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The Casbah

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By Spencer Semianiw

Brodie Schwendiman was well on his way to becoming a full-time teacher when he started what would become one of Hamilton’s most celebrated and popular music venues, the Casbah.

Schwendiman explained his experiences after graduating teachers’ college, when he started to have second thoughts. It began when he “went to the United States to follow a band around for a couple of weeks, Guided by Voices … just the experience I had doing that, gaining new friends, and seeing how passionate people could be about underground culture and music,” he said.

“I had no idea if the path I was taking would make enough money. For the first five years, it wasn’t.” Schwendiman later explained he still loses money on shows quite frequently. “More often than I make money, probably, if I really dissected the numbers,” he conceded in good humor.

Regardless of finances, Schwendiman said what kept him going was “just loving it. It was fun to promote. At the time, I felt there was a scene of music, mainly indie rock, that wasn’t happening in Hamilton as much as I thought it should.”

Schwendiman described how he would be forced to travel to Toronto every time one of his favorite acts came to play. To his surprise, the Casbah seemed to provide the same solution for a lot of other Hamilton music fans.

“One thing I didn’t consider was that people were going to really thank you for what you were doing. It made me feel good, because people were really appreciating that this stuff wasn’t happening before now, but now it is,” said Schwendiman.

For Schwendiman, the most rewarding part of his job is the level of community support he’s received.

“If this place were ever to stop existing, the community would probably rally and try to do something and change my mind, or if it were a financial thing they’d try and raise money to keep it going.”

In 2009, the Casbah hosted a surprise performance by legendary ‘80s alternative rock group the Pixies. Schwendiman said it was quite a different experience from the local artists that perform regularly.

“When you’re booking bands that are a little bit more popular … it’s very common that there is a bit of distance that is created between the public and the band. … A local band is actually quite curious about my thoughts on the music scene and wants to talk to me about things to see if they can learn from what I know. What am I going to teach Frank Black?”

Somewhat surprisingly, Schwendiman wasn’t actually a big fan of the Pixies during their heyday in the late ‘80s.“I was still smack-dab in the middle of trying to be a professional baseball player!” he said.

“People are surprised to see that I’m right down there in the trenches doing everything … sometimes cleaning up puke or putting up my own posters on the poles outside,” Schwendiman said of his day-to-day work.

As the conversation started to shift more towards Hamilton’s changing music scene, Schwendiman paused before concluding, “electronic music is a lot more popular than it used to be. I remember when I first got started, booking something electronic was very obscure … now, there’s music being made that can sell out my venue, which is not something I could say ten years ago.”

“As you stick it out, and work in this business, you have to keep re-inventing the wheel; you can’t stick to the exact formula of how you’re going to book your entertainment.”

Despite all the acts that have come through his venue, there’s still one that Schwendiman has yet to attract.

“Guided by Voices. My favorite band of all time I’ve never booked. I’ve tried almost every angle I can think of. I think they were more interested years ago than today.”

So here’s a shout out to Guided by Voices: come play a show at the Casbah. It’d help fulfill a man’s career that you helped inspire all those years ago.

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