Interview: Clean Up Your Act Productions
Clean Up Your Act Productions has been setting up Punk and Hardcore shows in Edmonton since 2008. In that time they've set up hundreds if not thousands of shows with hundreds of Edmonton-based artists, as well as musicians from all around the world. Since the pandemic put a hold on shows, they've been back and better than ever, and are currently gearing up for another big-time Edmonton summer.
Mattie, who runs Clean Up Your Act, made some time to sit down and chat about the project, Edmonton's scene, and talk about what's next.
Interview conducted and edited by Devon Acuña.
What is Clean Up Your Act productions?
Clean Up Your Act Productions is an independent show booking entity that I started back in 2008, and it's the name which I promote shows under. I'm kind of the only consistent person that's been involved. My partner, Sarah, does a great deal to contribute, and we're in the process of expanding our ranks in order to be a little bit more effective and take on new challenges and meet areas of growth that could serve the community better. We're always kind of looking towards what's coming next, what's going to be successful, and what the people want to see out there and how we can bring it to them in a satisfactory way.
You guys have been around for…
Fifteen years. So a little while, and then prior to that I did shows under different names. I've been at it for a long time.
How did you get into it?
Because nobody wanted to book my bands when I was a young guy. The scene can be a little bit alienating if you're not in the cool kids club, or you didn't go to Vic Comp, or dress a certain way, or listen to the right type of music or whatever. There can be very few options for people to get onto shows and have shows that are well attended. My band that I was in coming out of high school, we were hungry to play but we had a lot of trouble getting booked, so I started booking our own shows, and then booking shows for our friends’ bands to play on bills with us. Then people would start to ask me for shows because I was booking shows for my band, and they were not always ones that we were able to play so I just started booking shows outside of that because I wanted to make sure that those other bands had opportunities to play. I liked hearing a band and picturing who I thought might come out and enjoy that bill and creating a night that would be entertaining for people and provide them with something of value and substance, and get music that I liked out there that maybe wouldn't necessarily be booked otherwise. I did that for a few years, and then started one production company with an ex-girlfriend that didn't really have any kind of clear direction and maybe kind of too many cooks in the kitchen. Then, I was like “You know what, I like this, I think I'm gonna take it seriously,” so I started Clean Up Your Act and booked the first slate of shows really intentionally and just sort of carried on from there. Honestly, I go a couple months at a time, and for many years—and still sometimes—I assume in a couple of months that it will be over, that it'll be like “Okay, well, this is the last bunch of shows I'm gonna do” and then surely, after that, I'll be too busy or this will happen or that will happen and we will stop, but I'm always inspired to do more. There's always cool events calling my name and bands that I want to work with and sections of the scene that I want to serve, so I'm always motivated to keep going.
So you came in through the Hardcore scene when you started?
Hardcore, but maybe mostly Punk to begin with, I would say. I've always liked both, and to me, with good Punk and with good Hardcore, there's a through-line between the two genres. Definitely some Punk gets pretty far away from Hardcore and some Hardcore gets pretty far away from Punk, but the stuff that I like tends to have a germ of one another inside of it.
That's the thing about Edmonton, too. There's only so many people in Edmonton, you just have to overlap.
Yeah, and I think that that is a blessing because I like a lot of different types of music. I don't want to see a bill of identical bands. I don't think that sounds like a lot of fun to me, and I think if you want your shows to really pop off, it's important to consider that if you book four bands that only bring out the same group of people, that group of people is all you're gonna have.
Back when I was setting up shows, that was my rule: only one band from Grant Mac.
[laughing] Yeah, you don't want too many band geeks in there.
You’ve played in a couple bands, right?
I'm in a couple bands now, Vibes and Chairman are my two groups.
What was it like booking shows over the pandemic?
It really sucked. During that time, [we set up shows] a little bit where we were able to. I did a St. Patrick's Day show, March 13 going into 2020, which was the last show right before the lockdown. There was definitely a weird vibe, and you could tell we were about to go into something very strange. Then, very rapidly after that, everything shut down. I had to cancel a lot of shows that we had booked, which was quite difficult. Then, I want to say September, there was a little bit where we did start doing shows again, and they were like the masked-up, sitting at tables type of shows. We did a couple during that time, maybe less than six. I wanted to get back at it, so we booked another slate of shows that were also canceled. At that time, I assumed it was done. I assumed shows would never bounce back in the same way. I was totally convinced that Clean Up Your Act wouldn't survive it, so I put that on all the social media that we were done and going down. I was sure that it was just gonna keep on going and that even when shit opened up, it would be with all these stipulations, and also, you got the trip that if you do shows, you might get somebody sick, and you might get somebody killed, and so you're like a murderer from putting on shows. Somebody said that to me kind of early on in the lockdown and it's stuck with me. Thankfully, we've caught up with it and things seem to be going well and there haven’t been any big outbreaks at any events recently. Truthfully, I never adjusted, I never got any other hobbies over COVID, I just really kind of stewed for two years. Going to shows and putting on shows is kind of my main thing, and it was really hard for me to find something else to do with my time.
