A Selection of the World’s Most Wonderfully Strange Music Venues


Perhaps the most gloriously strange thing about All Tomorrow’s Parties in Asbury Park last weekend was the sight of Oneida playing an eight-hour set of extremely loud improvised noise music in a bowling alley. We couldn’t help but feel for the venue’s staff, who’d were looking glassy-eyed and traumatized by the end of the day — but it was still a pretty fantastic spectacle, and it got us thinking about some of the other weird and wonderful places around the world to see music. We’ve pulled together a selection after the jump — but obviously, it’s a big old world out there, and there must be plenty more. So, what are your favorite weird live music venues?

Psychiatrická léčebna Bohnice, Czech Repbublic

The Eurofestival has been a growing force in the world of music over the last decade or so — pretty much every country in Europe plays host to at least one sizeable festival these days, from mainstays like Pinkpop in the Netherlands and Roskilde in Denmark to relative newcomers like Sziget in Hungary, INMusic in Croatia, and Exit in Serbia. None of them, however, can match the Czech festival Mezi ploty as far as sheer strangeness goes — this year’s event was held at Psychiatrická léčebna, which happens to be the country’s biggest psychiatric hospital. When asked about why he chose this particular venue, festival director Robert Cozel said to local newspaper the Prague Post, “Tell me what you think the difference is between a patient and a festival attendee. If you share my view that everyone who attends is a spectator, a listener, an art lover, then you’d feel at home among the Mezi ploty people.” Um. OK.

Arena of Nimes Nimes, France

Meanwhile, staying in Europe for a moment, we’ve always had harbored vague ambitions of one day seeing a show at this ancient Roman ampitheater. After all, how many other venues can claim that they were built in 70AD, sacked by the Visigoths, and once played host to an entirely enclosed commune-style community? The Arena was refurbished in the 18th century and again in 1989 — it’s now one of the world’s prettiest and most distinctive venues.

Lake Constance Vorarlberg, Austria

This crazy-looking stage was constructed especially for a production of Umberto Giordano’s opera Andrea Chénier, which is showing on a floating stage in the on the Austrian side of Lake Constance. The thing got plenty of coverage while it was being built, and the finished product is pretty impressive (and, if we’re honest, pretty darn creepy). We have no idea whether it’ll be pulled down after the opera’s run finishes, but we really hope not — imagine seeing someone like the Flaming Lips play there!

The Shed Somerset, England

England seems to have a surfeit of unusual venues, for some reason, but we particularly like the look of this one. The Shed is, indeed, a shed. It’s the home of the “Songs from the Shed” project, a Daytrotter-esque idea that evolved from inviting musicians to come on by and play at meetings of something called the “Cheese and Cider Society.” Head Shed-meister Jon Earl (that’s him standing in front of the shed above) videotapes the results and posts them on the project’s website. Amusingly, the venue also recently won “Shed of the Year” during “National Shed Week.” Result.

A winery Various locations, Australia

Over the last few years, an event called A Day on the Green has pioneered the idea of staging shows at some of Australia’s most beautiful wineries. The line-ups are often for, um, more mature audiences, but there’s enough goodness to make the whole idea worth investigating — Leonard Cohen played the series a couple of years back, and other recent headliners have included Blondie and the B-52’s. And the whole idea of seeing bands at a winery… well, it’s more fun than a wedding, isn’t it?

Asbury Lanes Asbury Park, NJ

The All Tomorrow’s Parties folk seem to delight in staging their events in strange places — the original UK event was held in the curious resort town of Camber Sands, and these days takes place at the curious resort town of Minehead. So it really made perfect sense that when the necessity arose to move the US leg of the festival from upstate New York, where it’s been held for the last couple of years, the choice was made to move it to, yes, a curious resort town. Asbury Park is best known for being Bruce Springsteen’s home town, and is also known for its pinball museum, its ruined casino, the strange Church-owned hamlet of Ocean Grove just down the boardwalk… and the aforementioned Asbury Lanes, which is one of the more interesting places in the USA to see a band. Aside from the fact that it’s, y’know, a bowling alley, it looks like it hasn’t changed since about 1958, and people keep bowling during the music. And if you head down this Saturday, there’s something called “Gay Bowling”! The mind boggles.

Tenerife Concert Hall Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

Rumours that architect was inspired by Tintin’s hairstyle remain unconfirmed.

Thekla Bristol, England

This bar was voted as the NME‘s favorite venue in England’s southwest, and its website proclaims proudly that it plays host to everything “from toe-tapping live americana to the downright dirtiest dubstep this side of London.” What’s unusual about Thekla, however, is that it’s a boat — specifically, an old timber transport that used to go by the marvelous name “The Old Profanity Showboat.” There’s plenty about its history here.

A38 Budapest, Hungary

While we’re on the theme of boats, how’s about a decommissioned Soviet-era coal ship? The boat was moored permanently on the Danube in Budapest in the early 2000s, and has since been fitted with a state-of-the-art sound system and re-invented as a cutting-edge music venue and gallery space — everyone from Maceo Parker to Einstürzende Neubaten have played at A38 since it re-opened in 2003. There’s also an impressive looking restaurant. (We might pass on the “cock broth,” though.)

A black cab Various locations, London, UK

We posted a while back about how much we enjoy the Black Cab Sessions, and how much we were looking forward to the eponymous taxi’s arrival in the USA. Sadly, the cab’s now been and gone — it’s back in its native England, and still playing host to some of our favorite intimate acoustic sessions. If you happen to be in London, do keep an eye out for it. (In the meanwhile, it’s also an excuse for us to post Jens Lekman playing “Black Cab” in a black cab again.)