Take a look at any festival lineup, and chances are that not all genders are equally represented.
That’s what SFU MFA students Rebecca Bruton and Alexandra Spence want to change. There are a variety of journals, papers, and books spread across the table when I sit down to meet with them at Nelson the Seagull in Gastown to talk about Tidal ~ Signal, their latest project.
“Tidal ~ Signal is an experimental music and sound festival with the intention to highlight underrepresented people within music and sound art,” explains Spence. The festival’s performers are all from Vancouver, and are all female, genderqueer, trans, or intergender. Taking place from July 30-31 at Selectors’ Records, each night will include four performers and one DJ, featuring artists Sara Gold and Brady Marks, as well as Discorder alumni Mass Marriage and prOphecy sun, and others.
The inspiration behind the festival stemmed from the personal experiences of Bruton and Spence, both within and outside of academia. They have worked extensively within the fields of electronic music and jazz, participating under their own names and as the duo Yaws a Fissure. Even with the support of local academic institutions and programming, they have noticed a lack of equal representation within the experimental community: “There’s a lot of (cis) men in a lot of programming,” comments Spence, noting how that can create an alienating environment for anyone who falls outside of that category.
Bruton and Spence have faced the challenge of how to promote a festival with such a unique lineup. “We’ve had a lot of conversations around whether or not we even talk about our gender inclusion as a main feature of our festival,” says Bruton. Though they want to be careful not to tokenize gender or make it a selling point, the two “decided to talk about it, because we do feel that it is an important issue … It creates a safe space for certain kinds of people to come that might not otherwise feel comfortable coming to an experimental music festival,” explains Bruton.
As the two have undertaken the intimidating task of starting a music festival from scratch, they’ve received a lot of support from the community. Bruton speaks of how often it may seem like cisgendered men are more numerous than other artists, “but if you dig a little bit deeper, you see that there are a lot of other artists who are in the sound community, but for whatever reason, they’re not as visible.” Spence adds, “Some artists we’ve reached out to who haven’t been able to do the show sent us links to other female and trans artists who might be interested. It’s opened up a nice community.”
The name Tidal ~ Signal, comes in two parts. Tidal creates a connection to place and geography. “All of our artists are from Vancouver, so it’s about supporting the experimental scene here,” says Spence. Signal “represents sound and music simultaneously,” adds Bruton.
One of their most monumental challenges, as it is for all Vancouver event organizers, was finding a venue. After considering their options — they note that many venues they reached out to were very supportive — Selectors’ Records was chosen. “It’s nice having a venue that’s also integrative and supportive of the show. They’re not taking a backseat,” says Spence.
There have been a fair amount of other obstacles in the planning of Tidal ~ Signal, including growing a festival without any funding. The artists are donating their time, and getting a cut of the door as reimbursement. “It goes to show that there’s an interest and need for this kind of event if artists are willing to volunteer their time for it,” says Bruton. Of course, Bruton and Spence hope to change this in future iterations of the festival.
Both organizers are unable to pick an act they’re most excited to see at the festival, citing the diversity and depth of the acts they’ve selected. Tidal ~ Signal promises to highlight some of the best experimental music Vancouver has to offer, regardless of gender.
Tidal ~ Signal is at Selectors’ Records July 30-31. Confirmed artists are Kiran Bhumber, Sara Gold, Jouisseur, Brady Marks, mási, Orcana, Mass Marriage, and prOphecy sun. Space is limited, but advance weekend and one-day passes are available now on Eventbrite. For more information, visit yawnsafissure.wordpress.com.