Musicians left in a jam after a sudden closure of a local studio didn’t have to wait too long to find new digs.
Last December, musicians were abruptly notified that they were being evicted from studio and recording space at 431 Front St. because of tenancy issues between the building owner and the previous studio operator. Musicians hastily made arrangements to retrieve gear from inside the building, which was home to a 24-hour recording studio and rehearsal space.
Rob Stewart, managing director and co-founder of the Suna Entertainment Group of Companies, said the space is now home to Diamond Dick’s Studio.
“We operate jam spaces in East Vancouver, rehearsal spaces for musicians. Because the music community is sort of one big community, we heard what was happening. We came in and put a bid down, took the place over, cleaned it up, reopened it and got all the bands back,” Stewart said. “It’s better than ever now. It looks great. The tenants have a renewed sense of community, and they’re happy.”
In response to the “incredible demand” for space for musicians, Stewart said Suna Studios has opened four facilities in the past four years.
“A lot of East Vancouver musicians and artists have relocated out to New Westminster,” he said of the reason for opening in New West. “Price for rentals have gone through the roof. A lot of them have relocated and taken with them the brain trust, a cultural brain drain from here to there. There is an operator out there (New West) who has been operated for years called Bully’s Rehearsal Studio. They are wonderful people, they are doing a great job.”
Stewart said Suna Studios has a 17-year lease for the space on Front Street. Along with implementing a sustainable pricing plan for renting space in the building, he said Diamond Dick’s Studio appointed a local musician as its on-site manager and got musicians involved in cleaning up the premises so it was ready to reopen in February.
“When the musicians were given the boot they were none too pleased, so there was a party the night they had to move everything out and people were kicking walls in. All kinds of stuff was getting done. They were expressing their anger through vandalism,” Stewart said. “When we came in, we had to deal with the mess. We made it a part of the agreement with the community. We said, ‘Look, if you guys want to come back into this space, we need your help to clean the space out, paint the walls, fill the holes.’ And they did. It was a community-led rebuild of the space. We just basically bought the supplies. They used their elbow grease. It was wonderful.”
While the main floor space is already being put to good use, Diamond Dicks Studio has big plans for the building’s upper floor, which was previously used as a recording studio. It hopes to create a live performance space for its not-for-profit society.
“Our intention is to use the space to allow us to give newer bands the opportunity to get exposure, to play to live crowds and give the opportunity for the community to experience the new music that is in their community,” Stewart explained. “As it stands now, in New West and in East Vancouver and downtown Vancouver, most of the performance spaces that allow bands to play have beer sales as their primary motivation. So if the band can’t bring a large crowd to buy beer, pay cover at the door, all that stuff – it makes the bar less likely to allow them to perform, which in turn makes it more difficult for newer bands that don’t have a following to get out and get any kind of following. We are going to break down those barriers.”
The Society for the Advancement of Artists and Musicians, formed in 2016, wants to help develop the careers of local bands. And there’s a lot of them in the Lower Mainland.
“Between our four locations we work with about 400 bands. Bully’s, they have two locations – they service about 200 as well and they are different bands,” Stewart said of another New West studio. “That should give you some indication of the size of the underground music scene and why there is such demand.”
Stewart has been thrilled with the reception Diamond Dicks Studio has received from the City of New Westminster and the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association, saying they recognize the actual value of musical culture and consider it a “very cool addition” to the neighbourhood. Musicians are happy they can continue to have a home in New West.
“That space has been here over 30 years and is truly part of musical history in the city,” Stewart said. “Every major rock and roll punk band in Vancouver has at one time or another played out of there. All of the old-timers, including myself, at one time jammed in that spot.”