Locals | Garret "GMAN" Louie | Pt. II
Following up on last week's interview, here is part 2 of the legend - GMAN's story about his ventures with GMAN and RIZK, Fortune Sound Club, Livestock Canada, and a little more!
RG: When did you team up with Rob and started GMAN and RIZK?
GMAN:While I was building this when I was offered the club nights, I was like oh shit, how am I going to do this while I was going to tradeshows? Rob was this b-boy that was always b-boying at the party so it was Rob and his crew with Madchild, and Flipout had a crew called What The Hell at that time. Rob was also in a b-boy group called Contents Under Pressure with Zeb and Jesar who owns Nomad out East (in Toronto), so that’s their start and all those dudes were b-boying at our parties.
Rob was also trying to throw these parties that I would go to, they were a bit smaller but he’s two years younger so, I would go to them and they were ok, I mean I can see these young scenes coming out but they weren’t banging, you know what I mean, but I did see that he had heart, and I really like that and I really like him because of that, he’s really pushing. So, I basically said ‘hey man I’m starting this night, it’s my night but I’ll give you this cut, why don’t we do a 60/40 split.’ From the first night out I saw him hustle it, and I ended up giving him a 50/50 split till now. It’s crazy because when you choose a partner it’s pretty much like a marriage and things can be all over the board from ‘what do you want to call it’ to ‘what DJs’ to which the direction you go and he’s a great partner; he lets me do my thing and my side of it so we kind of balance off each other that way.
RG: What brought about Fortune, was it just time to make your own venue?
GMAN:To be honest, we’ve been promoters since the early 90s, and because I have the distribution company going on I’ve never treated the promoting as a full time gig, I’ve always thought it was just a side hobby, but here I am 20 plus years later, still doing it. We brought some R&B nights at sonar and some underground stuff, and you always have to keep up with the times because there’s always people turning 19 and music’s always changing.
Serato came in and that changed the game entirely because at one time you would just bring in vinyl and you can kind of only bring a crate full of whatever that night was, if it was urban or rock you can only bring enough for your crate, and than Serato came and people can play everything under the sun, so that changed the game too. The last night we had done as Gman and Rizk was at this place called Plush, which is also called Gossip, which is called… Who knows what it’s called now, but it was the biggest venue and it can hold - up to 1200 people and you can run 2000 people in a night at this time.
RG: That’s huge
GMAN: Yeah it was massive. We’ve never done anything like this before and we tagged on a radio station at that time, it was a whole another level because we went on and just went BIG, like 2,000 people. Rob and I liked quality music so at the time we’d bring in Fatman Scoop or De La Soul’s DJ or DJ Flash and Grand Theft, like we would bring these guys in to break the crowd, and it was pretty crazy - seeing 2,000 people going off and I don’t even know if they’ve packed the venue since then, it was really cool to see it happen and it was motivating, plus the money was good.
But you know, on top of having the distribution at the time, it’s going to be hard to step back from that and do your passion project of going back to the stage where I just want to play whatever I like and whatever I want to play in a smaller room. Physically for me, it was hard because I started a family and I had done all of the promoting stuff my whole career so I wasn’t going back to anything else after you’re used to getting that Plush money. So what do I do? It’s going to take the same amount of time and effort to promote that passion project, as it does to filling a big room, to be honest. It didn’t take anything differently so I told Rob, like after this night I’m not going to do anything else, I’m pretty much done with club nights.
I’ve told him this probably 20 times, I’m going to retire, like I’m good. I never thought I’d still be doing this after I’m married nor after having kids, those were always factors that made me go like “oh yeah I’m not going to be doing this” so I was always going to bounce.
So while I was doing the distribution, we always had a sales agency (NLA) that was selling for Timebomb as well, so I’m really busy during the days and Rob would only do the club stuff at night. So when I was telling him I was ready to peace out but in his mind, it’s like “ok, then what, what’s for me?” you know, what does he do? Coincidentally, at the same time, a license came up which was the old Royal Unicorn Cabaret, which was the old Ming’s Restaurant – that meant a lot to me because I grew up in deep cove but we always went to Chinatown for dinner. Like Foo’s Hoho and that whole hood, my stepfather played jazz guitar in all of those places, Smiling Buddha Cabaret and all that kind of stuff, so I was like oh shit, this could be interesting.
