed. Read the rest at Vice Magazine: A MOVIE ABOUT A VENUE CALLED LANFRANCHIS - Viceland Today

  • At 09:59 on 17 Oct 2011

    Last days of a cultural experiment Jake Wilson A documentary tribute to Sydney studio Lanfranchi's captures the spirit of this year's underground film festival. THE Melbourne Underground Film Festival this year returns to its genre roots, with various films about psycho killers and a ''secret screening'' of Bruce LaBruce's LA Zombie, originally slated for the Melbourne International Film Festival before it was banned by Australian censors. But MUFF's maverick spirit is perhaps best conveyed in a new film from Sydney: Lanfranchi's Memorial Discotheque, an hour-long documentary by sound designer and web producer Richard Baron. Advertisement: Story continues below Three years in the making, the film pays tribute to an artist-run studio and performance space on the second floor of a former chocolate factory in the inner suburb of Chippendale. (The name derives from underworld figure Warren Lanfranchi, shot down in an alley behind the building in 1981.) Between 2002 and 2007, Lanfranchi's hosted everything from raves and gigs to theatre, cabaret and mixed-gender jelly wrestling. Aptly, one of the most successful shows was a live ''remix'' of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), which toured to Melbourne for the 2006 Comedy Festival. On the phone from Sydney, Baron says the project originated as a three-minute student assignment. Some of his friends were living at Lanfranchi's when news came through that the owners had decided to convert the building into a hostel, inspiring him to document the venue's final days. ''I thought it would be a good subject, not realising I was biting off more than I could chew,'' he says. ''And I've been chewing it ever since.'' With no previous filmmaking experience, Baron had to learn on the run, in the midst of clashes between residents of Lanfranchi's and the authorities sent to evict them. ''A lot of the time there was no electricity, as the power kept getting sabotaged by the landlord's representatives,'' Baron says. ''Filming was pretty difficult in a warehouse like that, with no natural light, and basically me sticking my camera in people's faces.'' Given the ''unauthorised'' nature of Lanfranchi's, many of those involved were wary of media exposure. ''They had no entertainment licence or liquor licence or anything like that,'' Baron says. ''Funnily enough, the City of Sydney listed them on their website as a venue when of course it was completely illegal.'' Baron shot about 50 hours of material in the two months before Lanfranchi's closed its doors, but he says most of the usable footage was obtained in the final week. ''By then, people were comfortable with me filming everything.'' In the editing stage, he was able to draw upon another 20 hours of video documenting performances at Lanfranchi's over the years, much of it ''really bodgy handicam lo-fi footage'' in keeping with the venue's aesthetic. ''It's all made from borrowed equipment, asking favours from people,'' he says of the documentary. ''So it's definitely a very DIY kind of film, which is very similar to the space itself.'' According to Baron, Lanfranchi's ''was basically the last space operating under that underground-illegal model in the inner city.'' The film's recent world premiere in Sydney was followed by a lively discussion around issues of government funding and the future of artist-run venues. ''We could have stayed there all night debating things,'' Baron says. Late in the film, Baron cuts to an interview with Sue Hunt, inaugural chief executive of CarriageWorks, a multimillion-dollar contemporary arts centre that opened two suburbs away from Lanfranchi's in early 2007. ''It's funny how blunt that comparison comes across to people,'' says Baron, who insists that no malice was intended. Though he was struck by some of Hunt's comments, especially her description of the area as a ''wasteland''. The film provides a platform for some more outspoken commentators, such as the performing artist and long-term Lanfranchi's resident Phoebe Torzillo, who expresses doubts about the scale and purpose of an enterprise such as CarriageWorks. ''What I'd personally like to see is seven Lanfranchi's,'' Torzillo says, suggesting that governments may have ulterior motives for promoting artistic activity in specific areas. ''Artists can be co-opted into being the front line of gentrification.'' Cultural differences aside, it's a thought that might resonate in Melbourne as well. Read more:

