Cracks in the underground
If there is darkness, there will be light
Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan
Over the past two years, for so many musicians and entertainers out there; concert go-ers, artists, music lovers, anyone needing a night out on the town, to go out and see a live show… all of us, we’ve been forced underground. We have been careful of what we say and who we say it to. We limit what we share online. Just in case. It seems sometimes like Big Brother really is watching us.
Well, for now, I’ve seen the return to those live shows. A resurrection of sorts. The masks have been abandoned. I have no idea how long this will last but for now, the sweat and pulsing energy, the human experience of dancing and collecting together in one space has returned.
I met up with my friend Felipe Muñoz; CEO and founder of Vibes Familia: a collection of musicians that was putting on one of their first events of 2022 out in the open, up from the underground.
My partner and I had dinner at Tonics around 7:30pm. She had expressed her excitement for she grew up in the clubs of Edmonton, dancing to all sorts of house and electronic music. It had been years since she had had a chance to properly cut up the proverbial rug. She had her dress and dancing shoes on and she was buzzing with anticipation.
After a good meal we walked next door to the venue – Asthetiks Lab Society. They are hosting Felipe’s event tonight. It’s up a flight of stairs and we have to be buzzed in. Loud, thumping electronic house music greets us and I’m introduced to the owner of the venue and creative space. Erikka Moojelsky is a young entrepreneur, designer and CEO of the AsthetiKs Lab society.She heads the non profit organization and has taken it upon herself and her team to open up the creative space.
We have our coats checked and my girlfriend heads over to one of the few rooms that makes up the space. Angie C has the attendees on their feet dancing. It’s still early. The night is still young and I get a tour of the place.
I follow Erikka around and she takes me into a room full of recording equipment. This is where artists like Kelowna’s Robbie G and Jeff Wilson come to record their music and are engineers at the Lab.
“We are an affordable, for all arts centre. This is a space where your membership gets you members’ price to work with the Lab’s engineers.”
I snap a few photos of the recording equipment. We walk over and into another room. This one is full of sewing machines and silk screen presses.
“In here, we teach sewing and as an artist you can use this equipment and make your own merchandise.” Erikka has a clothes rack full of jackets and vests she’s made herself. She shows me a hat with positive words sewn into its inner fabrics.
“If people can’t afford to pay the monthly membership fee, they can come in and volunteer. This is the space I’ve always wanted. I want everyone to have a chance to create and discover that potential they have deep inside.”
Mental health is a big part of this collective’s concept and I asked both Erikka and Felipe how important being together, dancing and being a part of a collective like this is in 2022.
“It’s incredibly important for people to be together right now. We’ve lost touch with that internal need of connection,” Erikka tells me.
“Music is life. For everyone in here,” Felipe waves his hand over the room, which is filling with attendees, (60 total to sell the small space out), “there is no other place we’d rather be. Vibes Familia is all about bridging space and time, connecting music and this culture together and we’ve had to go underground during the pandemic. We’ve been forced online and into our basements, trying to find ways to substitute an online experience for this right here.”
I look around to everyone smiling and dancing as Angie C finishes her set and local dub dj G Comb steps up and announces that this is his first house set he’s played live. “But there is no substitute for this. This is like a family and it feels like family. That’s the whole point.”
As a photographer, I get to not only be in front of the DJ but I am also placed between the people dancing across the turntables. I am literally sandwiched between two fields of energy. I can’t help but dance too.
The EDM scene in Kelowna is backI walk around from time to time, talking to some of the staff. I meet Alice, a young and newly hired art facilitator for the collective. She tells me she gets to teach art to kids and tonight, since it’s a safari themed event, she’s painting faces for anyone who’s wanting a leopard or zebra printed face.
I dance and take photos. I haven’t had bass like this coarse through my blood in years. I feel rusty. The 40’s is a decade of humility in one’s life and I can feel the rust in my joints. Rusty or not, I get myself moving best I can and before I know it, I’m drenched in sweat.
Sheebz is up next. She takes the stage and we are launched into orbit. She brings a steady dose of blood pumping energy to her set and by this time, there is little room to move. The place is full and bumping. I run into old friends and I meet new ones. I ask them the same question. ‘How important is it to be free to dance in 2022?’
‘It’s kind of scary because there are no masks but honestly, I’ve lost a few friends to suicide because of the break down of mental health since the pandemic so I’d rather dance and take my chances then be pent up indoors and languish alone,” a patron named Jack tells me and on a personal level, I agree with his opinion.
Finally, as midnight comes, Felipe takes over to close out the night. Each of the performers tonight really hone their craft. These are passionate people. The money is tight these days, sure and it’s never easy when working so hard underground. However, the time hasn’t been wasted. Their skills are sharp and their timing is precise. I have a feeling I’ll be back here and that this space will be a space worth checking out as time goes on.
Looking up from the underground, light is shining down, illuminating a hope that we are so close to breaking through and once again, we can connect together in times of war, fear and the rising costs of existing in today’s world. Times may be bleak and fear may feel heavy, but at the very least we can come together and dance out that stress in a collective sigh. There is hope and I truly believe that we will not only break through to the other side, but we will dance our way out of this pandemic. Together, we will break through.