At that point, I was like: man, I’ve put so many years into this, so I’m either out and be happy or use all that work and knowledge from what we’ve done and kind of correct that so you’re not bummed out about a club. From the way you’re treated from the front, bouncers sweating you at the front, and I’ve grew up skating so I know like the feeling of how other people stepping in because of how you’re dressed, to the sound system, the look and feel of the club, just the little details. Even for myself, DJing the past 15 years – the monitors, the sound system’s pinned and cranked and you can’t hear it. Well hey man, what about a club that was based upon sound, isn’t that what this is about - really showcasing music and art, building up that scene and bringing in rad talent to the city? At that time, clubs were just spending their money on the alcohol; there would be a big wall of booze from top to bottom, like 50 types of vodka. Like, what do you want? There’s the cheap shit or I got some money and I want to buy some balling Grey Goose, there’s only two types, you know what I mean, and we weren’t even going to show alcohol at the time, like we were only do this one little line of bottles but we just needed the space. At the end of the day, we had lots of ideas, so I was like ok, I guess, I guess I’ll do it. I haven’t really realized what I had gotten into because I was used to promoting just 1 night a week with a full time job, so that was pretty manageable at the time, plus a family; adding Fortune, like all of a sudden you had Fridays, Saturdays, and we did a Wednesday, on top of like 20 other shows, so it was really overwhelming.
Plus, being a first time club owner, all of those hoops that you had to jump through in the beginning was pretty crazy, but now we’re going into our 5th year, we really can’t say we’ve learnt everything - that learning curve will always be there, like I can’t even imagine. We were talking about retailing and how much you need to put into retail these days, well I think the club scene too man, like if we didn’t come from being promoters for 20 years and we both DJ’ed – Rob still DJs and I DJ’ed for 15 years, I mean I just don’t know how people would do it. Keeping your ears to the ground and booking the right thing: the flavor of the month, the promoters, music, talent, and all the politics in between, it is a beast. It’s much easier, I think, for people to open up some sort of pub and a drinking place that’s just busy and you just do your thing, rather than trying to keep up to everything, you know?
RG:Oh totally, and I think you guys manage it really well. I’ve DJ'ed there and I always have the best experience when I play there, because promoters and DJs started it, so they get it. When I show up, the sound guy is right there and he would walk me in, tweaks the sound to vinyl playing, and it’s set up. While I play at other places and some people are just clueless.
GMAN: The sound system man, I couldn’t believe it, we had the first Funktion One in Canada. For me, I would put all the money into the sound system, like forget about everything else! We designed the whole club based on the sound, the girl that designed this place (Timebomb HQ), designed Fortune as well. She lives on the island and is not hip to any game of anything else that’s going on out here, it’s her own original ideas.
We talked to Funktion One, because there’s a lot of logistics that you had to go through in order to have the system, guys are flying out, staying at hotels while tweaking your system, and then we asked what the best way to build a club is. Well, wood – a lot of people might put it in a concrete place with sounds bouncing all over, we have a lot of wood everywhere, soaking up that sound. We’ve thought about that first, and then designed it around the system. Also, another creative space was that you could have a $5 punk rock show with Off! or Fucked Up, or you can have a bunch of skaters in there and throw a premier, yet at the same time we’ve had Jay Z and Drake in there and they can feel safe about bottles. There’s some places in Vancouver where you can hit one scene, let’s just say the Biltmore Cabaret and The Cobalt or Astoria, great bars for certain scene but, would JAY Z or Drake feel comfortable in there? I think what the designer did was that she really created a place that was super diverse, like you can go a total other scale of things and everybody can feel comfortable, I didn’t expect it to have that effect but once we’ve started to put the different scenes in there, we were cool with it.
RG: Of all the shows and all the people you brought out, what are some of your favorites?
GMAN: Wow, I mean there has been a lot, I think one of my favorite ones was when my son turned 7 and we did a kids party at Fortune. All the kids from the school and the parents and friends of mine that had kids went to Fortune and they’ve never really been outside, or at least not in this area of the city on a Sunday. I had J-Swing and Flipout DJing and Marie was teaching them how to Dougie at the time. That was a really cool party because it’s something that I always envisioned to do. We had a really good time at Fortune when we actually did the Wu-Tang Clan show at a bigger spot and that was $100,000+ to do that show, and we had just paid for GZA to come to the afterparty at fortune so we thought you know, GZA’s going to host and just do whatever, but, the entire clan pretty much came by Fortune and pretty much was a free (we didn’t pay anything for them) show. These guys were drunk, really drunk, and I knew they hadn’t been together all that much and they were on a smaller stage, it was literally just – throwing beats down, freestyling, DJing, performing all their hits for two hours. You could tell that even they were super psyched on it, and the crowd had no idea that this was going to go down, and you’re just like “oh my God I can’t believe this is going down”, little moments like that, the surprise attacks, the moments that you don’t expect at the time are all pretty cool and special to me.
RG: How did you team up with Gary from Livestock?
