How the trials of a local DIY promotor reflect the larger issues facing Vancouver’s all-ages music scene
By Jacey Gibb, Distribution Manager
“Sure, it was awesome for a lot of people—because it was a shitshow. It was a wild fucking party, and that’s really cool, but it’s not what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
These are the words of Mati Cormier, founder, promotor, manager, and sole proprietor behind the now-deceased Trash City Productions.
“Ending Trash City was really just me deciding that I needed a fresh start, in order to make it something that I could be proud of and be confident in. Because Trash City became something that I couldn’t be. I realized how shit it was in the beginning.”
Trash to the bone
From 2015 to 2017, Trash City Productions organized some of the wildest all-ages concerts around Vancouver, from grungy concrete-laden venues to studio spaces where the floor collapsed from too many people moshing.
Cormier was 15-years-old when she started Trash City, initially as a way to organize all-ages shows with some of her favourite bands. Cormier had experience volunteering and coordinating shows through The Cultch’s IGNITE! Youth Festival and the organization Safe Amp, so she branched out and began booking shows on her own.
“I wanted to get involved, curate these bands, take over all the shows,” said Cormier in an interview with the Other Press. “I was hosting events, and live music, and projects, and doing little mini-festivals. It got pretty big for a while.”
There are a lot of positive experiences associated with Trash City. Cormier recalls crowd-surfing for the first time to one of her favourite bands at Trash City’s one-year anniversary party. She also enjoyed a brief stint as sole booker for the jam space-sometimes-venue Fingers Crossed Studio—a tenure cut short, following the aforementioned floor collapsing.
“It was just me and this room, this horrible, crammed room,” says Cormier. “We would fit 150, 200 people in this tiny little space that could probably only fit maybe 15 people. It was an awesome space, and people still talk about how much they miss it. I miss it too, but it was not appropriate for the size of events we were having in there.”
Trash City was chockful of high-flying fun, but it was a continuous learning experience for Cormier. She was also the sole person behind Trash City, and Cormier later realized she couldn’t be everywhere at once during her events.
One person’s Trash is another person’s garbage
“It was an ongoing issue of me doing my best to create a system of harm reduction and safer spaces, but then again, I’m just me,” she said.
People began contacting Cormier and asking if she knew there were abusers attending her shows—something she had been unaware of until it was brought to her attention. Cormier quickly made a post on Trash City’s Facebook page, apologizing to anyone who’d felt “discomfort” at one of her shows, and encouraging others to reach out about known abusers in the community.
“For me, it was really about trying to share awareness of both the extent of which I can take control of things, but also the extent of which the community needs to as well,” explained Cormier. “Focusing on how we can, together, figure this shit out. It can’t just be me.
“When I was 15, I didn’t really think about it, but then I look back now, and think, ‘Wow, at all of my shows, I was getting harassed by different guys trying to make out with me and grope my tits and shit.’ At the time, I was like, ‘Haha, fuck off.’ I didn’t really care and then I look back and think, ‘Wow, that’s so not cool.’ If that happened to anyone else, I’d be fucking pissed.”
Following the Facebook post, Cormier made a conscious effort to engage the Trash City community about what was happening at her shows, and what kind of safety measures they wanted to see. There was an increase in event security, as well as Cormier communicating more clearly with security about her personal goals for the event. She also reached out to other all-ages promotors for advice.
“I looked to other promotors, who I’d seen put a lot of effort towards this, and ultimately what they ended up having to do was shut down,” she said.
“They ended their events because they were dealing with a lot of underage drinking, a lot of older dudes and underage girls. If that’s the established environment, then it’s really hard to change that, and that’s what I realized with Trash City. That was the norm and had been for quite a while.”
The history of Trash City seems interwoven with underage drinking, despite growing evidence that fewer minors are reaching for the bottle. According to the journal Child Development, a 2017 global study of the past 40 years found that the consumption of alcohol among ages 13 to 19 was down compared to previous generations.
As someone who doesn’t drink, Cormier has tried to combat the culture of underage drinking, but acknowledges the difficulties.
“If kids want to drink, they’re going to find a way. I’ve never been to an environment where there was no drinking allowed where kids were actually stopped. Realistically, if they want to drink, they will. But it’s about creating a culture about not pushing it and considering your safety and your friends’ safety and encouraging people to drink water and take care of themselves.
“Creating that mentality amongst young people is super important, because the traditional mentality is ‘I’m going to drink until I throw up,’ and that’s the cool thing. As soon as you can establish that that’s not the cool thing, then people will clue in. A lot of people think kids are more immature, but at the same time, I’ve had all-ages shows where it’s the adults who are causing me grief. It really depends.
“When I was that age, it seemed fine to me as well, and then now looking at it from a more objective view, I want to start fresh, and create a different standard for how people should be treated within those environments.”
Taking out the Trash
On October 13 of last year, Cormier announced via the group’s Facebook page that she was “killing Trash City Productions.”
“I was just so fucking exhausted of being put in these situations of blame, where I was so fully responsible for absolutely everything, and people just really not realizing that I was trying my hardest,” Cormier said. “There was never a time where I stopped caring about the well-being of people and wasn’t truly putting my all into keeping people safe and creating these positive environments. I always was, and it just wasn’t coming across in a way that was viable, and I was putting in as much as I could, and it still wasn’t enough.
“That really sucks, to realize that your greatest effort isn’t enough to do this, but you have to take that responsibility. With Trash City, it was me. It was all me, and people associated it super heavily with me, which is a huge liability, to be associated with your company. It wasn’t something that I was equipped to handle anymore, in a way that was satisfactory to my own personal standards.
“Ultimately, I felt a lot better about shutting Trash City down because I was already thinking about my next project. I was already getting excited about what I was going to do next, what I was going to do different, and what I was going to do better. That’s way more important to me.”
Reduce, reuse, re-brand
With the corpse of Trash City in her rear-view mirror, Cormier isn’t looking back anytime soon. She’s currently enrolled at Capilano University in the Arts & Entertainment Management department, which delves into the business side of concerts and other arts-related events. As part of her program, Cormier recently started a new project, Cushy Entertainment.
“It’s going to be a lot of the same hosting bands at DIY venues. It’s also going to be more professional, doing larger-scale events.”
Cormier already has a company launch party slated for April and is collaborating with two other promotors on a music festival for September.
“Everything is a lot… cleaner, I guess,” Cormier said with a laugh. “In terms of the lines, it’s less fuzzy around the edges. For me, Cushy Entertainment is something I can really expand and hold onto. Trash City was very much me throwing shit together and hoping it would work. Now I’ve got the education, the practice, the life experience to be able to do things accurately and safely and professionally.
“I know how to make budgets; I can write sponsorship letters now. It’s less of me kind of figuring things out as I go along, and me understanding the system that I’m going into and understanding this industry and trying to branch out in all of the different ways that I’m personally interested in at this point.
“It’s a really cool project, that’s hopefully going to be a better version of what Trash City could’ve been.”