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The Difficulty with Vancouver’s Music Scene

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Derya Whaley-Kalaora performing with her old band, Mind Offline at the Roxy Launch Project 2018. Photo by Raunie Mae Baker.

Work put in with little return? Vancouver’s local musicians look to the community for support

By Keely Rammage-Scott

A crack of static echoes through the room as the musician plugs in his guitar. Blinding yellow lights bring the stage to light and the frontman steps forward to the microphone as he awaits the roar of the crowd. Only silence follows.

Vancouver’s music scene holds a very specific reputation that can be described by local artists with one word: Difficult. Artists spend weeks on end promoting just one show using all the different tools necessary to do so in this day and age. Among those tools are social media, word of mouth, advertising, networking, and different streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and TIDAL. Even when an artist devotes all their time and energy into using whatever is at their disposal to encourage members of the local community to come to their show, it is a gamble on whether or not they will be presented with a crowded dance floor, or a couple patches of people here and there.

Are big cities just for big parties? Alex Frizzell, self-branded as AVFmusic is a session musician and producer in Vancouver with both studio and live performance experience. Frizzell sees Vancouver as what it is: a big city with a big attitude. “When I have ventured into the live scene at smaller acoustic gigs or open mics and charity events, I’ve noticed really low turnouts. Especially when compared to what raves in this city pull,” says Frizzell. The people prefer the larger-than-life cultural experience. They pay big money to listen to remixes of familiar songs. They could pay a fraction of the price by visiting one of many bars or coffee shops in Vancouver to support local talent, but unfortunately, people looking to attend events tend to gravitate towards the crowds.

None of this is to say that the local music scene has no support. Local musicians agree that other artists tend to be the most supportive audiences. Ryan Rhys, lead vocalist of Threat Level Midnight is one. “Other artists were super supportive and encouraging, and it gave us the confidence we needed to play our hearts out!” says Rhys.

Most artists in Vancouver agree that venue and atmosphere can have a huge impact on the overall experience of a show. All-ages shows are few and far between in Vancouver. The scene is full of supportive, younger show-goers that are unable to find opportunities to support their favourite local artists due to age restrictions. Most Vancouver music venues are bars and clubs, strictly nineteen plus. Anyone underage is therefore prohibited from attending these shows.

It has not always been this way. Derya Whaley-Kalaora has been going to shows for five years and has seen many different venues and crowds both as a show-goer and a performer in her diverse range of musical projects. Whaley-Kalaora remembers some of Vancouver’s most coveted all-ages venues and the shows that ran at them not even a year ago.

“The Vancouver scene is in crisis with many of the local venues going under, so people who really care about the local scene and work hard to keep it alive are vital,” she says. “One particularly wonderful experience I have had performing was at a venue that has now been shut down called Stylus Records. My old band Mind Offline was playing one of our first shows there and suddenly the power went out as we were playing a cover of “I’m not Yours Anymore” by Angus and Julia Stone. The crowd at Stylus was always so wonderful, and as this happened, they began to sing along to the song with us and wave their phone flashlights. This was a heartwarming experience for us because we’d just started playing together and having the support of so many people in such an intimate environment was absolutely lovely.”

Vancouver artists such as Whaley-Kalaora believe in the importance of all-ages, accessible music venues for all members of the community. Aly Laube is the associate director of Cushy Entertainment, a Vancouver-based production company focused on holding inclusive and accessible events. Cushy has been one of few companies in Vancouver focused on hosting all ages events. “As a promoter, I’ve had great luck with crowds,” says Laube.

Laube has built Cushy from her experience as a younger live music-goer. “I was a kid when I started getting into the music scene and it made me who I am. It saved me from getting in trouble and gave me inspiration,” she says. Laube cannot remember the last time she hosted a nineteen plus event with Cushy. She hopes to provide today’s youth with the same opportunities to see live music as she had when she was younger.

Laube also brings an inclusive attitude to Vancouver’s music scene. “The one thing [the scene] didn’t give me was a sense of representation of women, particularly women of colour, on stages. When I eventually got older and confident enough to help make that happen by joining bands and now by leading Cushy, I knew I wanted to be part of making sure young marginalized people had access to a space that felt open and there for them!”

While audience and venue have been known to make live shows memorable and heartwarming experiences for artists, local musicians are faced with the unfortunate task of navigating the digital world of the twenty-first century. Local bands are unlikely to be booked for shows without some sort of online presence. “It’s hard but necessary,” says Laube. “Facebook is needed for event pages. Instagram is needed for spreading the word. Stories are useful for getting eyes on your content. Websites show you’re professional. Social media is the best tool for getting your brand out there these days, and image matters more now than ever.”

