“The first rule of the van club is that you must own a van and it must be rear-wheel drive,” says co-founding member Cory Martins. “No minivans allowed.”
After roughly two decades, starting in the early ‘80s, when vanners were underground and it was decidedly uncool to drive around in big, boxy, awkward vans, a dedicated subculture surrounding the utility vehicles has emerged once more. Favoured by burly bearded dudes and lanky heshers alike, the 21st century van is positioned as a vehicle for creativity, autonomy and self-reliance; a roving, customizable platform ready-made for partying. Indeed, vans and music have an easy, close connection, being the preferred mode of transportation for bands schlepping their gear from venue to venue across the country.
Enter Arlen Smith and Martins, two diehard vanners who spotted a gap in Calgary’s weave of subcultures. Vandits was formed between the two of them about a year ago when they noticed a mutual adoration for vans and the lack of a meeting place for similarly-minded friends.
“I thought about starting a van club about a year ago and we were just kind of talking about it and Arlen was like, ‘I want to start a van club, too!’” says Martins. “There aren’t many vanners in town, at least, or in Canada, for that matter, so it didn’t make sense to have [us both start separate clubs.]”
Like wagons around a campfire, Vandits circle their vans around the bright flame of rock and roll, throwing parties with bearded rockers, such as HighKicks and Napalmpom, several times a year. Their main event during the summer, Vantopia, takes place on a plot of land just outside the city. The nine official members of Vandits gather their supplies, bring the generators out and throw a rager in the bush, free to do as they please for one night. Not only is Vantopia an excuse to drink beers with friends, but also for dedicated vanners to show off their prized customizations — for the most part, vanners eschew stock vans, preferring to show off their extravagant creations.
“The whole point is to have a rolling living room,” laughs Martins.
“You can always bring the party with you, just a rolling party,” agrees Smith. “[My van] has been painted and pinstriped. I’m in the midst of doing the interior now. When it’s done, it’ll have built-in beer coolers. It’s all hardwood and Mexican blankets inside. There may end up being a couple of TVs in there.
“Cory’s will have an Xbox in it. One of the club members, Brad, his van has a big stripper pole in it. The wilder and crazier, the more fun they are. It’s all about marching to the beat of your own drummer, I think. We’re definitely still on the rookie side of it. There are some guys out there that have gone so overboard. We had a guy come to our party last year that had a fireplace and a big, 40” flatscreen in there and an all-leather interior.”
“Vans are an extension of your personality, there are no rules,” says Martins.
The Vandits have ambitious plans for their club, not only hosting the yearly Vantopia party and working hard in their garages to realize their creations, but also working on a record release sometime in the future. A show this month at the Palomino will serve as a fundraiser for the club and the album.
“That’s what the party on the 25th is all about,” says Smith, “throwing a winter party and raising some money to afford to put out a record [with vanning covers on it] and have some fun. Van clubs are all about partying.”
The Vandits Fundraiser will take place at the Palomino on January 25.
Words and photos by Sebastian Buzzalino