Ball Park Music, Full Flower Moon Band & More Pay Tribute To The Zoo

5 July 2024 | 3:03 pm | Mary Varvaris

“Without the Zoo, we probably wouldn't even exist.”

The Zoo

The Zoo (Credit: Lachlan Douglas)

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It’s a sad time for the Brisbane live music scene, as the iconic institution The Zoo is set to pour its last drinks on Monday (8 July).

This weekend marks its final-ever gigs, with Alice Ivy taking her Do What Makes You Happy tour to the stage tonight, Sly Withers with Smol Fish and Talk Heavy tomorrow night, and Skegss playing The Zoo’s final show on Sunday.

The Zoo hosted everyone from The Pixies, Silverchair, The Black Keys, Lorde, Ben Harper, Nick Cave, and The Dirty Three. It was founded by Joc Curran and C. Smith in 1992, who discovered inspiration from Melbourne’s music scene and wanted to pull it to Brisbane.

“When I came back from living in Melbourne for a year, we were like, ‘Oh, we want to open this small little cafe that would have art on the walls’ that was really inspired by that year of living in Melbourne,” Curran explained in a commemorative interview with The Music about The Zoo’s 30th anniversary in November 2022.

“That was the grain that started the whole process, permeated, and became The Zoo. We were a BYO cafe for the first four years.

She added, “We used to have this system: when you'd walk in, you be given this little ticket, and you'd bring your alcohol, you'd hand your alcohol in, and we charged people $1 to look after their alcohol for the night. You had to eat.

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“The idea was that you couldn't be on the premises if you weren't eating. So, we got really great for those first four years of making lots of veggie curries and lots of veggie things. You had to eat, and then you could see music.

“And then, in 1996, things changed. We had to apply for a regular license. That took quite a while, and once we got that license, we were like a normal, licensed venue.”

The Zoo has been an essential space for many Brisbane bands and artists. Ball Park Music told The Music this week, “Without the Zoo, we probably wouldn't even exist.”

Recalling their first-ever show as a band in 2008 (“an opportunistic gig”), which happened to take place at The Zoo, they—like so many before them—got to play at a “rite of passage” venue for any Brisbane band.

“We didn't even have a band name yet,” the band said. How did they find the name? “Sam [Cromack, lead vocals and guitar] has a MySpace page under Ball Park Music, let's go with that”.

“What a great chance to do a gig at one of Brisbane's most iconic venues. We thought if we only ever played one show together, at least we can say it was at this incredible venue and a rite of passage for any young Brissie band.”

They added, “After the set, we came off stage, and the audience was so encouraging. ‘You guys should definitely stick with this band thing’, ‘Wow, that was such a tight set’, ‘Keep at it and you guys could go somewhere’, and so we did. And the rest, as they say, is history.

“Thank you forever, The Zoo.”

Indie folk rock Brisbane band Red Hill say they will miss “the water station, the friendly staff, and the noble giraffe by the merch desk.”

There's more they'll remember as well as the water station, staff, and giraffe: “We'll miss the stage where we've seen some of our favourite artists through all stages of their careers. But most of all, we’ll miss having a venue in the local scene where independent, emerging artists could play on such a world-class stage.”

Nice Biscuit’s Billie Star remembers growing up “knowing and being a part of” The Zoo. Her journey with the venue went from vacuuming the floor to performing on the stage.

She tells The Music, “I grew up always knowing and being a part of The Zoo - my mum (an artist) designed the logo and painted the famous rose front doors, and when I was old enough, I worked there for four years. We also played our first Nice Biscuit show there. I went from vacuuming the stage to performing on it, [and it was] pretty special and surreal!”

The Zoo is also a special place for The Jungle Giants. Reaching out to The Music from Europe, the band remembers playing their first-ever show at the Brisbane haunt.

“The Zoo holds a special place in the history of The Jungle Giants,” the band comments. “We played our first-ever show and launched our first EP there. We have seen countless shows from our musical heroes as well. It’s super sad to see it go.”

Flamingo Blonde’s James Bartlett will always be grateful for the memories made at The Zoo. The rocker says, “It's probably odd, but one of my favourite things about The Zoo (other than the incredible staff over the years) has always been the rarely guarded little area next to the stage, between the main room and the (historic) green room.

“Whenever I've played that stage, it's always been so special to glance to my right and see all of the friends dancing in the thoroughfare. On the other hand, the hours I've spent tucked away in the wings so I can keenly observe how some of my favourite artists bring their music to the Zoo's stage is something I'll always be grateful for.”

For Full Flower Moon Band, it is upsetting to think about how “lonely” Ann Street will feel after The Zoo closes its doors.

“I’ve been to lots of great shows at The Zoo, but with the venue closing, I’m mainly thinking about how lonely that part of Ann Street is going to feel without it,” Full Flower Moon Band’s Kate BabyshakesDillon says.

“I used to find great comfort driving past any given night of the week and seeing various subgenres of Brisbane loitering around the front door, often spotting a friend. I loved hearing the bass and kick drum frequencies boom down from the second-story window onto the street and trying to guess what band might be playing that night.”

Dillon adds that when a show at The Zoo was “really pumping,” the venue’s energy would “dominate” its surroundings and make the perimeter of the entertainment district feel like it stretched further along the city.

“Zoo patrons could weave into the alleyway and loiter in the quiet, shadowy car parks. We could strut across that zebra crossing with such purpose as we arrived at a show, flirt with people across the street, or just smoke outside and aggressively ignore the clubgoers of the valley trotting past,” Dillon says. “I will miss it’s how much space The Zoo took up in the name of rock n roll.”