Representation and accommodation: Not Enough Festival brings the change

You go over to someone’s house for the first time and you ask to use their washroom.

As you open the toilet seat lid, you look up. Strategically placed right at perfect eye-level is an old floral framed photo that was probably purchased at Value Village. Someone has taken a Sharpie and scribbled across the front “THINGS FUCKING CHANGE OKAY”. It is beautiful and you can not agree more.

Ten years ago if you asked how many bands in Saskatoon, or even Saskatchewan, had a female presence you could probably compile a list of maybe five groups. Skip to present day and that very question is being addressed over social media. Now that list contains well over thirty bands and seems to be growing every week, and you are finding it incredibly enjoyable how several people are contributing and commenting on it. Bravo! We are making space for female musicians. Great! But what about everyone else? What about the groups of people who aren’t being accounted for? What about the groups of people who are too intimidated to start a band or perform live? What about the individuals who feel excluded? What about the nervous? The anxious? The marginalized? What about people who require safer spaces?

Things fucking change okay! And we can change them.

A festival in Edmonton is working towards breaking down these social barriers and calling for that change. Not Enough Festival is taking place this weekend and is currently in its second year.

Saskatoon: take note. This is important.

The event’s mandate is to bring together women, queer and trans* artists to collaborate, make noise and to take up space. They host confidence-building workshops, seminars on how to start a band and help musicians prepare for the months leading up to the showcase. The showcase features 20 new bands and organizers/volunteers are there to help make the space as safe, anti-oppressive, and accessible as possible. They also state that they will address any concerns attendees may have.

So why is this important you ask? Well let us tell you if you don’t already know. Actually, instead of us telling you, why don’t we talk to a band that is partaking in this year’s festival who can say it better than we ever could.

Meet Basic Spice Rack. They are comprised of three classically-trained pianists from Saskatoon who came together over a call for individuals interested in in forming a pop punk band with an interesting twist: to have Chinese nursery rhymes being yelled out over top of the music. Members include Gan on lead guitar, Nikki Bee on drums (who has only been playing for around a month since taking them up at Girls Rock Camp “All Grown Up”) and Robbie Hynes on bass.

Ominocity caught up with Basic Spice Rack to ask them about their involvement with Not Enough Fest 2016.

Ominocity: How did you initially hear about NEF and what avenues did you take to become involved?

Gan: I think my first “interaction” with NEF was the Edmonton Band Archive of women, queer, and trans artists that was shared through Google Docs. I’d really been feeling the overwhelming white-straight-cis-male presence in the music scene here in Saskatoon and I got excited to see this list and find out that there was an organization dedicated to working against this in Edmonton. The thought of even playing at the festival never even crossed my mind until I played a show with Rae Spoon a couple months ago and they recommended I definitely try it out.

Nikki Bee: Originally I heard about Not Enough Fest back in the fall, when a friend had asked if I was interested in going. It looked so neat, but at the time I didn’t have the confidence to attend such a public event with loads of people. The idea of going as a band with Gan and Robbie was way more realistic for me – feel like I have a purpose when I’m drumming, and not having to interact too much.

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OM: The festival’s mandate is to bring together women, queer and trans* artists to make noise and to take up space. Tell us why you feel this is an important issue and what inspired you to partake in NEF?

G: Oh geez, there’s too much that can be said in response to this question. I mean, women, queer, and trans* artists just aren’t well represented in the local music scene. You can add black, indigenous, people of colour, people with disabilities, and people with low-income to this list as well, likely others that I’m missing because they’ve just been swept to the side for so long. And this is the result of a long history of oppression, between patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism, that has ended up favouring white-middle class-straight-cisgender-men in most aspects of society. So a group like NEF is a place to combat these forces and make space for those who are being excluded.

I think a lot of people who aren’t well represented in a scene feel a lot of pressure to be exceptional, because they carry the weight of representing an entire group or identity. People might think “Oh that band i saw had a woman on drums and she didn’t keep the beat.” and then they’ll implicitly end up thinking “women are bad drummers”. We’re not given as much of a chance to try things out or even to be mediocre because there are still so few of us; we get lumped together and instantly written off. So I’m pretty excited to part of an event that’s working to take that pressure off so that no one has to be an Ambassador of their identity.