GMAN: So, as I was building Timebomb, we were doing hardcore skate brands as well – Emerica was one of the most core skate brands out there and we had this dealer out in White Rock – Board Kennel, they were one of our biggest dealer in all Canada, like normally you would expect this stuff in the city to be really big, but you’ve got White Rock which was out there a little bit and he had created this scene where you had all these rad skaters – Brad Sheppard, Alien, Sheldon Meleshinski, like most of our team were from his shop and he understood the vibe, which was pretty core at the time. Being a retail space that had somewhat of a fuck you attitude to a lot of things – like DC was a really popular brand at the time and he was like I’m not buying that shit, it’s wack. On top of it, the skate board industry at the time were buying a lot of women’s clothing because of the market but he’s like, well I opened a skate shop because I love it, but now I have to sell women’s clothing to survive? I’m not into that. So Garry’s coming to a point where he realize that he needs to move on, so he told me about this idea that he had about a sneaker store. Maybe 5 or 6 years before that, I have been travelling with this job, going to places that you go to for meetings – Paris, Japan, New York, and there were stores that you’d go to just to buy some shoes. This was also before the sneaker game came up before the eBaying of these shoes, you would wear them in Vancouver and people would comment on them, but they might be an Asia exclusive release, or you would find some rare ones in the states. With that, Gman and Rizk that specializes in promotion, and Garry coming from White Rock, we kind of talked about it and said yeah, let’s do it. One great thing that we were able to start with from the beginning of Livestock was the fact that we’re able to promote it and use our channels to push it further quickly.
RG: Yeah, and the Block Parties you guys threw were awesome!
GMAN: Yeah, it all started out small in Gastown and we did 3 block parties. This was a huge reason why we bought the Chinatown building, and Garry’s a partner into that as well. It’s actually our Tenth anniversary and we missed that party, totally forgot, haha. We were on Abbott Street, away from in the heart of Gastown so the rent was dirt-cheap back then. It was a risk at the time, there were lots of crack heads to the left and heroin addicts to the right, no walk-by traffic. We threw some block parties to build attention, started small and the last one ended up being almost too big, around 5000+, that was why we stopped it, you’re playing with the weather and any problems happening. We’ve been pretty lucky the last few but we had to give it a break.
RG: What made you guys decide to move to Chinatown, you know, the Gastown location was just so classic.
GMAN: We found as Gastown grows, the rent grows with it. So after being there for 11 years, we helped build the area and the community, really not owning it so you’re kind of just stuck with “hey, thanks for building this up but, your rent is now quadruple.” So we’re sitting there thinking, wow, this won’t really end. I really just see a lot of independent stores just having to go at some point, just like Robson Street or even Granville in a certain area, but on the flip side for some shops, it’ll be good.
For a store like Livestock, we feel like people will go anywhere for these shoes, it’ll probably be easy to park somewhere, so when we were able to make the third floor of the Chinatown building successful, which was tough, because any operation on the third floor or even on the second floor is tough.
Retail level ground floor is always the easiest for any sort of project, but we were able to make it work on the third floor which was a crazy risk at the time; when Rob told me about Chinatown, the city was actually pushing us to move to these areas in Vancouver that were quantized off for clubs – Granville Street. Part of you think, on a business perspective, sure, you’d get people just walking in there on Granville St., like random people walking in there all day and night long, but we kind of said, let’s do it here (in Chinatown) but there wasn’t going to be one person walking by. So when you’re investing all the money you’ve ever earned into this, on a third floor in Chinatown, on an area that wasn’t tested out. Now, you’re like okay cool, it could work, but 6 or 7 years ago I definitely would say we felt like if we built it they’ll come otherwise we wouldn’t have done it but you know, there’s a part of you that goes shit this better work or we’re fucked.
So we ended up doing that for a while and someone had offered the owner of the building to buy it, and we have in our lease the right of refusal to buy. When somebody offered we were like shit, we just invested in a shit ton of money we do have a 10 year lease, we’re 5 years in so in 5 years we’ll probably have a new landlord and our rent’s going to be crazy again, we don’t have any control what’s going to go downstairs, like this could be crazy. So we basically had about 60-90 days to figure this out, I talked to Garry, we’ve been into that Livestock location for a decade, smaller, and we just thought this was the play, we saw Chinatown and what happened when we brought in Fortune – it really reminded of us of the exact same thing happened in Gastown, we moved in, crack heads to the left, heroin addicts to the right, and than about 20 to 30 places around us started to open up. That will make the value of a landlord better, put some retail down there, with El Kartel moving across the street and Savant’s down the road from that...
RG: Bestie, The Shop…
GMAN:Yeah, it’s an awesome neighborhood and this could be great. Throw a couple of Chinatown block parties and you’re good. Again this is looking at a big picture, the club, the shop, the building, and the block. You know, 10 years from now, hopefully that works out.
RG: Heard a rumor about putting a restaurant on the first floor, is that true?
GMAN: Yeah well it’s licensed for a restaurant, I mean livestock took a while and we’re just trying to lock down on the ideas of what we want to do. We feel that some sort of eatery or drink place there but we also aren’t naïve to know that it might not be some fine dining that you’ll get to bring your lady to for a drink, because there might be an early show and there might be 600 people lined up one way and another 500 lined up the other way right? We realized that it’s not going to be necessary like Chambar, you know what I mean? So it’s a concept that we have to build with upstairs and Livestock and you know, maybe plans for that middle room so it all glues together. That is for sure next on the table, we’re just working on that still.