Vancouver has been touted as the No Fun City, generally referring to the strict bylaws governing the operation of bars and venues in Vancouver. These rules, which govern liquor sales, closing times and other strange measurements of distance and decibels, prevent fun for those cultured few in Vancouver who prefer live music to jogging the seawall. This film explores the hardships of the hardcore (punk, metal and noise) venues and their collective rise and fall in the fabric of the city.
The documentary traces the paths of four venues and their respective owners/operators: Malice Liveit of the Sweatshop, Justin Gradin of the Emergency Room, David Duprey of the Rickshaw Theatre, and Wendy13 of the Cobalt. Of these venues, only the Rickshaw Theatre is still in operation (although 917 Main has reopened in the Cobalt’s location with new management). Lengthy interviews with the four characters comprised the bulk of the film, peppered with great quotes by Vancouver’s who’s who, including Joey Shithead, Japandroids, the Furies, Three Inches of Blood and Skinny Puppy.
The chosen venues illustrate the legal to illegal spectrum present in Vancouver. The Emergency Room organizers cut their teeth staging noise shows in the Emily Carr parkade, eventually organizing illegal shows off a back alley in Strathcona. The Sweatshop, a legal storefront without a license, housed illegal shows and an indoor skate ramp for over a year. The Cobalt, a fully legal venue, shut its doors after the landlord failed to renew their lease. The film shows Wendy13 touring city councillor Heather Deal and discussing solutions to the noise problem. David Duprey described the birth of the Rickshaw Theatre, and his struggle to open it as a legal venue. Illegal or legal, venues in Vancouver are in constant flux (read our monthly Venews column to keep up).
So why is Vancouver a no fun city? The movie can’t quite put it’s finger on it with weak themes running through the movie that blame strict city bylaws, unreasonable landlords and gentrification. The film argued that Vancouver should be able to offer gathering spaces for every subculture (not just the Granville street clubber), with many people describing the grave difficulty of trying to run a legal venue. Despite some great laughs and noble intentions, the film pace was slow and the narrative floundered. The film was one-sided primarily choosing to follow the characters of the film. The filmmakers chose to avoid city officials to prevent lengthy digressions into boring bylaws. One brilliant villain did heighten the tension of the film—a local condo owner who denounced the Cobalt as a visual and auditory scourge on the neighbourhood.
No Fun City was successful in telling the story of hardcore lovers who refuse to give up their music and their community. The crowd at the premiere was evidence of this community, with a theatre packed full of venue owners, bar operators, fans, musicians and Heather Deal. The line-up for rush tickets stretched around the block as the local community came out to support its own was treated to some heart-warming noise by a guerilla performance of Twin Crystals.