Photograph courtesy of BenzPhoto.ca
What do you get when you put a journalist, a photographer, DJs, producers, contest winners and a festival co-founder on an amazing renovated school bus outfitted with a DJ booth, a sound system and coolers full of a beer? One heck of an experience, apparently, and I was fortunate enough to attend such an event last week.
This one of a kind evening was put together by the team behind Bass Coast, which has, in its seven year history, grown to be one of the best electronic music and arts festivals in Canada's West. The unique bus ride served as the pre-party for the Calgary stop on their Mutiny Tour, which features some of the festival's resident acts and aims to bring the atmosphere of Bass Coast to select cities throughout Alberta and British Columbia, all in preparation for the big show happening August 1st to 4th in Merritt, BC.
My entire experience fit with the nautical theme in that it was much like a journey into unchartered waters: I boarded our vessel for the evening with only limited working knowledge about Bass Coast and its history, and over the course of my 90-minute expedition I was privy to stories from passengers from all walks of life, with different levels of affiliation with the festival. Fittingly so, my voyage started at the front of the bus, where Bass Coast co-founder Liz Thomson was seated.
Liz and her friend Andrea Graham (who DJ's under the name The Librarian), founded Bass Coast after being inspired by their experiences attending Burning Man: "There are many elements required for an event like this, and we realized that we had all those pieces of the puzzle right in our own backyard," says Liz, referring to the Squamish-Whistler corridor area where her and Andrea are both from and still reside. "The music, the art, the camping, the culture—we just realized that we could totally make this happen."
And so they did. The first iteration of Bass Coast was called "Festival Shmestival" 400 people were in attendance and to this day is still regarded as a legendary event and crucial in the birth of a community that has since grown to number in the thousands. This year, they expect to attract between 3000 and 4000 people, with another 1000 attending who are involved in the festival in some way, whether it be as an employee, artist or vendor. The music is programmed carefully to include a mix of internationally acclaimed artists as well as many acts from Western Canada. This will also be the third year of the Bass Coast Art Grant program, through which $20,000 in grants will be awarded to support artists within the community. Despite the massive growth, Bass Coast remains true to its grass roots, with no corporate sponsorship.
Liz acknowledged her disbelief at what it has become: "It used to be ours, but it's grown into something so much more than us. Bass Coast is a community of creators, thinkers, and innovators. It's not just a party; it is happening all year round, in many different places and many different ways. When people are creating, whether they are making music or writing or even just making coffee, they are innovating from a deep and meaningful place. I think fostering that is how this community is going to peacefully change the world."
The themes of community, collaboration and innovation are ongoing and pervasive throughout all facets of Bass Coast. As I moved to the center of the bus I was introduced to Gareth Rider, one of three founders of BassBus. He explained the Bus' affiliation with the festival as being dependent on these very principles: "We've been working with Bass Coast for about three years. We knew we wanted to partner with a festival, and the philosophy and way of thinking behind this one makes it the perfect fit." BassBus doesn't just park the bus on festival grounds; they design, transport and construct a full stage made entirely from recycled or upcycled material. This year, to fit in with the festival's "Mutiny" theme, they will be constructing the Pirate Radio Stage.
Robbie Slade was the next passenger I met, someone connected to Bass Coast both as an employee (Marketing Director, to be exact) and a past performer, as part of Vancouver synth pop duo Humans. He was due to perform later that evening at the Hifi Club for the official Mutiny Tour stop with Vancouver-based DJ and producer Max Ulis as their joint project Sabota (Max was also on board, playing tunes in the built-in DJ booth with one of Calgary's finest and another Bass Coast act, Wax Romeo). Before foraying into music, Robbie worked in the world of cosmetics marketing. Despite the female-oriented nature of that industry, nothing could have prepared him for working with Liz and Andrea: "They're like, wielding chainsaws. It's like get shit done, DIY feminism, and I mean that in the best way possible."
"Get shit done" could be the mantra for the Bass Coast crew, as Liz and Andrea have championed a group that not only pushes the envelope when it comes to ideas and innovation, but has the smarts and drive to action those ideas, and do so with an attention to detail that many note when referring to overall experience of Bass Coast. When I asked Communications Manager Paul Brooks to expand on that idea, he noted that this pre-party and the accompanying contest was a great example of it, with only about a week from ideation to execution. "Sometimes I think to myself 'How does this work?' and it just doesn't seem logical," he admits. "But I suppose it's like alchemy: we have all the right pieces in place, working together to create something great."
I spent the last leg of the trip at back of the bus, seated amongst a group of people who won their tickets aboard by completing the social media scavenger hunt. "I don't like attending events within the city much," says Anita, who is on board with her boyfriend and two other friends. "I feel like a lot of the time people are just looking for a party. But then there are people willing to drive 8 to 12 hours for a festival because they know they'll get something bigger. The day after I bought my ticket I found out about this contest and I was so excited that I could come and meet the people and get a taste for what it's all about. I've never even been and I'm already in love with this festival just because how amazing this all is!" Her eyes were wide and sparkling, and her ear-to-ear smile was infectious. "I can't believe I'm on the BassBus with Max Ulis, Wax Romeo and somebody who started Bass Coast," she whispered excitedly. "This is one of the coolest experiences I've ever had."
As I sat there, beer in hand and smile on my face, taking in the utter uniqueness of my surroundings and reflecting on my own first experience with Bass Coast, I had to agree.