Different artists face different struggles with social media. It is a grind to be seen. While social media and streaming platforms are the greatest tools out there today for providing artists with opportunity, it is also difficult for just one small scale artist to be seen among online algorithms. “the [Instagram] algorithm is evil and heavily prioritizes people who pay to sponsor their content” says Whaley-Kalaora. Despite this, she and others still believe that social media is a vital tool to artists.

“Social media is the primary way that our shows are promoted,” says Harvey. “While posters in local businesses and word of mouth are great, social media allows us to get the word out faster and more efficiently.” Laube says that streaming platforms provide a similar accessibility and are equally necessary. “If you’re not on the streaming platforms available to listeners, how will they find you?” she asks. Streaming platforms are her main resource for finding new music as a promoter in Vancouver.

As do many other tools, streaming platforms also have downfalls for local artists. Whaley-Kalaora says that streaming platforms tend to show music from more well-known artists on main pages. “You can find local artists that are not well known if you search for them, but it is hard to have people stumble upon your music unless you get on the right playlists.”

The amount of labour that is put into a local artist’s social media or accessible music is immense in comparison to what they get back in return. Artists in Vancouver have seen this struggle firsthand. Both require a huge investment, both in time and funds. “There is really no money to be made doing [social media], you’re hoping it’s an investment that will see returns with higher live turnout that doesn’t really exist in Vancouver unless you fit into the narrow niches that have some popularity,” says Frizzell, who has been to shows of all different genres in the city.

Returns from streaming platforms have been a globally debated topic in the last number of years. “[Streaming services] don’t compensate artists nearly enough. This makes it very hard for people to seriously consider a career in music and gain monetarily from it,” says Whaley-Kalaora. She has music on different platforms under her past and present projects.

Local artists rely heavily on public support in order to continue doing what they love. Their success and livelihoods depend on show-goers and users of streaming platforms. All artists agree that one of the most important things you can do to support the local scene is to get as involved as you can. “Go to shows! Pay cover! Buy local music and merchandise!” says Laube.

Whaley-Kalaora believes that even liking and sharing a local artist’s post on social media can be a huge help if you are not financially able to buy tickets to shows or merchandise. “We all depend on each other and the few local art spaces we have left, like Avant-Garden; get out there and volunteer, share in community, and support each other’s art. Bring your friends from work, school, bring your mom, bring your date. Local events are such a wonderful and cheap way to enjoy weekends (and weeks) and there’s always tons going on.”

Surrey604 is an online magazine and media outlet based in Surrey, BC. Through writing, video, photography, and social media, we secure an intimate reach to the public. We promote local events and causes.

Music

Aman Bassi set to release her third music single

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Aman Bassi, Surrey’s youngest and coveted Executive Producer/ Director released her third new single ‘Meri Jaan’ on Saturday, April 4th. Earmarking her success from the direction and production career, Aman forayed into the music industry in 2019 with her two previously launched songs ‘Chaali Jaan de’ and ‘Vibe’ that turned out to be one of the most trending songs on Spotify.

Popular for her incredible work in the film and television industry, Aman has also been a part of some really popular music videos such as ‘High rated Gabru’, ‘Issa Jatt’, ‘Too Hot’, ‘Pagal’, ‘Baby Baby’, ‘Jatta Ve’, ‘Circles’, ‘Closer’ and many more.

The new song ‘Meri Jaan’ is a cross-genre song between EDM and techno music which is very unique to the Punjabi music industry. The song has a catchy hook to it and is likely to be the new dance number leading the charts.

Video Chat Interview with DOP and Recording Artist Aman Bassi

Talking about the new launch, Aman Bassi said, “I’m extremely thrilled to launch this song as it was written about 8 months ago for someone who has always supported and inspired me to grow further in life. I’m sure everyone who will listen to this song will be able to relate to it and be able to dedicate it to their special person or that guiding light that motivates them to grow.”

There is an extremely talented team behind the launch of this song such as Empire Major, the producer who has been a part of some big Sweden bands such as Swedish House Mafia. Mixing and Mastering is done by Adam Fulton who has worked with profound artists like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. The song will be launched on Aman’s YouTube channel and be available on all music platforms – Apple music , Spotify and Youtube

Aman Bassi is a young (24) and popular Executive Producer and Director. Born in 1995 with numerous awards and accolades to her name such as ‘Best of Show’ and ‘Best of DOP’ at Whistler Film Festival and she was also nominated as the ‘Best New Director’ by PTC. Aman’s creative instincts have always set her apart in any crowd. Since an early age in life, she has been glued to the camera at all times making her a celebrated Director today.

