Cushy Entertainment’s co-founder on why supporting local arts and culture matters
Maria Penaranda // Editor-in-Chief
Aly Laube is burning out. Light filters through the window of her cozy Gastown studio apartment, highlighting the dark mane of curls that frame her sleepy eyes.
If you frequent Vancouver’s music scenes, you’ve probably come across Laube at some point. For over two years now, Cushy Entertainment—the production company she founded with her best friend Mati Corimer—has been injecting life into the city’s music scenes by putting on gender-diverse events that feature lineups of local and international artists alike, artists such as Kimmortal, Tonye Aganaba and BbyMutha.
If there’s one thing that COVID-19 has impacted indefinitely about social life, it’s concerts. With large gatherings in British Columbia prohibited until a vaccine is available, Vancouver’s cultural ecosystem—already fragile pre-pandemic—has been all the more gutted.
In the weeks before the outbreak, I attended one of Laube’s shows. It was a Latin music showcase at Fortune that featured the Portland-based and cumbia-inspired band Savila and Indigenous-Salvadorian guitar wiz Kin Balam, among other Latin artists. The turnout wasn’t huge, but that didn’t matter. I brought my roommates—both Latinx women—and we twirled the night away with other Latinx folks. The music was enchanting; the atmosphere fed our energy. As someone who rarely sees my latinidad celebrated in the cultural scenes I frequent, this show was electrifying.
Since the outbreak, I’ve been thinking a lot about the significance of Laube’s cultural contributions to this notoriously “no-fun” city. For so many of us who have felt excluded or disconnected from Vancouver’s cultural scenes, Laube’s work at Cushy has invigorated our lives, spirits and relationship to this city.
Back in February, pre-COVID-19, I visited Laube to interview her about Cushy’s now-cancelled Glitterball 2020 music festival. In-between taking photos, we spoke about Cushy, Laube’s approach to putting on shows, and the importance of feeling represented in your local cultural scenes.
What do you think differentiates Cushy from other production companies?
A lot of things. Definitely a lot of things.
First of all, we’re independent. So we don’t have anyone else giving us money, except for grant funders sometimes. We’re independent which means that we run out-of-pocket. When a show loses money, that’s me losing money and Mati [Corimer] losing money. When a show gets money, usually we put it into our company bank account so we don’t even see it.
We kind of work for free, which is a big part of what we do—obviously trying to change that one day—but it’s a big part of what we do. And because we work basically just to do it, we function very differently. Paying the artists before we pay ourselves, that’s something most big companies won’t do for you.
I think the biggest difference is really, really genuinely caring so deeply about the community. You don’t get that with big companies, because companies aren’t people.
What are your objectives when you’re putting on a show?
My priority when I book a show is creating an experience that’s different from everything else that’s being provided in the city. I go very much out of my way to do things that no one else is doing; I go to shows to see explicitly what’s being done so I can figure out what’s not being done and do it.
A lot of the time, that means giving a platform to a certain constituency because I’ve noticed that a certain group is underrepresented or they tend to be far-flung across the city and don’t show up all in the same place very often, and I want to change that.
I want people to feel inspired and not disheartened.
When I was growing up I was feeling very disheartened when I would go to shows—I wouldn’t see anyone who looked like me or talked like me or lived like me on stages. And so, I felt like I was trying so hard to connect to something that just had no relevance to me. And it was disappointing, you know? I wanted more out of my scene.
At the time, I was surrounded by mostly straight white guys who introduced me to the indie scene, and [I] discovered very rapidly that I was the only one who wasn’t feeling like I was being included.
That’s a shitty feeling, and I don’t want people to feel that when they come to our shows, I want people to feel the opposite of that. I hope that when people come, they feel a sense of community and comfort and excitement about being a part of something that can hopefully change the culture in our city.
For me, progress is really essential. People feeling like they’re a part of something progressive, like they’re a part of something that’s moving—not something that’s static and unchanging and stuck in the past, which is how I feel about a lot of music events in the city.
Can you tell me a bit about your ethnic background and sexuality?
My dad is Chilean and French, my mom is Lebanese and Polynesian.
My sexuality—I’m pansexual, which means I can be attracted to anyone regardless of sex or gender.
Has being a mixed-race queer woman influenced your approach to producing shows? How so?
I think that I have this privilege of being able to stand in a lot of people’s shoes because of who I am. Being mixed, I understand the privileges of [being] white-passing, and I understand also the disadvantages of racism—‘cause I get both, depending on who is talking to me, and in which context they’re talking to me.
Everyone takes you differently—and the same thing with being pansexual—because I am straight passing and I have that privilege, but I also understand the experience of being in a committed relationship with a woman and I understand how that feels.
Understanding a bunch of different perspectives allows me to be better at what I do. Because I have that fluidity in terms of being able to walk into your shoes or your shoes just enough to kind of understand it gives me an ability, I think, to put on shows that do feel inclusive.
‘Cause a lot of the time, I find, with constituency events where it’s like ‘hey, this is a show for women” people feel intimidated by that because they feel like it’s not for them, they don’t belong there, they’re not wanted there. That’s something I try to steer against, because I understand the importance of getting people in the room who need to see more content like that. And so, I try to bring that with me when I’m doing stuff, being like, okay, like we’re throwing a queer showcase and I’m a queer woman, but also, you don’t have to be gay to be here!
