Stalagmites playing at Sewing Machine Factory KITRINA BRODHECKER / KBP
Over the last year, I’ve asked dozens of Edmonton artists what their venue of choice is. Aside from my regular question about The Simpsons characters playing chess, this has been the most common question I’ve brought to artists on The Keep Times Podcast.
Answers have varied over the episodes, but one venue stands far and away as the most sought after by local musicians: The Sewing Machine Factory.
This quaint little basement venue just off of Whyte Avenue has quickly become the Edmonton art community’s central hub over the last 3 years. Nearly every single artist I’ve spoken to has played at least a few events at SMF and most of them have nothing but high praise for the place.
I went through all of the interviews I’ve conducted for The Keep Times in the last year and parsed the responses to my best venue question into a chart. The results are pretty clear.
The most common reason each artist gave for choosing SMF was their staff. Owned and operated by Greg Doucet, it’s gone from a cafe to a half-built venue, back to a cafe, then finally to its current state as a cozy little venue for artists from around North America to make some friends, eat some gourmet grilled-cheeses and play music.
“Everyone there is sick and good at their job,” said Brett Klein, one of their sound engineers. He added, “Also it feels like it’s not in Edmonton.” While many musicians call Edmonton home, not all of them live here by choice. Every year, dozens of local musicians move to Vancouver and Montreal in search of larger communities and bigger opportunities, such as polymath Mitch Holtby and guitarist Jon Maheswaran.
“SMF is like an escape from the bullshit. I go there on off-time a ton because I know I can have a cheap beer, good company, and decent music,” said Klein.
Their main promoter is the local poet Tab Carrol-Anne, who posts daily videos of the goings-on within the venue. Their partner in crime, Lucas Finnamore-Smith is in charge of the bar, which mostly amounts to selling Lucky Lagers for the stupidly low price of $4.75 each.
The technicians who run the soundboard and lights at SMF are also local artists, including Sam Mason, bassist of the feminist punk outfit Feminal Fluids, Jamie McLean, keyboardist in the blues rock act Wares, and Brett Klein, Edmonton’s premiere wizard of Gameboys and synthesizers.
While most of the artists did favour Sewing Machine Factory over the others, each of these venues had something that made them mention-worthy.
The best things about The Aviary seem to be the owner and the sound. At least 4 artists mentioned the amazing sound quality of events there, and their owner, Phil, makes friends with any artist he provides a space for.
The Buckingham is somewhat different from the others, as it operates as a bar on nights when there isn’t necessarily an artist expressing themselves for an audience.
Nonetheless, their weekly Monday night event, Rockin’ 4 Dollar$ , is one of the most highly attended music gatherings every week. Anywhere from 5-9 bands play 3 songs each every Monday, followed by the coveted spin of the prize wheel from which the musicians can win books, Alberta Music memberships, and even straight-up cash.
“If you want to do a weekday show, Buckingham is pretty much the only way to go,” said Mattie Cuvilier of Clean Up Your Act Productions, a long-running Edmonton promotion organization. He also sings in the punk band Vibes and makes strange noises in the ambient group Faith Crisis.
Bohemia, downtown Edmonton’s longest-running small venue at this point, has seen its share of tribulations over the years, changing owners, layouts, and promoters, but has maintained its spot as an ideal place for bands who are just entering the scene. They promote and sell local visual artists’ work on their walls and their proprietor, Jason, is extremely friendly.
Bohemia also used to be the home base for Edmonton promoter Steve Steffler and his record label Sometimes Music until his tragic death in 2016. Since then they’ve worked with numerous promoters including Cuvilier, the grindcore hooligans at Chetfuck Records, and the noise masters of Pseudo Laboratories.
Starlite Room‘s appeal is obviously its size, given that it’s the largest venue that most Edmonton bands will ever play in the city. They’ve been a mainstay for over a decade now and only recently renovated their subsidiary venue, Temple. After playing Temple a couple times, I can personally attest that the sound technician at Temple is superb at his craft.
Tyson Cale Boyd and John Kennedy, their main promoters, have been part of the music scene in Edmonton for decades, as Kennedy plays in the seminal Edmonton hardcore act E-Town Beatdown and Boyd runs one of the city’s largest promotion groups: ConcertWorks.
So, overall, The Sewing Machine Factory appears to be Edmonton’s most beloved venue, but there are plenty of others that any local music connoisseur should be sure to check out.