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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Stuck In A Jam

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday May 14, 06:39 pm
Finding a decent place to practice music is a tough gig

If you’re a musician, chances are you’ve seen a lot of jam-spaces in your time. You’ve played in cramped, unfinished basements, and weird warehouses or offices in the industrial area. (On at least one occasion I’ve seen people living in these spots, crumpled up in sleeping bags in empty offices.) Rooms above or below homes or business spaces, with varying degrees of safety and cleanliness. Remember The Rock Pit? It was a fledgling jam-space business that was tucked behind an Arby’s on 22nd Street for a while in the ‘90s.

You may also remember hearing about places like The Sweat Lodge, which was around more recently, until their lease expired.

“The Sweat Lodge was a dump,” says Mike Lefebvre, who ran the spot and has played in bands like DFA and Rehashed. Lefebvre has now transitioned to a much nicer space that he’s dubbed The Sweat Shop.

“I know I’ve seen some spaces…well, most spaces look like shit,” he says. “That’s the nature of the beast in the jam-space world — run-down buildings where you get a cheap lease or whatever.”

Truthfully, when you’re looking for a space it’s about necessity, so you can put up with just about anything as long as you can plug in and make some noise. But there are a lot of strikes against you in the search. First of all, there aren’t a lot of spaces available for such pursuits. Second, the nicer the place the more it’s going to cost, and most young musicians are piecing together the cash from their various jobs, which means they have to deal with some real garbage rehearsal spots.

“Interestingly, the most disgusting, unorganized dumps were usually in people's homes,” says Pierre Bazin from Singularity and Wenches & Rogues. “One jam-space in particular was, in polite terms, a dungeon. The owner had to be a hoarder, and the last straw was when I showed up for a jam one day, the drum kit was gone and the guy who lived there was passed out in his room.”

“A former short-lived band, Savs, used to jam in a tiny room in a hair salon in the Avalon Shopping Centre,” recalls Aaron Scholz from Slow Down, Molasses and Haunted Souls. “We had to walk through the hair salon to open this room that was only big enough to house the drum kit and amplifiers. The two guitarists and bassist had to stand in the hallway when we were practicing, making playing together somewhat difficult.”

The Horde, leader of The New Jacobin Club, remembers having a jam-space beneath a laundromat that contained an ominous problem they called “The Bubble.”

“The Bubble was a disgusting, stomach-churning hazard that hung directly over our heads every night we went down into our little crypt,” he says. “Clear poly had been stapled to the unfinished ceiling to keep insulation in place, in hopes that it would offer some measure of soundproofing. Instead, the poly sheet caught weeks and months of disgusting, rank, brown water complete with floating debris that was leaking and seeping out of the plumbing and the floor above. It grew and expanded like a huge cyst, ready to explode and shower us in soupy biohazard.

“What was so disturbing was that we could so plainly see it looming just over our heads. On more than one occasion a band member would break down and attempt to ‘pop’ the bubble just to get it over with, but they were always talked out of it by everyone else. The Bubble met its maker the one night when we descended the staircase to find that the entire basement level of the building was submerged in water deep enough to cover the last two steps of the stairwell.”

These are all really funny anecdotes in hindsight, but it can be truly stressful if you’re looking for a good space to jam or store your gear.

“Nowadays,” says Bazin, “my minimum standards for a jam-space are: clean, doesn't interfere with neighbours or roommates, and there has to be enough space for seven people and two drum kits, as Wenches & Rogues and Singularity share a jam-space.”

I went down to The Sweat Shop to meet Lefebvre, arguably the man in the know about spaces in town. When I entered the place, it was immediately apparent that he’d put a lot of work into making it a great space for his bands/tenants — including jam rooms, security cameras and monitors, and a fully operational recording studio that had been appropriated from another space he was partnered in, the now-defunct Avenue Recording Company (again due to lease issues, which seems to be a thing in the jam-space world). I had to comment to Lefebvre that I was surprised at how great the place looked.

“I’ve heard that a few times,” he answers. “And I’m always like, ‘Well thanks! But also, fuck you.’”

Seriously though, Lefebvre has accomplished a lot here. Lease issues aside, it’s still a hard slog to run a jam-spot like a business. You need to be big enough to have space for the bands, but not so ambitious purchasing equipment and stuff that you can’t maintain things.

Whether it’s a recording operation like Avenue or rehearsal space like The Rock Pit, I’ve seen more than a few nice spaces come and go. We just don’t have the population base to support some of the facilities you might see in a place like Vancouver, where there are more bands and more money. It’s much easier to lease a crappy warehouse until you’re thrown out than take on a project like Lefebvre has.

“It seems like a great way to lose money,” he jokes. “I’m lucky because I was already connected to people using the [former] space. So I just said, ‘I’m getting a new space. Do you want in?’ I was at 100 per cent capacity before the doors even opened. That’s a huge advantage for me.”

The Sweat Shop stays in great condition thanks to the fact that the bands are a community of friends and acquaintances that respect the place, and even moreso because Lefebvre is present. Because of everything he’s learned over the years, he makes it look easy, but beware — being a jam-space kingpin isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

“If cleaning up after grown adults is your thing,” Lefebvre laughs, “then the jam-space business is for you.”

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