by Sheldon Birnie, photo by Andrew Mazurak
Tyler Sneesby sashays into Parlour Coffee on a warm July afternoon wearing a sharp denim outfit and brand new, bright white sneakers. We order Americanos, his hot and mine cold pressed. We are here to discuss, with great anticipation, the opening of Winnipeg’s newest — and certainly one of its most ambitious — live music venues, Union Sound Hall.
With a number of young, local music heavies putting their money and reputations behind the space, the opening of Union Sound Hall has been a buzz throughout Winnipeg’s live music community. After months of frenzied activity, and plenty of sweat equity being poured into the place, Union Sound Hall is set to open its doors.
“The opportunity came up in October,” Sneesby (aka DJ Hunnicut) explains. “For Tim [Hoover, aka DJ Co-op] and I, the idea of owning a venue has been in our minds for a long time. We’ve been performing together for so long that we thought the next step would be to have our own venue.”
For Sneesby and Hoover, years of touring and performing across the globe have informed their ideas about how a venue should operate, for performers and customers alike. Alongside the other partners in Union, they are ready to put those concepts into praxis.
“We have ideas of how to make it comfortable for artists, local and touring, to feel welcome and to feel like they want to come back and continue using the space,” he explains. He pauses to consider what he calls the “intangibles” of what makes a good venue from the perspective of a showgoer, before settling on a perfect example: the Lo Pub.
“As a venue to see shows, the sightlines were shitty [at the Lo], the sound wasn’t great, but there was something intangible that made people want to be there. We can’t just put on paper that this will be cool. But we think we’re the people that can at least get it going in the right direction, and just hope that the city of Winnipeg supports us.”
The space itself, located in a restored warehouse space in the Exchange, is well tailored to accommodating small to mid-sized shows. A small room suitable for approximately 100 patrons greets visitors upon entrance, while a larger main room is capable of accommodating over 400. Both spaces are serviced by bars, appropriately sized stages, and top of the line sound systems.
“We’ve got a few things that we’re going to try to do festival style,” David Schellenberg (Les Jupes, ex-Playing Cards), the whippersnapper of a booking agent hired by Union, told Stylus earlier over beers at Cousin’s. “One band will play the main-stage, and one band will play the side-room as soon as they’re done. So we can just go boom-boom-boom, back and forth with very little time in between. We’re also going to do early shows in the side-room, some 8:30-10:30 stuff, then some 11:00 till 2:00 stuff in the big room. Basically, just more shows. It may be a little hard for the city to adjust, but once they do it’s going to be great.”
“My personal goal is for it to be the home of great live music in the city,” says Schellenberg. “Winnipeg just doesn’t have a room like this. Essentially, to be honest, we’re trying to change how people tour through North America.”
Apart from bringing in high quality touring acts, Union Sound Hall aims to be a venue that local bands can feel comfortable booking for album release parties or other major showcases. Royal Canoe will be the first big local release party celebrated in the venue, with others to follow. Union will also be home to DJ Hunnicut and Co-op’s annual New Year’s Eve and Halloween dance parties, as well as popular local club nights like Devotion.
“With the Albert gone and the Lo Pub gone, it’s really just the Windsor, the Pyramid, and us,” says Sneesby. “We’re hoping we can be an option for bands to throw their own shows.”
As far as what goes into a name, Sneesby says that the name Union Sound Hall is a throwback to the history of the building, which is found on the upper level of 110 Market Avenue.
“110 Market is an old saddlery,” Sneesby explains. “It’s a building that’s over 100 years old now … [And] we didn’t want to use the word ‘club’ or ‘cabaret.’ We wanted the focus to be on live music, rather than a nightclub.”
“We don’t have a [musical] format,” admits Sneesby. “As a matter of fact, if we don’t get pigeon holed, it’s better for us,” he says, explaining that the more varied an audience the club can attract and maintain, the better for Winnipeg’s live music scene.
“I want people to be comfortable riding their bikes there wearing what they’re wearing to see a show.”
Shows start happening at 110 Market in August (including this issue’s launch party, August 8th!), and with big gigs from Royal Canoe in August, and James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) in September announcing the venue’s arrival. Other highlights include a stop by buzz band Majical Cloudz (August 14) and Bleached (September 13), with more lined up to be announced in the coming weeks.