Posted in Arts, Top Arts

The more Music Waste changes, the more it stays the same

Local independent festival celebrates 22 years of giving the finger, volunteer turnover, and all things weird

Get Music Wasted with Skyote and the rest of the super rad lineup!
Get Music Wasted with Skyote and the rest of the super rad lineup!
Image Credits: Lauren Ray

It’s a Sunday night, less than three weeks before one of the biggest weekends for music in Vancouver — and the organizers of Music Waste are circled up in a living room, still working through the logistical headache of special event liquor licensing and scheduling conflicts.

“I’ll be at the Toast Collective to play on Saturday, but then I’m leaving to rep at Red Gate,” says Eleanor Wearing, this year’s festival director and drummer for local three-piece Gesture, as she works through the complications of being a Music Waste organizer as well as a participant.

There needs to be a Music Waste representative, or “rep,” present at each venue every night of the festival, and this has to work around which organizers are doing sound, who’s driving gear between venues, and who has their Serving it Right certification. Obviously a lot of hours go into organizing any event, and yet it’s still a surprising glimpse at how intricate the planning is behind a festival that prides itself on being the scrappy DIY underdog it is.

Everything but a fucking waste

Having made its debut in 1994, Music Waste initially started as a big ‘fuck you’ to New Music West, a heavily sponsored music festival taking place in Vancouver. Local artists, dissatisfied with how the festival was representing their music community, started the long-standing Music Waste in protest.

While New Music West is a thing of the past in this city, the independent festival is still going strong, and has even fostered an art festival, Art Waste, as well as the currently-on-hiatus Comedy Waste. Julie Colero, a fourth-year organizer who is also in charge of the festival’s finances, harkens back to the mischievous history of Music Waste: “Some themes prevail over the years, and one of the perennial favourites of Music Waste seems to be giving the middle finger [. . .] I’m not quite sure who we’re fighting against these days, but fuck ‘em.”

Tesstopia

Tesstopia

Music Waste is a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it presents itself as the anti-music festival, in a sea awash with $300+ weekend passes, filled to the brim with corporate-sponsored stages and more logos than a Super Bowl halftime show. Instead, a weekend Music Waste pass costs the same as a six-pack of decent beer — $15 — and every show for non-pass holders only costs $5.

“The passes are too small,” says Colero, half-jokingly. “There’s no space on there for logos.” 

One of the reasons Music Waste has remained affordable all these years is the lack of overhead, as Colero explains. They pay their venue costs, their sound people, for a bit of promoting and printing, and give each of the bands a small amount for playing, but that’s it. Everyone involved with Music Waste, from the festival director to the door people at the venues, are volunteers — something Wearing believes is “fundamental” to the aesthetic of Music Waste.

“The grant conversation has been tossed around since I’ve been involved, and every few years it comes up, but the reason that it hasn’t happened is because Music Waste started as a ‘fuck you’ to that exact framework, that not every type of music or showcase has to be turned into this for-profit thing,” she says.

“I think that’s why people have always fought against it, because they think it would be selling out and going against what the point of Music Waste was created to do, which was not to make money; it was to showcase local talent. I think it’s kind of set in what it is.”

Hop on your bike and get wasted

While the inaugural Music Waste lasted a single night, the festival now spans four days (June 2–6) with multiple venues participating across Vancouver, though most are within biking or gallivanting distance of each other. This year’s lineup of over 70 bands, hand-picked by the organizers from over 200 submissions, features some acts that are well-established, with multiple Music Wastes already under their belts, but also bands who are playing their first festival ever. The lineup is a real grab bag when it comes to experience and genre, something Colero believes is part of Music Waste’s charm.

“It’s so cheap. If you see a terrible band, it doesn’t matter because you’re probably out somewhere you’ve never been before,” says Colero. “Maybe you’ve planned out everything you want to see, but usually things take you in a different direction, so there’s that element of surprise.

“It’s an adventure. It’s one weekend of the summer. Just get on your bike and go to some shows and take a chance and see what you can see.”

Adrian Teacher

Adrian Teacher

And while the official Music Waste roster is limited, there exists a branch of the festival called Go Your Own Waste, where bands that weren’t chosen are encouraged to organize their own shows, which are then promoted through the festival and included under the weekend pass. Two years ago, a band that was rejected by Music Waste said they were going to host their own show, and even call it “Fuck Music Waste.”

The Go Your Own Waste shows are something guitarist Alie Lynch remembers fondly: “Years ago, there was a show called Bowl Your Own Waste at the bowling alley on Commercial, and it happened in the upstairs part, and you could bowl while Apollo Ghosts, Role Mach, and some other bands played. Adrian Teacher [of Apollo Ghosts] did this crazy move where he was singing and then ran down the alley, and grabbed a ball and bowled down every single lane while singing, then just ran back to the stage. I’ve never seen anything like that. It was the sickest stage move I’ve ever seen.”

