As condo-obsessed Vancouver continues to not really give a shit, Berlin rallies to save its vanishing music venues
Sometimes, to get a handle on one’s own sad situation, it helps to look elsewhere for perspective.
Stop, for a second, and make a short list of all the great Vancouver clubs that have been lost to time over the years: the Cave, Town Pump, Retinal Circus, Smilin’ Buddha, Brickyard, Gary Taylor’s Rock Room, Body Shop, and Hungry Eye. Or, in case thinking is too hard, pick up Vancouver author Aaron Chapman’s essential Vancouver After Dark, and then ask yourself what the fuck is wrong with this city.
To that you already know the answer. Vancouver is a place where everything culturally interesting is eventually bulldozed to make way for another condo tower. Money is king, and the way you make money is through property development. That means snapping up every plot of dirt—or rundown real-estate building—that comes on the market. Each such transaction shrinks the amount of land available, which drives up the price of whatever comes on the market, which raises taxes on existing business, which makes the business of running a club almost impossible. Which is why Richard’s on Richards—where you might have seen everyone from the Black Keys to Queens of the Stone Age—is now the site of a condo building. And the same for Graceland, Luv-A-Fair, and ________ (insert the name of your former favourite club here).
So it’s somehow inspiring to hear that, while Vancouver continues to not give a shit about what it’s lost, other cities do.
Hello, Berlin, where music fans, promoters, and artists have banded together to push for a world-heritage designation from UNESCO for the city’s fabled techno scene. Sparking that lobbying has been the loss of over 100 music venues over the past decade.
Bonding together under the name Rave the Planet, the collective has asked German politicians to lobby for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) status. (Go here for a full rundown of what that is, with the short version including this explanation: "While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.")
Berlin has long been a famous haven for artists, attracting everyone over the years from David Bowie and Iggy Pop to Nick Cave and Peaches. Why? That’s easy. For a start, rents are historically cheap.
Today it’s the only metropolis with a freelance visa program specifically geared towards those devoted to making art for a living. If you’re a musician, photographer, filmmaker, designer, writer, or dancer, you can apply for a visa that’s good for up to three years. Forget months of red tape—most who show up at a German immigration officer are rubber-stamped onsite. And that makes Berlin riotously attractive to creatives. Which is bad news considering that nothing attracts developers who see dollar signs every time they lay eyes on a gentrifying neighbourhood with cool bars, cafes, and clubs.
Like Vancouver, Berlin has a problem. A remarkably similar problem, where real estate prices in the German art mecca are skyrocketing, leading long-standing property owners to cash out to developers. With UNESCO status there’s the possibility of clubs receiving funding, as well as planning-law protection at city hall.
Protection and subsidies that are pretty much non-existent in Vancouver, where creatives continue to find themselves pushed out of a city that gets less culturally interesting every passing year. Unless, that is, one’s idea of relentlessly interesting is an art installation that’s been erected in a condo building lobby for no other reason than it secured a developer a density bonus.
In an interview with the Guardian, Berlin-based DJ Alan Oldham noted: “So many venues have closed in just the seven years I’ve lived here full time. In other cities, it would be the natural club cycle at work, but Berlin is a different kind of place, where the club and creative scenes are the currency of the city.”
In Vancouver money is, more than ever, the currency of the city. And, sadly, you don’t need Berlin to put that perspective.