We’ve been fans of Motorik Records from the get-go. Connoisseurs of Sydney’s dance and rave scene, the label has been a fixture in the hearts of local artists and audiences since the beginning. It’s nothing revolutionary to say that they are an unstoppable force of art and innovation, the proof’s in the pudding. Although hit incredibly hard by the pandemic, Motorik have announced the opening of their new store on Sydney’s iconic Oxford Street: a testament to their creative resilience and drive.
We sat down for a chat with Motorik’s Pat Santamaria to chat the future of the CBD, new projects, and what life will look like for the local legends, post-COVID.
HAPPY: Hey Pat, thanks for joining me today.
HAPPY: So at the beginning of COVID, everything was looking a bit dire. You guys lost your studio space, but can you tell me about that and how you managed to turn it all around?
PAT: Yeah, like you said it was pretty dire. We did lose our studio space and obviously doing raves or parties was the last thing on anyone’s mind. And still is actually. But we had a bit of downtime there where we had a chance to at least think about what we were going to do in the future and, I guess, we hadn’t really had a pause in between all the madness of the last nine years to even consider that. So, I think a little bit of downtime there was beneficial for us and it gave us a chance to think about how we could evolve what Motorik is.
HAPPY: Mike Baird and the lockout laws were not good for Kings Cross and subsequently Oxford Street. We saw the closure of many venues and businesses, but I’ve heard lately there’s a new wave of cultural energy making its way back to Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. Can you tell me about the resurrection of Oxford Street and how Motorik fits into that?
PAT: It isn’t something that we had thought about consciously. When we signed our lease for the new Motorik shop, it was an opportunity out of vacancy essentially. I feel like Oxford Street and this inner-city has hit rock bottom; lockout laws, COVID, rising rental prices pushing young people out of the inner city. I feel like Oxford Street has hit as low as it can go, so it can only go up from there really. And the first things that kind of return are cultural things, that’s how you return the vibe to a street and to a certain degree that happens slightly organically, just out of opportunism and I guess we’re kind of just riding that wave.
HAPPY: Do you know of any other initiatives that are coming into Oxford Street at this time?
PAT: A lot of small businesses, small bars, and cool little cafes and stores are opening up in the area and doing quite well at the moment. I think there’s this weird little triangle of Crown Street and Oxford Street, at that end of Crown Street which has got our store. I feel like the record store’s a big part of it, people are coming to this area as a destination now, rather than it being a place where everyone used to kind of live 10 years ago. So, I think the character is changing to this destination zone, which can be packed out with little cultural things that you can do. There’s other little things popping up that I know are coming, because we’re in the area now and just talking to the neighbours. It’s probably not my news to share, but some really good things are happening on the street.
HAPPY: I’ve heard whispers of that as well. It should be widely known that the price of renting on Oxford Street is now 30% of what it was in 2008. So, I think that local government are quite behind the idea of reinvigorating that strip again, so that’s always worth keeping in mind. When I came in and saw your space, you’ve got coffee machines, clothes, pottery, artwork, an art gallery space, and a recording studio. Can you tell me about that and what’s coming up for the Motorik label at the moment?
PAT: I think opening a retail space wasn’t something that had ever really been on our to-do list. We came to it with pretty open minds and pretty… well, I guess the inexperience on this occasion worked to our advantage. Because we didn’t have any preordained concepts of what a retail space would be. If an idea got thrown up in a meeting in our concept phase, there was no one there to shoot it down. We ended up with a bit of everything and I feel like it’s an expression of who we are as people and an expression of the label and what it represents. And also our culture and the little scene that is around us.
PAT: There’s a bit of coffee, there’s music, there’s art, there’s clothes, there’s records, there’s things for your house, and, in some weird way, they all make sense. I think that’s another thing that kind of has to happen naturally. Having the recording studio was our main focus and was our main goal in moving and, footprint-wise, it ended up being the smallest part of the premises. As the opportunities rose up around us, we realised that, okay, the recording studio’s only a small part of this big thing which can mean a lot to a lot of people. And having a public space during COVID, during this lockdown period and coming out as restrictions are eased, it’s so important just to have a place where people can go and hang out and it being small numbers. Being open to the public ended up being a very important thing to all of us.