Aman went to high school in Surrey, BC and attended LA Matheson and Princess Margaret. She then graduated from the Art Institute in 2015. Her career in this industry started with working as an assistant in the film industry at the age of 16. She eventually worked her way up to being the Executive Producer on sets for Vancouver production houses.

Owing to her young age, Aman faced difficulty in proving her might and ability to others.

So far, she has been a part of some major Netflix productions such as ‘Sabrina,’ ‘Firefly Lane’, ‘Stranger Things’, ‘6 Underground’, ‘Sacred Games’, Red Notice (in production)’ and ‘Riverdale (on going). She has also worked on Directors Guild film projects including ‘Ghosting’, ‘When the Lights go out’, ‘Descendents 2’, ‘The Mighty Ducks’, and ‘Bates Motel.’ Her feature film projects include major titles such as Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar winning ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, ‘Hobbes and Shaw’, ‘Deadpool 2’, ‘Jumanji 2,’ and some iconic Punjabi Films including ‘Manje Bistre 2’, ‘Ardaas Karaan, ‘PR’ and the indie film ‘Monster.’

Some incredibly popular music videos under Aman’s work profile are ‘High rated Gabru’, ‘Issa Jatt’, ‘Too Hot’, ‘Pagal’, ‘Baby Baby’, ‘Jatta Ve’, ‘Circles’, ‘Closer’ and many more.

She has also released her own music videos in which she debuted as a singer such as ‘Chaali Jaan de’ and ‘Vibe’ in 2019. These have turned out to be one of the most trending songs on Spotify.

Instagram | Spotify | Youtube

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Coffee Concert With the Bergmann Duo and Special Guest April 9

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Bergmann Piano Duo, and Clarinetist, Jose Franch-Ballester join forces for Clarinetastik! Part of Surrey Civic Theatres’ Coffee Concert Series

Surrey, BC – With virtuosity, and charm, Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann on piano, with Jose Franch- Ballester on clarinet, delight audiences with classical and contemporary music.

Part of Surrey Civic Theatres’ Coffee Concert Series, April 9, 2020social hour at 10:00 AM, concert at 11:00 AM.

Tickets Online: tickets.surrey.ca

Box Office: 604-501-5566

Where: Surrey Arts Centre, 13750–88 Avenue, Surrey, BC.

“From the first note to the last, it was a pleasure to hear these two natural musicians, who breathe, think and play as one.”—National Post

On April 9, entertaining musicians and storytellers, The Bergmann Piano Duo, bring their charm and musical alchemy to Surrey Civic Theatres’ intimate and casual morning concerts.

For Clarinetastik! the Bergmanns welcome clarinetist, Jose Franch-Ballester to entertain audiences. Franch-Ballester is an award-winning musician, assistant professor of clarinet and chamber music at UBC, and is considered one of the finest classical soloists and chamber music artists of his generation.

Based in White Rock, the Bergmanns met when they were both students with the same teacher at music school in Hanover, Germany. It was that teacher who suggested that the couple should perform as a duo. “Our teacher encouraged us to prepare a two-piano concerto for a festival in Greece, collaborating rather than competing against each other. As a result of that positive and inspiring experience, over the next year we started learning some of the standard duo piano repertoire …and of course for many years after that!” said Marcel.

Marcel also said that working with your spouse definitely has its pros—and cons! “There are many positive aspects: the best thing is being so closely connected to each other personally and not having the same boundaries that exist when playing with other musicians. However, the fact that you can be more free and honest with each other, can, at times create some tension! For instance, during rehearsals when there are disagreements about certain aspects of the music and interpretation. We certainly went through a time where we argued about those things…but once we worked through those issues, things became easier and much more enjoyable.”

The Bergmanns said they both enjoy the Coffee Concerts because it’s a chance to share music and stories with audiences in a much more relaxed and informal way. They both also enjoy the opportunity to collaborate—and showcase fellow musicians. “Jose is a fantastic musician with a very impressive career. He is also very passionate about the music he plays. He has a very genuine, warm personality. So we think—and hope—our audiences will enjoy our upcoming collaboration as much as we will,” said Marcel.

Bonus: Bus Trip—Leave Driving to the Coffee Concert to Us!

For patrons who don’t want to drive to the theatre, there is the option of taking a bus from South Surrey Recreation and Arts Centre.

This service drops people off at the Surrey Arts Centre in time for the social hour and concert, and afterwards brings them back to the South Surrey Recreation and Arts Centre. Tickets for the bus tour are $50 (price includes return bus trip, social hour with treats, and the Coffee Concert).

