Features

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NECKING

MAKING LIGHT

“It’s just wild,” says Necking drummer, Melissa Kuipers. Her, guitarist Nada Hayek, bassist Sonya Rez and vocalist Hannah Kay, collectively known as Necking, have met substantial success in Vancouver’s independent music scene since the release of their debut EP, Meditation Tape, in mid November. The punk group has been invited onto a plethora of show bills, received considerable airplay on campus radio stations across the Lower Mainland, and even reached number two on Ride The Tempo’s Weekly Top 10 chart last November. This exposure has earned the band a following that they were not expecting when they formed in February 2017, an exposure they are still struggling to accept as real.

“We’re waiting for the set to fall, and we’ll be standing in the middle of a field with all of Vancouver pointing and laughing at us,” says Melissa, having re-started her sentence after it was cut off by a beer spill in their Mount Pleasant rehearsal space. “Like a film set!” Nada adds, as she rescues the fallen can.

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Necking || Photography by Javiera Bassi de la Barrera for Discorder Magazine

With songs that are not only catchy but also convey messages about social issues, it is easy to assume some of their sudden popularity is a result of the politics presented on Meditation Tape. “We’re political people,” Sonya says on behalf of the band. “We write songs about [what] we’re passionate about,” continues Hannah. “These things […] are really real and really important to us.”

The song “Detective Olivia Benson” is a perfect example of Necking using their lyrics to make a social stance. It focuses on a central character in the T.V. show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The show takes place inside “a dream universe […] where people are actually served justice for committing [sexual] assaults,” says Melissa, who wrote the song’s lyrics. She goes on to say, “It’s something that doesn’t actually really happen as much as it should.”

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Neck Twist || Illustration by Sunny Nestler for Discorder Magazine

In the show, the fictitious police officer, Olivia Benson, calls for more sympathy toward sexual assault survivors and demands stricter consequences for abusers. These actions resonate with Necking’s members. “Her whole character is like, “Believe [sexual assault] survivors! […] Do whatever you can to make them feel heard! And change policy!’” explains Melissa, “It’s obviously something that is so important.”  

But the popularity of one song is just an indicator of a larger society shift that Necking finds themselves a part of. Hannah recalls one particularly passionate performance during a gig last fall, when #MeToo was circulating social media: “I was singing [Detective Olivia Benson] and I kept making eye contact with women. […] I was supposed to be singing, but I was just screaming.” With a laugh she adds, “We were just tearing it up at that show.”

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Hannah Kay || Photography by Javiera Bassi de la Barrera for Discorder Magazine
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Nada Hayek || Photography by Javiera Bassi de la Barrera for Discorder Magazine

Comedy is one device Necking uses to convey strong messages, with the lyrics on Meditation Tape reflecting the bandmates’ senses of humour. Seemingly lighthearted songs, like “Ford Commercial” for example, use humour to make a critique on consumerism and capitalism. On the surface, lines like “Put us in a Ford commercial” and “We want money!” could poke fun at Necking’s own materialism, or could denounce the act of musicians “selling out.” Hannah explains, “You listen to the lyrics and they’re kind of funny, and then you’re like ‘Oh, this is a thing that happens, and it’s a bummer.’”

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Sonya Rez || Photography by Javiera Bassi de la Berrera for Discorder Magazine
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Melissa Kuipers || Photography by Javiera Bassi de la Barrera for Discorder Magazine

Whatever messages they may be conveying in a song, Hannah says that Necking strive to be varied with their lyrics, endeavouring not to write solely from their own perspectives as “cisgender women.” The value they place on inclusivity is the reason Necking object to their frequent association with Riot Grrrl, an early ‘90s feminist movement in the underground punk scene. “The definition of the word ‘inclusive’ has changed since then,” says Melissa. The Riot Grrrl brand of inclusivity, the band explains, was highly exclusive towards trans women, sex workers, and women of colour. “Inclusivity-centred seminars that Riot Grrrls held […] would be all white,” says Sonya, “and communities of colour would cater to them.”

In spite of their disagreements with some of the movement’s principles, Necking acknowledges the contributions that Riot Grrrls made to opening up the punk scene for female musicians. Nada says, “We wouldn’t be here without Riot Grrrl.”

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Necking || Photography by Javiera Bassi de la Barrera for Discorder Magazine

It is likely that the following of fans hearing Necking’s stances on social issues by way of their mixture of serious and silly lyrics will continue to grow, as the group intends to continue gigging, to release an LP, and to tour to some towns in the U.S. and Canada. The band members’ senses of humour show through once more in their inability to resist providing some joke answers to my question about their plans for the future. Nada claims that their own reality T.V. show modelled after The Bachelor, in which the four members compete against each other “and Hannah wins every fucking time!” is in the works, and Sonya tells me that they anticipate an offer “to be in a Ford commercial.”

 

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Listen to Necking at neckingband.bandcamp.com to hear their new release, Meditation Tape.