HAPPY: What I loved about it, and maybe you can walk me through, is if you were to spend an afternoon at the Motorik Vibes space, what could you do? I’ve noticed there’s a DJ booth, I’ve noticed when you’ve got an art gallery exhibition going on, just walk me through what that might be like for someone who is walking down Oxford Street and just coming in.
PAT: Yeah, you might walk off the street, the first thing you might notice is the smell of freshly roasted coffee. One of the guys who we’re working with is a coffee roasting guy and he’s brought that into the store and that’s awesome, so you can pick up a cup of filtered coffee or a bag. As you walk through the space, you’ll see lots of vintage Japanese clothes, fashion, our curated selection. Work from Australian designers and artists, some ceramics, some prints, secondhand ephemera.
Down at the back of the store we’ve got our record stand, which is 1,200 records, second-hand vinyl, quite DJ orientated. There’s a listening booth there so you can chuck it on a turntable and have a listen. And we’ve put in a big sound system from our club, rave background. So the store has this huge sound system. You can really vibe to the records you’re going to listen to. Probably someone from the record label’s in there playing some music as well, that’s what’s happening upstairs.
PAT: As you go to the back of the store and head downstairs, there’s an art gallery which is booked to the end of the year already and that’s run by Babe Cool: which is the creative studio that I run with some other guys. And every Thursday, or every couple of Thursdays, there is going to be a new show opening in there. It’s a really cool way to engage the creative community outside of our own little narrow rave world and the response to that has been awesome.
There’s a couple of UTS group shows, because they’re not doing their grad show due to the world. So, some students are getting together and putting on their own shows at our gallery space and being able to support them and essentially have like a little platform that up and coming artists and creatives can come and use, is bringing a lot of life and energy to the space.
On the top level again, we’ve got the recording studio which is open to use from people on the label, there’s always new people coming through the studio. That’s almost like another little slice of vibe that’s always happening there. So, you can pop in anytime of the day and there’s going to be people in there doing a variety of different things and you can just figure out where you slot into that.
HAPPY: You’ve got another activation going on at the Clock Hotel. That’s happening for a month, every Thursday. Can you tell me a little bit about that, because it’s got some great lights, DJ sound, design, all of that kind of thing?
PAT: That’s a project which is a collaboration between Babe Pool and Sam Whiteside: who is a lighting designer and artist. Another little bit of like a COVID zigzag there. We’re working now on large scale audiovisual installations and big lighting sculptures, combined with sound design and programming, to have this quite immersive light and music experience. Another thing which can be appreciated without being crammed into a room together. So that opened last Thursday and runs for a month at the Clock Hotel. We’re doing live performances of the installation every Thursday night. It’s free, but you have to book to get in. And it’s been just another way of staying active and staying creative in this time.
HAPPY: That sounds awesome. In terms of releases and shows, what have you guys got coming up?
PAT: Shows are a big old question mark at the moment. We have subconsciously decided to just wait until it’s a good time, a really good time to do raves like we used to do them. Hundreds of people together in a sweaty room until the early morning. That doesn’t feel like it’s going to happen for a while, so we’re cool to wait that out. Something that we want to do maybe as restrictions ease a little bit, is to do a late-night Thursday night shopping. And I think we want to integrate record launches and stuff happening with the label around that as well.
So, if we’ve got a release coming up, we can have a little get together at the shop on a Thursday evening and have the artist down there playing some music. It’s not a party, but it’s something which can be done in a safe way. That’s just keeping the record label alive. In the meantime, we’ve got art shows every week until the end of the year. So, there’s a bunch of UTS photography and fashion, some local emerging artists, some more established ones. There’s a pretty big variety of artists, the gallery is like an open church.
It’s cool to see the kind of response that it’s had. Those things will be opening on Thursday nights as well. So, you’ll have this mixing of art and music crowd happening on Thursdays, which I think is super cool. A good vibe. Record label wise, the big project we’ve been working on is creating a new compilation. We’re introducing a whole bunch of new artists to the label, ones that haven’t released with us before. So, I feel like this is going to be the beginning of the next chapter of Motorik as a record label as well.
HAPPY: Thanks so much for joining us today Pat.
PAT: Thanks for having me.
Photos courtesy of Mark Sherborne and Sam Whiteside