Vancouver Feature: Buddha Smiles on Vancouver Punk Scene

While Expo 86 was revolutionizing Vancouver’s image to a world-class centre for tourism and upscale development, a very different revolution was happening in its counter-culture. In the 1980s, Vancouver was an international centre for punk music, with the Smiling Buddha Cabaret at its pulsing heart.

The music scene that developed among hardcore rock fans in Vancouver during the 80s was the antithesis of the urbane image that city hall was encouraging. Bands like the Subhumans, 54-40 and DOA expressed the punk ethos that anyone could be in a band. Building songs on two chords and an incessant rhythm, they not only screamed angry rebellion against middle-class complacency, they encourage a virtual transformation in their audience. It was music to change the lives of kids from the East End and the suburbs.

The scene attracted international notice, with music journalists from London, New York and San Francisco reporting about the goings-on at the Smiling Buddha Cabaret and other venues. The “stars” of the international punk scene made Vancouver a stop.

But the gentrification of Yaletown and other gritty areas of the city, along with reaction against the disturbing punk culture brought about its demise. Venues like Luvafair, the Town Pump, and the Starfish Room closed. Then the ‘Buddha finally called it quits in 1993.