Four years ago, local promoter Kash Khan took a risk. Recognizing the growing gap between the interest in Vancouver’s house and techno scene and the few events established to showcase it, the organizer stepped in. Creating a concept modelled on Montreal’s famous Piknic Électronik—a day-long party that encourages people to hang out, dance, and relax in a picturesque setting—he booked six Saturdays at the secluded and leafy garden of Koerner’s Pub on the UBC campus as an experiment. Not even Khan anticipated the response.
“When I first started Sunwave, I remember people saying, ‘This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, ever,’ ” the organizer tells the Straight by phone. “I’d seen so many failed parties that I knew it would be a gamble doing something regularly on the weekend—not least because the events are outdoors and go all day and into the evening, and we can’t control the rain. Now it’s turned into such a success that we’re constantly running up against our capacity.”
As well as welcoming a large selection of regulars, Sunwave’s six events play host to a significant number of tourists. Travel agents and hostels have asked Khan if they could put the dates on calendars for their visitors, and the party continues to attract Europeans looking for the kind of showcase common in their own countries. It’s now very much a legitimate event in Vancouver’s dance-music ecosystem, and Khan is keen that the series remain true to its roots.
“We’ve had a lot of agents for international acts hit us up over the last year,” the promoter says. “We had to think seriously about whether to bring in those bigger-name artists and give them a longer slot, or whether we wanted to keep our focus on the city’s scene. In the end, we recognized that the community loves us because we’re local. When Vancouver DJs play, not only do they get to really enjoy themselves being among friends, they also perform their best sets because they’re not opening for somebody else. Everyone is the headliner in their own regard. We’ve decided to keep the talent all home-grown, make sure the prices are the same, and put our money into making it a better party.”
The local DJ community has responded in kind to the organizer’s dedication. After putting out a cheap advertisement to let people know that he was accepting applications to perform at the event, Khan opened his laptop the next day to find his inbox flooded with messages.
“There were 412 submissions in total this year,” he says with a laugh. “I’m always surprised by the talent pool that we have here in Vancouver, but I didn’t know there were even that many people in the city who played. Everyone sent three Soundcloud links per application, and each of those sets is one hour—so that’s about 51 full days of listening. I had to have a lot of help to go through all the artists.
“Even though people think that house and techno are pretty standard,” he continues, “there are definitely levels to it. For us, it wasn’t just about seeing which artists had submitted and whose sound jelled well together—we looked at people’s profiles to see who is active, and who’s working on making fresh music rather than riding off the success of a set they released a few years ago. We wanted to have more women in the lineup this year, too, and we have two or three times as many female DJs—there’s at least one or two on each day. I think they often have a different style of selection to the boys, and it makes for a much more interesting set list.”
As well as increased diversity, the 27-artist-strong lineup includes acts from the city’s most prolific collectives and labels. Performers on premier imprints Pacific Rhythm and 1080p are slated to take to the stage, while alumni from the Bass Coast festival and Intimate productions join a roster that Khan dubs “the top of the top”.
Understandably, tickets to the events are hot.
“We had some kids try and dig through the fence to get in, once,” Khan recalls with a chuckle. “We do colour-coded wristbands, and we’ve caught a few people trying to jump the wall and sneak through the door. In a way, it’s really fun to see that people are trying so hard to get inside this party, because the cover is really not that much. We take it as a compliment, and an encouragement to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Sunwave takes place at Koerner’s Pub on select Saturdays, beginning on June 10 and running through September 2. For a full schedule, visit the Sunwave website.
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays