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Meet the artists striving for diversity in Vancouver’s electronic music scene

From 25th - 29th July, Vancouver's CURRENT: Feminist Electronic Art Symposium will present a huge range of female and non-binary talent ranging from ferocious techno DJ sets and experimental live sets to art installations, talks and workshops. We caught up with the organisers and some of the artists on the bill to learn to learn about the power and significance of such an event for the local scene...

Vancouver’s CURRENT: Feminist Electronic Art Symposium has a simple motto – “Dream of a New Future”. Fundamentally, this five day event has been curated with the intention of building a framework for greater diversity and intersectionality across the Canadian electronic music circuit. In showcasing a wide array talent entirely free of charge across multiple venues in the city, the organisers of this festival of sorts are platforming the work of women and non-binary people from both Vancouver and beyond in order to create an environment that not only includes, but elevates, champions and empowers the community.

“CURRENT is about building new platforms outside of the pre-existing white male dominated structures that make up the world of electronic arts and music,” says Ashlee Luk, one of the symposium’s organisers, event producer at Bodyheat and Sacred Sound Club and one half of recent DJ Mag Podcast mixers Minimal Violence in an official statement.

“It is a platform to present new music and culture in hopes of inspiring those within our community to create culture that transcends their geographical location. CURRENT represents a dream of a new future, inclusion is not enough, we must build our own structures in order to wield the power to change the dominant narrative. We must create the world we want to live in.”

For full line-up details, timetables and details about CURRENT: Feminist Electronic Art Symposium visit their website.

Ashlee Luk (Event organiser, Minimal Violence)

Why did you organise CURRENT?

“I was inspired by all of the feminist initiatives popping up in the electronic music world. Collectives like TUF, S1, Genero, Siren and Discwoman alongside countless others. I wanted a way to bring that all together under one roof in Vancouver. I felt like if we could bring everyone together it could help act as spotlight on all of the talented artists involved in these projects. We wanted to help create a platform for this talent and a place where these artists to come to exchange knowledge and ideas, learning from one another.”

How has it all come together?

“This is our second year and we have expanded much beyond our original platform. We have grown to include film, and are working with the city to translate the platform discussions into policy. We have also grown to include Alex Chen on our team, a welcome addition. We have been working alongside new partners like Emily Carr University and The NFB which is all really exciting. It’s basically been months of meetings, planning and conceptualizing this project to see it come to life.”

Why does Vancouver and Canada generally need something like this event?

“An important part of CURRENT is the exchange of knowledge, initiatives like this are important in fostering growth in the community. Creating a supportive environment encourages people to participate in the culture and in turn grow the community.”

Photo Credit: Kati Jenson

Nancy Lee (Event organiser, interdisciplinary media artist, co-founder of Chapel Sound)

Why did you organise CURRENT?

“As a woman of color who works in male-dominated fields like film, creative technology, and electronic music, CURRENT is the type of event I dream of attending. Organising CURRENT is as much for other women and non-binary people as much as it is for myself. It is so important to have space for dialogue about how and why we create culture. Art is political. Culture is not neutral. All of our inequalities and prejudices are reflected and learned through our culture. This year, we have panels on intersectionality, accountable culture creation, and a post-”me too” discussion on prevention and support for survivors. If we want to change culture, we have to create new platforms to elevate each other and bring people together to talk about it.”

How has it all come together?

“For the past five years, I’ve been organising events with Chapel Sound, a multidisciplinary electronic music & art collective where many of our artists are POCs that felt excluded from Vancouver’s electronic music scene, so we carved our own space. I organised Chapel Sound Festival in May 2016 where I met Soledad, who spoke on the panel I programmed on “Women in Electronic Music & Creative Technology”. After the lively discussion and Q&A, I felt like a seed was planted in my mind which has now grown into CURRENT. I’ve spent the last 6 months with the CURRENT producers working on grant proposals, fundraising, pooling our networks together for community partnerships, in order to make CURRENT 2018 feasible. It’s cool to see all of our diverse expertise come together in a project.”

