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Calgary’s Femme Wave launches as first feminist multimedia festival in Canada

By Jarrett Edmund, November 17 2015 —

When Calgary bandmates Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack came up with the idea for a local multidisciplinary feminist arts festival, they scoured the web for a precedent and were shocked when nothing Canadian came up. As far as they could tell, Canada had never hosted a feminist multimedia festival.

“The first event that showed up was in Halifax and it was just a feminist folk music festival,” Cormack says. “People talk about it, but no one ever does it.”

Feminist arts festivals aren’t an entirely new idea — a strong underground scene emerged in America in the early ‘90s as a part of the riot grrrl movement — but similar events never took off in Canada.

Muir and Cormack are attempting to change that as they prepare to launch Femme Wave, a four-day festival featuring music, comedy, visual art and film. The festival was primarily funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $6,075. After that, Femme Wave continued to grow.

“Femme Wave came about because Hayley and I play in a punk band,” Cormack says. “We played a show one night where every band was at least half women. We sat back and thought, ‘this is really fucking cool, but how come more shows aren’t like that?’”

The original plan for Femme Wave was a single musical event at the Palomino, but it quickly developed into a four-day arts festival.

“We’ve had basically nothing but support and a lot of really wonderful surprises. Calgary is pretty wonderful,” Muir says.

Less than 10 per cent of artists at festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury are women, and cultural diversity is practically non-existent. Given the underrepresentation of marginalized groups at major music festivals, Femme Wave organizers believe their festival is important to the industry. Muir recounts local frustrations with gender inequality.

“People are just getting sick of white dudes being macho,” Muir says. “I don’t wanna go to a show and watch all these white dudes play their dick-guitars. I’m glad I’m watching you jerk off on-stage. I’m glad I paid eight dollars for that.”

Femme Wave plans to counter those negative environments by  giving a platform to artists across Western Canada, regardless of gender, race or social status.

“Everyone matters. Everyone is equal. Everyone deserves the same rights and access,” Muir says. “At the end of the day feminism is just about equality.”

Bands performing at Femme Wave include Fist City, Ghostkeeper, Dream Whip and Sleepkit. Locals Patricia Cochlan and Gena Freeman will headline the comedy section and the festival will include an extensive film component curated by Adele Brunnhofer, alongside visual art installations.

The festival begins on Thursday, Nov. 26 at CommunityWise Resource Centre with an all-ages event exploring the history of feminism in Calgary. A kick-off party at Broken City follows, which will include a feminist ukulele comedy troupe and perfomances by Ghostkeeper and Sleepkit.

Friday’s offerings open with the “Femme Film” short film screenings at 7:00 p.m. at Good Luck Bar, and close at the Nite Owl with “Going Solo,” where 11 artists will perform. Organizers hope the event will encourage inclusive spaces for women in music.

Saturday presents free all-ages events with a concert at Local 510 featuring Dream Whip and Side Eyes starting at 1:00 p.m., and a variety show hosted by Girls Rock Camp at Tubby Dog at 4:00 p.m. Things ramp up with the main event, the Femme Wave funhouse hosted at the Palomino from 7:00 p.m. Bands will play on both floors and tickets will cost $15 at the door.

Although she thinks Femme Wave is a step in the right direction, Muir still wants the Calgary arts community to achieve greater musical diversity.

“When I was a kid, 15–16, and going to shows, it was 90 per cent aggressive dudes stepping on people’s heads,” she says. “It’s not a welcoming environment for a young girl.”

Inclusive environments for women are still few and far between, but Cormack believes each small battle won for equality helps everyone pursue the arts. And Femme Wave is ready to fight for that.

“We’re coming in kicking and screaming.”

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