Organizers of a new electronic music and arts festival hope to turn locals on to a sound booming beyond our borders.
The Morans look less frazzled and sleepless than they should.
They are sitting on their living room couch in their sprawling Alpine home, piles of festival passes, posters and banners are stacked high on the kitchen table behind them. Their two young children chatter quietly on a staircase just out of sight.
But a precarious calm surrounds Jane, a petite blonde who bears a striking resemblance to Gwyneth Paltrow, and her husband Adrian, who is tall with a sturdy build and a handsome, but no-nonsense face.
Then Adrian's cell phone rings.
"Sorry," he says, peeking at the screen. "This is what it's like right now."
They're a week away from hosting the inaugural Believe Freedom Festival, a five-day art, culture and music event that will take place in Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley from July 11 to 15.
The family moved to Whistler from West Vancouver-via-South Africa just over two years ago and almost immediately they began to plot a way to turn their years of experience throwing concerts, their passion for Goa-trance music (more on that later) and the beauty of their newfound home into an unforgettable summer festival that they could grow into something huge.
"There's a gap in the market here," Jane says. "Yes, it's a big risk, but when you weigh out why you're doing it and all the good factors against why it wouldn't work, it's worth it. It's not just any festival, it's a very specific festival that's drawing 40,000 people in places like Brazil and Europe."
That might be true, but they're also aware that the style of electronic music the festival is built around hasn't gained much traction in this country yet. So they created the roster Trojan horse-style, adding two of Whistler's favourite genres, hip hop and reggae, along with the lesser-known acts they love.
Spend any time here and you quickly learn the golden rule: score a Marley (in this case, Julian) and secure a place in Whistler's heart. "Everyone loves reggae," Adrian says. "We've got that common ground. People can agree on some of the music. I think word of mouth will grow (the festival) for sure. That venue can hold 25,000 people. We've done what we can on our budget this year."
As confident and optimistic as the couple is, they still haven't sold as many tickets yet — one week out — as they would like. Questions linger: Can they convince locals to give this brand new event a shot, especially in the busy summer months? Will music fans travel from further down the highway to attend? Will this niche electronic music really win over Canadian fans the way they hope? Furthermore, what the hell is Goa?
Jane and Adrian arrived at the Rustler's Valley Music Festival in South Africa with expectations. It was 1993 and the couple were huge fans of the electronic music scene in their homeland with its wild warehouse parties. "We had come from the city so we expected a rave, warehouse-type party," Adrian says. "It was just an open valley. There were a few tents around. We were a bit confused when we got there. We were actually like, 'Let's go home. What is this all about?'"
Then the sun went down and the music started. By then they owned a security company (which they still own today) that supplied local clubs with doormen. They had also thrown a handful of concerts and Adrian, an avid and well-travelled music fan, was voracious in his search for new tracks. (To this day, "He never listens to anything more than once," Jane says.) They thought they had heard everything.
"We were blown away," Adrian says. "It was a moving moment for us. There was no way there was anything better as far as electronic music in the market."
It turned out to be Goa, a style of music that began in India in a region of the same name where free-spirited Europeans of the hippie generation migrated. Many of them brought instruments in tow, but it wasn't until they began to synthesize guitars and other instruments that a new genre was born.
In a short piece about the Believe Festival, DJ Magazine Canada called Goa-trance "one of the oldest and purest forms of what is now known as EDM (electronic dance music)."
In other words, those bass drops and whomp whomps coming out of your Skrillex-loving teen's headphones? That's all thanks to Goa.
"Never before has a North American festival found its roots in something so authentic," the article enthuses. "In a constant state of progression, patrons pace themselves over days to experience a seasoned EDM interwoven with live instruments at Believe."
One of the challenges has been explaining the difference between this style of electronic music from EDM or even psychedelic trance, which skews young and is abrasive to some.
"It's emotional music," Adrian says. "People connect with it. There was this whole stigma attached to trance. The only trance you ever hear here is a psychedelic, heavy version. That's a hijack of the original Goa music. That's what has created the entire electronic music industry, whether it's dubstep, techno or house, any of the other styles. That's where they come from."
Inspired by what they heard at Rustler's Valley, the Morans began to shift their burgeoning concert production business towards Goa music. Their first big break was building the electronic music portion of the roster for the Freedom Festival, an event held in conjunction with Freedom Day, a South African holiday to celebrate the first post-apartheid elections in that country. "People went nuts," Adrian says. "So we did it again."
Six months later at a venue with a capacity of about 10,000 they held another one-day event. "There were 30,000 people outside the gates," he says. "We knew we had a good thing then."
A box with dozens of festival passes dating back to 1993 is testament to what unfolded next. Adrian sifts through the tangle of lanyards to show a few of them, mostly from South African shows, but a few from around Europe. "We've been closely associated with the scene for a long time and we identify with the most emotional music," he says. "The music that really moves people. When we came here we realized nobody was listening to the music we were. We would play it for people and they'd be like, 'Wow, what is that?' Once we realized the music was going to connect with people, we just decided to pursue it."
