If you were an active member of the Hamilton music scene before 2014 you will surely remember the Casbah Lounge; that small, intimate, oddly shaped room below The Casbah. It was a wonderful space that brought together the best parts of a house show and a music venue. The sound was great, the bar was efficient, and the parties were amazing.
When the space closed to make way for The Strathcona in 2014 music fans felt the loss; there was nothing quite like The Casbah Lounge. Skipping ahead to 2016/2017 we also lost Homegrown Hamilton and The Baltimore House; that’s 3 smaller music venues gone in the span of a few years. Small music venues are important because they offer an avenue for newer bands to get their footing, they allow promoters and show organisers to practice their craft, and they give audiences a way to experience special intimate shows. Regardless if a band is new or huge, seeing them in a small venue is almost always an ideal situation. When the news of the Casbah Lounge returning made waves there was excitement about the possibility of having another small venue in Hamilton. As it turns out, the newly re-opened Casbah Lounge will operate as a bar with feature music curators 7 nights a week.
The owner, Brodie Schwendiman, was nice enough to answer a few questions to get us up to speed on the new space.
1) How did you come to the decision to bring back The Casbah Lounge?
The closure of The Strathcona Restaurant (2014-17) lead to the decision to re-open the Casbah Lounge as a music focused space. It was all made easier by the help and assistance of a dozen friends who helped with the renovations and planning.
2) For those people who remember going to the Casbah Lounge – how will this re-opened version of the Casbah lounge be similar to the original one? And how is it different?
Similar: Music will be the arteries of the space. A casual environment for lovers of music where they can socialise and relax.
Different: Cassettes. There will be lots of cassettes. Music will still be why people are in the space, but it won’t be a room hosting live music. Instead, we are programming nice people to step in as curators of the playlist each night. Let’s loosely use the term ‘DJs’. Also, the hours will be different. We are going to run 7 nights a week starting at 7 pm.
3) I’ve heard that the musical focus of the Casbah Lounge will be on DJs. Why are you not booking bands down there and using the space as a live music venue?
A couple of reasons. Partly because my time is more precious now than ever. I have 3 beautiful sons today. Booking bands regularly in a 2nd room would involve time I simply don’t have. Also, I honestly think our city has enough small venues to support the demand. The small room options in our city are already doing a great job. Between Artword Artbar (Quiet Music), Doors Pub (Loud Music), and HAVN (Avant Music), and some others, I think our city and scene has it pretty sweet for small spots. Throw in the random DIY house party and you have a full-on thriving small venue circuit. No one needs Casbah Lounge for that (Presently).
4) Further to that – – what can people expect from the DJ lineups? How will this work?
Your guess is as good as mine. Basically, I’m taking calls, emails, and conversations from music lovers and I’m just giving them a date. Every night there will be a 7pm-10pm music curator, and then a 10pm-1am curator to follow. Any genre is good. In week one we had funk, soul, indie, rock, house, old school hip-hop, punk, classic rock, ambient rock, and 80’s pop. I’m sure most weeks will be like that.
5) Does the re-opening of the Casbah Lounge mean that all of those creepy/cool models that were suspended on the ceiling are returning? Whatever happened to those, by the way?
They were donated to a band for a video shoot. I’m sure you can revisit them on YouTube.
6) Can you talk about the role of small music venues (like the lounge) in the larger music community?
The small venue is mistakenly thought of as a room strictly for artists that are ‘developing’. I mean there is a bit of that, no doubt. But I’ve witnessed some of the greatest performances in the Casbah Lounge, and small spaces like it. I hosted Duane Denison’s USSA band in our old lounge. A member of the Jesus Lizard for crying out loud. I’m pretty sure Duane had already developed by then. To me, the small room is a room for music tricks. You can witness something that could easily be happening in a large club or theatre, but instead when in an intimate small space, that good show turns into a magical one.
Stay up to date with all of the ‘music curators’ and events happening at the new Casbah Lounge through their Facebook page.