“Aly’s Twitter bio proclaims, ‘I’ll be quiet when I’m dead!’ — and nothing could better serve as a testament to her character.”
“their policies might not make Cushy the most popular dance floor in the city, but it tells its patrons who are not made to feel safe or welcome elsewhere that they matter. This is for them.”
“Don’t support abusive bands. Don’t support abusive people. Don’t support toxic behaviours.”
Recent movements, namely #MeToo, have brought more attention to the industries which operate under the cishet white patriarchy — including the music and nightlife industry. While many have pledged their allegiance in words, Cushy Entertainment is providing a framework for change in the Vancouver music scene. Cushy’s mandate is to “provide a platform for emerging and established artists and musicians with an emphasis on supporting diversity in the entertainment industry.” Operated by Aly Laube and Mati Cormier, Cushy serves to create a safe space for audience members as well as platform underrepresented artists. I spoke to Aly Laube about the underground scene in Vancouver and how Cushy is creating change.
Aly’s Twitter bio proclaims, ‘I’ll be quiet when I’m dead!’ — and nothing could better serve as a testament to her character. The work that she puts out as a journalist, event producer, musician and CiTR radio host champions marginalised voices and unabashedly questions the forces which seek to uphold the status quo. Just read her inquiry into the delay for police-kill inquests in the Tyee from this December, Aly holds herself to a high standard. And it’s contagious, not working towards making a difference certainly feels like a useless existence.
Creating space for folx who might not otherwise have it, Aly tells me, is an important part of her work. Having been called ‘loud’, and ‘bossy’ in the past she now realises the power of speaking up and shouting louder than the forces working against you. Aly’s work is dedicated to providing representation — and her strong persona drives this in an engaging and motivating way.
It was through her punk act, Primp, Aly was met with the reality of the Vancouver music scene as a mixed-race femme performer. At the time — and still today — she stood out in a white, male-dominated scene. This no doubt influenced Cushy’s explicit commitment to representing marginalised and underrepresented musicians. “When we started, it was all ‘so-and-so’s girlfriend is starting a band,” Aly tells me. She noticed patterns emerging, like bookings which clearly just needed a woman somewhere on the bill. Aly explains, “I want to make people feel like they are valuable and they are heard, not like they are just a token to pass around, and to pay them! I believe artists absolutely need to get paid — especially underrepresented artists. You can’t say, ‘We want to do an all Black line-up, but we’re not going to pay you.’ That is outrageously offensive to me, but people do it all the time.”
Her experiences as an artist and as an audience member have made Aly perfectly placed to produce an event. Investing in Vancouver’s nightlife culture via Cushy allows Aly to build a community that she wants to be a part of. While other promoters in the city mildly commit to safe spaces, via an Instagram post, or a mention in the Facebook event, Cushy boldy presents what nightlife could look like by enforcing solid and reliable practices to protect its patrons. This includes the incentive to “be mindful of how you are impacting the accessibility of the space” a hard outline of harmful behavior which is prohibited, and to “Believe and stand in solidarity with those who come forward with reports of violence perpetrated against or around them.” Cushy’s ethos focuses on safety — people deserve to party in a space free from abuse and erasure. Somewhere that you will be listened to, your identity will be respected, your personal space will be protected and you can feel secure in your own self expression.
The dance floor is a place of release and escape for many, but can often be the site of abuse and trauma. The presence of alcohol and drugs in nightlife acts as a smoke screen for abuse, and has sustained a culture of victim blaming. Dark rooms, designed to aggrandize hedonistic behaviours, do not acknowledge the silencing that is perpetuated through the narrative that everyone is there to ‘have a good time’.
Dancefloors across the world are committing to safer spaces and it’s easy to want to believe them but, as Cushy demonstrates, building a safe space in nightlife is not as simple as stating that you believe in it. At a Cushy event, one person’s good time cannot encroach on another person’s safety — as Aly tells me, “safety is a precursor to fun.” Aly works hard to create a space where everyone can enjoy themselves without worrying about the usual bullshit we have come to expect on a night out.
Audience safety is a priority at Cushy events; as per the guidelines once more, “Being too intoxicated to monitor your behaviour and your impact on others” and “being disrespectful of other attendees’ right to participate and have an enjoyable time” is explicitly not tolerated. This sounds obvious ー of course that is what people want. Of course people deserve to be safe while they are having fun ー but it is by no means the standard. Even if the reduction of harmful behavior is being talked about, it is not being effectively implemented in the local scene. Vancouver has much self-improving to do and Cushy is setting a fine example.
The audience demographic at a Cushy event is diverse, but Aly has noted the benefits for young women and gender diverse people in particular. Cushy’s events are generally all ages — and it’s deliberate. Aly prioritises the need to provide safe access for young people who might otherwise be sneaking into clubs, or attending underground shows with questionable artists and leery attendees. Teenagers are going to go out and get drunk — as we all did — and it’s reassuring to know there is a community working to protect them, not to take advantage.
Aly acknowledges the toxicity of a culture in which you don’t expect accountability,” and feels empowered to be able to change that at Cushy: “I’m the boss! [..] you break the rules, you’re kicked out, you’re banned […] it sounds harsh, but no one else is doing this.” In fact, it doesn’t sound harsh — it sounds totally reasonable. Aly says their policies might not make Cushy the most popular dance floor in the city, but it tells its patrons who are not made to feel safe or welcome elsewhere that they matter. This is for them.
The Me Too movement originally sought to bring resources, support, and pathways to healing where none existed before, and Cushy entertainment absorbs and promotes this ethos when dealing with allegations of abuse. Aly understands the intricacies of abuse through lived experience — not being listened to, or believed, is a common issue among victims. When an allegation of abuse is made by a Cushy community member, space is held for that person to tell their story. Aly commits a lot of time to this interpersonal work, so as to ensure both sides are heard before making a decision on the best course of action to keep the community safe. It’s exhausting, and the outcomes may not always please everyone, but it’s not about making everyone happy — it’s about making everyone safe.
This includes banning known abusers from shows. This demands accountability and gives victims power. Aly herself works the door at Cushy events and runs a tight ship in terms of enforcing their Safer Space Policy. Aly lays out a simple strategy to engage in shifting the culture; “Don’t support abusive bands. Don’t support abusive people. Don’t support toxic behaviours.” Aly also talks about “challenging clout” and the value of shifting social capital. As audience members we are obliged to speak up, and hold ourselves accountable for the artists and promoters we choose to support, otherwise we risk perpetuating a cycle of abuse in an industry made to work for toxic people. In refusing to acknowledge our individual power as a member of the audience, we risk losing valuable community members to harmful cycles of abuse.
When the audience holds themselves accountable, in terms of the artists and promoters they support, eventually the big guys have to listen. We buy the tickets to the shows, and large event organisers will be forced to adapt their policies to meet customer demand. The culture at Cushy is a goal to strive toward, and should set the bar for our expectations. Change is fostered when we act as individuals, but for the well being of all.
Where to find and $upport:
Cushy is a non-profit operated for the benefit of the community it serves. Please consider donating to ensure they are able to come back with a bang post-pandemic.
CITR: Wednesdays @ 5 pm Cushy Radio presented by Aly Laube