If you’ve ever been to Netherworld in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley and thought: “The beer and the horror vibes are great. I wish there were a place like this, but with more caterwauling...”
...be careful what you wish for. Lost Souls Karaoke is almost here, and it might cost you your soul.
When the space next to Netherworld became available, it seemed obvious to everyone involved that they should snatch it up and create a new venue to complement the horror-themed arcade bar.
“Eventually we landed on what we can best describe as ‘theme park level karaoke,’” is how Ben Nichols, one of the twisted minds behind Netherworld and Lost Souls, describes it to The Crafty Pint.
“We are treating it as a separate venue to Netherworld, but it’s literally next door. A hyper amount of crossover.”
Oozing with the vibe of B-grade horror movies with plenty of schlock, Lost Souls is a creation brought to life by the Netherworld founders – Beck McKinney, Jimmy Nails, Cara Westworth and Ben Nichols – and led by the art of Nelson Gibbins. Together, they bounced ideas off each other and slowly built up the concept and lore of Lost Souls.
“We’ve built a little story here; a little extra canon for the Netherworld-verse… You’ve got to go further, down through the Netherworld, and much, much, much deeper from that you’ll find this little cavern area of people just singing non-stop.”
It’s almost misleading to simply refer to Lost Souls as a karaoke bar, however, since it’s such a heavily-themed venue from the moment you step through the front door.
“It’s like you’re stepping into a purgatorial hell, and our lovely soul collectors will take you to your own personal hell,” Ben says of what he reckons is his most ambitious project to date.
“Lost Souls isn’t just a random name for it. It’s a theme that really encompasses the entire place. The whole venue has an intersecting theme of your soul, and selling it, and singing for it to save it.”
There are five private karaoke rooms, two of which hold eight people, while the other three can squeeze in up to twenty – all with new air-conditioning installed to make sure it doesn’t get sweaty.
“In each room you’ll be singing to a beast, or a creature, or a god of some variety to save that soul," Ben says. "So when you go into the room, you won’t just be staring at a screen. You’ll be staring at, for example, a monster cane toad who happens to have that screen in its gullet. And then the whole room will also be themed to suit an environment in which that cane toad would live.”
While they’re still keeping details close to their chest, Ben offered up some vague descriptions of the themed rooms. As well as the monster cane toad room, there’s an under the sea room, a skeleton room, an "evil but cute" room, and one inspired by “an old historical society that’s been part of Queensland for quite some time… think: ‘cult’.”
It all sounds like something that would require a theatre’s prop department or Hollywood set dressers to build, yet the Lost Souls crew are the hands behind it all, bringing a DIY mentality to just about every aspect of the place.
“Every single [room], we’ve put an astronomical amount of thought and detail into," Ben says. "As physical as possible. A lot of 2D art, but everything here has been hand-created from top to bottom.
“I’m currently on my deck looking at hand-sculpted fibreglass door handles.”
The reason Ben mentions his deck is because, for the past several months, his home has been the workshop where much of the construction of decorations and props has taken place: marquees in the yard, benches and tools on the deck, and plenty of carving styrofoam sculptures while wearing a mask like Bane from Batman.
“We’re fibreglassing the biggest piece in the venue today – a four-person job," he says. "I haven’t figured out how to transport it yet. It won’t fit in the van.”
Back in August, Ben put out a call to his Facebook network to help him gather as much styrofoam as he could; he ended up sourcing a lot from a blood clinic he refers to as "the blood factory", which is very on-brand. The team learned the skills they needed as they went along, asked some artist friends to join them for parts of the build, and pulled in friends and family to provide extra labour (“My mother-in-law’s carved about 70 stalactites”).
While this little team all poured their creativity and sweat into the project, the design was overseen by Nelson. He’s been the artist behind Netherworld’s posters for a few years now, so is very in-synch with the aesthetic and general creepiness of the Netherworld gang.
“It was all done with Nelson’s vision. The volume of stuff he has patiently designed, from sculptures to artwork to mirror frames to doorhandles to archways – everything has his little flavour and personality in there.”
Speaking of flavour, Lost Souls will unsurprisingly have a well-stocked bar with cocktails, wine and plenty of beer.
“We’ve got eight taps in there. There’s not going to be as many bourbon barrel-aged 12 percent beers on tap, but it’ll be a lovely craft beer and cider selection from around Australia that’s in line with Netherworld," Ben says.
“It’s the same thing as things we’ve always done with the venues we’re involved in: absolutely a craft beer focus, but it’s not the reason you go. Good craft beer is something you enjoy while you do other things with other people.”
Of course, in this case the main thing you’ll be doing is belting out Don’t Stop Believin’ while staring into the gaping maw of a behemoth toad. Or, if you want to choose a song other than the best karaoke song ever, you can pick from one of 100,000 other songs: serenade skeletons with Sinatra, Slipknot and Celine Dion, or be evil but cute with the soundtrack from Hamilton, Guys and Dolls or Moana.
But for anyone who’s not into singing, the common area is enjoyable in and of itself, and the rooms will also be available to hire with Nintendo Switches for anyone more into Mario Kart than karaoke.
Everything from the decor to the aircon to the booze to the huge song selection has been carefully considered to bring what Ben believes to be the most important element to the karaoke experience: comfort.
"When you sing karaoke, you want to feel free to a certain degree. It’s why people have a drink. It’s why they feel cool, relaxed and feel like the silliest person alive.
"And if your surroundings are ridiculous, it might make you being ridiculous feel a little more natural.”
Netherworld – as well as its sister venue, The Scratch – has become an institution in Brisbane, and Lost Souls looks like it’ll quickly secure the same level of reputation. Because, while there are other places in Fortitude Valley and further where you can sing karaoke and drink beer, there’s nothing that compares to Lost Souls.
“I’ve looked around. No one else has a karaoke joint like this,” Ben says. “Though there’s one place in America that has an animatronic bear that sings with you, which absolutely slaps.”
If these guys ever figure out how to DIY animatronics, we’re all in a lot of trouble…
Lost Souls is at 186 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley. There's no set opening date yet, but it's expected to be before Christmas. Follow @lostsoulskaraoke on socials for updates.