An SFU alumni with a double-major in English and history, Lynch first played the festival in 2007 as one-quarter of the band Kidnap Kids, and has been a part of the lineup every year since then. This year she’s performing twice, as a member of both Supermoon and TV Ugly.

Aside from gaining exposure, Lynch feels like one of the benefits for bands playing Music Waste is its ability to bring the music community together, and help form relationships that might otherwise have gone unmade. “Sometimes if you play one genre of music, you’re just stuck the whole time playing with bands of that same genre, whereas Music Waste, they encourage a bit of mixing, especially when they have the big shows on the Thursday or Sunday where there’s a six-hour show with tons of different music. It encourages a lot more mingling between the different scenes.

“[The Vancouver music scene] can feel a little fragmented sometimes, because it does seem to happen that bands get lumped together, but Music Waste is nice because someone external is organizing it, so you’re not just hitting up your friends to set up shows.”

Don’t waste the local artists

But while much of Music Waste’s structure is routine by this point, one major departure this year is on June 2, the festival’s first night: Music Waste will be taking over Fortune Sound Club, including both floors and each of the venue’s side rooms, with a combination of music performances, art displays, and even one room set up for karaoke.

“Normally we start the festival smaller on Thursday, with the Art Waste group show in one place and a few shows elsewhere,” explains Wearing, “but this year it just made sense to try and do things in one place, and Fortune was super keen to be involved. It’ll be cool to have the group art show in the same place as the music show, so you get more people and it’s going to be this big kick-off night. It’s been a long time since everything’s been in one place for the Thursday.

Mark Mills

Mark Mills

“We’re activating all the rooms, as Fortune has put it.”

At the helm of Music Waste spin-off Art Waste this year is an all-new four-person crew, after the previous duo of organizers retired last year. Lauren Ray, a recent graduate from Emily Carr University, is one of the four people in charge.

“There was a need for somebody, and I was keen, so it was just as simple as that,” Ray describes how she landed the role of co-organizer. “It’s been a real delight to work with my friends who’ve also never done Art Waste before. As Katayoon, the former organizer called us, we’re ‘fresh blood’ to this whole thing. I’ve been lucky enough to have my work in the festival before, but I now have an even greater appreciation for those who organize it. There are a million details, coordinating venues and artists is such a big responsibility, but I feel very stoked and honoured.”

Traditionally, every Art Waste has had an overarching theme for submissions, with this year’s being “Strange Magic,” though Ray assures me that the motif was more of a “nice suggestion, a little tap” than a requirement. This year’s submissions range from photographs and illustrations to sculptures and films, that Ray says will be mostly on display at Fortune on the Thursday, while the films will be on Friday at Red Gate.

Art Waste is also hosting a zine fair on the Saturday and Sunday for anyone — part of the festival or not — to come out and trade zines at, with the fairs happening at Lucky’s Comics and the Wise Hall, respectively.

Waste of time

Not everything has been high-flying fun for the festival: last month a local booker claimed via an Instagram post that people shouldn’t “go to Music Waste this year. The shows are not interesting” — included was a show poster that read “The people who organize Music Waste are so inept they could screw up a two-car funeral.”

Ray shares a similar experience, where someone on her Facebook feed posted a complaint about their friend’s piece not being accepted to Art Waste. But with a jump in the number of submissions from last year, the organizers had the difficulty of whittling the group down to a smaller, cohesive batch. Every year there are critics who launch their complaints against the festival, which Colero sees as unproductive more than anything else.

“The basic framework exists, but from year to year it’s a totally different group of people, with a different way of approaching things. [. . .] I guess what I hope is, when you have these naysayers, is they figure out that it doesn’t serve a great purpose to have a grudge against Music Waste, because it’s different every year.”

Next generation Wasters

Wearing’s earlier words of Music Waste being “set in what it is” ring loudly, as interviewee after interviewee confirms that, yes, the festival isn’t perfect, and there are general hiccups that take place every year, but the organizers are overall content with how the festival runs. The general pattern is fresh-faced volunteers join the hullabaloo, help steer the festival for a few years, and then pass the reins down to the next generation, in an ever-repeating cycle — and it’s a loop that Wearing’s happy to be a part of: “You get what you put into any community that you’re a part of, so something like Music Waste, if you support it and you’re excited about it, and you don’t take yourself too seriously, then it can be something really positive for the rest of the community.

Doppleganger

Doppleganger

“It’s really easy to be critical of things happening in Vancouver, and people like to have conversations about all of the shitty things in this city. And while I think that’s sometimes true, Music Waste having existed for 22 years is a great testament to the fact that people have continued to care and put their time into it.

“As long as people continue to raise it up and support it, Music Waste will continue to exist. It’s just a perfect example of a community generating itself, and that’s a lot of time and work and hours for a lot of people. Not just the organizers, but the bands and anyone that’s trying to support it in any capacity, but I don’t think people would be doing it if they didn’t want to, so that’s really cool. I don’t think you find that a lot in the world, but I’m 23, what the fuck do I know? I’m literally a year older than this festival.”

And with that, the next generation of Music Wasters begin making their mark.

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