  • At 10:00 on 17 Oct 2011

    Memorial for a memorial Gail Priest: Richard Baron’s documentary, Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque SEARCHING FOR A SUITABLE NAME FOR A NEW WAREHOUSE ARTS VENUE, CO-FOUNDER LUCAS ABELA DECIDED TO COMMEMORATE ONE OF THE SEEDIER MOMENTS OF SYDNEY’S HISTORY: THE ‘ALLEGED’ SHOOTING IN THE 1980S OF WARREN LANFRANCHI BY POLICE OFFICER ROGER ROGERSON IN A CHIPPENDALE BACKLANE. The elaborate full titling—Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque—took a little practice to get rolling off the tongue, but in retrospect it seems impossible to imagine it being called anything else: the reference infused the place with the spirit of the underworld and the underground. It seems equally impossible to imagine the Sydney arts scene in the mid 2000s without it. But like all good things, especially illegal performance venues, it came to an end (after an impressive five years) and filmmaker Richard Baron was there to document its death throes. In the final phase of Lanfranchi’s there was a significant increase in performance events, as opposed to the music (admittedly often performative) that had been more prominent in the earlier days of the venue. Grainy footage captures the raucous freedom of performance nights such as Cab Sav; the incredibly popular Wonka live cinema experience, developed in the venue; and the antics of people doing strange things with electricity that is DorkBot. The debauchery reaches its zenith with the Marrickville Jelly Wrestling Federation—people slip-sliding all over each other in various states of costume and nakedness, performing acts of frenzied exhibitionism. Having experienced quite a lot of ‘serious’ (ie clothed) experimental music at Lanfranchi’s, I was slightly saddened that this aspect of the venue was not so well represented in the film, but in fairness, it is a document of the last 60 days of the venue when perhaps the mayhem was reaching its peak. However it’s not all good times. Baron’s camera is there when the residents are being harassed by the landlord’s heavy, who comes each morning to disconnect the electricity in an attempt to speed up the eviction when they are still legally entitled to be there. One of the residents is subsequently electrocuted (fortunately not fatally) trying to reconnect power and the camera shows us his blackened hand and singed eyebrows. The camera is also secretly left on during heated discussions with council representatives and police giving us audio snippets and groin shots. But rather than labouring the negatives of the experience, they are included as just part of the whole package. Baron conducts informative interviews with residents such as Phoebe Torzillo, Pia van Gelder and Tega Brain who each offer glimpses into the different micro-cultures that clustered around the venue. Not surprisingly Lanfranchi’s co-founder Lucas Abela is highlighted, with some gruesome footage of the glass playing/smashing performance that he developed in the space after finding an old window pane lying in the corner—an act he has subsequently toured worldwide. Alex Davies, another co-founder and resident to the bitter end, is given less personal screen time, but offers much to the film through his video and photographic documentation, succinctly capturing the essence of many of the events. Initially I was concerned that the documentary might suffer from amnesia about venues and activities which preceded, or ran concurrently with Lanfranchi’s. (In an opening interview Abela insists that there were galleries but no venues before Lanfranchi’s—perhaps technically true, but many of the galleries had strong histories as performance venues as well.) However as the documentary unfolds, Baron pieces together anecdotal histories digging up the Evil Brotherhood of Mutants (a posse of Clan Analogue members) who occupied the same space in the 90s. He also works in references to some of the many other artist-run spaces around town past and present: Imperial Slacks, Space 3, Hibernian House, China Heights to name a few. (The accompanying website also provides a comprehensive list of artist-run spaces.) The film also takes steps towards analysing the complicated interplay of the underground and mainstream art scenes. A topic in several of the interviews is whether to work within or without the system, or whether you can balance a bit of both. That Lanfranchi’s’ demise roughly coincided with the opening of CarriageWorks is an irony also not lost on the filmmaker. However he cleverly allows CarriageWorks’ then CEO Sue Hunt to make his point for him, as she speaks of how the complex will be “a place for creativity and innovation,” and then discusses how “thrilled” she is to include Channel 10’s “contemporary dance piece” So You Think You Can Dance. This self-funded film project took almost three years to complete. In contrast to much of the outrageous work undertaken at Lanfranchi’s, Richard Baron’s approach is stylistically straightforward, letting the footage, both his own and that accumulated from a range of sources, speak for itself. Underscored by the vivifying soundtrack drawn from many of the artists involved in the space, the film conveys a tangible sense of the moment. Grounding this, the considered editing of interviews ensures that the film is not just the documentation of good times past, but also offers some analysis of the broader Sydney arts culture. Of course there are new (and ongoing) spaces that continue to nurture Sydney’s underground/underworld, and each have their own flavour…but the sheer seediness and reckless abandon of Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque so far remains unrivalled.


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on October 17, 2011 at 10:38am

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