Just under four years ago, a group of people started meeting to jam. Nothing big or extravagant, just a couple of turntables and some raw, experimental talent in someone’s living room.
Among those people were Nancy Lee and Sean Oh, who would go on to be among the founders of Chapel Sound Collective, a creative collective of local interdisciplinary artists.
The collective started as a house jam and developed into a multimedia jam that included projections and paintings. The whole thing was simply meant to be a safe space for interdisciplinary creative exploration and experimentation—not necessarily with an end goal or even meant to make sense. This would eventually turn into weekly Boiler Room-type live broadcasts, which would bring together people across various groups in Vancouver every Wednesday night. From here, a community started building and the Chapel Sound Collective was born.
For their three year anniversary party last September, Chapel Sound put together an 18 performer lineup at Red Gate. The creative energy and the general success of this night inspired the collective to start talking about a multi-day event—a festival. At the end of May 2016, this becomes a reality: a multi-day multi-disciplinary festival that includes interactive workshops and panels.
“So many of the organizers go between fields and disciplines and this is a new direction in performance and music in general so it would be nice to bridge the two realms together–the party electronic music scene and the more research based interactive technology field because they both kind of go hand in hand with the current trend of live performances,” says Nancy Lee, one of the organizers.
“Ten years ago, you wouldn’t expect projections from a live electronic music set, now you expect the audio visual set. In the future, we’re going to have interactive audio-visual sets in electronic music, interactive performances that go beyond turntables and buttons and knobs, so we want to introduce that to our chapel sound community that hasn’t really had the opportunity to become exposed to that scene.”
But the content of the festival isn’t the only thing that is groundbreaking. The Chapel Sound Festival is also aiming to challenge sexism in the industry with its lineup and content.
With a background that includes male-dominated fields such as film and interactive arts, Lee has dealt with her fair share of sexism.
“Most discrimination in the industry today happens in more subtle forms, like micro-aggressions, and is harder to put your finger on, hence making it more challenging to respond to,” she says. As an Asian woman, she has also been stereotyped as a model minority Asian. She acknowledges that this is a problem in so many fields and industries, making the impact of the collective’s work that much more important and far-reaching.
“I hate to spend so much time talking about the sexism, because …we could spend hours,” she says. “I’d like to focus the conversation on acknowledging that this is the reality and talking about what we can do to move forward, about what I can do as a woman in this industry and what can my peers, women and men, in this industry do to provide a more inclusive environment for women.”
One of the ways in which the festival aims to battle this is by influencing the line-up, which tends to be male-dominated in electronic music festivals, only including women as openers and never as headliners.
“We just wanted to challenge that a little bit, we want to be a part of the change. We have the ability to, so why not?”
Perhaps more importantly, however, Chapel Sound’s festival opens the floor for dialogue.
“I find that there are so many grassroots-type music festivals, there’s this party and performance element, but there isn’t enough dialogue,” says Lee. “I think that once you talk, that’s when you can actually gain understanding and I want to make it welcoming for male attendees to be a part of this dialogue, because a lot of them are going to be moving up to positions where they can make these sorts of decisions.”
The festival, as well as the collective in general, opens up a safe space for this dialogue. The biggest opportunity for this dialogue at the festival comes in the form of a Women in Electronic Music & Creative Technology panel, which is moderated by activist Jen Sungshine, and features Andrea Graham (DJ, Producer and co-creator of Bass Coast Music Festival), Nancy Dru (DJ, producer, and educator), and Soledad Muñoz (founder of all female label Genero).
“They all come from such different backgrounds, they all come from DJ, music, tech backgrounds, and I’m really interested in how they are navigating sexism in this industry strategically,” says Lee of the panel. “It takes two to be able to communicate your concerns and voice your critiques strategically, and as any person in a position of power to be able to receive that critique. Those are the two things we want to address in this panel: how do we do either of those things?”
Even as a female in the industry, Lee herself has had the opportunity to face her internalized biases, and she knows the importance of having the chance to accept critique and grow as a result. In fact, Sungshine has been integral in Lee’s own journey. Sungshine’s approach to "calling people in", where you speak to them in private, rather than "calling them out" is what Lee describes as a “compassionate way of dealing with someone's unintentional discriminatory behavior.”
“Most people in the industry aren't trying to be sexist and are very willing to support female artists, but sometimes they just need a nudge here and there in the right direction,” acknowledges Lee.
The Chapel Sound Festival runs from Friday May 20th until Sunday May 22nd at Red Gate Arts Society, SKIO Music, and Gold Saucer Studio.