Everyone knows that when traveling to new places, the best spots to visit aren’t the ones easily found on the web. It’s all about local favourites – those true hidden gems that make the place unique for its own inhabitants. In our new Hometown Hotspots series, we’re catching up with musicians around the world to find those gems on a personal tour through their own cities.
Our first spot? Blackheath. A town deep in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, it’s where electronic hip-hop duo Hermitude has spent the past few years.
Luke Dubber, aka Luke Dubs, and Angus Stuart, aka El Gusto, have been making music since they were teenagers at the turn of the millennium. As the music duo Hermitude, they've garnered numerous award nominations and even walked away with Album of the Year at the Australian Music Prizes, and Best Independent Dance/Electronica Album at the AIR Awards for their 2012 album HyperParadise.
They’ve come a long way since, becoming one of the most exciting musical acts from Australia. In 2019, we witnessed the infectious “OneFourThree” single created in collaboration with American artists Buddy and BJ The Chicago Kid. To gear up for their full album release later this year, Hermitude released their single “St Claire” earlier this month and “Promises” featuring Andie just today.
Here, we follow Luke Dubs, who shares with us some of his and Stuart’s favourite spots around Blackheath. Keep on reading for a nostalgic trip through this picturesque town, complete with his own photos and specially picked tracks along the way.
Life in Blackheath
Blackheath (Photo: Luke Dubs)
We both grew up further down the mountains but have been living in Blackheath for a couple of years or so. It’s an incredible place – we can walk for 10 minutes and be on the side of a sheer cliff face overlooking ancient canyons and waterfalls. It’s a very inspiring place to live as an artist. You walk outside in the mornings and all you can hear is birdsong and the breeze blowing through the trees.
Coming back to live here after so many years in the city has been an enriching experience, especially for our music. We feel like we’ve found a new sound that has incorporated all of our experiences in different places up until this point, and now we have that time up here to slow down and ponder, it feels like the music is really flowing. Our latest single, “St. Claire”, I think is a good soundtrack if you're getting acquainted with Blackheath.
An eatery you'd feel homesick for: Arjuna Cafe
Arjuna Cafe (Photo: Luke Dubs)
This restaurant is located a bit out of town - not really near any shops. I remember coming here as a kid and thinking, “Why are we driving down this dark road in the middle of nowhere?” It’s a house that’s been converted into a restaurant so it has a really homely feel. There’s a fireplace with a big chimney and it’s still run by the same Indian family now as it was then. Back then, all I was interested in was this entree dish that was just sliced banana rolled in coconut. For some reason that blew my mind. (Laughs) But now pretty much anything on the menu is quality, and in the wintertime when the fire is on, it’s super cosy.
The song that comes to mind when I think about this place is “Weather Experience” by The Prodigy. Arjuna is located near the edge of the escarpment on a road called Cliff Drive and some nights going out there, I remember it being so windy the trees were howling! This old Prodigy tune is a bit dark and moody which is sometimes how it felt going out there.
Your favourite place to perform: Hotel Gearin
Hotel Gearin (Photo: Luke Dubs)
I wouldn’t say this was our favourite place to perform, but we used to play here a lot and it was definitely the biggest room you could play at the time. We had some amazing gigs here. It was a huge pub with two bars and a big live music room and terrible accommodation upstairs (laughs). It got pretty loose at times because they’d oversell it and it was jam-packed but it made for an amazing vibe. It’s got this old Art Deco style about it which added to its charm. There was no backstage entrance so when you finished playing you had to push through like 300 people to get outta there. It was always a really welcoming crowd for us because it’s our hometown.
A song that comes to mind is actually one of our own: “Get In My Life” from our album Hyperparadise. We played here when we released that track and I have very fond memories of that show.
Your go-to for live music: Station Bar
Station Bar (Photo: Luke Dubs)
This venue became the place to play up here. It was smaller than the Hotel Gearin but it had a much better atmosphere. It's changed hands now and isn’t quite the same – but back in the day, it was packed every weekend. We played there all the time and saw numerous shows here. It was run by this guy called Pixie and he was really supportive of the live music scene in the Mountains. All the up-and-coming bands would get a shot here as well as international touring acts that would be coming through Sydney. It sounded great, the drinks were cheap(ish) and the vibe was right. It’s hard to narrow down one great gig here but there was a local Latin band called Babalu, which was a seven-piece Latin band who used to slay every gig they played here. So much dancing and Cuba Libres!
A good song pairing with this selection would be “Crazy Afrobeat” by Tony Allan. Tony Allan never played here but there was a lot of great afrobeat, reggae, salsa, hip hop, and more that came out of this club every week. Great times.
Your secret spot for new visitors: Wentworth Falls
Wentworth Falls (Photo: Hamish Weir/Unsplash)
It’s pretty hard to go wrong with most lookouts up here but one that's close to us is Wentworth Falls. Gusto’s dad’s studio was within walking distance of this place and we used to go out there from time to time. It’s truly breathtaking. You can stand right on top of it and look out over the valley, or you can even hike down to the two different levels of the waterfall and swim down the bottom if you like. It’s crazy. No matter how long you live up here, you never get sick of these views.
Let’s pair this one with one of our older songs “Splendid Isolation” off of our album Alleys to Valleys. We wrote this one when we were working out of the studio in Wentworth Falls and I feel like we really channeled the energy of the place.
The one place you hope will always stay the same: Katoomba
Katoomba is the main town of the upper mountains and it’s such an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life. This photo is from a yearly festival called the Winter Magic Festival and it’s where all of the craziness seeps out of the cracks of the mountains and meets on the street for a massive party. You’ve got people dressed up as wizards and fairies and druids with live music everywhere. You usually end up at a warehouse party or a gig of some kind at the end of it all.
The architecture on the main street is also really interesting, leaning heavily into the Art Deco era. As tourism increases and the town slowly transforms, I just hope it keeps that weird streak because I feel like that’s what makes it interesting. All these intriguing personalities keep you guessing and make for an enjoyable place to live. “Balafono” off of our album Pollyanarcy reminds me of this energy.
Hometown Hotspots is created in collaboration with Secret Signals.
Cover Credit: Claire Nakazawa
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.