Chapel Sound Festival sets a new tone

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      “This is a man’s world”, James Brown warbled over the radio in 1966. Fast forward fifty years. Electronic instruments and technology might have made music production accessible to everyone—but Brown’s lyric still rings true.

      Recent months have seen the media zeroing in on the bias towards women in electronic music. Highlighting the rise of all-female lineups and women-only crews, much ink has been spilled on how female producers and performers are rallying to fight sexism in the music industry. (We’ve covered it too—check this out for a refresher.) But while all-women groups are rapidly becoming more common, local collective Chapel Sound is offering a different approach to ungendering the decks.

      Chapel Sound is an artist-run society of around 40 DJs and producers. Providing a platform for Vancouver’s emerging talent, Chapel Sound aims to nurture a non-judgemental space where electronic artists can experiment with their production and performances. From humble beginnings livestreaming Boiler Room-style webcasts of local DJs, Chapel Sound ballooned from a few friends jamming in an East Van living-room into one of the city’s premier electronic music collectives.

      After celebrating its three-year anniversary, Chapel Sound started searching for a new way to promote its principles of equality and inclusivity. And now it’s finally found one. Offering a new spin on the traditional festival model, Chapel Sound is using its upcoming event as a platform to address the issues surrounding gender parity in the industry.

      “We’ve been so successful over the past few years, we thought, ‘why don’t we set up a multi-day festival?’”, event organizer Nancy Lee says. “There’s going to be 17 artists playing, and like any music event we’re making a big deal out of the spectacle. But we wanted to add a different aspect to our shows. And that’s where our workshop series comes in.”

      Curating a collection of panel discussions focused on creative technology and career development, the event will be headlined by a discussion about women in electronic music. Featuring some of the city’s most successful female artists including Andrea Graham (co-creator of Bass Coast Music Festival), Nancy Dru (DJ and producer), Soledad Muñoz (founder of all-female label Genero), Kiran Bhumber (creative programmer), and moderated by local activist Jen Sungshine, the panel will spotlight issues commonly experienced by women behind the decks.

      Sound like two hours of non-stop complaining? No chance. Rather than focusing on the ways in which electronic music alienates women, the panel looks to shine a light on practical strategies to counter sexism.

      “We don’t want to spend the entire time talking about how terrible it is for women in the industry,” Lee says. “That’s not the point. We know the biases that exist in electronic music already, and it’s much better to talk about how to navigate forms of microaggression in our field. It’s easy to call out the obvious misogynists—but it’s a bit harder to tackle the more subtle forms of sexism. That’s the kind of discussion we want to be having.

      “We’re going to be finding ways to overcome the experience of ‘imposter-syndrome’ in the industry—when a woman is performing in an all-male lineup, but she feels like she shouldn’t belong there,” Lee continues. “We’re looking at how artists find inspiration and confidence to overcome those feelings of self-doubt.”

      Vancouver is quickly becoming a hub of women’s activism, hosting numerous events to celebrate all-female talent. Various shows like subduction's FAME Nights and DJ workshops at community space Vancouver Art and Leisure aim to promote female participation in electronic music. But by purely targeting women, these nights limit their outreach.

      Recognising these restrictions, Chapel Sound is trying something different.

      “This panel is for everyone, regardless of gender. Anybody at our festival can come to this—and we hope that they will. We think it’s important to be able to talk about these things in a setting where our male allies can be here too. It’s not just about women putting on shows for women. Change needs to come from both sides.”

      Lee practices what she preaches. Proving that gender equality in electronic music is an achievable dream, Chapel Sound Festival has made it a priority to showcase a 50/50 split of male and female artists.

      “It’s important that we set an example,” Lee suggests. “It’s our first multi-day festival, and we want demonstrate that fairness is possible. Our event reveals how normal it should be to have an even split of genders. We definitely didn’t have to call up all our friends to ask if they might have any female performers for us – we weren’t scraping the barrel! We found it really easy to schedule a balanced lineup of our performers and panelists.”

      “There hasn’t been enough public dialogue in a setting where everyone is included,” Lee continues. “We’re going to change that. Our mission is to build community for the underground electronic scene in Vancouver, and we don’t discriminate on the basis of gender. The status quo needs to be changed—and we want this event to lead it.”

      Chapel Sound Festival is at a variety of venues on Friday (May 20) to Sunday (May 22). See the website for tickets and more details.