A photo report by Lisa Ahenkona
The Downtown Eastside neighbourhood in Vancouver is one of the poorest districts in the whole of Canada. It is notorious for it’s heavy drug use, crime and cases of mental illness. The multimedia collective Crack Cloud was born out of this brooding melting pot. Most of its members have a tough history, sometimes coming out of broken homes and going straight into the margins of society. This makes Crack Cloud more than just an art collective. It’s a family, inclusive of anyone seeking shelter. The punk they play is a survival mechanism. The videos they make are honest depictions of their worlds. Their gorey imagery is a result of years of trauma. With a steady vision of the future and a burning desire to empower their community, Crack Cloud keep on putting out jewels.
Interview by Wannes Dewit
Photos by Jennilee Marigomen, shot in Vancouver
Our stage setup doesn’t come close to representing the talented people involved with Crack Cloud
How has being a collective of 20 members influenced your work?
Zach Choy: Our work is informed by lived experiences that come from all corners of the emotional spectrum. It’s from our diversity as a group that our malleable aesthetic functions. We have a revolving cast that utilises Crack Cloud as a creative resource for their art. These ambitions could not be achieved without the participation of many backgrounds.
What’s the creative process like in such a big group?
Mohammad Sharar: A large part of the creative process is dialogue. These include conversations of our past and current struggles, debates about philosophy, gender, race, class, and foreign policy. Everything and anything. Typically, Choy creates the foundation and skeleton of all the songs and writes all the lyrics. Paul Stewart acts as recording engineer, while the rest of the group expands on the skeleton to incorporate guitar lines, accents and additional nuance. When it comes to creating the visuals we all lend a hand with conceptualising/storyboarding what we want to see or feel. Then I edit and animate the videos. Our stage setup doesn’t come close to representing the talented people involved with Crack Cloud.
Some of us come from broken homes in which parental roles don’t necessarily align with societal expectations
Where do you write your music?
Z: In our laboratory.
M: You can usually hear Choy in his attic bedroom pumping out midi demos and spitting into a mic.
If you compared Crack Cloud to a family, who would you say takes the role of the mother and how would you describe that role?
M: Crack Cloud is a family. From a literal stance, Choy birthed the project and continues to helm it. A mother can take on different shapes though. A mother can be a teacher, they can be supportive, loving and provide safety. But depending on your experiences, a mother’s role can vary significantly. Some of us come from broken homes in which parental roles don’t necessarily align with societal expectations.
Z: The relationship with my mother has been turbulent in the past, but her influence on me to do better as a person and reach further as an artist has been integral to the buoyancy of the project. She is a reminder to me that people live many lives, and so do relationships. And the relationship I have with my mother continues to take on new, more meaningful lives as time moves on, and so does Crack Cloud.
Are there any other art forms Crack Cloud would like to venture into?
Z: We’ve always wanted to make movies. We’re slowly transitioning into this territory.
M: We’ve actually already started pre-production on a mini-series we hope to complete in the near future. The goal is to make children’s programming, with a focus on those who struggle with the idea of family, community and acceptance.
Does Crack Cloud get a lot of support in Vancouver? What’s the music scene like?
Z: Vancouver is fighting an opioid crisis. Many lives are lost each year, and gentrification is a constant, looming threat to the marginalised populations in the city. All that said, there is a profound solidarity in the Downtown Eastside community, where we work and live. The music scene is fragmented but the diversity of these pockets makes for an interesting cultural infrastructure.
The music scene in Vancouver is fragmented but the diversity of these pockets makes for an interesting cultural infrastructure
What do you want your audience to take from your music?
Z: Our priority is to create a space for the disenfranchised. We have our own experiences with addiction, abuse, alienation and loss. We use harm reduction principles to facilitate a constructive environment, free of stigmatisation, where mental health issues can be confronted, explored and contextualised. Rehabilitation, art and life in general are constant readjustments to new climates. By providing asylum for people that struggle with mental health we advocate for a culture of healing and greater intersectional connectivity. The music is simply an extension of our world.
Do you have any big inspirations, additional listening for the readers?
Z: I’m writing this in the wake of LA artist Nipsey Hussle’s sudden passing. He turned his life around and gave back to his community. The stories about people that are able to achieve such radical transformations in life through art is always inspiring.
Crack Cloud will perform at
KulturA, Liège on the 22nd of August.
Free for Subbacultcha members. Join us here.