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Bass Coast: more than a rave

Arts and music festival will run from Aug. 3-6


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There's an assumption 'round these parts — call it an oversimplification — about the Bass Coast Festival. To clarify the situation, I'll tell you only once: this is not a rave.

Of course, those who say that it is have no idea what they're talking about. Bass Coast lovers certainly know better and have helped buoy its international reputation as a progressive cultural festival.

It is also arguably the only festival that authentically represents Sea to Sky culture.

"I think that part sometimes gets overshadowed by the wild, raging party — which, I'm not going to lie, it is a wild raging party," laughs festival co-founder Liz Thomson. She's strolling through the festival site, located on the riverbanks of the Squamish Valley Camp Ground, three weeks before the festival, running this weekend from Aug. 3-6.

"It is also a place that is accepting of anybody and any idea," she continues. "It's like a modern day university, you know? It's a freethinking community and you're allowed to present any idea that you have. I find that some of the best conversations that I have all year are at Bass Coast because everyone's really open to talking and there are a lot of very educated and creative people that come."

Case in point: Diner Town, the locals' campsite that has evolved, over the last four years, into a town, in the Burning Man sense. Spearheaded by Bob, Louise and Joanne Van Engelsdorp and Jake Illingworth, Diner Town is, in essence, a communally cultivated interactive art project, complete with street names, mailboxes, a police station, a pub and, of course, a diner.

"The point is to get everyone participating," Thomson says. "We have this one (site) down on the end that is, like, 65 massage therapists and free massages all weekend. We have another one that... that is bringing 80 hammocks. We have another one that's setting up a 12-hole golf course that runs through the entire site, with little greens and flags."

Thomson, Andrea Graham (also known by her DJ alias, The Librarian) and Andrea Helman (who has since left the team) created the festival four years ago. The point was always to inspire the attendees to create art for the sake of creating art — an idea largely inspired by their own experiences at Burning Man. This year, they have given out eight arts grants for contributors to create larger installations for the festival.

"It's not just attracting people in the Sea to Sky who are artists or are musicians, but it's opening the door for people who are builders, or engineers or architects, or are working in things that are non-art related at all but to take their skills and to contribute to something that is creative," Graham says. "That is really exciting for people."

There is, of course, more to it than attendee-created art. On the bill are over 90 performers: 90 per cent of them are DJs who produce their own music, 60 per cent are from B.C., and all of them are progressing their genre in some way. There will be art installations galore. There will be yoga classes every hour on the hour for all three days. There will be an artisans market, two coffee shops, a coconut vendor and a fashion show. An after-hours nightclub has been created for when the three festival stages have shut down for the night.

At the centre of the festival grounds will be the Brain, a sort of workshop centre that will include a variety of workshops and forums over the three-days, including open discussions about the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the unified field theory of physics, to workshops about music production and knitting.

Bass Coast has become, in its four years, a proclamation of the neo-hippie, alternative youth culture of Canada's West Coast. That has always been the idea.

"We picked the name Bass Coast because it has the initials B.C.," Thomson says. "We're super-proud B.C girls. We both were born in B.C., grew up in B.C. and we just love the culture here. We wanted to do things that we'd seen in other places but keep it really unique for where we're from and invite everyone else to come and check out what goes on here."

By refusing corporate sponsorship of any kind, Thomson says they retain complete creative control over how the festival will feel, look and sound. The organizers provide all the infrastructure and the entire festival is paid for through ticket sales (and tickets were nearly sold out by press time this week).

This year, organizers are working with Carney's Waste Systems to develop the Bass Coast Green Plan, which will maximize recycling throughout the festival and minimize landfill waste. Graham says the hope is to create a template for other festivals to use.

All of this is to say, of course, that a rave this certainly is not.