After the pandemic, did you feel like you had to start over a little bit?
Initially, yeah, there was a little bit of getting the ducks in a row, but I would say now things are better than ever. There's a lot of new people going out to shows that I've never met before. It seems like there's more of an interest in heavy music, and also in getting out and doing stuff. Our numbers are way up in terms of people going to shows, the demand for putting on shows has never been higher. Actually, in the years leading into COVID, I was worried that guitar music was on its way out in general. Warped Tour got shut down, they said the youths aren't buying concert tickets to Rock bands anymore. It seemed like there were less new bands starting, it just seemed like things were slowing down. It was harder to get new people involved, and it doesn't seem like that's the case anymore. There is a real renewed interest. I would say things are better than ever, honestly.
You’ve probably seen a lot of venues live and die in Edmonton.
A lot of them. New City is a good example. R.I.P. to Brad England who just passed away recently, he was the owner of New City, a great venue and something that was always around when I was young. That one shutting down was pretty brutal. To give you an idea of how long I've been doing this, my old band played at the Sidetrack Cafe, which was a fairly legendary venue at the time and which is long gone. Bohemia was around for a million years, that's long gone. There were a lot of really cool ones that are maybe lesser known, but Mercury Room was one of my favorites. Avenue Theatre was one of my favorites. The Studio was really great, especially when it was above the bottle depot. That was a really sweet spot. Shark Tank. There were lots of cool ones, and especially the ones that let the misfit bands play, you know?
Who are your go-to acts?
Messiahlator is probably the band that I’ve booked the most times. They've been around for a long time, and we've known each other since high school. As long as I've been doing Clean Up Your Act, I've been booking those guys and their related bands. I really like to book Eyes Front as well, I think that they're very good, and they have a real appreciation for everything that goes into putting on shows, same with Sealed Fate. Also The Motherfuckers and Spastic Panthers, I’ve booked them fairly often. I do try to have a variety and try to work with new bands fairly regularly. I don't want this to come across disparagingly, because I think that there is a power in working with the same bands consistently and having a good relationship, working with people you can trust and that have the right vibe: some people will only book the bands that they feel have a certain prestige or a certain punkness or whatever, and that can help to define the level of punkness by what their shows provide. But I've always tried to outreach quite a bit, have a variety of bands, consistently book new acts, take chances on new bands that are coming up in the city, find young bands, bring bands to Edmonton that I've never been here before. I'm always kind of looking for something new, and then also people who I like and want to get to know better. I've never tallied it up but, conservatively, I’ve booked something like 500 different bands through Clean Up Your Act, and I think it might be quite a bit higher than that, maybe even like 700 or something. It's a lot. When you actually think about that many bands it kind of boggles the mind. That's from all over the country, all over the world, you know?
You must spend a lot of time on the research.
Yes, I do. That said, that's a labor of love. I love to hear new music, and I always think hearing a new band with new people is a really rewarding experience. Especially because a lot of bands that I’ll hear about in Edmonton are some kind of super group or some type of new compilation of people that were already in other bands, when I hear about a band that's all people I don't know that sounds sick and are just kind of getting into it, I think that's really exciting. There's all this stuff going on that I don't know about, and that's a wonderful feeling. There's always something more happening in our backyard.
That's another thing about Edmonton. I spend so much time being like “this 40 people is the scene,” and then I branch out one time and I'm like “oh, every other person in this city makes music somehow.”
You know, as long as people are safe and cool and inclusive, and have that mindset, at the very least I'm happy to listen to what they're putting together. Going to Rockin’ 4 Dollars or something, each time it's like “oh, man, there's all this different music, all these different people.” It's very cool. I would say it’s a pretty vibrant music scene. Other cities, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, maybe they’ve got more bands, and maybe they’ve got sick venues, but you go to their shows and people aren’t all friends there, people aren’t all willing to mingle and meet each other. It's a different type of vibe. In Edmonton, and then a little bit in Calgary as well, people are way more friendly, people go there to meet and mingle and share their passion and get to know people. I also think that that's an important thing about genre crossing, because people go to shows to see bands, but then they also go to see cool dudes and dudettes and make friends and mingle and stuff, right? So what's the point of going a show where you know every single person there?
