Since when did live music become so mechanical? People pay for the performance, the showmanship, the absolute absurdity of it all. If power chords replace passion, what is the fucking point? You might as well be sitting solo in a silent room.
Wedged against the backwall of an itsy-bitsy basement, I nearly break my neck jumping a couple hairs short of the ceiling. This is what they want. Spectacle. So what if I missed my mark? The landing is almost as tragic as the launch. Patch cords and pedals result in twisted ankles and injury. But this time I’m lucky. I stagger and straighten up before staging my next stunt.
From this angle, sixty or so people have been packed into a small space no larger than six hundred square feet. Like a sweaty stack of cards, the whole house sways and shuffles, vying for room that isn’t really there. As onlookers fend off unwanted footsies, I’m amazed that such a place can even exist. Bootleg beer and shitty t-shirts are up for sale, reminding me that punk isn’t actually dead, it’s just hiding out in nooks and crannies cast across the city.
The term “secret show” has become so oversaturated it’s pretty much lost its meaning, but tonight, amid all the albums, that’s exactly what it feels like.
Considering the close-quarters, this isn’t exactly Rogers Arena, and in actual fact, it’s only a record shop. Located in the back alley behind Second and Scotia, Stylus Records is one of the more interesting areas you can listen to live music. Along with all of the old LPs, unusual ornaments and strange sundries, hand-crafted furniture is strung up on the ceiling. It’s not the first place you’d think of when someone says “stage dive,” but hey, we do with what we’re given.
As one of the many DIY spaces that make up Vancouver’s independent music scene, Stylus is a valid venue for local lineups and touring bands.The term “secret show” has become so oversaturated it’s pretty much lost its meaning, but tonight, amid all the albums, that’s exactly what it feels like.
Back in the early 1970s, when DIY (or Do It Yourself) was just getting going, bands like the Ramones and Sex Pistols were stirring up some serious shit. Sure, the music mattered, but attitude and approach mattered more. In an effort to circumnavigate the mainstream music industry, groups were creating their own infrastructure of independent clubs and means of promotion. Paving the way for modern-day punk rockers, an entire culture cropped up, reshaping the way we play, listen, and understand live music.
The city’s housing crisis has stimulated the self-destruction of our most admired arenas, leaving us with only a handful of places to play.
While nowhere near as noteworthy as an LA or New York, similar establishments to Stylus can be found scattered throughout the city. Thanks to a group of earnest organizers, a colourful indie community has been bolstered by loud music and passionate people. If nothing else, they’re advocating for affordable spaces that artists can turn to, ensuring that those who have been muted can make as much noise as they want.
As Vancouver venues are becoming increasingly scarce, it’s no wonder that so many musicians have been won over by this ethos. The city’s housing crisis has stimulated the self-destruction of our most admired arenas, leaving us with only a handful of places to play. Looking back, their obituaries read like a developer’s wet dream.
Richards on Richards, which kicked the can in 2009, left behind a headstone, simply inscribed: “Richard’s, developed by Aquilini.”
The Railway, on the other hand - one of Vancouver’s oldest clubs - has been handed over to the Donnelly Group: a coterie of “proper pubs, cocktail clubs and barbershops.” Renamed The Railway Stage & Beer Cafe, their renovation is akin to desecrating the dead.
The most recent mark, The Media Club, will no longer be known for live music, but instead their Crunchy Spicy Tuna Tacos, courtesy of Browns Socialhouse.
Each swan song came down to money, and the reality is that as property value continues to skyrocket, it’s places like these that will be sacrificed first. Club owners have little recourse when their rent rises and the city would rather cram in yet another condo. But who really cares if a cultural contingent is left out in the cold?
You best believe I do, as well as an army of other local artists. But if we’re to maintain some semblance of a music scene, the DIY ideal will become crucial, both for up-and-coming kids and bands hoping to make it big.
Unfortunately, being the last bastion doesn’t make you immune. The city’s east side, which houses many sites similar to Stylus, are already being uprooted.
When the housing crisis compels organizers to cough up double or triple their usual rent, ticket sales can only take them so far.
The Red Gate Arts Society — a non-profit organization — was originally erected in the wake of a number of closings in the DTES. According to organizer Jim Carrico, the society is now undergoing some issues of its own:
"Our lease expired last year. We were unable to renew unless we agreed to pay more than twice our current rent. Despite an abundance of empty buildings...in the immediate area, Vancouver's overheated real estate market has put them all beyond the reach of us non-billionaires."
Part of what defines DIY is its independence, but what this often translates to is a short supply of income. When the housing crisis compels organizers to cough up double or triple their usual rent, ticket sales can only take them so far. Why the city isn’t stepping in to save these cultural spaces is beyond me, but in recent years is beginning to sound a lot like a broken record.
Vancouver Arts and Leisure, which specialized in alternative events, was recently shut down due to an appreciation in rent. As specified by 2017’s Property Tax Assessment, the land value increased by nearly triple over the course of the past three years. That’s crazy. If local support wasn’t enough to save this institution, why should a place like Stylus feel any more secure?
But to make matters worse, increasing costs are only half the battle. As music venues are displaced, the ones that remain are forced to foot the bill. In a perfect world, this would be an added bonus — extra money for local music. But in the one we live in, it implies unwanted attention, where civil interference could mean calling it quits. In fact, signs of strain are already obvious.
The housing crisis was one thing; the city’s sheer lack of support is another.
In 2014, the Zoo Zhop was coerced to close after an impromptu fire inspection. Before they could complete the improvements mapped out by bylaw officers, the city sent a cease-and-desist, regardless of whether the repairs were made or not.
Others may remember 360 Glen: an industrial party-place on the east side of town. After it was deemed too dangerous for local attendees, the curtains were quickly closed.
Even now, the City of Vancouver has renewed an odd interest in Red Gate, surprising them with an inspection of their own. Having worked with the city in 2015 to develop an Arts Event License Pilot Program - designed to allow temporary use of cultural spaces for fundraising events - this kind of scrutiny seems suspect. The housing crisis was one thing; the city’s sheer lack of support is another.
Back at Stylus, six hundred square feet begins to feel like fifty. There’s no question that the walls are closing in, but as for what will happen next, I don’t have a clue. Doing it yourself started off as an internal affirmation that connected like-minded musicians. Now, as the city forces us out of house and home, DIY sounds more like a public proclamation, marginalizing music even further.
Do it yourself because we won’t do it for you.