by Amanda Tripp
It’s the hottest Montreal night I can remember and I don’t know where I am, but I know I’m walking towards some terrible smell, beside my best friend and some other good people we’ve collected along the way. She keeps smiling at me reassuringly as if to say that she, at least, knows what the hell we’re doing, but I know we’re both thinking the same thing, and are glad at least that we’re together on this one.
We were heading south on Peel, but had turned off the beaten path at some point, away from the comforting hum of Peel Pub, where we’d met to gather courage in cheap beer. Suddenly, it becomes clear we’re heading into warehouse country, and the smell is definitely shit. It’s kind of nice though, despite the smell. In fact, it’s really nice: it’s quiet, and we’re walking in the middle of the road, and it’s the kind of dark you don’t really get in Montreal. That’s because we’re in Griffintown, just west of the Old Port, historically an old Irish neighborhood dating back to the 1800s, that was basically totally depopulated by the 1950s, and now looks like almost any other light industrial zone. Except, as we were about to find out, for what’s inside some of these warehouses. Later, sitting on a roof overlooking a backyard jam-packed with bicycles and a garage-top swimming pool, we would speculate that we were smelling manure from wherever the horses who pull the Old Port’s touristy calèches must be stabled.
In a way, that’s Friendship Cove in a nutshell – it’s the kind of place that actually drives the artistic impulse behind a city like Montreal, but down here, it doesn’t wear blinders or have flowers stuck behind its ears, or poop discretely in a bag. And it’s not taking you for a ride – Friendship Cove is still something very alive, and very dynamic – you come at your own risk, and you’ll probably get more than you asked for, whatever that was when you started the night.
Friendship Cove is one of these mysterious loft spaces you sometimes hear about at parties – and after one event there, I finally understand why they’re so hard to describe. Founded in 2005 by friends Graham Van Pelt and Jack Dylan, a twenty-something musician and artist respectively, Friendship Cove gives both local and international independent bands of all varieties a place to flex their musical muscle (and sleep on the couch/roof/stage if they need a place to crash while in town). It’s named after the attraction at Marineland, but my mainstream sensibilities are not convinced I’m going to love it.
When we turn onto Murray street, a low rumble is bouncing off the walls, and we can hear voices down the road: about ten people of varying ages seem to explode out of a doorway in a cloud of cigarette smoke, laughing as one guy waves a guitar around. This isn’t it though – on the other side of the street, serious bass is doing its best to bust out from behind a brightly graffitied garage door. There’s a door to the left of the graffiti so we venture in, and up, and up, and through small rooms all painted in bright colors, one covered completely in posters. We break into a bigger room, paint splattered and booming – we’re here to see my friend’s boyfriend’s band Buildings, who’ve come all the way from Washington DC to play here. Before we can get our bearings he comes bounding over and she’s swept away into a nook on the far side of the room, painted red and candle-lit. The rest of us look at each other and shrug – it’s way too loud to even try speaking.
We buy beer from a closet in sign language – beer is 2.50, but they don’t mind if you bring your own. The band onstage is so loud I don’t even know what kind of music it is, but I kind of like it anyways, because it makes it okay to look around inconspicuously. There are about 20 people in the room – mostly standing right beside the band members on the low stage. Everyone is sort of swaying and looks pretty comfortable, a lot of people look like they came on their own. There is no way that I will ever be cool enough for a place like this, and I’m starting to feel really awkward about it.
On my left, another set of stairs goes up to a third floor, and from there you can walk right out onto the roof, which has a beautiful view of the infamous 5 Roses sign. It’s about 40 degrees inside so everyone winds up on the roof in between sets. This space looks totally handmade – from the plumbing (scary) to every single thing on the walls. It’s really beautiful actually, like something being born – hard work obviously made this a livable space (oh yes, the founders definitely live here, and throw shows under the living room), and I soon realize I’m not the only one walking around wide-eyed. The whole space is available to everyone to explore, and the name Friendship Cove is starting to make a little more sense to me: this is a space that offers itself up, trusting, flexible, imaginative, operating below the surface of the city, kept on the outskirts itself, but entirely welcoming to any and all who stumble upon it.
Buildings goes on and everyone seems to really dig them. They wear these African shirts and have an abstract video playing on the wall behind them that really highlights the room, lighting up a black “what?” stenciled on the wall behind them – my personal favorite touch because it means everything and nothing right now. It would all be kind of dreamlike if we weren’t so sweaty, but everyone’s sweaty so nobody cares.
An amp gives up the ghost in the middle of the set and someone provides one so Buildings can finish their set, and in the interim I can hear a girl upstairs ask someone to hold the bathroom door (mostly made of plastic sheeting) while she braves the plumbing (the toilet’s the highest point in the loft which for some reason, is really unnerving), and somewhere, in the middle of all this, I finally start to relax. Because in the end, it’s the very imperfection and randomness of the whole set up that makes it so great – something being built from scratch and falling down at the same time, experimenting with its own existence. And that makes it so okay to be a bit unsure, to feel really imperfect here, and to eventually let go of this and stop worrying, cause if you ask, someone will always hold the door. And we had a really, really great time.
Sitting up on the roof after the show, with friends and strangers, I couldn’t help but wonder what else I’ve been missing all this time – what else is hiding behind these hundreds of garage doors if you just ask. From here downtown looks small and sort of blurry, and where we are seems very tangible by comparison- loud, smelly, sensory.
Then, suddenly, lights flashing and driving way too fast, a tractor bursts out of the dark and nails a lone car parked on the side of the road. OUT OF NOWHERE. Thou shalt not parallel park in the depths of absurdity. People come out of the walls, running over to the scene, but it looks like everyone’s okay, and from where we are, it’s unclear anyone was even in the tractor. It seems odd for a few minutes but soon it just melts into the night as something that could only happen here, and that doesn’t really need to be understood.
Later, sliding around on a futon with my friends (the ‘”middle” seat) while Buildings drive me home in their van (“we can’t believe it got across the border!”), and after a detour to 2$ chow mein and the 24hr grocery store on St-Laurent, I’m thinking that Friendship Cove might have just been one of the best things I’ve ever seen/done/had/been happened to by during my years in Montreal. And it was so, so much better than Marineland.
Check out the Cove at http://www.myspace.com/friendshipcove
215A Murray St.