Calgary, named the 2012 Cultural Capital of Canada and number five on the Economist’s 2013 list of most livable cities, is growing not only in population but also in cultural awareness. One facet where Calgary falls behind such cities as Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto and even Edmonton is after hours dance culture, currently limited by local legislations.


Calgary’s last afterhours club, The Warehouse, owned by Chris Hewitt and established in 1984, remained in business by attaining a Class C license. This allowed them to stay open after the regular liquor service hours ended at 2:00 a.m. provided they cease serving alcohol.


The license, now held only by places like the Glencoe and Calgary Winter Club, also dictated that they operate as a private club, serving members and their guests. The Warehouse, after struggling through years of bureaucratic red tape, finally closed in 2010.


Hewitt now owns Dickens pub, spinning at the Hang the DJ night. He expresses that while the Warehouse era was a special point in the city’s history and his own life, it was not without its problems.


“There’s no doubt that after-hours do tend to attract drugs for sure, much more so than regular nightclubs and there’s more potential for fights because it does tend to draw together people from all the different scenes that are out there,” explains Hewitt. “Because the interest in the music itself is lost, it’s not really important, the only important part is keeping the party going.


“For bar hours we would have people that were interested in the scene, they were interested in the DJ that was playing, they wanted to be a part of that, but as soon as 3:00 hits, we were getting people from Cowboys and the Roadhouse and from everywhere, and they did not care about the scene or what the music was that was playing, they just wanted to keep partying.”


Anthony Donohue opened Club Y in Edmonton in 2002 as one of five after-hours spots; now, due to legal restrictions, Y is the only club remaining.


“With the population growing and the way society’s headed; it’s a 24 hour society now,” says Donohue on the importance of his club to his city. “To go out and be able to dance and hang out with some friends, whether it’s for an hour or whether it’s till 8 in the morning, that’s kind of a niche we fill.”


Hewitt, on one hand, believes a solely after-hours club is next to impossible, stating, “We never would have made enough money if we didn’t have the liquor sales during the regular part of the evening.” Despite the City of Edmonton’s restrictions, Donohue has managed to get by on cover charges and non-alcoholic drink sales thanks to a “family atmosphere” among his loyal staff and patrons.


Vancouver, has more after-hours clubs, but is still limited by local legislation. Matt Troy, Executive Director of Vancouver Arts and Leisure (VAL), describes his organization as, “a radical, artist run, non-profit group devoted to presentation, programming, and advocacy of art and leisure in unconventional ways.”


VAL operates within the normal service hours, but Troy has been curating events around Vancouver for years, throwing all night parties in creative locations such as automotive repair shops, houses and dental labs.


Troy expresses frustration with the legalities that promoters face, stating, “out here in the west as far as Alberta and British Columbia and pretty much most of North America is concerned about ideas around decency, the public good and there’s a long held belief rooted in Puritanism, rooted in prohibition that teaches us that alcohol is dirty, sex is bad, staying out late is indecent and so all of our rules around art and culture have been structured with this prohibition mind-set about ‘we know what’s better for you, than you do.’”


He remains confident that the spirit of the up and coming generation may pave the way for structural changes in the bureaucracy facing those who create subversive cultural experiences. “As far as all of that goes they don’t see it as legitimate cultural exchange, they see it as an undesirable society, and I think that’s where the new generation is fundamentally different is that we view art and culture perhaps differently than those who are making our laws.”


Blaine Kingcott, 24, founder of Sub Chakra, has been putting on events in Calgary since 2011. “Calgary is really red tape about everything so it’s really hard to find unique spaces and after-hours spaces,” he says.


Kingcott is just one of many local promoters, along with several other crews, who are seeking to create all night, music based experiences around the city, held in privately owned locations, and abiding by local bylaws.


Organizers are required to obtain an Extended Dance Event License, otherwise known as a Rave License. “All night techno-dance parties are fun and exciting, but they can also be very dangerous if you don’t understand the risks. Please practice ‘safe raving’,’” reads the City of Calgary page addressing raves and extended dance parties.


This is followed by an eight point list of tips to “help you outlast the party,” including staying hydrated, staying away from drugs, and watching your alcohol intake.


It then describes that, while for many “raves are all about the music,” they pose a concern to Calgary residents as they are often associated with drug possession/trafficking, noise bylaw infractions and physical and sexual assaults.


An afterhours resurgence in Calgary requires further facilitation between individual afterhours event planners and the City of Calgary. However, in order for Calgary to hold its head up as a cultural hub against neighbours like Montreal or Vancouver, local promoters must continue to explore creative outlets for their artistic expression and challenge the boundaries set out by our local laws. Can Calgary continue on its path to becoming vibrant and culturally relevant without a rich and variable nightlife or will its views on the issue cause more damage to the city they hope to protect?

By: Paul Rodgers

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