First held in 1994, the Music, and Art Waste festival purports itself as a multi-venue, affordable and accessible stage for variations of different artistic mediums and expressions. Originally borne out of retaliation against the heavily commercialized and corporate-backed New Music West festival, Music and Art Waste provided a safe, non-profit, alternative space for music and art lovers of Vancouver. Predominantly volunteer run, this amalgamation of music, visual art, comedy, and local culture quickly expanded into an integral part of the Vancouver subculture scene. Twenty-two years later, Music and Art Waste has proved itself here to stay.
Running annually during the first weeks of June, the festival continuously reinvents itself under a different theme. This year, the four-day festival hosted more than 70 of Vancouver’s local and independent bands at 14 different venues. The opening night was held at Vancouver’s cult favorite, Fortune Sound Club in Chinatown, while the following night’s synthesis of music and visual craftsmanship took place at the Red Gate Arts Society.
Operating under the theme of “Strange Magic,” the 2016 festival took on an aura of psychedelic un-realism that was especially evident in the showcased visual art at Red Gate. The opening room of the venue held multiple works of abstract, photographic, and conceptual art, evoking an art gallery type of ambiance. The impact of hosting the visual art in the entrance area was an interesting one— there seemed to be a sort of significance, I found, in separating the visual arts from the musical. Upon entering Red Gate, the viewer is provided with a very secluded and intimate area to appreciate and take in the art before proceeding to the shows, making the art unable to be overlooked or avoided. The suddenness of the confrontation between human and art piece necessitated an interaction with the visual aspects of the show that rendered them unavoidable. This essential juxtaposition between the visual and the auditory highlighted both their similarities and differences as part of the spectrum of cultural creation.
The first thing I noticed was the strangely placed, multi-colored, column-like object in front of the entrance. Reminiscent of a Himalayan salt rock lamp, the entity stood independently, emanating a peaceful aura. To the right, a holographic projection forecasting hallucinogenic pigments onto three canvases seemed to follow in the same theme of iridescent vision as its columnar counterpart. I should mention that these works all appeared nameless and faceless; they were simply presented with no accompanying description, credited artist, or information. They seem to have materialized from thin air into the space, creating an enigmatic air around each work. Aside from these art pieces, which seem to elicit the fever-dream experience this year’s theme attempted to conjure, we also come into contact with more mimetic kind of art, ranging from photosets to photomontage. Among the photographic works, Vancouver based artist, Lauren Ray’s nostalgic photographic grids were immediately recognizable and familiar due to their presence and circulation around Vancouver’s alternative art scene.
The stage room seemed less promising at first as the beginning of the night saw few guests, but the arrivals began gradually picking up until the space was packed. Dim and softly lit, it was difficult to pin anyone down; the faces of the audience blended into a giant, rapidly increasing mash up of energy. The atmosphere was optimistic, despite the threat of competition from nearby venues. There was consistent engagement from bandleaders and the audience that contributed to the frenzied and inebriated clamor. At one point, a member one of the night’s performing bands, ATSEA, managed to crack up the jovial audience with his audacious and purposefully corny humor. In the tight, densely packed room, I felt part of a tight-knit community with shared interests and goals; this strong feeling of commonality kept the entire audience linked.
As with all cultural spaces, the organization, history, and layout of Red Gate also contributed notably to the night’s ambiance. The hallways and bathrooms of the Red Gate are plastered and graffitied with a hodgepodge of intriguing murals, further adding to the DIY kind of creative production the space promotes. Festival and venue seemed to be in dialogue with each other— both were borne out of a criticism of the corporate art world and a need for community spaces that could house a variety of practicing artists and musicians on the Downtown Eastside. Red Gate, despite being a fairly new creation (it was founded in 2012), already carries with it a tradition of resilience, social activism, and free flowing creativity.