Obviously, somewhat overshadowed by Melbourne and Sydney, the music scene in Canberra has gotten a fraction of the international attention. But in 2013 the first single by SAFIA, “Listen to Soul, Listen to Blues,” generated significant excitement, before their 2016 debut album Internal would go on to shoot all the way up to #2 on the Aussie charts.
The dynamic indie-pop trio – vocalist Ben Woolner, drummer Michael Bell, guitarist Harry Sayers – exhibit influences as disparate as James Blake and Disclosure. And indeed, their sound ranges from sleek, ’80s referencing synth-pop (“Embracing Me”) to cool disco-funk (“Freakin’ Out”) to smooth, sultry soul (“Starlight”).
A new album is on the way, which they are currently recording; it’s expected to see release in April of 2019.
The Australian capital they call home is unusual in that it is noted for being so close to so much nature and wildlife – drive 20 minutes, and you’ll be hanging with emus and kangaroos. It also flaunts world class cultural institutions like The National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, and the National Gallery of Australia, whose collection of more than 13,000 photographs is one of the most extensive in the world. And at 153 miles from Sydney, Canberra is just a 55 minute flight from the country’s most visited destination.
In between recording sessions, we asked the band to turn us on to their fave places to hang in when they’re home in Canberra.
(Alas, if you want to catch them live, you’ll have to fly half way around the world, as they’ll be doing shows in Australia through the end of January.)
SAFIA’s Fave Places in Canberra
I was lucky enough to grow up at the base of this beautiful reserve, which hosts a huge array of native flora and fauna. Situated only ten minutes from the centre of town, it offers 360 degree views of Canberra, which truly help you appreciate the city’s unique design, as well as the vast landscape that surrounds it.
A bit of a Canberra institution, Smith’s Alternative Bookshop plays host to a wide range of local, interstate and international performers. You will always find a friendly community of people who are passionate about the arts here.
This is my local so I may be a little biased here, but Highroad has arguably some of the best coffee in town. The staff are incredibly welcoming and genuinely passionate about both coffee and food. Its bright, open layout makes it a great place to relax during the day.
This is one of Canberra’s great little hidden gems. It’s the perfect coffee spot during the day, but truly shines as a dinner experience. The kitchen is situated in the middle of the dining area and its sharable plates menu is really unique and, most importantly, delicious.
If you’re looking for the best ‘American’ style burger in town, then Grease Monkey is definitely your best bet. Its outdoor area is great, especially in spring and summer, and you’ll always find a great atmosphere here.
This place actually outdates Canberra itself, and used to serve as a coach stop in the late 1800s. It has retained its historic roots and offers a great authentic pub experience. Sitting next to the open fire while enjoying a beer is the perfect way to escape a Canberra winter.
The stylish Bar Rochford is a wine bar tucked away in the heart of the city. Its only signage is a capital ‘R’ written on the front door, but upstairs you’ll find a vibrant drinking spot that offers great wine, cocktails, tapas and company.