The New Black and the all-ages venue crunch

By Allison Drinnan

In order to relate to teenager’s lives, adults need to venture into the past and recapture that specific mindset. Remember the angst, the excitement and the curiosity about life? It’s still there in modern youths.

Recall walking around the neighbourhood with 15 of your friends when there is nothing else to do, or riding around with the one friend no one really likes but who has their license. It’s at this age you start to notice different forms of art — whether it be fashion, film or music.

This was when I started discovering local music. Borrowing my parent’s car, meeting at the Roastery for coffee surrounded by an intense haze of second hand smoke, I’d eventually head over to Carpenters’ Union Hall to catch bands like the Buzzing Bees, the Wolfnote or the Fake Cops. This was the weekend, this was 17, this was Calgary and the show was blowing my mind. I am who I am because of these nights of live music.

All-ages venues have sporadically opened in Calgary but have struggled to achieved staying power or a sense of community. Enter Darren Ollinger. The local punk performer and creative director of X92.9 has been trying to light up the Calgary scene with the New Black Center for Music and Art, catering to the all-ages scene and to arts in general. Acting as a recording studio, jam space and live venue, the New Black is a glimmering light in the heart of Inglewood.

“For the last 10 years all we’ve been hearing is people bitching about how Calgary needs this so we went out and did it,” explains Ollinger. “It wasn’t like people were standing in line the very first day to support this thing, we had to do a lot of pounding of pavement and talking to people to do this and what not. It was becoming a growing movement and still is.”

The New Black has not always been accepted by the neighbourhood, specifically the Inglewood resident located underneath their space. Like a parent telling their kids to turn that racket down, the voice of reckoning came from below.

Ultimately a complaint was lodged and the live shows stopped for a time due to city zoning regulations.

As for local government assistance, there has been some communication with city hall. Local Alderman Joe Ceci assisted the New Black in getting their business license back and the zoning problems sorted out.

“He has been very accessible and very awesome in offering his time and talking with us and hearing us,” explains Ollinger.

Having gained a following and reputation for its intimate space, great sound and creative atmosphere, bands are excited to play there and the New Black is happy to hold their performances. Local metal group Teitan were shocked by the initial news of the New Black’s brief closure.

Speaking before the zoning problems were worked out, bassist Brett Whittingham explained why the New Black was important to Calgary.

“Any place to play music or go see music getting shut down sucks, whatever kind of music it is,” he says. “But especially a place that is down to house hard music, punk and rock and metal.”

Both Teitan and Ollinger stress the importance of youth being able to experience local musicians from all different genres.

Thanks to Alderman Ceci’s help, the New Black is back in business. While there is still an all-ages venue crunch in Calgary, at least thanks to his assistance there’s one place for teenagers to discover live music — and hopefully discover themselves.

“I’m glad we are almost back to normal operations at the New Black,” writes Alderman Ceci over e-mail. “In fact I saw a copy of their new business license today! Thinking over what they or others like them need to do in the future I’d say, that knowing what the zoning allows that they are locating in is critical. Cultural venues like this (small, alternative) should be allow[ed] in every zoning out there, within some limits (to size, level of activity etc.).”

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