For those under 19, the cultural scene in Vancouver is notoriously destitute. Liquor licensing makes it disadvantageous for bigger venues to put on all ages shows, illegal spaces where many of these events are forced into are constantly under threat, and positive relationships between the minor and major music communities have yet to be fully formed, as attitudes of ageism and pretension run deep.
"There are the very physical barriers of 19+: you're not allowed in, no drinking, the cops get called and things get shut down," explains Mati Cormier, 17-year-old show promoter working under the name Trash City Productions. "And then there's the emotional barriers."
Behind hot pink glasses, Cormier's eyes radiate a devastating calmness—but you can tell awkward ageism gets under her skin just a little. "Even if there is an all ages show often it's begrudgingly put on by a 19+ crowd, you show up and it's terrifying. It's a very elitist attitude that comes from adults who realistically don't really want kids there," she told VICE. "They understand the importance of an all ages scene, but there's a certain distance between the two groups."
Trash City inhabits the opposite side of the spectrum from these more corporate attempts at engaging youth. Car garages, derelict East Van character homes, and abandoned Italian ballrooms, are just some of the DIY spaces that have played host to Cormier's shows. Coordinating all aspects, from booking bands to spreading the word, her shows are often sweaty, jam packed, and bathed in the kind of no-holds-barred earnestness reserved for those not yet legally considered by the government to be human beings.
Cormier's first forays into the music industry were through volunteering for organisations like Safe Amp and the Ignite Youth Festival where she learned more about what goes on behind the scenes in producing shows. From there a wish to see her favourite local bands on stage more often and in certain pairings drove her to step out on her own and start promoting.
It's clear Cormier's pride lies not in the profits she makes off events, or the adults who're impressed by her achievements, but in the community she's fostered with each show.
In conversation, Cormier recounts tales of intimacy, mutual respect, and feeling welcome with the most enthusiasm. She may not have the budget to pay a $1,500 rental fee for a fluorescent lit community centre with a kids-can't-dance attitude, but she does have a roster of private studios with pseudonyms and the unwavering young underground to back her up.
VICE: Do you have any relationship with the over-19 world of promoting and producing shows? Has anybody collaborated with or mentored you?
Mati Cormier: Yeah, definitely. When I first got started I worked with Timbre Concerts on one show, and that was a really big experience hosting Cherry Glazer. So I was the youth promoter for that and I got a bunch of kids to come and people were impressed. Then recently I've been working with MRG Productions and when they do local all-ages shows with larger touring bands I get to be kind of the all ages promoter and we work together to coordinate that which is a fantastic opportunity because they do it so much more professionally and legitimately than I ever could, so being able to participate in that is really exciting.
Have you experienced a lot of ageism in putting yourself out there in this position?
You know I don't heavily try to promote myself as "look at me I'm a young person!" I don't want that to be the appeal of myself. So if people know my age that's fine, but often they're surprised when they find out and they take me seriously because they look at the work that I'm doing and the reputation that I have, and that's the first thing they see which I'm appreciative of.
Working pretty much exclusively in illegal spaces that's always the risk of getting shut down. Has that happened to you before, have you had pushback?
It's actually really funny because the only time I've ever been shut down by cops was the one entirely legal legitimate show I had with licensing, it was at Astorino's. The reason it got shut down was because a liquor inspector came through and discovered that out back and in front of the venue people were drinking, and they were obviously youth. So cops had to come and shut that down. My mum was there to talk to the cops because I couldn't, I was too intimidated. But what they said was you know it's unfortunate that it came to this because it's really impressive what you're doing here gathering all these young people. When I'm hosting at illegal venues or underground venues, cops drive by but they don't stop. Realistically often these venues have really good relationships with the community around them and the cops, so there is kind of a little bit of give there.
So it puts you more in a position of vulnerability when you actually go through…
Yup. When the city is aware of what you're doing or has to be aware and has to recognize it instead of kind of pretending it's not happening. That's more of an issue than when they just don't see it.
These DIY spaces obviously have less restrictions than the legal venues. So do you have any precautions or rules in place to make sure the venues are safe?
Personally I really heavily promote the idea of take care of yourself take care of each other, be safe. If you're doing anything this is your responsibility, I'm not here to babysit you. And for the most part that's worked. I've never had any real disastrous issues with, you know, underage drinking or drug abuse. That's never happened because I think it's very much a community of if you're doing this you have to be doing it responsibly or don't do it at all. Which I'm so grateful for because as a young person myself I cannot babysit and I cannot hold authority and make rules for people my age or older than me. As much as I'd like to be taken seriously to that extent it can be difficult, so I'd rather promote self monitoring.
So what are you planning to do after high school? Do you want to continue Trash City or are you going to try and work for a bigger company?
I'd love to continue Trash City as it has become sort of my baby. Like I can't imagine ever giving it up and I also can't imagine ever not promoting and hosting events of some sort. So I'd love to continue with it and grow it and kind of gain more knowledge and more professionalism in the way that I'm doing things. I'd love to be able to book bigger bands, like really big at really large venues. But I could never give up the all ages underground local music scene. I could never stop promoting for that. I would love to have the best of both worlds. The goal is to make enough money from Trash City that I don't have to have a normal job. Which might be impossible.
Lastly, where did the name come from?
I don't know. It just happened. I must have been 14 or 15 and you know one day I had to host a show and I thought if I'm going to do this then I'm going to do it properly, I'm going to have a name, I'm going to have a Facebook page. What do I do? Well you know what, Trash City that's a great idea! And now I'm stuck with it, now I can never leave Trash City, which is ridiculous. It's the most disastrous name.
It's not some sort of subversive political statement, then.
No! I mean I love the concept of Vancouver as trash, I am trash, all of these kids are trashy. That's okay. But now I have to own that, [laughs] I can never not feel like trash.
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