RH: I guess, for me, like, I pass really well right? So I want to see everyone else, the people who don’t pass very well, or those who don’t want to pass, I want to see those people get the same opportunities that I get. I want to tear down the privilege that I receive. And fuck, I want to play some music. NEF is a really good opportunity for me to do both.

OM: Why do you feel it is important to create safe space?

G: Well I’ll start off by saying I don’t think “safe spaces” exist, but “safer spaces” than the ones we currently have are absolutely crucial. And the reason why is because people who are marginalized and excluded Matter. That’s it. People of colour who have to endure racism everyday Matter and they deserve to have spaces where they can. Trans women who have to deal with transphobia and transmisogyny Matter and they deserve to have spaces where they can be themselves without fear of violence and harassment. People with disabilities Matter and they deserve to have easily accessible spaces. People who have been sexually harassed Matter and they deserve to have spaces where they don’t have to worry about predators. People who are triggered by alcohol Matter and they deserve to have sober spaces where they can enjoy themselves. The list goes on and on. The idea of creating a fully safe space entails perfectly meeting all these needs. Ideally, wouldn’t we love to have everywhere be a safe space? But realistically that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. So instead it’s more important to keep trying to address these needs, acknowledging when we fall short of them, and then continue to make spaces safer.

NB: I struggle with imposter syndrome on multiple levels, as a performer and in very personal areas of my life. Having a safer space to acknowledge those struggles, to not feel the pressure to “fit in”, to be vulnerable, is the most important thing to me as an artist. I think just by creating art as a queer person, I’m creating space, and that the creation of music, taking up space in this way, is the most undermined form of activism. My sticks are my tools of resistance, and if that’s a joke to some, then so be it. I know otherwise.

RH: Like I said, I pass really well. So I’ve spent most of my life being in a safe space. But I have periods where my gender is like, hell. And it hurts. And in those periods I feel trapped. I feel trapped in my fleshy body and trapped by gender expectations and i just Want Out. I’d like safe spaces where I can live comfortably with the fluidity of my gender.

OM: What kind of dialogue and discussion surrounding NEF would you like to see created and how do you think a festival that focuses on inclusion can help break down exclusion barriers? Could you see a festival that is modeled after NEF happening in Saskatoon and do you think the music scene could benefit from the messages surrounding NEF?

G: Well… there are currently some discussions happening with some awesome folks about addressing issues we see and feel in our music scene. Issues that go beyond just representation at a show or having a festival, and go more into basically forming a new scene that de-centres white men and instead puts the rest of us and our values at the core. This breaks down the idea of “inclusion”, because that still maintains white men at the centre. They’re the default, and the rest of us are “asking” to be included. How about instead we have a space where we don’t have to be asked to be included, because we’re here from the start.

That’s kind of the ultimate goal, but it’s also tough, you can get bogged down with pessimistic feelings and dealing with crap from other people, and wondering if what you’re doing can actually make anything better. It also takes a lot of time, energy, and emotional labour, so we have to be careful to make sure we still take care of ourselves. And it can put a lot of people in dangerous positions, vulnerable to lash-backs from people that disagree, so we aren’t going to rush into it because we want to do things right, not quickly. It’s easier to take your time to do something properly than to try and fix things later on. And this is already an attempt to “fix” things we feel are “wrong” with our music scene/society in general, so we might as well take it slow to cover every aspect as best we can.

NB: I really want Saskatoon to have something like NEF. We desperately need safer spaces for basically anyone who isn’t straight, white, or cis. Saskatoon’s music scene is so inner circle, so inaccessible and intimidating to those who aren’t already seasoned members. I know of people here who are already interested in creating safer space, and people vested in supporting/protecting this space. We need more voices, though, more backgrounds in this conversation. I would also want to see sober spaces (that don’t serve alcohol), and harm reduction spaces if this were to happen.

RH: I’d like to see one, But I’m not sure if it would work. I guess I’m just a pessimist, But I expect a lot of people I know to be the kind of people who don’t think music is intersectional. Like, that the link between music and gender isn’t important. Obviously, I disagree, but I can see a fair number of people I know making a fuss about it.

– Article contributed by Joanna Graves