All-ages music venues needed in Vancouver but won’t change much

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Illustration by James McLaughlin
Illustration by James McLaughlin

Like a weed surfacing between cracks in the asphalt, Vancouver’s independent music scene is a testament to resilience.

A venue gets shut down, another one opens. A venue gets shut down, another one opens. I can count at least a dozen off the top of my head. Spraying one weed means another will just pop up down the road, no matter how paved-over the cultural landscape appears to be.

Every other weekend in high school I would sit on public transit for an hour and a half to go to basement shows in East Vancouver. Often I would miss the last band because I had to leave early to catch the last train back home, another hour-and-a-half ride. I know kids from Langley who still do the same thing.

I raise this point not to paint myself as some artistic martyr, but to highlight something overlooked by city officials and the police who continuously scour the internet posing as music fans looking for the next illegal show: underground music fills a cultural void left behind by the likes of Live Nation.

Much has been done recently to combat Vancouver’s “no fun city” moniker. Earlier this year council passed the Arts and Culture Indoor Event Pilot Program to try to bridge live music in “non-traditional” venues to the city’s building code. The Safe Amplification Site Society, a local lobby group for all-ages performance spaces, has made strides securing a permanent space. And the provincial government has finally begun consulting with the public to modernize its liquor laws.

For the most part these are steps in the right direction. A permanent all-ages, all-accessible venue that abides by all the city’s building codes, such as the one SafeAmp has almost secured, is badly needed and would be a valuable asset to the city. But creating a weed-sanctuary will not contain the abhorrent multiplicity of roots and seeds that comprise Vancouver’s independent music scene.

DIY music is a romanticized ideal and a powerful social force that, by definition, flourishes beyond the control of formalized authority. Conforming to the parameters set by the city means less hassle from police, and in turn landlords. But the hassle is part of its biology.

By James McLaughlin

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