Between venue closures, limited playing opportunities and consumer uncertainty, the last few years have been tough for the live music scene. In April, musicians and music lovers finally had something go their way with the opening of Old Habits: a dedicated live music venue in West Perth’s emerging arts hub, the Pickle District. And like most businesses in the precinct – cafe and co-working space Cleaver Street Coffee Shop, say, or art gallery Stala Contemporary – Old Habits isn’t just a day job for its owners.
“The goal is for Old Habits to become a second home for people that love live music and the arts,” says owner Justin Ward. “I guess there are many elements that come together to make that happen, but essentially, it stems from authenticity. And that authenticity extends down to the bartenders, the musician, the booking agents, our sound techs who are in bands. They all love the venue and they’re on board with us and our goal.”
Although Old Habits recently passed the three-month mark, its story began in 2015 when the space was Soggybones, the bricks-and-mortar presence of the surf, skate and art platform that Ward established while living in Dunsborough in 2010. In addition to housing a custom-built indoor concrete skate bowl (according to Ward, it was one of the world’s first as well as the first in Australia), the space began hosting live music, with Australian bands such as Skeggs, Ocean Alley and Psychedelic Porn Crumpets among those to grace the space. Something clicked.
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“I started speaking to the bands and people coming to the shows, which gave me a lot of enthusiasm for trying to add something that was missing to Perth,” says Ward. “It felt like Perth needed a place which was relaxed and where the musicians felt at home. We weren’t a pub. We weren’t a small bar. We weren’t a venue at that stage. We were a skate shop throwing shows.”
As the gigs became more frequent, Ward decided to rebrand the space as Hellhole – a nod to a music policy that featured metal, punk and similar heavy-hitting genres – to distinguish it from Soggybones’ surf and skate focus. After years of obtaining occasional liquor licences for these one-off gigs, Ward was encouraged to apply for a permanent licence, and the seeds for a dedicated live music space were sewn. Initially the plan was to transform the one-time “tin shed” (Ward’s words, not ours) into a 250-person concert space; following the roller-coaster that was Covid, our man was forced to reassess and change tack.
The result was Old Habits, a 120-person small bar with the same focus as the original, albeit in a smaller, more intimate setting. While there’s a charming rough-and-tumble look to the space, management have sweated the important details, not least the sound system that’s been installed by Tame Impala’s sound engineer Adam Round. While cans of Emu Export chime with the pub rock vibe, the bar also carries other drink options, including predominantly Western Australian wines, some craftier beer options, a thoughtful edit of American whiskies and other spirits, plus cocktails.
Plans for the future include introducing food options via hospitality consultant and chef Matt Suri as well as – come summer – opening up more of the venue’s outdoor spaces: just as long as a planned $25 million building application from Bunnings doesn’t get in the way of things. Like many in the flourishing Pickle District arts hub, Ward is closely tracking the development, but is keeping an open mind.
“Old Habits is on the brink of change,” says Ward. “I hope we get that time to flower. I feel Perth needs an authentic arts-based culture, like the Pickle District, that’s run by creatives, artists and passionate small business owners. Change is inevitable and it’s usually for the greater good. How true that is with developers knocking on the door can only be answered in time.”