What we can learn from Edmonton’s niche experimental live music scene

by | Feb 9, 2024 | Arts & Life

There’s something special about entering a live music venue that feels effortlessly lived-in; a place where it’s evident every type of person imaginable has stood in the same spot you’re standing, watching a local band play a genre you’ve never heard of before.

Just a twenty minute bus ride from NAIT’s main campus, the Aviary hosts every type of musical event you can think of, plus art shows, private parties and theatre events. To many Edmontonians, it’s a safe space to check out a new genre of music or art in an intimate setting—no matter what is happening on any given night, the crowd is welcoming and diverse. According to Philip Muz, the owner of the Aviary, it’s a place where someone can show up alone and be surrounded by others who have the exact same interest, even if that interest is seen as weird to some. 

People who see a show or attend an event at the Aviary “feel this sense of like, acceptance and belonging. ‘I am not alone, I am not a weirdo,’” he said.

Despite challenges live music venues have faced after the pandemic, Muz stated that 2023 was an “excellent” year for the Aviary. He’s built his venue’s business model around diversifying entertainment and supporting local artist initiatives. According to Muz, “latching on to a certain scene” as a live music venue can be “fleeting.”

“Being a multi-genre venue, multidisciplinary venue, you just pull in from so many different groups. Every single shift I work, there’s always someone who’s never been there before,” he said. “It keeps things fresh … and you get to meet new people and deal with very, very unique and different needs.”

Muz explained that even outside shows at the Aviary, Edmontonians going to in-person events such as live theatre, symphonies and arts festivals helps enrich the city.

“I think what’s good for the whole entire city and like, life in Edmonton and nightlife being very, very important is that people just don’t go to the same places all the time. Try new things, see what you like, mesh with different people,” he said.

Not only is it good for Edmonton’s small art economy, but Muz has found people often enjoy trying something new. “Even the shows that we put on, we try to make it multi-genre shows as much as possible. People really enjoy that kind of stuff, seeing something out of their comfort zone.”

A promotional poster for the Noisecafe. Photo via IG @aviary.edmonton

Muz said it would be difficult to gauge a specific type of genre or show the Aviary hosts that brings in a larger crowd, but there was one recurring event in 2023 that garnered a surprisingly large turn out: Noisecafés.

The Noisecafé is a “new monthly experimental series at The Aviary,” according to the host’s Instagram account, @noisecafe780. It’s an event where experimental musicians come together to perform a genre that Strike Magazine writer Matias Civita describes as “music that the general public, young and old, find off-putting in some way.” Due to its unpredictability, erratic beats and use of percussion and reverb pedals to create an industrial-like sound, it can sound more like noise with no specific tune than what we typically consider “music.” 

While many modern artists find a lack of musical boundaries freeing, the genre is notorious for drawing in small, artists-only crowds while “one guy [is] doing his weird thing,” Muz explained. As a musician and someone who has been to many noise rock shows, Muz understands the “small crowd” stereotype, but has seen the scene change in recent years. “Now it’s kind of flipping and people are super into it. It’s just like any musical genre, it grows and diversifies.” The Aviary ended up hosting an entire noise and experimental festival over the summer, and the Noisecafé is continuing to grow into 2024.

He said the culture shift is due to the hard work of experimental and noise artists who, throughout the years, have continued to put in the effort despite the small crowds. “Scene dedication,” Muz called it.

“A lot of those guys, like Matthew Belton [the host of Noisecafé] have been working tirelessly putting on shows for over a decade with very few people showing up. A lot of these performers, they’ve gone years and years and years, meeting one or two people at every show, and then just before, there’s this massive community,” he said.

Now, the Aviary’s Noisecafé packs 80 to 100 people into the venue on a Tuesday night during their monthly events. These artists have proved there’s more to growing a niche live music genre within a city than simply sending venues and promoters your demos—it’s all about networking.

“You gotta go to shows, you gotta show up and you gotta be part of this community.” Muz has seen artists start as audience members, then later join bands or get asked to perform. “Just being part of the community is what gives you more opportunities within the community.”

Although this advice is directed towards artists, there’s a sentiment here that sticks for any of us. In a digital world, it can be easy to fall into the habit of social media interaction while neglecting in-person networking. But, as the Aviary and Edmonton’s niche music scene has demonstrated, resilience builds community.

“There’s so much focus on online marketing, and I get that—you have the world at your fingertips,” Muz said. “Showing up to events and … supporting the scene, and going to shows, supporting your friends, supporting those local artists that you like, and just talking to people. Yeah, that is the best way of networking, way better than sitting on your phone and sharing events and posting about your band and whatnot.”

Stepping out of your comfort zone and connecting with others doesn’t come without effort, and it can certainly be scary when you’ve never done it before. But we can learn something from artists and musicians that express their unique interests and show up to support initiatives that matter to them. As the experimental and noise community of Edmonton has shown us, connection and community can nurture a path to success.

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