Two years ago Murat Kilic got sick of having to move his long-running Spice event from venue to venue and, with his wife Rebecca Alder as one business partner and fellow Spice founder Warren Faulkner as another, bought the former premises of the Wine Banq and re-opened it as the Spice Cellar. They put together their money, mortgaged everything they owned, and then spent all they could afford on sound systems, lighting and equipment.
“Our Friday night, when we started it took a long time for that to catch on,” says Kilic. “We lost money for six months on that, but we just kept doing the same thing – same music policy, same residents, kept hiring DJs from after 3am to 6am, even though there was no-one there for like three months. We kept paying the DJs and kept telling them, ‘Look, we know there’s no dancefloor but there will be! And lo and behold, now our Fridays are rocking.”
Diving headfirst into a venture like opening your own music venue is a sink-or-swim scenario, the kind of thing that consumes your whole life. “It’s been good to us, though,” Kilic assures me. “We’ve lasted two years, and paying the high rents in Sydney for two years and surviving, trust me, is no mean feat – especially when you’re playing underground music. We’ve been happy with our achievements, that we’ve been able to stay true to our principles of supporting independent music and supporting independent artists and being quite diverse in what we do. On Thursday nights we run a live jazz jam for jazz students and jazz musicians which really makes no money but I think puts a nice soul into the venue.” The venue was formerly a well-known jazz spot, and Kilic is happy to keep some of that spirit alive even in a space that’s all about electronic music. “People actually see that we’re not just about turning the lights down and turning the music up.”
For their first birthday last year the Spice Cellar celebrated with a party that had the theme of ‘Your Animal Instinct’. There were plenty of animal costumes, a gigantic python’s head and carbon-dioxide guns. They went all out. “It was quite a wild party, literally. There was a lot of face paint and a lot of confetti, a lot of cage dancers, there was a really good electric atmosphere. You know when you walk into a room and it’s just buzzing? It was like that. We go to a lot of effort, we spend a lot of time and money on making the venue look different to what it normally does. That instantly creates a vibe.”
The theme for their second birthday is ‘Harajuku Neon’, inspired by the region of Tokyo where the city’s fashion-conscious cosplayers, gothic lolitas, schoolgirls, punks, and punk schoolgirls hang out. “Earlier this year [when] we did the Spice Black party with [Siberian DJ/producer] Nina Kraviz, we did a ‘sakura’ theme, which is the cherry blossom from Japan, because that party was in the first week of May. It was cherry blossom season, so we dressed up the venue with cherry blossoms and we had a Japanese barbecue and we had lanterns, and all of our staff were dressed as ninjas and in kimono outfits. We’ve already done the Japanese thing but we chose Harajuku because it gives everyone a lot of scope to have some fun. It’s gonna be really colourful.”
Last month, Kilic DJed at a Halloween party in Hong Kong that was similarly colourful, with entry based on the quality of costumes. He played to an audience of clowns and superheroes and two versions of Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction, both with adrenaline syringes sticking out of their hearts. He knows what makes a good costume, and for Spice’s second birthday he’ll be dressing up as well, although he’s still in the ‘Google image-searching’ phase of costume research. “We get into it. Me and my wife, who owns the venue with me, we’re known as Mr and Mrs Spice, so we have to lead by example.” Those who need help on the night putting the finishing touches on their get-up are in luck. “We’ve got a makeup artist that works behind the bar, Chloe, she’s been with us for almost a year and a half now – she’s always in the green room at the venue painting people’s faces on the night.”
When he’s not organising events for the Spice Cellar, Kilic holds down a morning DJ slot, going from 4am till 8am. He squeezes his own music around his busy schedule by making sure he finds an hour or two every day to work on it, and he has had recent releases through OFF Recordings and Stil vor Talent. “When I’m travelling I get all my own production ideas and jump onto Ableton and put together an idea, send it to a friend and get their feedback. I collaborate with people often. I do tinker a lot and that I think is a really important part of being productive and actually having output – I’m quite busy, I’m a father; as well as running a venue I have a record label, I have a radio show, so to make time for all that you need to keep doing everything in small amounts.”
BY JODY MACGREGOR