by Mark Anthony Brennan
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I was in Vancouver so I decided to drop in on Big Joy, a relatively new festival of experimental music. On Friday night the venue was The Remington Gallery, which is smack in the middle of the Downtown Eastside. In other words, Heroin Alley. Outside the venue the street was overflowing with both garbage and individuals living on the very fringe of humanity. The discreet entrance to the gallery was next to a former hotel that was converted to social housing many years ago.

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Inside I first passed through the ‘front lounge’, where Kristen Roos and Ross Birdwise were putting on an audio/visual display. After peeling back a homemade black curtain I entered the performance room, a small industrial/warehouse area with whitewashed walls. It was fairly packed with hipsters sipping on energy drinks and beer — some scattered around the walls with a somewhat bemused air, while others sat on the concrete floor eagerly awaiting the next artist.

First up was Whip of the UFO. The musician crouched over electronic equipment laid out on the ground. To call the equipment ‘analog’ is an understatement — it looked like he had gutted a ’57 Chev. Anyway, he soon had us mesmerized in a giddy frenzy as his noise and drone swirled around the concrete walls.

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In between sets I ventured into the back to check out the art display. I’m not sure if the display was permanent or just there for the festival but it was certainly intriguing. I was particularly taken by an art work over a doorway that read, ‘Welcome Weirdos’.

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Back inside I listened to the sounds of Salish dub/noise artist Holzkopf. His music leaned more towards techno, and I could definitely discern a First Nations rhythm in the mix.

As I made my way back to my vehicle I again walked through the worst inner city blight that we have in Canada. The experience left me contemplating the two extremes that our society produces: incredible music that transcends this physical world and the misery of poverty and drug addiction.