Music Waste is turning 30, and it's a gift to us all

In 1994, Kris Mitchell of Smak, Gilles Zolty of Zolty Cracker and their respective bands got rejected from Music West. The festival was one of Vancouver’s largest — at one point bringing in over 300 local acts.

Mitchell and Zolty could’ve wallowed in self-pity, but instead they initiated a music mutiny and called it Music Waste. It was a modest lineup of four bands, but the press was livid.

“It got a bunch of attention just for doing something rebellious,” Mitchell said.

The next year, Music Waste’s founding members decided to put out applications for local bands to join their bill. Eighty groups applied.

By the following year, that number had grown to 250, at which point Music Waste was “neck and neck” with Music West.

If you’ve never heard of Music West before, that’s not surprising — it was trumped by Music Waste years ago. Around 2004, Music West faded into Vancouver’s archives while Music Waste stayed an annual reality.

This year, Mitchell celebrated 30 years of the endemic anti-festival he started and eventually handed over to the people to maintain its pulse. At a certain point, Mitchell was at the crossroads of music and event coordination — if he hadn’t entrusted the public to resurrect his revolt, he would never have started the whimsically audacious Bohemian vehicle that is the five-person folk-rock band Blackberry Wood.

Last Saturday, the band performed at Green Auto. To say that Blackberry Wood can put on a show barely scratches the surface. Their first song was met with an eruption of preposterous uproar and fancy footwork. Strangers were suddenly friends, clapping along to the stomping of a polka rhythm as some of Blackberry Wood’s members descended the stage and maneuvered a marching bass drum around the floor.

Before festival staff could answer Mitchell’s query of whether the group had time for one more song as their set came to a close, the audience gave them their answer, pleading for one last tune to dance to.

In a tight space like the outside lot of Green Auto, everything looked choreographed from the sidelines.
In a tight space like the outside lot of Green Auto, everything looked choreographed from the sidelines. Fiona Sjaus / The Ubyssey

The chaos that ensued during Blackberry Wood’s set wouldn’t have been nearly as booming if M01E hadn’t charged up the crowd beforehand. The hotheaded punk group crafts DIY musicianship into its most unalloyed form. They had their break at Music Waste two years ago, so M01E’s spot in the festival’s lineup was part of a full circle moment.

At the foot of the stage, a sign invited spectators to scream. It illustrated M01E’s mission to redefine conventions of what music sounds like by regressing the art form back to its original purpose — having fun.

“Music is not about how perfect or how professional or how intelligent something is,” said UBC alum and M01E’s singer and songwriter Jerome Cohen. “Folks really need to stop taking themselves seriously [and] start having fun when it comes to music. I think once you have fun, you’re free.”

But to free your sound you must also free your source. The same ethos that energizes M01E also fuels Cohen’s other project, the UBC Cry Club. As M01E’s drummer and fellow UBC student Willow pointed out, both initiatives share an approach to music that is, first and foremost, accessible.

Cohen added that this accessibility reaches every part of the musical process. The band often opts for makeshift pieces like an easily portable half of a drum kit. While some may feel limited by the instruments they have access to, Cohen argues that the hindrance to making sound really lies in one’s mindset.

“If we go back in time [to] when we were still living in caves, we just gathered by a fire, and we just hit other bones or stones,” Cohen said. “And I think that’s what we essentially, hopefully, want to achieve; is to bridge that gap between [what] people perceive as music [and] the role music plays on humanity in general, which is essentially to bring people together and to have that release.”

We don’t dance around fires anymore, but over concrete in an urban sprawl. The sun came to play with concertgoers this last weekend. Black tarp strung over empty freight containers sprinkled light over the pavement as feet shuffled in charmingly clumsy coordination. In a tight space like the outside lot of Green Auto, everything looked choreographed from the sidelines.

When Dani performs, you get the sense that they are singing to each audience member simultaneously.
When Dani performs, you get the sense that they are singing to each audience member simultaneously. Fiona Sjaus / The Ubyssey

On Sunday, DANI YOUR DARLING, as they usually do without fail, soaked their sound in ethereal, genre-bending storytelling.

“I mainly create based off of how I feel. So the music is just surrounding that,” Dani said.

“When I’m writing music, I am inspired by music or things that help me hold on to the [sentiment] that I’m trying to portray,” they wrote in a statement to The Ubyssey.

Throughout the course of their narration, Dani hopes people dance. And they did, some raising their arms up to the sky, eyes closed, others opting to stay low to the ground, switching between a bounce and a sway.

The meaning behind each song is closely personal and relatable. When Dani performs, you get the sense that they are singing to each audience member simultaneously rather than to a crowd.

Mitchell doesn’t think much has changed about the local music scene since he first found his place in it 30 years ago. Because at the heart of it is the DIY approach to music — something that Music Waste has succeeded in preserving, even after all these years.

For Mitchell, his brainchild will always be about giving different parts of Vancouver’s music scene “a place in the same festival” and “getting to see something that [audiences] wouldn’t normally see,” allowing people to broaden their expectations of the local music ecosystem.

“Ultimately, [Music Waste] is a community,” Cohen said. “It’s people supporting each other and people encouraging each other and also people protecting each other.”

Fiona Sjaus author

Features Editor

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