Published May 01, 2004The last year in Calgary could serve as a primer for any Canadian town looking to revitalise its music scene. Falconhawk, the Fake Cops, the Ex-boyfriends, the Neckers, Vail Halen and Chad VanGaalen have all been messing with the straight-up rock sound that Calgary is notorious for. "There's no question, it's a great time in Calgary," says the Fake Cops' Ian Russell, who runs local indie label Catch and Release; fledgling labels Mockingbird and Saved By Radio have followed suit.
"It's improving by leaps and bounds," says Derek McEwen, CJSF's Music Director and local scene watcher. "It was really crappy here for a long time, because there were only two clubs booking regular shows. It's hard to have a scene when there's nowhere to play." Local musicians persevered and found other ways to reach their audience. One alternate venue is Carpenters Union Hall, unofficial home to the healthy all-ages scene here, which flourished while the clubs floundered. "These shows draw upwards of 500 people," says Russell. "If you want to know what's going on in Canadian music, it's not in the bars."
The sense of camaraderie is pervasive, and so is the sense of fun: free cupcakes at bar shows, elaborate sets built out of dumpster finds, costumes and full-on rock orchestras. "It's always been fairly co-operative here, but in recent times it hasn't been nearly as split off as it was ten years ago," explains McEwen. He adds that newer spaces, such as the Bamboo Tiki Room, are more receptive to offbeat musical experiments. "It's not your typical come here, drink, and ignore the opening band' venue."
As is the case in other Canadian cities, there is increasing cross-pollination between the art and music crowds: a recent VanGaalen show packed upwards of ten people onstage, including rising star Dolly Sollito, and was held at the artist-run centre Stride Gallery. "The all-ages crowd is definitely an influence, and they're like, fuck it, we'll just put on a show in this bookstore if we have to," says Falconhawk's Kara Keith. "There's not this sense of desperation, like there was in the late 90s when people were still kind of getting signed. Now everyone's given up on that bullshit, nobody cares, everybody's starting their own labels. It seems to be this age of innocence again."