With a Rebel Yell, "BINGO!"
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With a Rebel Yell, “BINGO!”

Thursday night, the Underground Rebel Bingo Club is bringing its interpretation of the classic game to Toronto.

An Underground Rebel Bingo Club party in New York City. Photo by Taylor Flash.

Rebellions don’t usually involve a lot of rules. And though The Underground Rebel Bingo Club has a few for their late-night, gritty, dirty, heavy metal/rave/grunge basement-mashup parties, none of them have anything to do with bingo.

That’s because the event—which originated in London, England, and is making its Canadian debut in Toronto on Thursday night—was never really about the game. In fact, when the organizers accidentally invented the Club by discovering a bingo kit in the basement of a church they’d held a party in, co-creator James “Flames” Gordon and his friends weren’t really concerned with standard bingo protocol.

“We had never played bingo, I guess we were just figuring it out as we went along….It all started as a joke, like we were just laughing or dipping someone’s hair in ink, or something silly like that. That was us just being silly, not an event,” he says.

Well, not for long. Soon, special bingo editions of their parties became more popular than the regular ones, and demand moved them to bigger venues. Word spread among their British fans, and they eventually developed devout followings throughout Leeds, Manchester, and Oxford. They travelled to Madrid, Barcelona, and Ibiza, before going to Los Angeles, and then New York City, where turnout at their first event was close to 1,200.

Tomorrow, an expected 500-600 Torontonians will experience the URBC’s “interactive stage space” at an undisclosed location (people attending the Facebook event should already know by now). We can’t really say exactly what will happen, only that it will involve a loud DJ set, lights, dancing, drinking, and prizes. (“We don’t give away prizes, we change people’s lives,” Gordon says.) Plus, a whole lot of bingo markers. Even Gordon himself has a hard time explaining the atmosphere.

“We’re a nightclub scene,” Gordon says. “A nightclub that’s interrupted by a pretty intense stage show. Then everyone turns to the stage, and it becomes like it’s a heavy metal or Iron Maiden show. Or like an evangelical rally, they become part of a new world. It completely blows their minds.”

“If you win, it’s a heavenly high. It’s ecstasy, you’re treated like God. If you lose [that is, claim you’ve won when you haven’t], it’s the opposite.”

Not your grandma's bingo caller in New York City. Photo by Taylor Flash.

Whatever it is, Gordon thinks it’ll be a perfect fit for Toronto. “A lot of people say Toronto’s not very interesting, or, ‘You should go to Montreal, it’s even cooler.’ But there’s a huge underground scene of artists and creative scenes, and people doing new things. There’s a lot of cool kids having a good time, we thrive off that spirit.”

“Kids” being the operative word there. As it states in the rules: NO old people.

“That’s a hangover from our early days when we didn’t want to attract anyone who didn’t enjoy how we play,” Gordon explains. “It just means anyone stuck in their ways, who feels old and not open to change. My nan is definitely welcome, she’s not ‘old.’ There are some 20-somethings I would consider ‘old’ too.”

In other words, The Underground Rebel Bingo Club is less about the “bingo,” more about the “rebel.”

“It’s kind of like being in the resistance, only it’s Rebel Bingo. We do want to change the world,” Gordon says. “There’s something about hundreds of people coming together for a cause, the human spirit of coming together, no matter if it’s laughable, silly, or insane. When people come together, that’s when change can happen.”

We all know Toronto could use a little change right now. Gordon and the URBC are hoping to find some permanent players in Canada. Maybe we’ll see the event break out of the underground and into the light.

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