Are there any acts that you've been scheming on that you haven't gotten booked yet?
Well, I know Lingua Ignota a little bit, and I've talked to her a little bit. I'd love to convince her to come to Edmonton. That would be really cool. There's a lot of really cool Hardcore bands in Canada. You know, Peer Pressure, Do Flame, Thousand Knives, Street Justice, and tons of other ones that we play on the radio show on CJSR.
Radio show on CJSR!
Live every Tuesday at 10 if people want to check it out, a big thing is we play lots of new Canadian Hardcore. We just search it up on Bandcamp, so it's not even stuff with hype necessarily. It's just the new releases. Doing that, we hear all kinds of new stuff, and I would love a lot of those bands to come to Edmonton. I'd be thrilled to see them. I’m trying to think of a really good specific example of someone I'd love to book. I've never booked Home Front, Graham's new band. That'd be pretty fun, to get them in front of an all ages audience. It'd be really hard to do, but I've always wanted to find a way to get Envision from Halifax out here. They've been around since the 90s, and every couple of years they'll do a few reunion shows, and I would just love to find a way to get them out. I don't think that'll ever happen, but it would be very cool. There’s this guy June Panic from Fargo, North Dakota. He lives in Europe now, so it'd be even tougher, but every couple of years I email him to see if I can convince him to come on out. That'd be more of a passion project for me. I don't know that very many other people are familiar with them, but it'd be really cool. There's definitely other ones, but I'm also very pleased with some of the bands that I've gotten to book recently, like Bat Scratch and Silly Bike. I don't know that you can book punker bands than that, they were just so phenomenal, and these are bands coming out of Calgary, so that was a really enriching experience. You don’t have to fly somebody out from Europe to see it, it's just homegrown talent.
You said that your plan is to expand a little bit.
I want to start a street team for Clean Up Your Act for young people that want to learn about putting on shows. I always need help getting handbills into people's hands, especially the young people. I want to primarily do all ages shows, primarily that appeal to people of the all-ages audience. So, we need to have outreach to young people, but then also a willingness to listen to what their needs are, what they want to see, what bands appeal to them. It's not really fair for me to say, “Oh, this is what you ought to hear, young whippersnapper.” No, it should represent them. I want to bring in people that have a fresh perspective on what the youth are interested in. I'm hoping that the street team will help to do that. Likewise, there is a guy that I have been talking to that I'm hoping can help me increase the capacity of Clean Up Your Act. With this guy's help, we've gotten shows booked in months that I initially was skeptical that I'd be able to do. It's looking like having that extra help is going to increase our capacity, which is really exciting. Truth be told, I've tried to bring people into Clean Up Your Act before, but I'm a bad delegator, you know, I kind of want to do things myself. My communication is not as strong as it could be. So I've had opportunities to work with people that probably would have been great, and I was unwilling to share the load. I want to learn to be a better leader and share these opportunities to be a part of the scene in the capacity that Clean Up Your Act is. Because you know, lots of people want to take a more active hand in it. A big part of it, to me, is not just wanting to see shows, but feeling like the shows that you're seeing are representative of what you want to see.
Is there a story behind the name Clean Up Your Act?
I think it's sort of a funny name now. Going back to the beginning, at the time that we started in 2008, the scene was different, you know, and if you rented halls, which was what I primarily started doing, there was an assumption that they'd get fucked up, you'd lose your damage deposit. We had Spruce Ave Hall, someone smashed a toilet, there were all of these incidents that were happening. They were having shows being barred at community halls, and people just really acting foolishly. So Clean Up Your Act was really just trying to get people to have some level of respect in their own scene and behave in a way that meant that we could continue to do shows that were not a one-and-done thing. We were trying to do something positive in the community. That's what I was trying to get across with the name: the way that I booked shows, the bands that I booked for those shows, and the kind of way that I behaved at those early shows and all that stuff. Now, I think the name is a little silly because the youth going out to shows have got it so together, their ideas are so strong. Their ideas about social justice, about inclusion, both self awareness and cultural awareness, coming out to shows now, it's so strong, so inspirational. I feel like I'm learning so much from the young people that I communicate with. I mean, their act is so much cleaner than mine ever was, so I think it harkens back to a different time in Edmonton. Now, I think that those ideals are still alive, but where I'm coming from, that perception has shifted. In 15 years, there has been some cultural shifts, both in the world and in the scene. I think that the name to me is not as poignant as it once was. I kind of wish it was something different, but it's too late now.
I personally love it. I think everyone can use that reminder. Sometimes even these kids out here.
Absolutely. Well, I'm happy to hear that.
This interview took place on Treaty 6 territory.