Winnipeg Is: DIY venues

Basement bands are an important part of Winnipeg’s music scene

Adara Moreau

Bands are playing under-the-radar shows in Winnipeg, if you know where to look.

Usually these D.I.Y. venues are BYOB (bring your own booze) and don’t charge a cover, but if they do it’s on a pay-what-you can model. These spaces can be great for bands looking to book their first shows and get used to performing for an audience.

Just last December, a local emo/math rock band called Sit Calm invited some friends and played its first gig in a house show setting.

“I’d say there was probably 90 people there, we just ended up playing our set in the basement,” guitarist Nick Fondse says.

“House shows are really fun because everyone’s packed in super tight and it’s more of a party setting so you can be a little bit more laid back and have a good time.”

D.I.Y. venues also serve as an alternative when all the licensed venues are booked, which can be a common problem in Winnipeg.

The HMS Arlington has been putting on shows for five years and saw an increased amount of traffic just before The Handsome Daughter and Good Will Social Club opened their doors. Stefan Wolf is one of the organizers and his band, Pop Crimes, played a CD release show there last summer because the other venues were booked solid. Out of town artists such as Vancouver’s Jay Arner and Minneapolis’ Animal Lover have also stopped by to play gigs.

“I first started doing folk shows because there wasn’t really any venue for it and then we started having friends coming through Winnipeg that couldn’t get shows so we just started putting them up here,” Wolf says.

“It’s hard to say if there will be less shows here now that those venues are open because there’s something special to be said about house shows. When the band is comfortable and the crowd is comfortable it can make for a really awesome experience.”

The HMS Arlington has an upstairs performance space that could probably fit 100 people and there’s also the option to play the basement, which can also fit 100 bodies.

“I feel like this house exists in this tiny little microcosm because we’ve had some pretty crazy shows and we’ve never had any noise complaints, which is great. I never really ever want to have to deal with that,” Wolf says.

Graham Hnatiuk runs another D.I.Y. venue in the city called Suite 421 and also fronts Hearing Trees. He echoes that licensed venues can be booked for months in advance, but says he originally founded the space because his band didn’t know how to get shows in the first place.

“Looking back we probably didn’t have a lot of confidence so it was just easier to play for our friends than to go out and play at the Cavern or the Handsome Daughter or wherever,” Hnatiuk says.

“Now I feel like I’m helping out by giving other groups the chance to play their first show without any pressure. I definitely think these spaces are important.”

We can’t give out specific addresses, but if you keep an eye on social media or ask some bands maybe you can catch a show at one of these places.

Part of the series: The Urban Issue 2015

Published in Volume 69, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 25, 2015)

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