Abbotsford’s music scene: Underground or out of town

With a lack of performing space, bands are being forced to take the local music scene to basement suites, or land gigs in other cities.

A performance at a punk house on George Ferguson Way

A performance at a punk house on George Ferguson Way

Performing in rented out homes, called punk houses, or in basements, has always been popular on the local music scene.

But, with a lack of Abbotsford venues for young bands to build a name for themselves, it’s one of the few viable options.

Otherwise, groups are being forced to book gigs in neighbouring cities to perform – something that’s difficult to do without a fan base.

As a veteran on the local music scene, 30-year-old Stephen O’Shea recognizes a need for change.

He started with a group of friends jamming in a basement, which turned into You Say Party! (YSP!) – a five-piece-dance-punk band that has since toured the world, been featured on MTV and was nominated for the Polaris Music Award, a prestigious title given to a single full-length Canadian album.

As a founding member of the group, which is currently on hiatus, O’Shea credits their success to hard work and persistence.

He acknowledges that starting in Abbotsford was difficult, solely due to a lack of venue space.

The group of friends started off playing in punk houses and church basements, along with numerous venues in Abbotsford that have since closed, such as McCallum Activity Centre beside Jubilee Park, Replay and Woody’s Skate Park.

Currently, O’Shea knows of no operational punk houses in the Valley, leaving even fewer options for local groups to find a start.

It’s leading artists to rely on the University of the Fraser Valley to stay connected, working closely with CIVL radio. Places like Casey’s Restaurant and Lounge on campus is a student union bar that hosts some shows, as does the AirFare Lounge downtown. Events such as Jam in Jubilee and Agrifair’s Valley Voices are just two events that showcase local talent, but only in the summer.

O’Shea has a very simple, yet specific goal he’d like to see happen in Abbotsford: a permanent all-ages venue that is open year round.

He wants to see bands given the opportunity to perform in a legitimate way, instead of being forced into basement suites.

“It’s what this city needs – to have a space accessed by youth to have a creative outlet, to present their music in an inclusive environment, free from prejudice and hate; a place for people to feel included.”

Charging people $5 to see three bands would be his “dream” for Abbotsford, added O’Shea.

“It would help sustain a musical community and create more bands similar to YSP, who can become accomplished and help them develop themselves… I think it’s time for Abbotsford to stand up and say we have a culture of our own.”

O’Shea’s sentiments were recently echoed by local performer Dylan Redekop, who wrote a blog post entitled The Fraser Valley and Its Inexcusable Inability to Rock.

Redekop believes the lack of a permanent venue is the “biggest problem” on Abbotsford’s music scene. Not only is there nowhere for local bands to play, but without a venue, there’s no incentive for touring bands to stop and put on a show in the city.

His post garnered numerous responses from local and out-of-town bands, supporting Redekop’s opinions, many adding they would gladly stop in Abbotsford to perform if the right venue existed.