One of Calgary's best venues is right under University of Calgary students' noses. From national luminaries like Cadence Weapon and Great Lake Swimmers to local scene stalwarts like Lorrie Matheson, That Empty Space has showcased some of the best music in the country. It's also become a regular Friday afternoon community.
"It's one of the cooler things that exists," says Taryn Cheal, a long-time Empty Space attendee. "Free music with awesome people, hanging out with people on a Friday is a really cool way to bring people together with people I may not see otherwise."
Originally started by former Students' Union vice-president events Alex Vyskocil as a way to fill up an actual empty space in Mac Hall, the venue has become much more. It's not just a place for on-campus music freaks to come and check out the latest bands.
"I want live music to come back to campus and it's why I set about creating Empty Space," said Vyskocil in a 2004 interview with the Gauntlet. "The mandate of the room is to bring the best music from around the city and Canadian talent to the university."
Over the past five years of the space's existence, a number of bands have come to play at the venue, a testament to the sheer diversity of Canadian and Calgary-based bands. This year alone has seen the drum 'n' bass duo of Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker, electronic madmen Tetrix and Calgary's own full throttle post-punk quintet the Shagbots.
Previous years hosted hip-hop act Dragon Fli Empire, ambient maestro Myke Atkinson and his one-man band, Beneath These Idle Tides, and even electronic dance band the Russian Futurists. This was Vyskocil's original intent: to create a venue that would be open to every genre of music, in a comfy place full of couches meant to chill out in.
"It's all different, but it tends to be stuff that you can hear in a coffee shop, so your ears don't bleed or anything," said Vyskocil in 2004. "It'll be anything from folk to rock and even some hip-hop and stuff."
The venue is a treat for both bands and fans. The atmosphere is inviting, with people sitting on couches and grooving to the tunes in front of them.
"That Empty Space is a very cozy and intimate performance venue," says Dragon Fli Empire's Tarik Robinson. "It feels like a friend's living room. Performing there is a very relaxed and comfortable affair. The people there are music lovers and the staff is very helpful and courteous. It's a great chance for local acts to reach the university kids that dig indie music."
Over the years, That Empty Space has become truly a passion project for each VP events. The programming for the event goes through them and each control what bands play in the venue. Current VP events Luke Valentine is effusive with pride when talking about That Empty Space.
"That Empty Space is my passion," says Valentine. "I didn't realize it was until about a quarter of the way through the year when I decided to spend most of my time dedicated to discovering new artists and some great music."
The SU has also been recognized for their accomplishments with That Empty Space internationally. Former VP events Richard "Dickie" Freeman had the opportunity to show off the venue and his own favourite mid-show game-- the famous "blues game," where people trade in their dignity for a $10 gift certificate to the Den.
"Last year's SU went to a Leadership Conference in California [and] a bunch of other VP events from universities all over North America presented the best events they threw," says Freeman. "I presented [That] Empty Space and made everyone at the conference play the Empty Space blues game. The conference attendees voted for the best event presented and we beat the pants off of cats like NYU and Carolina. All these universities in the States wanted to start their own spaces after that."
As the venue nears its 100th concert, each show helps build an increasing sense of community in the space. Not only are there the music freaks crowding the couches, but students from residence have found the space a place to call home for Friday afternoon hang out sessions.
"[That] Empty Space is for everyone: music nerds, slackers, athletes, engineers, senior citizens, you name it, except of course for celebrity bloggers-- they are not welcome in the space," says Freeman. "Basically, anyone who likes music and a comfortable, inviting atmosphere."
The space has led to many budding friendships between music fans, as Valentine well knows. He has found some long-lasting friendships forged over the fires of live music.
"It's also a chance to meet new people," he says. "I've met numerous friends through That Empty Space who I go to concerts with regularly."
Cheal echoes Valentine's sentiment, explaining there aren't only just U of C music fanatics lining up at the door on Friday. It all helps build a large group of people, connected together by a love of music and the occasional $3 can of beer.
"At times you can definitely see the music nerds, then there's the rez kids and then there's the SU people," Cheal says. "It can be fairly disjointed, but at the end of the day, people say, 'Yeah! I see you at That Empty Space.' I've gotten that numerous times. It's a place for people who want to get around a community of decent live music for free."