Why does Vancouver and Canada generally need something like this event?

“We live in a country founded on colonialism and because of that black, indigenous, people of colour generally have less visibility. That’s why we need feminist events that are intersectional. Almost half of our city is POC, but yet our media and music industry does not reflect that. I want people who look like me or have similar lived experiences as me to feel heard and seen.”

Soledad Muñoz (Event organiser, artist and founder of feminist audio project Genero)

Why did you organise CURRENT?

“Making a symposium felt like the natural progression from the Genero, a feminist audio project and label I started in 2014. I was introduced to feminist theory in University, here I found a way of making space for me and other people from minoritized groups through a practice of cultural creation. This, and material practice as a weaver and sound artist all come from the same place, to make the world I want to exist in. CURRENT came out of the necessity to fabricate spaces of equity, where women, and non-binary folks feel safe, and supported.”

How has it all come together? 

“All the co-producers of the symposium come from different areas of electronic art and music, and we have different sets of skills. It’s been really fun, but a lot of work. We all met because we were doing similar things in our community, so although we have different ways of manifesting it, we have the same goal and that’s what keeps us going.”

Why does Vancouver and Canada generally need something like this event?

“I don’t think it’s something that is needed just in Canada, but thankfully here we have government grants that facilitate it. That’s why we want to expose people to these opportunities so that there’s more and different culture coming out of it. I think it’s really important for the overall ecology of electronic arts that people from minoritized groups have access to knowledge, tools and support. This way we are diversifying the monoculture of sound and art, derived from neoliberalism and patriarchy.”

Photo Credit: Kati Jenson

Alexandra Chen (Event producer and part of New Forms Media Society’s Board of Directors)

Why did you organise CURRENT?

“I joined the production team this year because it seemed worthwhile to create an event of that scale and bring together so many collectives and artists. My hope is that the artists featured get further recognition in their own scene and in a broader context as well. I want local artists and organisers to connect, to be challenged, to be inspired. See our list of partners and our line-up on our website.”

How has it all come together?

"The team asked me to join after we worked together for the New Forms x CURRENT Symposium in September 2017. We all bring a slightly different but complementary set of skills and interests and support each other when needed. In particular, we are thankful to work in  partnership with local organisations and collectives and to have received grant funding in order to make the whole event by donation, something that rarely happens with events of this scale."

Why does Vancouver and Canada generally need something like this event?

“Because we need to demystify some aspects of electronic music production, event organisation, artist management so hopefully anyone can try and build their own vision in the future.”

Photo Credit: Kati Jenson

Ouri (Live electronic artist from Montreal. Releases on Make It Rain Records)

“In the local scene, I’ve been welcomed by the underground club scene as a DJ. I made my debuts live accompanying CRi and now I’m on my own. From my bedroom to unhealthy afterhours to actual clubs and festivals. I’ve made my way, navigating my own sound, which lead to the Boiler Room live performance, it’s the first performance fully captured.”

Why do you feel it’s important for an event like CURRENT Symposium to take place?

“We need to keep stimulating creativity and confidence in the feminine and non-binary scenes. We are still facing a lack of representation in festivals and bookings. Keeping the community tight and aware of the talents helps launching initiatives and create partnerships on another level. I think it’s really just about nurturing the community.”

What are you bringing to the table for the event?

“I’m bringing brand new music and positive vibes. I’m really excited to go there and share the new live show I’ve been working on.”

Photo credit: Oumayma B. Tanfous

Baby Blue (Vancouver-based DJ, producer and promoter)

“I have been DJing in Vancouver for some time and am part of Vancouver collective s.M.i.L.e. alongside Jade Statues, Sebastian Ruslan, x/o, and JS Aurelias. We throw parties that feature artists that would not normally come through Vancouver like SCRAATCH, Mhysa, Malibu and Nidia. We also run a monthly radio series on Montreal based n10.as. We love making people dance and strengthening bonds within existing Vancouver scenes by being unapologetically ourselves in every event we curate.”

Why do you feel it’s important for an event like CURRENT Symposium to take place in Vancouver and in Canada generally?