 

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DARK TIMES FESTIVAL

WHEN THE ASHES SETTLE, THE PARTY BEGINS

 

On July 6, 2017, a wildfire sparked just west of 100-Mile House. The following day, with over 170 additional wildfires reported throughout the province, British Columbia was put under a state of emergency. On July 15, over 24,000 residents of Williams Lake and the surrounding areas were evacuated due to the encroaching flames. Thousands of hectares of the Interior burned away, major routes were indefinitely closed and the lives and livelihoods of countless people were put into limbo. Needless to say, Arts on the Fly Festival, an annual music festival in Horsefly, B.C., that was scheduled for mid-July was cancelled.

“Dark Times started in the aftermath of all that,” explains Brandon Hoffman, Artistic Director of both Arts on the Fly Festival and the newly minted, Dark Times. “[It’s] something of a consolation festival. We wanted to give Cariboo folk a chance to cut loose and shake off any lingering anxieties post-evacuation.” Taking place from March 2 to 4 in Williams Lake, distant from the worry of evacuation and fire, Dark Times picks up where Arts on the Fly was forced to stop.

While there were many festivals all across the province that were cancelled or under threat of being cancelled, “our festival, being relatively small, rode it out pretty well,” says Hoffman. With the support of other festivals — “Robson Valley Music Fest, Music on the Mountain and Rogue Arts Fest all honoured AOTF tickets at their gate,” — and a fundraiser organized by Vancouver artists that were scheduled to perform at AOTF, Hoffman and the rest of the organizers were able to stay afloat financially despite the cancellation. “There were a few costs we were on the hook for, but it was manageable. Larger festivals are a different situation altogether,” says Hoffman. “Very often options are go bankrupt or piss off your entire fan-base by denying refunds.”

While AOTF managed to pull through 2017 intact, the threat of future environmental disasters still looms over the festival scene in B.C.. “For the past few years, I’ve been attending a conference for festival organizers in Wells called Northern Exposure,” explains Hoffman. “Every year, at some point or another, we’ve gotten into a brainstorming session around some sort of trust-fund,” in the event of festival cancellation.

Along with the festivals themselves, which rely on the personal investment and dedication of organizers like Hoffman, countless artists count on summer music festivals to earn enough income to make it through the rest of the year. Especially for artists located in smaller, more rural locations, the cancellation of summer festivals can be economically devastating. While it is still only a concept, Hoffman explains that “the big plan is that festivals could put a small percentage of their ticket sales into this fund, and if somebody has to cancel, they can apply to the trustees for a bail-out,” providing a sort of insurance policy for the festival and the artists.

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Illustration by Nikki Lax for Discorder Magazine

 

In the meantime, many of the acts that were slated to play in Horsefly this past summer have reappeared on Dark Times’ lineup. With artists like Uschi Tala, Malcolm Jack, Wallgrin, Plasteroid, Sonya Littlejohn and Marin Patenaude, among many others, Dark Times showcases the variety and diversity of the province’s extensive artistic community. “I wanted the kind of music that lets you feel comfortable exploring your dark side a bit,” explains Hoffman. “That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but the bottom line is artists who make space for their audience. You can listen to the lyrics, or not. You can dance, or not. You can sing along, or not.” For Hoffman, the festival is a chance both to reflect on the precariousness of our modern lives, so affected by the whims of social, cultural, and environmental catastrophe and to escape from the worry of it all.

“I keep thinking back to the childhood feeling of sneaking around in the halls during a school dance,” says Hoffman, “how a place that feels so routine and boring can suddenly have a new light shed on it.” Dark Times aims to reframe the town of Williams Lake. For many, the image of the town is still linked to the fires and evacuations of the past year — “Fly ash was literally raining from black skies,” he says — but Dark Times offers an opportunity to “wander around the core of Williams Lake deep into the night,” to explore its venues and streets amidst the liveliness of its art scene.

“I grew up here,” explains Hoffman, “and left for my twenties to live as a starving artist and student in Vancouver. I felt the pull of small-town living again, and there happened to be a lot of good opportunities in the Cariboo.” Living in Williams Lake full-time now, Hoffman is a shining example of how someone can be active in an artistic community without living in an urban centre. In addition to organizing Dark Times and AOTF, Hoffman hosts the Safety Meeting concert series in Williams Lake, records and performs under the name Blocktreat, and does sound for countless shows and festivals across the province. “It’s pretty hilarious how many people from the Lower Mainland never dare venture past Hope,” he says. While the geographic distances may be greater, the concentration of artists among the residents of the rest of B.C. is extraordinary. “We’d love to see more city folk come up for stuff like this!” he says. “It’s a totally different vibe, but you might like it.”

Whether you’re looking to release the stress of the past year, flames and all, escape the city for something completely different, or just wander around Williams Lake at night, Dark Times is the festival to do it. “It is a chance for us to come together,” says Hoffman, “in all our glorious broken forms, tug each others’ heart strings, and relish in the possibility that the end is nigh.”

 

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Dark Times is taking place in downtown Williams Lake, B.C., March 2-4. To purchase tickets, view the full lineup and find out more information, visit artsonthefly.com/darktimes