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Vancouver’s Angriest Punk and Metal Promoter on Battling Slumlords and Hipsters

Wendythirteen has been at war with slumlords, cops, gentrifiers, and hipsters since before some punks were born. For a second time in a decade, she's lost her footing in a changing scene.

by Sarah Berman
Nov 5 2016, 2:00pm

Wendythirteen has been at war with slumlords and hipsters since before some punks were born. Photo by Jackie Dives

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

If you need proof that time is a flat circle in Vancouver, ask punk and metal show promoter Wendythirteen how her week has been.

I coincidentally did this recently, and her answer immediately transported me through time and space back to 2009. At the time, the denim vest-wearing, exclusively all-caps speaking punk was unceremoniously turfed from the Cobalt (a dive among dives, known at the time for leaking "shit-water" and stage-puking), where she was booking shows four nights a week since time immemorial.

It was a year when Vancouver couldn't shake the label "No Fun City" (there was even a documentary about it) and Wendy's passionate hate-on for slumlords, gentrification, dance music, and hipsters was pretty fucking contagious.

"At that point I was mad as fuck, I was like fuck this shit," she told VICE. "They saw dollar signs, and used soundproofing as an excuse... and it's all because I complained about them being slumlords."

Nobody could imagine a world where Wendy wasn't a permanent fixture in the shredding and thrashing scene, and bands rallied behind her as she fought for, and lost, her beloved "Cobes." Though die-hard crusties still wear "RIP COBALT" hoodies and refuse to set foot inside, the space has since thrived without losing much of its grit, and still hosts some of the city's best parties and live music.

Today Wendy is turfed again, her "cave" at the perfectly-named Funky Winker Beans set to replace her gigs with pay-to-play rules and all-week karaoke as of November 5. It's the perfect platform to launch another war against the man, but this time both Wendy and Vancouver's mosh-until-you-puke crowd are feeling a little different about the whole thing.

For one thing, Wendy isn't feeling the same rage she did in 2009. "I'm weighing it in my head, do I really want to start from scratch again? But then who else is going to do it?" she said. "For the longest time I was the only game in town, nobody would touch that. But over time, people got braver and started putting on their own shit."

Glenn Alderson, bassist of NEEDS, agrees that new promoters and DIY venues have moved into the punk and hardcore space. He also says Wendy's "TAKE NO SHIT" (caps hers) approach makes her a somewhat polarizing character.

"When we first met, she said 'Glenn, I like you, but I don't work with hipsters.' I was like 'What the fuck? I've been playing in punk bands since I was 14,'" he said." I didn't understand. But then she fucking went on to work with me for the next five years."

Alderson's band was supposed to play a gig at Funky's in November—a book launch for one of the members of D.O.A. He sees Wendy as an integral part of the punk and hardcore community, one that comes with a signature chip on her shoulder.

He also runs an alternative music weekly that has hosted a column of hers for years, where she decried how everything is turned into "a fucking hipster craft beer place" and how "the man" is running society into the ground. When Funky's recently pulled their ads, Wendy's column went too.

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All this could push Wendy into an unintended semi-retirement, which would feel particularly tragic for bands who booked their first gig on her stage. "She booked my first band, fresh out of high school," Ben Mintz of Wraiths told VICE. "Really, she's the only person who's done that reliably as long as I've been playing in Vancouver. She's a champion of the scene and has been here forever."

Wendy claims to have booked more first-timers than anyone else in the city. "You have just barely-of-age shredding guitar dudes, and just young punks given'er. My position in the music scene is giving these new bands a chance to play and perfect their chops," she told VICE. "You learn how to play, and then other promoters pick you up for a show."

As much as it seems like history repeating, the way bands find gigs and fans has changed since Wendy's heyday. Postering isn't the main way people find out about shows anymore, and fans are more likely to branch out beyond the same smelly teardown week in and week out. Underground-ish spaces like 333 and Black Lab offer a new breeding ground for first-timers, and the epidemic of closing venues seems to have stalled, for the most part.

"It's the old dogs versus new dogs mentality," Alderson told VICE. "Some of the old guard of Vancouver punk rock have trouble adjusting."

Wendy says she could always try wearing flannel and growing a mustache, but until then, she's on the lookout for a new home on the fringes. "I don't know who's going to give a chance to bands who barely draw 50 people on a night," she told VICE. The answer, she worries, is probably nobody, and if you disagree, fuck you.

Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.