You would be hard pressed to find anyone as committed to Edmonton’s music scene as Craig Martell. Since moving to Edmonton from Halifax 10 years ago Craig has certainly made his mark on the city. And he's not done yet. Craig has a vision for what Edmonton could be and has the passion and connections to make that vision a reality. So how did Craig go from a university drop out turned insurance broker to the founder of local concert and event promotion company and record label, Double Lunch Productions?
Craig grew up in a small town called New Waterford on the coast of Nova Scotia. “I, growing up there, had a very unique experience but then realized it’s pretty much any small town experience. Everyone is white and essentially of the same economic group and if you’re anything but what the town has expected of you, you move away.”
“I was the most quiet insecure little kid, until I was finished high school essentially. Just like every day I woke up with fear and went to bed with fear and insecurity and I think that broke a bit towards late high school, and although I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, was finding who I was. I found music, started going to shows when I was 16.”
Craig started out university in an engineering program, switching over to English lit with a minor in history after the first year. He describes his university experience as being one of the more disappointing times in his life because he “genuinely expected to be able to leave his small town and then meet more likeminded people.”
Craig moved to Halifax after dropping out of university. He says his time in Halifax was his formative years. “I’m not that much different now than I was when I moved to Edmonton but I was shockingly different in my six years in Halifax.”
Craig’s best friend, who had moved to Edmonton and was miserable and lonely, offered to pay Craig’s first three months rent if he’d make the move out west too. So Craig made his way out to Edmonton.
Craig almost immediately got a serving job and soon after a bartending job at Sherlock Holmes pub where he met his future Wunderbar partners Levi Christensen and Chris Janke. In May 2010, Criag, Levi, Chris took over Wunderbar and made it a space that the music community embraced.
“It became something that really mattered to people so I put a lot of responsibility on myself that if I were to end it there would be this big gap that used to be this wonderful thing that’s no longer available.”
After years of making all the changes they could to make Wunderbar profitable and coming up empty the guys decided it was time to sell. They expected a lot of interest but were unable to sell Wunderbar to the right people and the building owner decided it was time for them to go. “I found out on Wednesday, told our staff on Thursday, and at the show we had on Thursday night, Nolan from Sweetie Pie (Records) was there and asked if he could organize a show for tomorrow night because there was nothing happening that night. So he put together like 20 bands and then while we there on Friday we were organizing a Saturday day show and then we had a show on Saturday night that was previously booked. We showed up Sunday, we had to be out by Sunday night, so Sunday we walked in a started ripping memories apart. It was really weird.”
“I rarely think about Wunderbar. I’ve only had one moment of sadness since it shut down and that was the second last day we were open, there was a brief moment that overtook how busy I was and made me realize I was sad but I haven’t been sad since because life is better now.”
Part of the reason life is better for Craig is because of his company Double Lunch Productions. Double Lunch started as an idea that Craig would work with a band until they were too big to work with him anymore. “It was a way of saying ‘Hey this is Craig’ but not at Wunderbar.” Double Lunch became a way for Craig to curate music he was stoked on. “Now it’s kind of morphed into an over-arching name for anything I want to do.”
Craig’s day job is booking at The Buckingham, Sewing Machine Factory, and Bohemia. Double Lunch also has shows that they present which Craig is more able to put his stamp of approval onto. Then there’s the record label side, along with several other services to be offered in the near future. Double Lunch will be releasing two books of pottery. “Anything I want to do, rather than saying Craig Martell presents, Double Lunch is me.”
Double Lunch recently announced that they would be offering grant writing services. The idea came when Craig met some grant writers that didn’t have the proper connections to the bands looking to apply for grants. So Craig became the middle man. He doesn’t take a percentage, just facilitates the two halves coming together. There is money available but bands just don’t know how to get it. “I know all of these people and I feel everyone is wandering and just not bumping into the right people.”
Craig is also working on a not-for-profit that has three levels. “Number one, I don’t think our city is necessarily good at supporting our upper-echelon talent.” He points out that Edmonton doesn’t recognize it’s artists the way that it recognizes it’s athletes. For example, Nathan Fillion has made a name for himself in Hollywood but how many people know he’s from Edmonton? Or Mac DeMarco? Craig posits that “If Mark Messier can have a street named after him, surely we can have some sort of recognition for Mac DeMarco.” Craig wants Edmonton musicians to stay in Edmonton and be able to succeed at the same time.
“The next part is making everything way more inclusive and I’ve found that anyone that’s involved in art, in any small town or big city, kind of takes for granted what a support system it creates. The fact that I have no family here but if tomorrow I was jobless and homeless, I would have somewhere to sleep and food in my belly, just because of the art community.” Craig wants the kids in this city who don't have anything to have the same sense of community. He also wants to open a space that is alcohol and drug free and is all ages, has a good sound system, and security. “Then we want to have a bunch of services available so that would home to the grant writing-side, the advisement-side, the mentorship-side for people of all ages.” Craig wants to offer workshops on song writing, screen printing, and design amongst a slew of others.
Finally, Craig also wants to offer drug and alcohol counselling. “Having an alcohol or drug problem and being in a band, who travels and tours, is a very unique thing and offers very unique limitations and temptations.” Craig also wants to work with a charity that offers cheap and healthy food that’s open to everyone. He wants to get rid of the stigma of not being able to afford things. He’s also thought about community meals.
Craig wants to focus on the reasons that musicians leave Edmonton and changing them. He believes that Edmonton can adapt and become like Montreal, in that Edmonton can create a culture economy so that musicians don’t have to leave Edmonton to blow up. ”All I’m trying to do is fix everything.”