“I think CURRENT is important because the curators of the event wish to see change in the creative scene and the best way to do that I feel is to curate the artists you want to be seen. It is a small but powerful statement that can ripple and cause actual change in a cultural perspective. I also think, identity aside, every artist booked has worked hard in their respective craft and deserves to show their work to a larger audience so I am excited that something like this gets to happen in our city.” 

What are you bringing to the table for the event? 

“Love and Trance.”

Stud1nt (NYC-based DJ/producer with Discwoman)

“I grew up in NYC so I’ve watched a lot of music scenes and venues come and go. The landscape has changed dramatically. I went to 285 Kent, Glasslands, and GHE20G0TH1K a lot and the DIY nature of these spaces heavily influence the way I think about nightlife. I joined the queer media collective KUNQ after college and about a year or so later I was asked to be part of Discwoman.”

Why do you feel it’s important for an event like CURRENT Symposium to take place in general?

“Creating space to have productive discussion around what often feels uncomfortable to address or is simply pushed under the rug within electronic music makes it possible for people to exchange resources, actively change imbalances in power, and ‘amplify each other’.”

Why are you excited to play this particular event in Vancouver?

“It’s my first key note ever and I am very honored to speak on the issue of creating safer space. I think about this idea a lot and what it means specifically in relation to the inherent vulnerability queer people and womxn feel on the dancefloor, in a club, or even in a recording studio. It’s also my first time in Vancouver and I’m psyched to perform with Reverend Dollars - just getting to link up IRL with people you know URL in the context of learning, teaching, and performing is so special!”

Maria Chavez (Sound artist, composer, improviser, DJ from Peru)

“I became a DJ at 16 in the late ‘90s, got my audio engineering degree (associates) when I was 22 and have been performing, DJing, teaching and exhibiting works that deal with sound in one way or another since then There is no one scene I belong to. To me, music and sound are two different things. I am not a musician. I am a sound artist. I don't work with music structure nor do I participate in music industry i.e. release albums. I haven't released an album since 2004. My whole career has been based on a myth/world of mouth. So my performance practice is presence based.” 

Why do you feel it’s important for an event like CURRENT Symposium to take place?

“Events like these present a more tangible experience when one wants to be exposed to new ideas and approaches. Without organising events like this, individuals would feel more isolated in their communities, never knowing that like minded people are all around them.”

Why are you excited to play this particular event?

“It's my first time in Vancouver and I've never seen this part of the world before. Which is rare these days. I can't wait to experience this particular placement on the globe with the sun. I hear it's going to be beautiful.”

Swan Meat (Experimental electronic producer, Rinse FM resident)

“I don't really consider myself a part of any 'scene' - this is probably half due to my social anxiety, half due to my having worked with so many incredible musicians from around the globe (WWWINGS, the genius Yoshitaka Hikawa on our EP 'Knife Splits Ice') who've shown me how important it is to reach outside of my comfort zone and open up to new techniques in sound design and sampling, new ways of listening to and understanding electronic music.”

Why do you feel it’s important for an event like CURRENT Symposium to take place?

“First off I have to give due credit to the producer and composer x/o for introducing me to the festival and the amazing work it does. CURRENT is important because I've heard stories of male mastering engineers dismissing womens' tracks without even listening – Important because another friend told me people have asked her if her boyfriend helps her produce; Important because the other night after I played a show in Frankfurt a guy came up to me post-set and tried to get me to come in his car. 

“Though I think it's getting better, there is still this pervasive notion that electronic music is a man's world and women and non-binary folks are routinely dismissed as unskilled, even though many of the best producers out there right now – in techno, EDM, algorithmic comp, you name it – are certainly not men. It's amazing that CURRENT is making this apparent.”

Why are you excited to play this particular event?

“THE LINEUP IS INSAAAAANE!”

Want more? Read our recent feature about Beirut's club scene and check out 25 amazing images from the recent protest rave against Donald Trump's visit to London.

Eoin Murraye is DJ Mag's digital staff writer. You can follow him on twitter @eoin_murraye

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