You’ve spoken on your Instagram about having myotonia congenita while acknowledging that you’re high-functioning.
Yeah, so myotonia congenita is a muscular disease, and it’s genetic— I got it from my mom. Basically, the signals that my brain sends to my muscles to respond get all loopy and weird.
Usually, it’s that muscles don’t relax once I tense them. Which is why I get migraines all the time, ‘cause my eyes get really tense and the muscles behind my eyes get really tense and then I get crazy headaches. Or I won’t be able to breathe because I won’t relax all the way, or I won’t be able to run ‘cause I have like paralyzed thighs.
The worst part of it is that it creates full body fatigue, because you’re always working harder than you need to be; your muscles are always working way harder. If I don’t have the time I need to decompress and let my body rest, I get really sick.
Could you speak to living with an invisible disability while being high functioning in terms of how people perceive or understand your state of being?
People don’t believe me when I tell them that I do have a chronic illness, because I do so much. I am very, very high functioning and I work like five jobs and make music and go to school and do all this shit. So when I tell people that I can’t come out tonight because my myotonia’s acting up and I have a migraine or something, there’s always kind of this like, “yeah, okay… you? If you’re that sick then why are you doing so much?”
People treat me like that all the time. And I understand why, because if it were a completely debilitating illness then I wouldn’t be able to leave the house. I wouldn’t be able to do stuff like that, and it’s not. It’s just a constant nuisance that sometimes becomes debilitating if I push myself too far.
It’s provided me with a lot of perspective, I think, because on top of having that I also deal with a lot of anxiety and depression— those are also like invisible things right—so I understand very intimately the experience of having barriers that people can’t see, and that is something that I also try to keep in mind when throwing shows.
How does it affect you playing guitar, like in shows?
Oh my god, it sucks!
That’s why I use a lot of power chords—power chords meaning you keep your hand in one position and then you slide it up and down the neck, so you’re playing different chords, but your hand positioning isn’t changing very much. And why I do that is because physically moving my hand from this to a different shape in a split second—sometimes it just won’t happen.
So I can’t afford to write songs where I’m putting a lot of stress on my hands and then I’m also going from like, you know, heavy-gripping the neck to doing really agile finger picking. My hands sometimes do that, sometimes don’t. It’s really frustrating, but I’ve kind of adjusted to writing in a way that I know I can play.
What drives me is the desire to change things. I’m not satisfied with the world that we live in. I find it unjust and I find it disappointing. And I come from a place of wanting so desperately for it to be better, and needing to feel like I’m doing what I can to help it be better.
It gives me satisfaction and fulfilment to feel like I am helping things be better, helping people be happier and safer and more cherished and appreciated and celebrated, as they should be.
After the Latin showcase you put on, you posted on social media about the importance of community supporting Arts & Culture. Why is it important for people to show up to shows like the ones you put on?
Like I mentioned before, Cushy’s not a thing that I do for money; it’s something I do because I want to and because I think it should be done.
The artists need you to be there, that is how I see it. These people are important and they have important things to say.
And I am so intentional in my programming, that you know that. When you come to one of our shows, you know that these musicians were thoughtfully selected. They’re not just people I was throwing together on a bill ‘cause they have a lot of friends or followers, I’m doing it because I feel like they deserved to be heard. And as a community member, you need to be there to hear them. Your body in a room matters. You being there and listening to people matters.
I think that people underestimate the power that they have, you know? There’s a lot to be said for a sense of community at a show. And it’s something that we don’t feel very often. A lot of the time if you go to a Vancouver show people are very separate, people are standing very far apart, they’re not talking, no one’s dancing, there’s no connection. You’re just there to see a band and drink a beer, and then you leave. And that’s not what I want, and I think that we all deserve better than that, and I think that we all want more than that.
But if you want more than that then you gotta go, you know? You gotta stop spending your money at shitty nightclubs and start being intentional with where you direct your time and your energy and your dollars.
Being intentional with the way that you spend your time in the arts community will change this city, one-hundred percent. Because who has money and who has an audience has power.
Do you burn out often?
Burnout happens a lot. It happens in every job that I have, but it happens the most with Cushy, for now. Partially because it is my most socially oriented work; it is the cause that is the dearest to my heart and the most personal.
And so when things don’t go well, or if I’m not seeing the results that I want to be seeing, it feels very personal. It’s difficult for me to take the losses as well as I take the victories, especially because I’m a one-man show, I’m doing everything on my own. So when I put like 50 unpaid hours of labour into something and then I don’t see the returns, it hurts. And that weighs me down, and it makes me feel isolated—ironically, because I’m trying to create community, and if I feel like that community’s not there, I feel even more isolated.
How do you cope with burnout?
I kind of hermit, I’ll hide away from the world and go home and have a bath, really, really chill, maybe write a little music, just do nothing.
That’s how I set myself right, and that’s how I take the time to process and reconcile. Like, okay yes the world is garbage and the government is trash and people are being hurt and they shouldn’t be and that’s fucked up and you can only do so much about it. You have to remember that you exist in your own life and in your own body, do what you can and move on.