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Sydney’s music scene with Jake Smyth

Lansdowne Hotel, ChippendaleCredit: Destination NSW

Exterior view of the Landsdowne Hotel, Chippendale.

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney

Sydney’s music scene with Jake Smyth

Lansdowne Hotel, Chippendale Credit: Destination NSW

Exterior view of the Landsdowne Hotel, Chippendale.

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney

Hashtags #feelnewsydney #ilovesydney

The co-founder of Mary’s Group, which operates a string of popular burger joints around Sydney, Jake Smyth, grew up around bands (including his little brother’s) and going to gigs. Now with two live music venues, Liberty Hall at the Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park, in the city’s eastern suburbs, and Mary’s Underground at Circular Quay in the heart of the city centre, alongside the restaurants, Smyth and Mary’s co-founder Kenny Graham also play host to an eclectic mix of local and touring musicians. Here, Smyth shares his favourite places to catch bands, as well as his pick of local musical artists.

Fuel up for a big night

Starting out in 2013 with the first Mary’s burgers-and-beers outlet in the inner-west suburb of Newtown, Mary’s Group has since opened more eateries in inner Sydney as well as Castle Hill, in the Sydney’s northwest. Spurred on by the imminent closure of an iconic venue, the Lansdowne Hotel in inner-city Chippendale, Smyth and Graham took over the space in 2017 and transformed the pub into one of the busiest live music venues in the country.

Going from burgers to bands was a natural progression for Mary’s, says Smyth: “Our particular style of mayhem is deeply rooted in both music and the creative hospitality scene. Music has been really deep in both my and Kenny’s worlds – when people walked through the door of Mary’s, music was part of the experience. We made the decision to take over the Lansdowne in a period of Sydney’s cultural life where stages and spaces were being shut.”

By the time Mary’s left the Lansdowne in 2022, they’d “given the local punk and rock-and-roll scene a heavy injection of love and attention and been really well received. I think that helped change the tide – the city is bustling with venues, there are spaces opening all the time, and that’s a fantastic result for Sydney.”

Now, Smyth and Graham run Mary’s Underground as a landmark world-class live music venue in the middle of the city, with an upstairs burger bar and a basement space ideal for electronic artists and DJs as well as indie rock-and-roll – and the annual Vivid Sydney Supper Club cabaret lounge. “We’ve got the wonderful Sydney Opera House down the road and City Recital Hall up the road and the State Theatre … but what we saw the market needing was another proper city venue for local artists to play ticketed shows.”

The pair have since opened the 1,200-capacity Liberty Hall in the Entertainment Quarter, after first opening a Mary’s burger outlet in the leisure precinct. “We’re trying to create a space for artists and for young entrepreneurial promoters to have a shot and provide a pathway for these artists to actually play and perform and find a crowd,” says Smyth.

Vivid Sydney 2019 Credit: Destination NSW

Audience in attendance for a Vivid Ideas Game Changer event at City Recital Hall.

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney #vividsydney

Vivid Sydney 2019 Credit: Destination NSW

Audience in attendance for a Vivid Ideas Game Changer event at City Recital Hall.

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney #vividsydney

Vivid Sydney 2022 Credit: Destination NSW

State Theatre during Vivid Sydney 2022.

#ilovesydney #feelnewsydney #vividsydney

Vivid Sydney 2022 Credit: Destination NSW

State Theatre during Vivid Sydney 2022.

#ilovesydney #feelnewsydney #vividsydney

Seek out Sydney’s other stages

Beyond the Mary’s venues, Smyth is a fan of the Hordern Pavilion, across the road from Liberty Hall at Moore Park. “It’s such an icon, it’s so well run, and the programming there is brilliant. We’ve become quite good pals with them now. The history and the artists that venue has seen is really, really special.”

He also admires the Abercrombie, a former corner pub turned techno club in Chippendale: “I think Abercrombie’s doing a great job of marketing itself as a premier electronic music space, and they’re doing a brilliant job with their programming. You’re seeing lines of kids out in front of there most weekends waiting to get in.”

Crowbar, an independent venue in the inner-west suburb of Leichhardt that hosts more than 800 bands a year, is another favourite of Smyth’s. “They’re also doing such a great job; their aesthetic is really rock-and-roll. They put on heavy metal and punk and it’s raucous and it looks and feels like that when you walk through the front door.”

There’s plenty happening in Newtown, too: “All up and down King Street has exploded; the Vanguard has always been brilliant, and particularly at the moment, they’re programmed really solidly. Then there’s Lazybones Lounge down in Marrickville – they have great jazz-focused programming.”

“And if you’re wanting to fold music into your evening, places like Ramblin Rascal in the city have great music programming in their bar, which is a lot of fun, to be able to go have a couple of cracking cocktails or a beer and have some blues happening in the background.

Restaurant Hubert in the city has really beautiful jazz every night of the week – it’s fabulous to have a fancy French dinner and have some soft jazz playing in the corner. I think they’ve really nailed that.”

Amy Shark performing at Crowbar, Leichhardt Credit: ARIA

Amy Shark performing at Crowbar, Leichhardt

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Amy Shark performing at Crowbar, Leichhardt Credit: ARIA

Amy Shark performing at Crowbar, Leichhardt

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney

The Vanguard, Newtown Credit: Destination NSW

Bartender creating a cocktail at The Vanguard, Newtown in Sydney's inner west.

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney

The Vanguard, Newtown Credit: Destination NSW

Bartender creating a cocktail at The Vanguard, Newtown in Sydney's inner west.

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney

Discover some local artists

Smyth is a passionate backer of the next generation of Sydney musicians and performers: “We have a ‘Support the supports’ deal at Mary’s Underground and Liberty Hall, with cheaper beers and cheaper food at the venues when the support bands are playing. We’ll go out of our way to choose our favourite support band of the week; we’ll write a little blurb or do an interview and it goes up in our socials.

“It’s about being invested in what’s happening underneath the headline shows – they are the future headlines. The youngest band in Sydney has as good a shot as any of being the next Presets or the next Silverchair. We aren’t artist management or a label; it’s just about being interested and committed to keeping the space open for them.”

As for Smyth’s current favourite Sydney bands, recommends seeking out Kerfew. “They’re a collective of Sydney electronic artists, and they’re just really fun. I love that style; they’re blending in a subcontinental influence; there’s this real Bollywood influence in the DJing. Along with young artists like Moktar, they’re putting a real emphasis on their personal traditions and bringing their diasporic story from subcontinental Asia.

“There’s also a new jazz thing that’s been happening in Sydney in the last little while, with acts like Pyjama Sundayz. Saxophone-drum duo Party Dozen is another one of my absolute favourites.”

Mary's Newtown, Newtown Credit: Destination NSW

Diners enjoying food and drink at Mary's Newtown, Newtown.

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney

Mary's Newtown, Newtown Credit: Destination NSW

Diners enjoying food and drink at Mary's Newtown, Newtown.

#feelnewsydney #ilovesydney

Vivid Sydney 2022 Credit: Destination NSW

An intimate cabaret lounge where lovable uber-diva from jazz and soul to acoustic alt-rock and ultra-glam drag.

#ilovesydney #feelnewsydney #vividsydney

Vivid Sydney 2022 Credit: Destination NSW

An intimate cabaret lounge where lovable uber-diva from jazz and soul to acoustic alt-rock and ultra-glam drag.

#ilovesydney #feelnewsydney #vividsydney

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