It can be registered for online: https://bit.ly/2Tk08fn. Patrons can also call and register at 604-501-5100. The bar code to register online or over the phone for the Bus Trip and Coffee Concert is #00017483

“He [Ballester] is a natural onstage…he is also a musician of some depth.”—New York Times

About the Performers

The Bergmann Duo are laureates of the Dranoff International Two Piano Competition and enjoy dazzling audiences around the world at festivals and on tour.

Jose Franch-Ballester is a multi-award-winning Spanish clarinetist hailed for his “technical wizardry and tireless enthusiasm” (The New York Times), his “rich, resonant tone” (Birmingham News), and his “subtle and consummate artistry” (Santa Barbara Independent). The recipient of a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2008, and winner of both the Young Concert Artists and Astral Artists auditions, he is a solo artist and chamber musician in great demand.

Individual tickets are $26–$33 and are available online now at tickets.surrey.ca or from the box office at 604-501-5566.

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Vancouver Music Festival, 5X Festival, Appoints International Business Strategist and Entrepreneur Ravi Krishnan as Chairman (Non-Executive)

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(VANCOUVER, CANADA) – 5X Festival, a Canadian based South Asian millennial festival showcasing the best of music, art, film and fashion, has appointed Ravi Krishnan as Chairman (Non-Executive), effective immediately.

Krishnan is a visionary business leader with over 25 years of cross-border experience developing global brands within sport, fashion, media and entertainment. He is currently the Founder and Chairman of global wellness brand, Stepathlon and has previously served in a leadership capacity at various event properties; holding positions such as: Chairman (Non-Executive) X1 Racing League, Vice Chairman Rajasthan Royals (2008 champions of the Indian Premier Cricket League), Managing Director South Asian/Senior VP IMG developing the Aircel Chennai Open, Lakme Fashion Week, and the Indian Premier League.

Inspired by both SXSW and Afropunk, 5X Festival is the largest South Asian youth event in Canada, with a unique focus on empowering young creatives, providing them the momentum they need to crossover into mainstream platforms and create global impact.

According to 5X Festival’s Executive Director, Tarun Nayar, they are positioned for exponential growth in the coming years, with Krishnan being an ideal addition to the group to help propel this evolution.

“Ravi’s entry into 5X has truly come along at the right time. We are at a critical point in our trajectory and he has the right connections and experience to help us garner the high level support that we really need to elevate 5X into an international brand,” explained Nayar. “Having worked on multiple global properties from the Sahara Cup, to the cricket Indian Premier League to Lakme Fashion Week, he knows what it takes to take something from an idea to a high functioning global property. I am confident that our board will benefit from his breadth of experience, insights and global perspective as we continue our evolution into a global brand and online community that champions South Asian youth culture.”

Both Nayar and Krishnan agree that South Asian culture is ready to ‘cross over’ and have a much greater influence in what is perceived to be ‘mainstream’. From their point of view, it is a question of when, rather than if. With his extensive experience at the market entry level of building brands and sport, media and entertainment properties, Krishnan feels he can be catalytic in making this jump happen.

“Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have been involved in the ‘process of pioneering’. It has given me a relevant blend of strategic, commercial and execution capabilities that I seek to leverage for the benefit of the promoters and projects with whom and which I collaborate. The opportunity for 5X Festival is substantial and timely. They have laid a solid foundation for an exciting future. However, to capitalize on this opportunity requires a new mindset from “origination to facilitation”. That is what I seek to instil, by bringing my experience and network to the table. I have also had the privilege of working at the junction of creative and commerce throughout my career and that requires a certain understanding of the talent, whether it be athletes, artists, activists or actors’ ambitions, whilst making sure that the commercial goals are juxtaposed in a win-win manner.”

Nayar himself has been involved with the festival in a creative capacity since its first iterations 10 years ago, and has himself had massive global success with his touring band Delhi 2 Dublin. In recent years, he took over the festival, rebranded it and has bold ambitions for its future.

The festival couldn’t be more excited about the introduction of Ravi to the team, stating that his unique perspectives on the global business environment will be a valuable asset as they chart the future together.

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Fort Langley Jazz & Arts Festival Rising Star Application Opens

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Rising Star Jazz Musician Award opportunity to earn scholarship and jazz festival show Fort Langley Jazz & Arts Festival organizers busy at work preparing for 2020 festival

When the Fort Langley Jazz & Arts Festival returns for two full days of live music in July, an up and coming jazz musician will be featured as the festival’s Rising Star award winner.

Festival organizers established the annual award in 2019 “to recognize an outstanding jazz student who demonstrates a high level of performance ability and is pursuing a professional career in jazz music.”

