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#ShopTalk: Steep St Bring Modular Synths & Artisanal Tea to the Blue Mountains

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Katoomba is a little town nestled amongst New South Wales’ beautiful Blue Mountains, and right smack in the middle of Katoomba (directly opposite the train station), a fresh take on the music retail experience has come into the world. Introducing Steep St, a concept store and art space that stocks modular synth gear, loose leaf artisanal teas and indoor plants.  We locked down Mark – one half of the team behind Steep St – for a chat about the thinking behind the space.

So modular synths, tea, indoor plants and art — together at last. How did this magical combo come about under one roof?

It’s hard to say how it all came together – we’ve been working on concepts and ideas for different spaces for years. Until recently, my partner Bianca built custom furniture under the name Flitch & Rasp and I was a horticulturist. We’re also both artists that love manipulating environments; Bianca controls the physical space while I work with the sound design and video.

Photos by Eloise Maree Crossman

Since moving to the mountains 3 years ago we’ve been looking for a space to plant one of our ideas – In a way, letting the space dictate what happens in it and how it happens. When we found this shop, we felt we had the right place to plant this concept space about symbiosis and synthesis – an interactive environment that’s more experience-based than a usual retail store.

We feel that loose leaf tea, plants, modular synthesizers and art all share a similar brain, there are more connections between these elements than appear at first glance and these connections act as a conduit for the connection between the people and the space. The store to us is more about the people that come through it and how they interact with it than just the things we sell. We’re definitely still working on perfecting it all and we’ll probably never stop.

What brands are you stocking at the moment? 

I had a huge list to start and contacted a tonne of makers but we culled it to a select few for multiple reasons, including the need to allocate budget to a working demo station (build a rack, power supplies etc.) and trying to not to be too obscure (which is what I would personally prefer) – this will come later hopefully.

The first people I contacted was LZX Industries. I’ve been obsessed with their video synths and wanted to delve into it for years so I just had to have them in the shop. They were also an integral part of the interactivity of the space. We currently have a video feed of the shop running through the Vidiot and other LZX modules; so when people come in they can directly manipulate the shop using the video synth.

Down the sound path we secured some incredible brands that fit with the experimental nature of the space including Make Noise, Endorphin.es, Soma Laboratory, 4ms, TipTop Audio and Melbourne’s Tendrils Cables. Coming soon will be Verbos, Pittsburgh Modular, Noise Engineering, 2hp, Random*Source, Landscape, Expert Sleepers and the list goes on. Another maker we contacted pretty much straight away, was Instrūo for their Scíon plant synth. When this arrives in the next month or so, we will be setting up an interactive installation where the plants control the audio and video through biofeedback sensors.

Now all we’ve got to figure out is how to bring tea into this fully interactive scenario.

Katoomba is a stunning part of Australia right in the thick of the Blue Mountains. That said, some might call it an odd place to start a shop selling obscure synthesiser equipment for a niche music hobby. So why Katoomba?

Katoomba is an awesome town just waiting for great stuff to happen in it. There are loads of inner west Sydney expats that have made their way up here and liken it to the early days of Newtown. People are really wanting something interesting to happen up here so we thought we’d give it a crack. We were given a pretty good opportunity to test this concept out in a space with minimal risk, which meant we could push the ideas to the max without TOO much stress and concern of it flopping (thankfully it hasn’t yet).

In saying this, the current fire situation is keeping people from making their normal pilgrimage up this way, even though the skies are actually clearer up here than Sydney, so things are pretty quiet. To counter this we’ve just launched our online store, so we’re hoping that bridges the gap between the folks in Sydney and us.

Photo by Future Hits ( Instagram: @future.hits )

You’ve recently had a couple of instore gigs there, is that something you plan on continuing?

We will definitely be continuing this – it’s a large part of who we are. The next 2 are locked in. We’ll be curating a monthly series that’s focusing on a broad range of music, primarily following an experimental thread, but not getting bogged down by genre specifics.

We also have an old CHUBB safe which is open to artists submissions and will soon be activated with a monthly art installation series. AND we are working on plans to host workshops on synth and effects building, plant care, large / medium format film photography and more.

Now for an important question. Which tea leaves pair best with some modular synth wigglin’?

This is totally a personal taste thing but anything that keeps you chilled and focused I’d say. I’m a huge fan of Chinese and Japanese teas, in particular the Yellow Rose Oolong and Smokey Lapsang Souchong by Tea Angle, but Bianca is more into the Assam TGFOP1 by Pekoebrew or Sydney (Black tea mixed with Mango and Peach pieces and Passionfruit Essence) by The Tea Nomad.

We’ve got something like 80 different blends at the moment, so I’m still working on finding the perfect patch match.

Photo by Future Hits ( Instagram: @future.hits )

Visit the incredible Steep St space at
84 Bathurst Rd, Katoomba

Trading Hours:
Sunday: 11am til 3:30pm
Monday: 10:30am til 5pm
Thurs-Sat: 10:30am til 5pm

www.steepstreet.com.au

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