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In late 2021, Shane Rempel decided to go to his first concert in more than a year.

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Like everyone else, he had been isolated in lockdowns due to the pandemic and the prospect of going back into a crowded club filled him with anxiety. But his then-partner, Kendra Lush, had co-founded Lushings as a COVID-era project and Rempel wanted to show support. So he went to Broken City that night.

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“I ended up in the hospital after having a panic attack,” he says.

Rempel had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2016, so his journey back to post-COVID “normal” was never going to be a straightforward path. His treatments left him immunocompromised, which made COVID a bigger risk to him than others. The former bassist of Calgary-based trio Tiny Shrine, Rempel has been a part of the music scene for years. But after his panic attack, he was worried that his days of seeing bands in his favorite venues were over.

Lushings at the Palomino, part of Shane Rempel's j exhibit New Normal at Congress Coffee.
Lushings at the Palomino Smokehouse. This photo is part of the exhibit New Normal by Shane Rempel, which chronicles the post-pandemic Calgary music scene. Photo by SHANE T REMPEL /jpg

Nevertheless, in May 2022 he decided to try again. This time he gave himself an assignment. Self-Cut Bangs, a power-pop band co-founded by his friends Shawn Petsche and Cayley O’Neill during the pandemic, were making their live debut at the Palomino Smokehouse. During the lockdowns, Rempel had bought himself a camera to photograph some of the food he was making. But he had lost interest and it had been gathering dust. So he decided he would take the camera to the gig and take some shots of his friends’ band.

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“It was a turning point for me just in terms of my post-COVID anxiety around being in public spaces,” he says. “I took my camera to the venue and thought I’d take some pictures of their performance. I liked how the photos turned out, but I also noticed I wasn’t as anxious. I was able to participate in the show in a different way, channeling my love for live music. Through the mechanism of the camera, I reduced my anxiety and was able to exist in these spaces and also found an outlet for enjoying a scene I was quite fond of.”

Those early pictures of Petsche and O’Neill capture the couple rocking out with wild abandon at the Palomino. They are among the first on a wall of 275 photographs currently on display at Congress Coffee, a new coffee shop and live venue in Greenview’s industrial area. New Normal, on display until July 10, chronicles a specific period in Calgary’s active music scene. More than 200 bands became part of Rempel’s collection. Until now, most of the photos were displayed on his Instagram account. From intimate house concerts, to drag shows and hardcore-punk ragers, Rempel’s work shines a spotlight on a community bursting at the seams with pent-up energy.

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One week after the Self-Cut Bangs show, Rempel went to the Ship and Anchor to see Lushings, the band he had missed out on after his panic attack months earlier. Managers at the Ship were impressed with the results and asked Rempel to document more shows for them as their in-house photographer. That was the start of a year-long project to document the Calgary scene during its frenzied, post-COVID resurgence, a personal journey that took him from a hospital room to sweaty and chaotic mosh pits.

“It enabled me to try to make up for lost time, all the time I had missed during the pandemic and all those shows,” he says. “When I get interested in something, I tend to dive deeply into it. I get very, very interested in it. I became incredibly obsessed with photography and all I wanted to do was shoot live music. When that switch hit, I just went to every show I could.”

No More Moments at the Palomino.
No More Moments at the Palomino Smokehouse. This photo is part of the exhibit New Normal by Shane Rempel, which chronicles the post-pandemic Calgary music scene. Photo by SHANE RAMPEL /jpg

The photos range from scene veterans Carter Felker, Matt Masters, Amy Nelson and Sargeant X Comrade to relative newcomers such as the all-ages punk band The Break-Ins. Rempel photographed some lively band-crowd interactions at The Moments Fest, an all-ages festival on the Siksika Nation and numerous acts from last year’s Sled Island, including raucous New Orleans’ punkers Pears, Vancouver’s Little Destroyer and Calgary’s Stripmall. The exhibit is book-ended by two typically over-the-top action shots of Hamilton, Ont., performance artist BA Johnston taken one year apart at the Ship and Anchor. He has a pic of Julius Sumner Miller frontman Darren Ollinger surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd at Broken City during what would be the final show at the iconic Calgary venue. There is a hauntingly beautiful black-and-white photo of Calgary post-punkers Jung People from an intimate show in the basement of The Next Page bookstore in Inglewood last winter, lit only by a projected face on a screen behind the band.

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In August, Rempel took pictures of his favorite band, Brooklyn’s The National, at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Some of the pics ran on the website of Big Kitty Magazine. A picture he took at an unhinged Calgary house concert of seven-year-old Bragg Creek vocalist Robbie Andrew, the spirited frontman of the punk band BatScratch, made it into Spin magazine when it profiled the young vocalist as “the future of hardcore punk.”

Closetalkers at the Palamino.
Closetalkers at the Palomino Smokehouse. This photo is part of the exhibit New Normal by Shane Rempel, which chronicles the post-pandemic Calgary music scene. Photo by SHANE T REMPEL /jpg

Not bad for a photographer whose previous experience with the medium was taking photos of the food he cooked. New Normal is Rempel’s first exhibit and it came after Congress Coffee owner Johanna Schwartz saw his work on Instagram and recognized it as a valuable document of a specific time and place.

“What I saw was the vibrancy in the scene, I saw this excitement, this energy,” Rempel says. “I think (the exhibit) shows a few different microcosms and scenes. There’s that DIY, hardcore scene, there’s the Carter Felker country-folk kind of stuff, there’s bigger shows like The National, all-ages stuff. I think what we see in all of these is that there were people there enjoying it. We had that gap during the lockdown years, but I think it came back with a frenzy. People were just waiting and things came back and people were there.

“There was a big worry during that period: What’s it going to look like? Are people going to want to go to shows like that or is it all going to be virtual streaming? It was a weird thing to think about, especially if you’ve been immersed in it for so long.”

New Normal is at Congress Coffee until July 10.

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