Back from Beyond the Grave: the Return of Safe Amp

Talking all-ages venues, restrictive liquor laws, and the importance of inclusion with Heidi Holland, a director with the newly-resurrected Safe Amplification Site Society.

In Vancouver, accessible art spaces often come with an expiration date. Rising rent prices can act as an incentive for venues to sell alcohol, making shows that are local, all-ages and affordable hard to come by. This can make underage newcomers feel like there isn’t a place for them, and those born here can feel it too, as artists are edged out of the downtown core by the impossible cost of living.

For Heidi Holland, moving to Vancouver from Toronto last year highlighted a stark contrast in the music and art communities of the two cities.

“I know that when I first came here, there was no way for me to get involved because I was underage, and it was hard to kind of get your foot in the door in the music scene here.”

As a new director with The Safe Amplification Society, otherwise known as SASS, or Safe Amp, she hopes to do her part in undoing the restrictions currently turning young artists and art-lovers off of Vancouver.

Safe Amp is a non-profit organization that was started more than 6 years ago with the goal of making Vancouver’s music and arts community more accessible. The initiative has been fighting the good fight to open doors for the under-aged – for those who love music and might not love procuring a fake ID to get into a show. Over the past years Safe Amp has facilitated shows and events that helped youth — including the founding editor of this publication — connect with the arts community.

“What we’re trying to do with the new revival of SASS is work towards an accessible music scene. All ages, no alcohol, no drugs, nothing like that, financially accessible – so events are pay what you can, suggested $5-10, so that we try not to exclude anyone in Vancouver who wants to attend a show,” says Holland.

Securing a permanent all-ages venue has been a cornerstone of Safe Amp’s mission statement since their inception. It would go a long way towards legitimizing arts and music in Vancouver, and would facilitate the do-it-yourself events for which the society is known.

“There isn’t a known all-ages venue in Vancouver, in my opinion. There are places that host all-ages shows, but there is not a place that you would know, every Friday night, is available for anybody of any age to attend. I think it’s a general problem within the city, because a lot of other cities do have all-ages venues that artists can come to – and we don’t! And that is a problem.”

“Being able to have that physical space is so, so important for a lot of artists, so that we don’t have to keep jumping from venue to venue,” says Holland. “It’s very disheartening to have to tell people that aren’t 19 not to come to a show. And we don’t want to do that … If we were to establish an [all-ages venue], it would benefit not only Safe Amp, but also all different kinds of artistic communities in the city.”

Over the past few years, SASS has had its fair share of setbacks, including the closure of their temporary venue, and the oftentimes-uphill battle of maintaining momentum in a team of volunteers. After a hiatus, the society is back in full force, and the future looks optimistic.  

“We have really, really passionate people [on our team], and a lot of people are excited about the fact that we’re coming back,” says Holland.

Safe Amp is ramping up their roster of events, beginning with a Halloween show at the end of the month, and using the newly-renovated Russian Hall in East Vancouver as a temporary home base.

“In November we are going to start off with some smaller events, trying to get things on a more regular schedule again. We’re going to be having a zine and collage workshop early in the month, and probably another November show towards the end of the month, after the long weekend. We have a lot of youth artists who are interested in playing just because SASS is available again!”

Safe Amp officially has a pulse; it is back from beyond the grave, lending its rhythm to the thrumming artistic community that exists despite the glittery buildings downtown. The organization is joined by a network of groups advocating for change, all of whom believe that artists in Vancouver are resilient, even if by necessity more than by choice. Venues are shut down, rent goes up, events operate at losses and we lose creatives to cities with lower costs of living – but passion abounds. Of that Safe Amp is only one example.

Are you free this Thursday, October 27th? Shine your shoes! Put on that inflatable pumpkin suit you love so dearly! And join Safe Amp at the Russian Hall to ring in Halloween, alongside local acts like Phono Pony, Wind-Up Birds, and more.

For more on the challenges facing Vancouver artists (and the people committed to overcoming them), check out our interview with Anna Rose, co-founder of Red Gate Arts Society.

Illustration by Anita Rudakov. 

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