Although only embarking on its seventh year, the Bass Coast Electronic Music and Arts Festival is quickly rising within the ranks of Canada's outdoor festival circuit. What began as a small gathering in the lush forests of the Squamish Valley has since evolved into a four-day festival in Merritt, B.C. Each year, Bass Coast adds to its yearly event by amplifying the lineup, workshops, art installations, yoga, and more.
Yet, behind every festival is a tremendous amount of hard work. There is an endless amount of planning and preparation that goes into creating any festival, particularly ones that offer a unique and progressive platform such as Bass Coast. THUMP recently met up with the co-founders of Bass Coast, Andrea Graham and Liz Thomson, to talk about the festival's history, its guiding principles, and what it takes to withstand seven years running.
THUMP: How do you two know each other? What led you two to start working together on events?
Andrea Graham: Both Liz and I moved to Whistler within months of each other. We became friends right away and instantly discovered that we like creating art projects together. It wasn't initially events, but we did a lot of different art related projects with music, painting, and film. Everything else flourished from that.
Liz Thomson: We started going to festivals together. We went to Burning Man and there we realized we were both drawn to bass music and everything that surrounded it. To find someone else in Whistler who was appreciative of the same kind of music was pretty incredible.
How did Bass Coast begin?
L: Bass Coast began because we wanted to bring the forward thinking music and culture that we had found at Burning Man home to our local community. We looked around and realized that we had everybody around us that we needed to make that happen. We were in the right place at the right time.
Every festival has its own approach to being a festival. What is Bass Coast's?
A: We've always wanted to highlight all the aspects of the arts. So it's not just a music festival, we also put a large focus on art installation. It's all treated equally and highlighted equally. We put a lot of focus on innovation. We're not afraid to feature the new and emerging styles of art and music. With that, we hope that it creates an open-minded landscape within the festival for people try something new. It seems to be taking off in that direction which we're really happy about.
Our goal is to inspire creativity in everyone who attends. It's to empower our community to discover their own creativity, and I think that has a positive effect across the board.
Bass Coast is only seven-years-old, but it has undergone many changes. What ups and downs did you encounter?
A: There have been so many ups, between meeting all of the different artists and all of the people who have become a part of Bass Coast over the years. It's an amazing gift! We don't really look at the downs, we actually enjoy the challenge of obstacles that arise throughout the planning process. Moving and finding a new site and learning about it was definitely one of our biggest challenges, but I think Liz and I both have always tried to improve it from year to year and that brings the joy of overcoming those challenges.
L: If you were to walk around Bass Coast with Andrea and I, all you would hear us talk about is next year's festival, long before the current one has even started. We just keep going through it and looking at ways that we could make it better.
Tell me a little about the music and art selection process.
A: The past few years, we've had 700 applications from around the world for music. So, we've really had to streamline how to approach 700 applications. The curation of the headliners is a separate application altogether. I've developed a really strong team and we've tried to have as much integrity with the music as possible. The best way we've found is to narrow it down to the top 100 selections which really come down to about 20 or 30 sets from 700. From those last 100, we end up doing a blind listen because we build a guide for each stage prior to filling any of the set times, so that the music has a nice flow throughout the festival. I kind of look at it as if it were one massive DJ set.
L: One of the greatest things about the art installations is watching artists who were participating for the first time years ago coming back year after year. When we started the art grant program, there was some funding for them. Now they're touring with their art. It has become not just something they do casually, it's what they do. So when I'm looking at the applications, I'm always really looking for the up-and-comers, the people at the beginning of their career. I'm really looking for people who aren't just googling installations and copying them, but people who are coming up with really innovative, original ideas and pitching them.
It's a founding principle of Bass Coast that you become inspired by what you see, feel, and experience at Bass Coast and then take that into your life and your community and carry it on throughout the year. For me, it's just so fulfilling to hear those stories.
You guys put together an incredible music lineup this year.
A: I want to give mention to Lorne Burlington and Max Ulis because they work very closely with me in the music curation. I think that this year is our most diverse lineup yet. I feel like we have a really strong representation in a lot of different underground styles. I think one of the biggest changes has been more of a focus on underground house and techno than in previous years, for example with Detroit Swindle and Basic Soul Unit. I'm particularly excited to see Zebra Katz perform. I've heard amazing reviews from his live performances. Sam Binga is also one of my personal favorites. In that same vein, I think Sinistarr really compliments that lineup because he also has releases on Metalheadz and he's really been focusing on his production this year. He's also just a really great guy to have around too.
What are you anticipating for Bass Coast 2015 and beyond?
A: We have so many plans and dreams for beyond, but focusing on this year, we've set our capacity at 3000 people. We're planning for a nice boutique, intimate festival. It's also really nice going into year three at the same venue because I feel like now we can really start fine tuning the layout and the experience on site. We really love creating a village and we love to keep a few surprises up our sleeve. There will be some comedy I'm sure.
L: I'm most excited to see the progression. I feel like every year the stage designs become more elevated, whether it be from the lineup, the performances, the quality of workshops, or the level with which the people on site are engaging and participating in the festival.
Hollie McGowan is on Twitter.