First, they needed a venue. "We had been looking and looking and speaking to people," Jane says. "They all said, 'Try the Callaghan."
Whistler Olympic Park had turned down other companies who wanted to hold concerts there before. Though beautiful, the venue poses unique and costly logistical challenges. Essentially in the middle of nowhere by festival standards, organizers would have to foot the bill for everything from firefighters to police and proper sanitation standards for vendors. Still, the Morans forged ahead.
The director at the park is from Europe, Adrian explains, and immediately warmed to their vision for a festival that would blend both music and culture (and appeal to a slightly older, and presumably less rowdy, crowd). "It's the cultural element we offer," he says. "We're bringing 300 drummers, we're going to teach people to drum and the Drum Café is going to have a whole global village going on there. And there will be First Nations dancers. It's a fusion of the two; we bring that cultural element into electronic music. They go hand-in-hand."
Jane also suspects their local approach held appeal. "The money stays in the belly," she says. "I think that's important. It's part of our goal to generate economic sustainability in the area. It's just supporting the area."
To that end, Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says while the festival likely won't drive up room nights (the ultimate goal of many Whistler events) with most attendees camping, there are other benefits to having a new festival in the area. "We may not see significant economic spin off from the festival itself, but what often happens when there are events in the Callaghan is people do take the time to do a day trip into Whistler for sightseeing or supplies... We're very much interested in promoting cultural tourism and expanding our offerings in that regard. This festival has those components to it."
With the site secured, they set to work curating a lineup of local talent and international stars and searching for visual artists and other entertainers — acrobats and performance artists, for example.
Jane quickly recruited local painter Kris Kupskay to paint backdrops for stages and participate in a live art demonstration. "I think Kris is one of the best artists in Whistler," she says. "Even last year when I knew I needed a painter, I thought it would be Kris. I'm stoked he's on board. I really feel that he can grow with us. That's what I said to him. Although our budget is tight this year, in years to come when we have sponsors he can lead a paint team."
Kupskay, who recently painted the massive 12-foot-high by 24-foot-wide backdrops for a 40 ft. stage at an outdoor location in Pemberton, was given a few parameters for the pieces, but mostly had free range. One features a massive, serene-looking tiger lounging on green, rolling hills surrounded by flowers and the festival's signature butterflies. The other depicts a whimsical man with long flowing hair and a beard in front of a similar scene. "Basically, Jane laid out the event and was like, 'Ok this is what I want for the backdrop, you add in whatever else you see fit. We give you full artistic freedom,'" he says. "From that point on they were super supportive with anything I wanted to do."
The look, feel and ideology of the event is meant to fit with today's incarnation of the hippie movement, which is not unlike the original version that inspired Goa. "It's just a better way to live," Adrian says. "Be a bit more caring about the way we go about things... It's a global problem. We've lived in South Africa. Where we come from there are 30,000 murders a year. It's just people robbing and stealing from other people for nothing. That's why this kind of movement resonates with people. It's a peace movement."
Though he seems a little reluctant to delve too far into this aspect of the festival, it was part of the reason why Venice Beach hip hop group The Luminaries contacted them to perform at the event for their Canadian debut. "I saw that they were doing a multi-cultural, multi-faceted event," says J Brave, one of the group's three MCs. "We represent a unique facet of hip hop. We have a positive message. There's a lot of positive music out there, but we're trying to stand out in the hip hop community. When I saw the Believe Festival's mission statement there was an alignment."
We could debate forever why some musicians become popular while others of equal or greater talent are left to toil in obscurity. For Adrian, it's black, white and attributed to something he calls the pop machine. "All of (Believe Festival's) artists are resonating at festivals around the world. They're the ones turning heads. If the big pop machine gets behind the Skrillex guys, we understand how that works. This is next level electronic music. It just doesn't have the big machine behind it. It doesn't get the promotion and all the radio hits. They're better, they just don't have the machine," he says.
While there are well-known locals on the lineup, like Phroh (who has played a big role in helping curate the lineup), Kori K and Kostman, as well as DJs like Sticky Buds from Kelowna who has performed here before, there are also international names like Liquid Stranger from Sweden, New Zealand's Nasty Genius, Helber Gun from Mexico, Germany's Symphonix and Funky Dragon from Austria. (For a more detailed look at the artists see the next three pages.)
Jane and Adrian plan to push hard to move tickets in the final week, but seem content knowing the festival's inaugural year will serve as a launch pad for bigger festivals to come. They don't speak in tentative terms about the future; they're confident the show will go on and continue to grow.
"We're not ever going to be the Skrillex crowd, but there are definitely a lot of guys we would like to bring in," Adrian says. "Steve Aoki we would bring in. We would want to do the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you do the Marleys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, our progressive stuff, bring in the hip hop, dubstep, that's what that park needs. That's what a Whistler festival needs. That is our goal: to fill that place up, to fill the village up. We want to have the best of all the genres and we'll focus on our (Goa) genre and people can decide. We'll move the festival in the direction it needs to go."
For more information visit believefreedomfestival.com