As electronic music goes mainstream, Vancouver takes the spotlight for its internationally recognized mix-masters.
“Aim the cannons high,” Alvaro Prol tells an animated man with an afro and bushy beard who runs into one of the backstage lounges at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom to tell us the show is about to begin. Cannons? “You’re going to want to see this, with the confetti and CO2 cannons, the lights, the LED screens. People are gonna go crazy,” Prol says with a grin, which soon fades as he thinks of another reality. “Every time they press a button it’s hundreds of dollars.”
With that, Prol, founder and CEO of event promoter Blueprint Events, his black hair cropped short and spiked, runs out to make sure the stage setup is ready for Sweden’s Sebastian Ingrosso, a man best known for his work with Scandinavian DJ crew Swedish House Mafia, but who is playing Vancouver solo on this cold mid-January night. Ingrosso had requested that the stage toys be fired in various patterns throughout the show. And when you can command $25,000 to play a two-hour set, you get what you want.
I chase after Prol, but can’t find him backstage, so I head out to the dance floor. It’s after midnight and the place is starting to pulse with the essentials of house music: uptempo 4/4 bass drum beats and recorded synthesizers pounding out distorted chords of a repetitive melody. As promised, as the extravaganza progresses, there are intermittent volleys of confetti fire, laser sniper shots and fat white columns of carbon dioxide clouds hissing in time with the beat. In a quintessential Vancouver concert moment, a waft of marijuana smoke precedes a brisk security response and a protesting reveler is escorted out of the building. The rest of the young crowd is a typical snapshot of today’s Granville Street entertainment district, with barely 20-something women in short skirts dancing around while men in sweaty V-neck T-shirts pretend to dance, but mostly watch the women and nurse Heinekens.
I flash my VIP wristband to the security guard and head backstage to find shelter from the massive wall of speakers molesting my ears with bass explosions. I find Prol just off-stage, studying the DJ and the crowd. “Good show?” I venture. “I think so,” he yells back, shrugging his shoulders. “The Commodore never looks busy, but we’ll have close to 1,000 people here,” he says, scanning the crowd. “They’re smiling, they’re happy, but they’re not going completely nuts,” he says, blaming a perennial post-holiday slump in energy levels at dance parties.
Still, the Commodore is near capacity, with most of the partiers having paid the $75 ticket price. (A few lucky ones, including a talkative brunette in the beer line, grabbed tickets for $60 apiece from scalpers hawking last-minute extras outside the front door.) Prol will do some $75,000 in sales tonight, but expenses add up quickly: renting the Commodore from operator Live Nation costs $5,000. Prol is also on the hook for the costs of the stage setup, sound, lights, the pricey touring DJ and all the papery and gaseous party projectiles the artist will fire into the crowd before packing up his laptop and heading to the airport to fly to another party.
“A show like this is tight because the expenses are high and the room is small,” Prol says back in the relative quiet of an upstairs backstage suite. “But I will probably make five or six thousand. I’d have to see the door,” he says, referring to the final count of paid tickets.
Chasing after cover charges has been the bread and butter of Prol’s Blueprint empire for the past 14 years. Before that, he spent his teenage years sneaking into club shows with a fake ID after coming to Vancouver from Buenos Aires. “I threw my first party in 1997 and I made more money that night than I ever did working my ass off in retail,” he says, inviting me to root around in a fridge filled with Heineken bottles and Red Bull cans, swag provided by some of Blueprint’s sponsors. “I do very well now. I have a big staff and we do a lot of big business,” he says, cracking the seal on a bottle of water.