It began three years ago as a one night only, tongue-in-cheek thumb of the nose at the cumbersome giant Santa Claus known to all as Music West. This joke aimed at the corporate festival now sports over one hundred bands crammed into nine venues, with new bands and free shows being added daily. What began as a joke has quickly become a vital community service.
You see, anyone who has ever attended Music West as a delegate can't help but sense the desperation and panic coming off all the gathered musicians. It comes off in waves, as delegates realize that there are no Cinderella stories about to take place. Canadian bands rub elbows with faceless A&R creatures who are supposed to whisk our fine groups away in dark limousines and transform them into the Rolling Stones. Desperate song writers haunt the seminars, anxious to sell their souls to the corporate machine to grace the cover of the next SPIN magazine.
The machine is unmoved. You see, it has already selected its new heroes. The frenzied mating dance of the unsigned bands is merely group hysteria reminiscent of the carousel in "Logan's Run." Fortunately, no one is signed. These things have already been decided. The seminars go to great lengths to assure each band member that they don't want to sign with a major soul-destroying label. The machine is ugly. Bands leave the machine disappointed, disillusioned and jaded.
As each year goes by, more and more bands choose to avoid the machine.
What began as a joke has blossomed into a celebration of independence, community, and a willingness to play for the love of music. Music Waste reminds bands that playing music is not a contest. There are plenty of brass rings to go around. Music Waste unites the Vancouver music scene and reminds us all what the festival is all about: PLAYING MUSIC.
We at Terminal City, proud sponsors of Music Waste, managed to tear Kris Mitchell away from the computers and phones for a total of ten minutes in order to hear about the underlying philosophy of Music Waste, and the trials of setting up a festival within a festival. (The Bored of Directors includes Paul Stone, Deanna Gray, of the band Vico; Gilles Zolty, of Zolty Cracker; Jorg of The Cowards; and Mitchell, of SMAK.)
DZ: Why Music Waste? I mean, some critics of the name have suggested that the fest is just a case of sour grapes.
K [laughing]: That's funny! Actually, the festival was set in the first place as a showcase for bands that chose to ignore the entire corporate festival. The name was meant to poke fun at the self-important corporates, but all in good fun. We mostly wanted to just have a blast that same weekend, but without all that cut-throat pressure that seemed to accompany the Music West experience.
DZ: Did you ever expect the festival to get so big?
K: No, it's gone insane!! We have over one hundred bands and more phone each day! I don't know how we can accommodate all the excellent talent that seems to be cropping up everywhere!
DZ: How were the bands selected?
K: Each band has come to us by word of mouth and reputation. These bands have been steadily making a name for themselves here in town.
DZ: I hear that the Minstrels on Speed from Edmonton are playing...
K: Actually, no. We had to cut a lot of out-of-town bands because of the overwhelming response this year. Bluebeard, Red Fisher, Minstrels on Speed, Straight, all excellent bands, but we wanted to showcase our local bands first. Next year we will set up a network with other cities across Canada and down the west coast. We want to exchange bands and resources, and run simultaneous festivals. Plans are being laid to help more bands get seen in more cities. We've had a great response from other cities... a little better than we expected. Next year we'll have more venues and be a little better prepared for the craziness of scheduling all these bands in one weekend.
DZ: Have you had any problems with Music West getting pissed at you?
K: Not at all. Well, yeah, sorta. They offered us [Zolty and Mitchell] jobs. (Laughs.) The business end of the Music West dog was a little pissed off at us for 'ruining the image of Music West' and I guessed they offered an ultimatum to the bands, saying that they couldn't do both festivals. We didn't give a shit who played what, so long as they weren't headlining the Commodore on Saturday night. We wanted to give everyone a chance at some great line-ups... oh well... But the music people involved have been phoning us with bands that they can't fit in but still want to play Vancouver, so actually, while they are officially pissed-off, they've been pretty supportive.
DZ: I imagine that the business end of the Music West dog has warned the A&R vultures to stay away from Music Waste?
K: No, actually, we've had requests from most of the indie and a couple of the majors for a full Music Waste roster. I guess we're finally recognized as a legitimate festival.
DZ: You corporate whore!
K: (Laughs.) No. All our funding comes from our pockets, and the fund-raiser gigs. And, actually we pay the bands at the fund-raisers, so we're on a tight budget. And, at the actual Music Waste showcases, the bands split the door, minus ten percent for P.A. and stuff.
DZ: That's unheard of! You're mad!
K: I just think that bands should be able to play a festival and not have it cost them money. Just like a real gig!
And, so, Kris slinks back to answer phones and send faxes. Kris would like me to remind you of the fundraiser gala event of the century, Friday, April 26 at the Mighty Niagara with the Loved One, Celestial Magenta, Cinnamon and Vico, and Sunday's (May 5) Punkaoke at the Niagara will certainly be a scream.
God bless you Music Waste. I guess the soulless machine has lost another round in Vancouver. Shine the light where you can, this black hole needs it.
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