Mamma Chen’s music hall can seat around 90 people on a good day, making it one of Melbourne’s smallest live music venues. But, in a real sense, Footscray’s new spot for live music makes room for everyone. “It’s mostly about creating a safe space where people can share what they’re doing,” co-owner Emily Chen said. Large format. “We want people to know that we want it to be as inclusive and safe as possible.”
Emily and their mother Linda – the eponymous Mamma Chen – took over the former Dancing Dog Cafe in March 2020, so it was obviously a slow start. Between then and the opening in February 2022, the Chens have focused on the fact that, for anyone who wants to see or participate in live music out west, Mamma Chen’s is the place.
They ripped the beer garden’s colorful astroturf, added a terrace and created a new entrance with an accessible ramp. Inside, the doors have been widened and the kitchen has made way for a new accessible toilet. A space dedicated to wheelchairs during concerts has been set up. Even the drinks menu — with its generous selection of non-alcoholic beers, wines, and spirits — makes it clear that the us and them rock ‘n’ roll tropes won’t fly here. There is, of course, alcoholic beer, with house draft beer still priced at $18 a carafe.
While a great example of what a community space can be, Mamma Chen’s is also a welcome addition to Melbourne’s western suburbs music scene, which has seen some recent successes. “There aren’t many concert halls here,” says Emily. “We lost the Reverend and that was so close to my heart.” (Although it returned as the Westwood Hotel last year.) “The Night Heron also had to close.”
The program of acts is diverse and will not be limited by gender or stature. Opening weekend featured Camp Cope’s Georgia Maq in single-player mode, but the intention is for Mamma Chen to become a valuable place to nurture budding talent. “We want to make it as inviting as possible so people who are just starting out know they can play here; it’s not just for the bands that are known,” Emily explains. Styles featured so far include funk, hardcore, “dolewave” and even Slovenian noise synth.
Emily has been playing in bands since she was 14 – at last count they are in no less than five – and reckons Mamma has attended almost every one of their gigs. Together, the mother-daughter duo hope their focus on accessibility and their passion for live music will help grow the music scene in the West. “It’s too early to tell, but I think it’s going to get bigger,” says Emily. “A lot of people are moving west, and especially if they’re from the north and they’re used to seeing loads of gigs all the time, the demand will be there. Over the next few years, I think it will grow a lot.
At Mama Chen’s
42a Albert Street, Footscray
Fri 4:00 p.m.–1:00 a.m.