For last semester’s photojournalism class, I was assigned to complete a photo essay on an event or someone in my community. There were a few ideas floating around in my mind but eventually, I decided to do my essay on Kim Bialkoski. Thankfully she entertained this project and was very accommodating throughout the process.
Kim and I initially met at a Satanic Rights show in 2016, and what stuck with me was her positive attitude, friendliness, and passion for DIY projects. I found it incredibly cool that she operates her own food preservation company, flora & farmer, and I’ve had the utmost respect for her hard work and dedication to her business.
Smoke creeps across the stage and into the energetic crowd as Joanne Rodriguez and Alana Mercer begin their set at The Pyramid Cabaret. Mercer sits behind her 4-piece silver drum kit sporting a sleeveless Taylor Swift shirt. Her stark red hair pokes out from underneath a black and white trucker hat.
The two-piece band Chica Boom Boom is opening up for American singer-songwriter and hard-core partier Andrew W.K.
“I think I’ve had a crush on that man for 17 years. When he played here last, he said hello to me in the middle of a song and tried to get me to sing a long. I was just like ‘EEEEEEE, oh my god’,” Mercer laughs.
Rodriguez and Mercer have known each other for ten years. They played in a doo-wop band called The Angry Dragons and an Alice Cooper cover band, Muscle Love. In 2013 the pair formed Chica Boom Boom: a gritty in-your-face rock and roll band. Since then, they have recorded two music videos with local filmmaker Gwen Trutnau and are working with Exchange District Studios to release an album.
“For our first video, we took one of the back seats out of Joanne’s van and shot inside of it. Gwen styled it so fucking wicked. There was a Hello Kitty hookah pipe with an inverted cross on it. It was beautiful,” says Mercer.
But the creative process is slow going because of their busy schedules. While Mercer, 32, manages the pizza side of Nicolino’s Italian Restaurant full time, Rodriguez, 40, runs Rogue Tattoo, her own body modification shop on Corydon Ave. Mercer has burn scars all along her arms that reflect the hard work she does.
When they do get the time to practice, they try being as creative as possible. “We’re not jammers who spend four hours on a riff. We play a piece and we sit on it like an egg,” says Mercer.
“We only write hits. We don’t write anything shitty,” Rodriguez says with a smile.
Mercer lights up a joint and takes a swig from a bottle of Ballantine’s. “I used to depend on smoking pot or getting drunk to write stuff when I was really young, but then I realized that’s kind of bullshit. If I can’t do it when I’m sober then I can’t do it at all,” says Mercer. “I want to know I’m working hard and it’s not just drunken chance that I wrote a good riff.”
When Mercer was 20 years old, she left Vancouver with her savings and the plan of going across Canada city to city and stopping where she liked it best. When she got to Winnipeg, she fell in love with the people and music scene.
“In Winnipeg there is this whole range of people that play music together, who are super supportive. Trying to get into the scene in Vancouver was impossible, you felt so intimidated,” says Mercer.
It’s through the music community that Mercer met her boyfriend of seven years, Karl Warkentin. The couple, along with several other members of the Winnipeg metal community, recorded the soundtrack to the short film “Polar Express.”
“She’s helped me appreciate music from a different perspective. Listening to it without bias. Good music is good music, and fuck off otherwise,” says Warkentin.
Mercer draws inspiration from Dolly Parton to Venom, and local bands such as Solanum, Archagathus, and Sphagnum.
“I don’t think I could ever move away from this city, I love how fucked up everyone is here. No one is normal. It’s the best.”
Since Judas Priest passed Winnipeg in 2011 on their Epitaph tour, five local musicians teamed up and formed a Priest cover band to make up for it.
I had the honor of making stage decorations (which consisted of painted cardboard chains and homemade Judas Priest flags), singing backup vocals, and making the poster for the event.
Using Priest’s cover artwork for Killing Machine, I removed the sunglasses from the model and replaced them with an image of a disco ball. Copyright infringement galore. Oops!
At the show, the band and I covered songs including Turbo Lover, Starbreaker, Diamonds and Rust, and Metal Gods. It was my first time performing with a heavy metal band, and hopefully it won’t be the last!