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'Bomb site' now a music week wonder

SECRETS won't keep when they tower six storeys above the heart of town in a riot of graffiti and boarded windows. The location of Where?House, the performance, dining, learning and socialising hub of Melbourne Music Week, was to be announced via social media on launch day, November 16.

Today, as curiosity grows and construction noise leaks from the corner of La Trobe and Elizabeth streets, we can reveal that the mystery venue will occupy two floors of the notoriously disused Argus Building.

The derelict 86-year-old monolith, under consideration for heritage listing but shamed by lord mayor Robert Doyle in July as one of the city's ''bomb sites'', will be transformed into a venue for bands, DJs, sound artists, film screenings, artist conversations, food and vintage clothing stalls from November 16 to 25.

The coup was orchestrated in collaboration with the City of Melbourne by event entrepreneurs Kevin Karlberg and Starr Guzman of Marksthespot, the production team behind last November's successful KUBIK installation in Birrarung Marr.

''Our main theme is reclamation,'' Ms Guzman said during an exclusive tour of the cavernous interior of the building.

''We become a living organism in something that has decayed and we bring out the beauty in it.''


A large portion of the roof and several floor sections in the 1920s building are missing. Badly cracked concrete exposes rusty iron beams and severe water damage throughout. Much of it will remain off limits, with just the two lower floors to be used.

''The building has really dictated what we can and can't do at every turn,'' Ms Guzman said, but an exhaustive process of engineering and environmental tests has produced the necessary safety permits and assurances of structural integrity.

The asbestos, which has reportedly drained the budgets of several previous owners, has been removed and weight loading tests have allowed a capacity of 400 people upstairs and 800 downstairs, where the ''concert hall'' will host an eclectic program of local and international rock and electronic acts.

''That's after the stairs are built,'' Mr Karlberg added.

At the top of them, in the north-east corner, a spiral-shaped plywood room will become The Learning Curve, where musicians will give free lectures and workshops. Adjacent will be a computer lounge.

Under the broken windows overlooking Elizabeth Street will be a row of food stalls ending in a temporary garden. The naturally lit space under the missing roof will be a lounge. All will be free to the public every day from 11am until concerts begin at 8pm. ''Projects like this are the kind of thing you read about online that are happening in Europe and America all the time,'' said Mr Karlberg, who has been dreaming of staging an event inside the Argus Building for at least a decade.

The pair is disappointed to betray the project's secrecy aspect - an homage to the warehouse rave culture of the late 1980s and early '90s - but the suspicions of local retailers and pressures from colleagues and international acts alike have become increasingly difficult, Mr Karlberg said.

The City of Melbourne has leased the site from owner Ghale Investments, an education and commercial company that bought the building from La Trobe University for a reported $15 million in 2010.

The program of events for Where?House and Melbourne Music week is at melbourne.vic.gov.au/mmw