The Rising Star award winner will be given an opportunity to perform with a main stage artist on Saturday, July 25 during the festival and in their own featured paid performance on Sunday, July 26. They will also receive a scholarship of $1,000.

“We are thrilled to offer a unique opportunity for an emerging jazz student to become our Rising Star,” said Dave Quinn, artistic director for the festival. “One of our key mandates is to support youth and emerging artists and the award is a wonderful opportunity for an up and coming jazz student to perform with and be mentored by established artists, while also receiving financial support for their education.”

Last year’s inaugural award winner, Julian Borkowski, a Surrey resident and second-year music student at Capilano University at the time, said the recognition “is a great opportunity for me to expose myself musically.”

Award submissions are open to all secondary and post-secondary music students from the Metro Vancouver area until March 31, 2020 on the festival website.

For 2020, Fort Langley Jazz & Arts Festival will be held from July 24 to 26, offering free concerts on two outdoor stages with world-renowned jazz acts on the Saturday and Sunday, along with four nighttime concerts for ticketholders. Featured genres include straight-ahead jazz, R&B, big band, New Orleans, funk and latin jazz.

One of the festival’s four ticketed events, an opening-night concert, on Friday, July 24, inside Fort Langley National Historic Site will feature an all-star blues show. A Roaring 20’s gala dance event will recreate the Cotton Club with a big band and Cab Calloway singer on Saturday, July 25 at the Fort Langley Community Hall. A new jazz concert with a headliner act at Chief Sepass Theatre is also scheduled for Saturday night.

Closing the festival will be a gospel/soul show at Chief Sepass Theatre on Sunday, July 26.

The festival is also adding a new ticketed concert series called the “Art of Jazz” that will feature innovative and creative jazz acts in an intimate concert setting.

Tickets for all nighttime shows will go on sale in April at fortlangleyjazzfest.com/tickets

“There will be something for every jazz fan,” Quinn stated. “We’ll also have four pop-up performance stages around the community featuring youth and emerging jazz acts, Jazz Around Town performances at restaurants and a Kidz Zone area and stage.”

Organizers are also expanding the art side of the festival with an Outdoor Painting Challenge, a student art exhibit, artist vendor areas and Indigenous artist workshops and demonstrations.

The band lineup and all other festival activities will be announced in April. You can view highlights of the 2019 festival here.

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Khanvict’s First Vancouver Live Set

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Khanvict, a local Pakistani born Producer had his first live show in Vancouver on January 17th at the Imperial. Asad is a bit of a local hero within the scene as the young up and comer who is really making a name for himself off the bat.

This live show was really nothing like what South Asian artists have performed locally. Since last spring he has been practicing this unique showcase in a warehouse setup with his custom hardware and software rig including live and electronic instruments and cutting edge lighting and visual design.

Beyond just the hybrid of sounds – bollywood / electronic / punjabi / south asian – he is truly engaging the diaspora youth in something that feels uniquely theirs. Think of artists such as Cartel Madras in the hip hop space or Raveena (a bit more mainstream) but in the R&B space – he will be quick on the heels of that type of success.

His show also featured Raaginder, a violinist and music composer from the San Francisco Bay Area, who has produced several contemporary albums in which the sounds of Indian classical violin and hip-hop music intermingle. He has also had the privilege and pleasure of performing in prominent venues all over the world such as The White House, Staples Center, Wembley Arena and many more.

About Khanvict

Surrey based Asad Khan, better known by his stage name Khanvict, has built his name around a sound that seamlessly blends the eastern influences of Bollywood and Punjabi music with a signature West Coast bass music punch. An immigrant from Pakistan who arrived in Canada in his early teens, Khanvict found purpose in the ultra-competitive world of South Asian dance parties, quickly becoming one of the most in-demand DJs in the scene. In 2017, spurred by experiences at West Coast festivals like Shambhala, Khanvict began to take inspiration from the likes of Troyboi, Clozee and Indian artists like Nucleya.

Very much a product of the streaming generation, Khanvict co-founded the record label Snakes x Ladders to take his sound to the masses. His first EP on the label, Kahani, saw great traction and led to an opportunity to release 2 official remixes of AR Rahman’s classic Bollywood hits Jiya Jale and Ramta Jogi through Venus Records in India.

Khanvict is known for his ability to perform – and this Vancouver show is his first fully live set in Vancouver ever! Months of preparation, custom software and hardware, and a custom lighting and LED rig have allowed him to bring his expansive and cinematic vision to life.

Recent shows include Shambhala, Sessions Music Festival (NYC), FIMPRO (Mexico) and Chasing Summer (AB), Rifflandia 2018 (BC) and opening for Vidya Vox at the Celebration of Light 2019.

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