Another one bites the dust

In another hit to the Montreal independent music scene, DIY co-op and underground punk-rock venue Katacombes will be shutting its doors at the end of 2019. In a Facebook post announcing the closure, the co-op reported that rising rent prices and other financial pressures were to blame.

This announcement follows a host of other independent venues that have had to close their doors or change locations in recent years. In early 2018, indie-scene staple Le Divan Orange shut down, unable to cope with rent and tax hikes. In February of the same year, Mile End coffee shop and music venue Le Cagibi announced its move from the intersection of Saint-Laurent and Saint- Viateur to a nearby space in Little Italy, also citing rising costs.  

Having hosted nearly 2,000 shows spanning many genres in the 13 years since it opened, Katacombes’ abrupt closure marks a severe loss for an increasingly gentrified Montreal neighbourhood. The Latin Quarter, which encompasses large portions of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) and the lower half of Saint-Denis Street, has seen an increase in rent prices in response to the development of the Quartier des Spectacles.   

This cultural development project, first proposed by the Quebec Association of the Record, Entertainment and Video Industry (ADISQ) at the 2002 Montreal Summit, intends to house 30 different performance halls. Pre-existing facilities such as Place des Arts and the Musée d’art contemporain (MAC) are included in this project and will be complemented by new constructions. In 2008, Mayor Gérald Tremblay claimed that the project’s $120 million budget would bring in nearly $1.9 billion in private investment. The Quartier des Spectacles subsumes the entire Quartier Latin, and its growth plays a role in the area’s increasing gentrification.

“[The] surrounding neighbourhood has been subject to redevelopment as of late with empty lots and older buildings being transformed into office and condo towers,” CHOM-FM radio station noted in their report on Katacombes’ closure. 

Whether or not this will happen to the lot the venue occupies is still to be seen.

In the Facebook comments of the post announcing the closure, owners of Katacombes guessed that the building will, at the very least, be demolished soon.

Without smaller, independent venues to serve as showcases for local artists, communities risk marginalizing musicians who may struggle to find alternative spaces to play. The loss of Katacombes is another blow to the local artistic identity of the Quartier Latin and to the strength of its legacy.

The replacement of underground hubs with large condos or other corporate driven enterprises severely harms the cultural development of individual neighbourhoods, and repercussions echo throughout the communities. 

In 2017, the City of Montreal claimed to be forming a committee with the goal of looking out for the success of smaller music venues. 

 “[We recognize] that a lot of places are fragile and that they provide a really valuable cultural service without getting any of the support, or any of the funding, that one gets for providing this absolutely essential input into our cultural landscape,” said Christine Gosselin, the city councillor member and executive committee member responsible for culture, heritage and city planning. 

The closure of Katacombes suggests a failure to translate these words into action. If the city refuses to stand up for small independent music venues, it will be up to individual community members to support their local artistic spaces. The venue’s closure marks the end of an important cultural artifact, and it hurts both the up-and-coming artists with nowhere to play and the music lovers with nowhere to go. 

Despite the closure, Katacombes will continue hosting shows until Dec. 31, giving regular spectators one last chance to support a local music staple.  

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