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Matt Troy heralds a new era in Vancouver’s underground scene

The Art & Leisure Society aims to create in unexpected places

“Gay people can lead our city in terms of creating a better space to party,” says Matt Troy, director of the Vancouver Art & Leisure Society, which now runs events in a warehouse on East 3rd Street. Credit: Danny Gray Fox

Partying is an art. Or at least it should be, according to Vancouver promoter Matt Troy.

“Providing a service, not selling a product — that’s the new art model,” he says. “Creating a wonderful, interactive mind and body experience. This type of art doesn’t really have a name yet, but I think that it’s the future.”

Troy is the director of the Vancouver Art & Leisure Society, a non-profit that aims to “advocate, present and program art and leisure in unconventional and unexpected places and ways in the city.”

The Society opened its doors Sept 12 at 35 East 3rd St, a warehouse that was formerly a doggy daycare. However, any lingering dog smell has quickly been replaced by club-kid sweat, paint, couture and food as the warehouse is transformed into a venue for raves, art and fashion shows, and even a pop-up restaurant.

For Troy, a graduate of Emily Carr, the line between art and partying has always been blurred.

“All my art shows have always had DJs, and all my DJed parties have always had art,” he says. “Going to a club was unthinkable; clubs were all the same old, same old. For people in the arts, we had all our own spaces — we were partying in dental labs, automotive repair shops, basements, warehouses, art galleries . . .”

Vancouver’s underground scene has a history of queer artist developers, like visionary Paul Wong, who helped lay the foundation for a city bridge between art and rave. “[Wong] is a mentor to me,” Troy says. “He has been doing unconventional, transgressive events in the city for decades.”

But things in the underground are changing.

With Vision Vancouver city Councillor Heather Deal introducing the Indoor Arts & Culture Pilot Event Program, organizations such as the Vancouver Art & Leisure Society have a government source helping it get the permits and licences needed to throw legal events. For promoters like Troy, it means being able to maintain the freedom and spirit of an underground event without the worry of it being shut down — a huge victory for creativity in nightlife.

“We used to have innovative programming at the bathhouse or at the gay club, but now we have the same DJ holding down every Wednesday for 10 years doing the same thing — no innovation, nothing,” Troy says. “That’s why we need these alternative spaces where we can feel safe and where we can create.”

With upcoming events like Safe Fest, an all-ages music festival, the Art & Leisure Society is offering programming beyond the nine-hour dance raves people have come to expect from Troy, creator of the popular Backdoor series. But dance parties and what they inspire remain at the society’s core.

“It’s about dance and creating a loving environment through the music,” Troy says. “I don’t want to bash anyone who’s trying to make something happen on Davie, but the dance scene downtown isn’t healthy. It isn’t a progressive, world-class dance scene. It’s because of the city. Downtown we have condos instead of warehouses.”

“Culture is born in unique spaces where people can have enough artistic agency to impact the space in a unique way,” he says. “In a club, you don’t have the artistic agency, and you don’t have the financial incentive. You’re stuck between five other clubs; you can’t do really innovative programming in that environment. Whereas in a warehouse, the sky is the limit: you set your own rules, you have your own staff.”

Which makes the party all the more free.

“Go ahead and fuck in the stairwell,” Troy says with a shrug. “There are no rules. As long as you’re non-violent, you can do whatever you want.”

The aspiration is that the Art & Leisure Society develops into a Factory-esque creative hub, drawing in like-minded disco revolutionaries.

“There’s a change that’s been needed in this city for a long time, and it’s not about gay people,” Troy says. “It’s about something a lot bigger. It’s about a space that’s not specifically for gay people, but gay people feel like it’s their home. Andy Warhol’s Factory was never a gay venue — full of fags, though. Gay people can lead our city in terms of creating a better space to party,” he says.

The Art & Leisure Society has launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of gaining $12,500 in support to help pay for costs, including the warehouse rent, sound and facility rentals, and safety and cleaning equipment. Check out the official video for full details, including its rewards, like tickets to the Backdoor: Halloween party, DJ lessons, table service and, of course, knowing you helped make Vancouver “ground zero for an arts and culture explosion.”

“We have political power as gay people, as party people,” Troy insists. “We have to fight for our right to rave, to have fun and create culture — to lead the entire country in terms of what is possible for alternative events.”