On a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-April, I arrived at the Strathcona store-front apartment of Mark Richardson, one of the main Music Waste festival organizers, with two flats of tall cans and an extra-large bottle of vodka in the back seat of my car. I was a little late, and there was already a living room full of alcohol-starved judges and taste-makers, all ready to crack the first beer of the day and settle into the arduous task of listening to 247 Music Waste hopefuls.
“So… are there any bands that I shouldn’t make fun of?” I ask, somewhat nervously. Many of the Music Waste organizers are musicians themselves, and, knowing Ryan Dyck to be the frontman of Vancouver punksters B-Lines, I had a feeling there might be a few others with vested interests in the bands we were about to pass judgement on. As it turned out, all bands are fair game to ridicule.
“We’re curmudgeons who truly love local music,” says Dustin Bromley, one of the organizers. “Our dedication to this festival comes from our sheer appreciation for musicians and artists who are pushing boundaries or branching out and trying something new. We want to provide a stage and an audience for those acts, as we feel they deserve to be heard.
“That said, we don’t think we’re changing the world, and it’s important to have a good sense of humour, especially in a city which at times seems to hate all culture-creators. Music Waste has this sense of humour ingrained deep in our core, and it helps to keep a positive head about things.”
That collective sense of humour helped the group make it through almost 10 hours of submissions, and the resolve to give each and every band its fair chance to make a favourable impression, well, made an impression on me.
Music Waste has been running off and on for 20 years now, and the current organizers are using this year to celebrate the festival’s successes. Its origins lie in a mid-’90s “fuck you” to Music West, a corporate rock festival where bands paid to apply, and the venues were often filled with more networkers (and Nettwerkers, ha ha) than music patrons. Music West is no more, but Music Waste lives on, largely due to the commitment of its organizers and volunteers, and a local music community happy to have its own low-key festival where the focus is on having a good time.
“I feel that Music Waste is that once-a-year jumbling of bands and scenes that is needed to keep things from getting stagnant,” says Richardson, about why the festival soldiers on. “A lot of bands tend to fall into scenes that revolve around a handful of bands and few outsiders are let in. When 75 bands are playing the fest, they’re undoubtedly going to be playing alongside bands they’ve probably never played with—at least that’s the way I aimed the schedule and have in the past.”
“There’s always room for evolution,” he continues. “Art Waste, Comedy Waste, merchandise, and Go Your Own Waste were additions over the last 6 years or so. The torch will continue to get passed down to hungry young volunteers, as it has in years past, and hopefully they’ll add more to the fest as it goes into the future.”
As the listening party continued, bands met with lukewarm responses, and there was a very grey “maybe” scale, including pluses, minuses, and even a few plus plusses. Many bands came with back stories along the lines of “This girl is awesome. She disappeared for a while to have a baby, but now she’s back and her band is rad.” Some bands came completely out of left field, and those were the ones who sparked the most exciting responses; we Googled bands; we creeped on their Myspace (still a thing!) and Facebook profiles.
One unknown band that got the group salivating was the Poles. Their first song was strong enough to land them in the “yes” column, but then Bromley clicked on the video link. What followed was, in my estimation, the sort of magic that keeps these guys coming back year after year: the Poles had made a music video on a beach with their lead singer, slightly balding and heavily paunched, wearing a mermaid costume and writhing about. The listening party crowd ATE IT UP.
According to Richardson, “It can be tough slogging through hundreds of submissions, so when something genuinely interesting/innovative pops up it really makes up for the bands that I’m not particularly keen on, to put it very politely. Yes, every year has its own Poles. 2013 had Young Braised, Garbage Mountain (their first and only show?), and the Napkin Records bands, and years past I was blown away by bands like Freak Heat Waves, Bertha Cool, and more, many of which were brief flits upon the Vancouver music scene.” Some of this year’s flits may also include bands like Black Magique and the Nobodies. A band’s bio, and the two tracks they submit, only tell the group so much. The proof will be in the performance.
But Music Waste is not solely about performances, or even music for that matter. The organizers have expanded the festival to include Comedy Waste, Art Waste, and bands who are not accepted are actively encouraged to plan “Go Your Own Waste” shows during the festival period. One example of a GYOW event is taking place at Kingsgate Mall, where Western Front artist in residence Casey Wei has booked bands and events throughout the month of June. Her band showcases include Late Spring and Cut Losses on Friday, June 5 and Kele-Kenji, Only Wolf, and Strawberry in an afternoon show on Saturday, June 6. Comedy Waste will feature shows at China Cloud, the Havana Theatre, and Little Mountain Gallery throughout the weekend.
Most bands, when turned away from the festival, take the GYOW idea and run with it. Others are not as receptive to rejection. Robert Catherall, the festival’s beer and venue expert, ran into members of a band whose entry had been rejected by the festival, outside 33 Acres one evening in early May. “They had sent Music Waste some digital correspondence, either Facebook or email, I’m not sure, lamenting the fact that they had been rejected from the festival. Someone responded that they should host their own GYOW and call it ‘Fuck Music Waste.’ I told them that would be great and really in the spirit of Music Waste.”
Cut to three weeks after the listening party. Katayoon Yousefbigloo, one of the two women heading up the Art Waste component of the festival, is busy running around the Red Gate Art Society, balancing the urge to tidy up the venue space with the need to prep the front room for band photos. It has become a tradition to invite all the bands to come by for promo shots based loosely around the year’s theme. We set up a living room style interior, festooning the room with balloons and streamers to celebrate the festival’s 20th birthday.
Over the course of the next seven hours, bands come and go, preen and pose, and contribute their own props to the scene—candles, champagne, birthday cake, a piñata, and even dogs. As the day wears on, people stop leaving. There is a genuine sense of community in the room and everyone seems eager to add more empties to the pile from the night before.
Yousefbigloo’s photography will be featured in one of the Art Waste shows, “The Taste for Eternity at Bargain Prices,” which features female artists working in assorted mediums. Fellow Art Waste organizer Sarah Wylie will also be showing her photography.
“Art Waste is in its second year in its expanded format featuring Vancouver artists in galleries across the city,” explains Wylie. “The theme of June 5’s submission group show will be ‘public/private.’ We want to address this dichotomy in artistic practice and in the greater context of the collapsing divide between these two realms in modern society. The theme served as a catalyst for artists to share their private world with the public world.” Other shows Wylie is excited to support include illustrator and designer Tylor Macmillan’s show at Red Gate. She is also quick to point out that there is a great deal of crossover between musicians and artists: “The group show features musicians too, like Craig Pettman from Indian Wars, Kyle from TimeCopz/Buds, Aaron Read, Tom Whalen, and more.”
A highlight for Discorder fans—and anyone who goes to shows in this city, really, since we all know the guy—is the Steve Louie Retrospective at the Remington Gallery on June 6. Louie has been taking his signature swirlie shots and capturing the highs of the Vancouver music scene for several years and this will be his first solo gallery show.
As for the grand finale, this year’s closing show will be hosted by the Anza Club, where you can see eight hungover bands—including Weird Candle, Summer Babe, Love Cuts, Wetface, Sontag, Phantoms Again, and Skinny Kids—play to an equally hungover crowd. Oh yeah, and Defektors. But this is definitely their last year playing Music Waste. Probably.
From the 10-hour listening parties held months ahead of time to the rambunctious festivities themselves, it’s easy to see why Music Waste has been such a mainstay in the Vancouver art scene. Whether this is your fifth year as part of the festival’s lineup or you choose to Go Your Own Waste, there’s something in it for everyone.