Underage underground

Kids of the music scene will perform no matter what

Illustration by Bram Keast

Look beyond the high school band class and kids are creating tunes way out of concert B flat. Winnipeg’s underage music scene is simmering with talent that usually goes unseen because the young’uns are just that: young. 

With their under-18 status, these bands have to stay away from usual boozy bars and are left to find other all-age alternatives to play for audiences. 

Austin Boulton, 19, saw a need for events and started organizing them with his business, Orange Hat Entertainment.

“Trying to find a place in the pre-existing music scene was hard being newcomers, so we created our own,” Boulton says. “I wanted people to have the opportunities to see shows and not miss out because of their age.” 

Minors have to get creative and find spaces that let them play tunes live without worrying about a liquor licence.

Boulton says Orange Hat Productions has held shows at The Park Theatre, The Rudolf Rocker, The Exchange Community Church, Frame Arts Warehouse and Sam’s Place.

He says most underage bands will play wherever they can put their amps down. Ideally, they would be playing for more than just one age group. 

“I think when young performers can share their music with audiences of any age, it gives them the chance to get positive reinforcement from groups made up of more than just their peers,” Boulton says.

Isaac Tate, 16, and guitarist in surfy trio Urban Vacation, agrees that performing for an age-diverse crowd brings new reach to their music.

“Winnipeg obviously has a strong arts and music scene,” Tate says. “But I feel that if we opened it up to the youth just a bit more, it would be enhanced even further. The talent that these younger people possess is very important to embrace because come a few years, they will be the older names in our music scene.”

Even with the ability to use online spaces, where age is not restricted and music sharing is viral, all members of Urban Vacation agree that nothing can match the way it feels to play on stage. 

“Live shows are incredible,” Sean Henderson, 17-year-old bassist in Urban Vacation, says. “You get to experience how you felt creating the music through the reactions and responses of other people.”

While DIY venues in the city – performance spaces that usually don’t have profit in mind – follow a pattern of appearing and disappearing, underage bands keep resilient in finding places and crowds to play for.

“It’s amazing to see people have fun listening to the music that you write,” Tate says.

Other bands to keep on the radar include NOTME, Viewing Party, Joko Tea, James Ulysses Gang and Tim and Dinnertime.

Although some places can’t host them, everyone can listen to them at all-age shows.

Published in Volume 70, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 14, 2016)

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