Have you ever noticed Melbourne’s lack of original public squares? The city was deliberately planned without any, to prevent potential rebellions in the young colony. We’ve redressed the situation a bit, but we’ll probably never have anything like Italy’s traditional piazzas.

Not permanently, anyway. But for the duration of Rising, a pop-up named Night Trade presented by Up is going to give Melburnians a fleeting taste of greatness. It’s being held in the car park of St Paul’s Cathedral, opposite ACMI, from June 7 to 18. The surprisingly large square is surrounded on three sides by handsome gothic architecture.

“To me it’s a natural, mini piazza,” says Rising co-director Hannah Fox.

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For 10 nights the space will be dressed with food, drink, music and interactive visual art – a free party for anyone and everyone wandering by. It’ll also act as a launchpad for adjacent free events Anthem and Ghetto Biennale and the festival at large.

“Our goal is for people to walk out of Flinders Street Station and see a festival – to be able to walk into it,” says Fox. “Melbourne’s a big city and it can quickly swallow a program, in a way.”

This is what happened last year, to some extent. Besides being far apart, two of Rising’s major social hubs, Sidney Myer Music Bowl and Golden Square car park in Chinatown, had admission fees. The lesson’s not been lost on Fox and fellow co-director Gideon Obarzanek. In 2023 they’ve condensed the festival’s geography and made it vastly more public and accessible.

Night Trade presented by Up is the glue between all the discrete festival events,” Fox says. “It’s that social space to go to before or after a show, but it also has its own program and design and mood.”

Puerto Rican identical twins Pablo and Efrain Del Hierro, who together make art under the name Poncili Creación, are leading the site’s visual design. The brothers are known for huge, lurid, surreal puppetry and frequently repurposing vehicles. At Night Trade they’re transforming an entire bus into a colourful canvas with protruding puppets. Anyone will be able to climb inside and help orchestrate the show.

Outside, a stacked roster of DJs and other performers will play on and around the bus, with some appearing spontaneously before or after bigger shows at Max Watts or The Forum. Fingers crossed we get a free, all-access set from the inimitable Flying Lotus, under hanging kinetic sculptures by Poncili Creación.

The visual art and music program’s dynamic nature will carry over to refreshments. The team’s come up with some clever ideas about how to improve the generic, cut-and-paste model of most pop-up catered events, with their clusters of cool rooms and marquees. “It’s all designed to be super mobile, so we’re not filling the space with shipping containers and infrastructure,” says Fox.

Barbeques and other cooking equipment are being custom built, to give everything an interesting sculptural look. Tinnies and other drinks will be scooped out of a tinnie (a boat, this time), or from the tray of a modified ute. Oyster sellers will roam the party, armed with shucking knives and dispensing fresh molluscs. A most excitingly, there’ll be a huge tank of pre-mixed Archie Rose Negronis, meaning cocktails dispensed in seconds.

If the English had known this is what we’d do with our public squares, perhaps they’d have given us some.

Night Trade presented by Up is on from June 7 to 18 at St Paul’s Cathedral car park, opposite ACMI. Find out more here

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Rising. Rising is an initiative of the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and Visit Victoria.