Robbie Dillon is a curious amalgam of Montreal character types: philosophy student, brawler, writer. In a past life he was one of the original editors at Vice Magazine.
We spoke with Robbie in Bar-Bifteck on Saint Laurent Boulevard in Montreal. The backdrop for this conversation was coloured by the recent announcement that Vice Quebec is closing shop in the province, the latest in a series of setbacks for the once legendary Montreal institution.
Banter: Robbie, we’re in Bar-Bifteck, essentially a shibboleth of everything that is both good and bad about Montreal. Can you tell us about a wild night that either began or concluded in this holy space?
Dillon: Well, yeah, fuck I’ll tell a story. Feel free to edit it, just don’t do anything dishonest, you know what I mean? My friend Gavin [McInnes], he’s in all kinds of shit now and you know we’re tight, we have the same birthday, every time he sees me he tries to kiss me on the mouth.
Banter: At least he can pay for the lawyers...
Dillon: Yeah, but it’s not funny. I mean, they put him on a list. The Southern Poverty Law Center put him on a list, so now he’s on an FBI list. He had to put security on his home and his children. And, if you knew the guy and you knew the history of the Proud Boys etc., you’d say to yourself ‘hey these people (the SPLC) have lost their fucking marbles.’
Gavin and I have had our differences over the years, but I’m 100% in his corner. Maybe he could tone it down, but in this case it’s completely ridiculous. The only good thing that’s going to come out of it is that he’s suing the SPLC because he has the money.
Banter: Ok back to the question.
Dillon: Ok, I’ll give you a little background first. So, I was, you know, off being a bit of a criminal. Then I got started in media because I used to have a girlfriend and she was into journalism, so then I said, “hey I’ll do journalism too.” I was quite good at it actually. I was making humorous vignettes about Montreal life for the local news and this guy I was working for initially brought me to Bifteck. And it was crazy because everything was fucking happening here, you know Melissa Auf der Maur used to drink here and actually her father sort of eased me into journalism. You know, she brought The Smashing Pumpkins here.
There was a lot of creative energy and there were also a lot of assholes, a lot of people who spent fifteen years talking about the movie they were gonna make. So I was hanging around here and I also thought I’d take a course at night school, how to write articles and stuff and then you get the story of how me and Vice came to be. I was taking this class and they had us write all sorts of articles, you know a how-to article, an album review, whatever. And I wrote this article ‘How to Survive in Prison,’ and it was very funny because most of the jokes were about how to not get sodomized, which to me was hilarious. And everyone in the class was like “you shouldn’t joke about this subject, it’s a very serious subject.” But I thought, “hey you should joke about everything.”
The whole time I’d been working I’d been hearing about Vice, Vice, Vice, Vice, there’s this thing called Vice. And people said, “hey we can introduce you man, the guys come around Bifteck sometimes.” And I said, “nah don’t introduce me.” I had this article in my hand and I thought well I’m curious to know whether the article is actually good or not, so I don’t really want to be introduced, I never liked that anyways, I’d rather make it on my own merits.
So I just cold-called. And at this point it was two guys living in a loft sharing their underwear and shit. So I called and said, “can I speak with an editor?” Gavin answered the phone, *imitating posh accent* “I’m an editor, perhaps I can help you?” But it was all bullshit you know? I said, “Hey, I wrote an article for you guys and I’d like to send it to you.”
And you have to understand, at this point, and no one can deny this, Gavin was literally writing the whole magazine, I’d say 75% of it. Suroosh (Alvi) and Shane (Smith) were doing stuff too, you know they’d sell all the ads and work all the deals because a lot of the advertising was from record companies. But Gavin would sit down with eight or nine aliases, female aliases, etc. One time there was this writer, and she kept popping up, and I go, “who’s this fucking Chrissy Bradnox?” And Gavin says “you think she’s hot, you wanna fuck her?” And of course he’s having a good laugh the whole time because it’s actually him, fucking weirdo. So anyways, I sent them this article ‘How to Survive in Prison’ and he says “yeah we loved it, we’re gonna give you a cover cut, what’re you gonna write for us next month?” And I asked, “ok well what are you gonna pay me?” And Gavin he’s a Scotsman, he’s incredibly cheap, so he said, “nothing, we don’t pay our writers.”
And when I started writing I already had money, you know, I stole that money because there was no money in our family. People told me don’t write for free, don’t write for free, so I told him I wasn’t gonna write for free. And he called me back a few hours later and said, “listen we can’t pay you but you can have free CDs, we get tons of CDs, you can have a bunch of CDs.” So I thought that was a reasonable deal, at least they were paying me something. Of course they didn’t have anything I would listen to, it was all fucking shit.
Banter: Like weird punk demo tapes?
Dillon: There was a lot of punk, a lot of early hip-hop, gangster rap. Ok I’m rambling, feel free to step in and interrupt me because I like telling my old stories.
Banter: Yeah, I’m recording, tell me a Bifteck story.
Dillon: Oh ok, you wanna get rid of me. So, we used to come here a lot and they used to have pictures. Susan Moss, who used to film all the old bands, because Shane had a band called the Ultraviolent? Ultraviolet Booze Catastrophe? UVBC? And whatever, there was a picture of them up on the wall. And so you know the Vice thing was starting to take off, but it was very touch and go. I was the fourth guy.
We were doing a lot of comic strips a lot of rock & roll articles, and I was the guy who started bringing real content by interviewing dangerous people that I knew, killers, going to prison weddings and writing stories about how to get married in prison. I think I had an effect, I don’t like to toot my own horn but most people agree I pushed the thing away from music into the crazy direction Gavin wanted to go in.
So, yeah we used to come here to Bifteck and Gavin had this thing he would do which sounds terrible, and I don’t want to get him in trouble, but I don’t think he would deny it. He would go up to women and sit on the barstool and he’d pull his pants down and pull out his junk and twist his ball so that it was like a tourniquet with all these weird veins turning purple. So he’d be talking to some girl and he’d say, “I think there’s something wrong with my dick can you take a look at it?”
And the girl would look down and there’s this purple fucking thing sticking out of his fist. And then the girl would recoil, you know “ahhh what the fuck is that?” You know Gavin was always talking about his cock, always showing it off, putting it in people's hands and stuff.
Banter: We’re seeing the fashionable publications of the woke-left go up in flames, outlets like Salon, HuffPo, Vox, et cetera. Do you think there is any chance Vice suffers the same fate?
Dillon: I mean, I know Shane stepped aside and I don’t really track what’s going on with Vice. But whenever I do see something I think that old spirit is very diluted but it’s still there. The foundations are good. Anyways, the way you avoid becoming irrelevant is by having people with balls and I’m not making that a gendered thing. There weren’t very many women at Vice in the early days but the ones who were there went on to do amazing things like work on Girls (the TV show) and write the first really weird sex columns for women. I guess that’s somewhere around 3rd wave feminism? And Vice was a part of that turn.
Now, they need people who aren’t going to come in thinking they know how to write a Vice article, they need people who are going to come in and say this is what I want to fucking write about. That’s what made Vice, Vice.