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Bassist for Vancouver’s Poles

Battle of the bands finds rhythm in new venue

A battle-of-the-bands that has been a launching pad for local artists since the 1980s is getting back to its rowdy…

By Jon Hernandez , in Culture , on November 26, 2014 Tags: , , , ,

Bassist for Vancouver's Poles
Bassist of Vancouver’s Poles headbangs on a Tuesday night at Shindig

A battle-of-the-bands that has been a launching pad for local artists since the 1980s is getting back to its rowdy roots after a move away from its longstanding venue.

Shindig, a 27-band tournament restricted to local acts only, is well underway in its new home, the Hindenburg on West Cordova.

Six weeks in, the vibrant crowds in attendance offer a sharp contrast to the subdued atmosphere of Shindig’s last two years. The event is organized by the University of B.C. campus-radio station, CiTR.

“We had a [mosh breakout] last Tuesday,” said Ben Lai, Shindig’s organizer, host and MC. “[At the Hindenburg], the bands feel like they’re playing a legit rock-and-roll show.”

The upward shift in Shindig’s momentum illustrates a win for Vancouver’s alternative music scene, whose crowds steer clear of the top-40 beats that blast within the city’s popular downtown entertainment district.

As the tournament entered its 31st season this year, Shindig organizers wanted to realign the event with a venue that reflected its hard-rock roots. This meant moving away from its nearly 20-year home, the Railway Club.

“[The Railway] now has an acoustic-folky feeling [to it],” said Lai, noting that a gradual change in the musical output of the Railway coupled with its lounge-like size has given it more of a coffee-shop vibe.

Ben Lai: Shindig is a great way to experience different types of music (2:00)

The multi-leveled Hindenburg has a large stage, an open floor and plenty of tables and couches upstairs. Reflective of L.A.’s famed Whiskey a Go Go, its atmosphere is injecting new life into the Vancouver tournament that helped launch the careers of some of the city’s most popular acts, including 3 Inches of Blood, Japandroids and the Salteens.

“[Shindig is] going over a period of revitalization this year,” said CiTR Music Submissions Coordinator Joshua Gabert-Doyon. “There’s a lot more people coming out, there’s a lot of interest.”

An important shindig

For 31 years, Shindig has promoted the city’s alternative artists. Working to give emerging musicians a platform to perform in front of a live audience, the tournament prides itself in promoting a diversity of sounds and styles.

“It’s not like band competition at other commercial stations,” said Brenda Grunau, CiTR’s station manager. “It’s not meant to match their particular commercial radio sounds.”

Host and MC Ben Lai looks for audience members to tell jokes for beer
Host and MC Ben Lai looks for audience members to tell jokes for beer

This year’s 27 combatants offer a wide array of sounds and style, boasting everything from garage rock to trip hop. With no shortage of talent, the tournament is meant to help beginner bands get on their feet and develop an audience.

Each band is vying for a grand prize package headlined by two full days and one night of recording at Rain City Recorders, which includes professional mastering of five tracks.

Vancouver is known as an international recording hub and has recently attracted the likes of Muse and AC/DC to record in the city’s top studios. But for emerging artists, footing the bill for recording time in these facilities is no easy feat.

“[Recording] is expensive,” said Eleanor Wearing, an administration coordinator at the UBC campus-based radio station.

The tournament’s winner will also receive free music consultations from Nimbus Recordings, a premier music school and studio run by Vancouver’s legendary producer Garth Richardson. For artists on the rise, having access to industry insiders like Richardson can be more valuable than studio time.

“You can really build contacts, that’s what this industry is all about,” said Dawson Verboven, a Peak Performance Project alumni and local sound technician.

And the proof is in the pudding: Shindig has been responsible for putting some of Vancouver’s most popular acts on the map. But despite its past success, there’s always room for improvement.

A historic change

This year, a decision to switch stages came after a nearly 20-year run at the Railway Club, one of downtown Vancouver’s oldest music venues.

“It was time to start somewhere new” said CiTR’s Lai.

Lai was part of the decision-making process to move Shindig to its new host venue, Gastown’s newest addition, the Hindenburg, only blocks away from the Railway. Chief among the reasons for moving it was making the weekly shows more affordable.

At the Hindenburg, Shindig is allowed to operate under a six-dollar cover (down from $8) while the bar offers $3.50 beer specials.

“We like the fact that we can charge lower cover; it’s way more affordable,” said Lai, adding that the Hindenburg’s drinks are literally half-priced from the Railway.

“The prices of our drinks reflect our community,” said Lai. “We have a lot of good nights, a lot of people coming in.”

Student shortage

Accommodating starving students with cheap beer wasn’t the only change the tournament made.

This year, CiTR pushed Shindig’s application deadline back two weeks to Sept. 22 in hopes that students would have more time to after the school year started to get their bands ready for the competition.

Their efforts proved futile.

Of the 27 bands competing for the grand prize, there is only one student band this year.

“Next year we’ll have to get the word out more,” said Lai.