OBEY X: Halifax’s Convention for the Unconventional Turns Ten

For its tenth consecutive year, the OBEY Convention is preparing to roll out four days of carefully curated programming across various venues in Halifax, Nova Scotia. With an impervious focus on exhibiting contemporary music and art, the OBEY Convention continues to “celebrate the fringes of culture and the power of new ideas”, and this sentiment is exemplified then with their 2017 docket which begins this Thursday, May 25th.

Perpetuating the unrelenting spirit of a current and forward-thinking festival, OBEY made it clear in their initial press release this spring that the ten year milestone wouldn’t lean on nostalgia.

“Rather than pausing to look back fondly at a decade of exploration, OBEY X promises to continue pushing forward,” the OBEY press release read. Instead, the initiative behind the OBEY Convention promises to continue to pursue “the confounding values of intensity, inclusion, confrontation, transcendence, accessibility, innovation, education and auditory onslaught on which it is founded.”

The full schedule of events is available here and includes headlining appearances by truly unique international artists including Moor Mother from Philadelphia, Laraaji and Uniform from New York City, Senyawa from Indonesia, Xylouris White from Greece and Australia, and many more.

In addition to the musical performances, there is also the EverySeeker Symposium Lecture Series which is defined by OBEY as offering “free-to-attend lectures on the intersection of music and other disciplines such as storytelling, oceanography, technology, meditation, dance, sculpture, film and more.”

You can browse the complete roster of artists on the OBEY Convention website.

OBEY is very much opposed to the idea of art as entertainment. Music, for us, is a spiritual experience. We try to present the work in a way that reflects that. In this light, we’re also opposed to the very common model of ‘musician as beer salesman’. Since we’re working within a capitalist framework and a Maritime culture, this is a constant struggle. But ultimately we are interested in the ways in which music can expand a person’s consciousness and the artistic choices reflect that as much as possible.
Andrew Patterson
Creative Director of the OBEY Convention

To delve into the creative process behind OBEY Convention X, we reached out to Creative Director Andrew Patterson to discuss what separates OBEY from other music festivals, the importance of inclusivity, and some highlights to look forward to in this year’s programming.

Going into the tenth instalment of the OBEY Convention, how much did the decennial benchmark play into the curation process? Was there anything done differently to mark the anniversary, or would you consider it more along the lines of OBEY-as-per-(un)usual? 

We thought a lot about how to commemorate the occasion from a programming perspective. Though, OBEY has always been a festival set on the future. We’re always trying to look ahead. We thought about inviting some big headliners back as a nod to our history, but it just didn’t feel right. I even ended up turning down Peter Brotzmann this year (who reached out about coming back), that was a real tough one. That guy is an insane performer and a total sweetheart. But we don’t like to repeat ourselves.

There are small nods here and there. Tobias Rochman from Pelada is headlining Saturday night, and he was around in the very earliest days of the fest as an organizer. And then we’ve been digging up all the old posters, too. Kat Shubaly, our Executive Director, has made two really nice displays at Lost & Found to celebrate the decennial featuring a run of posters, one from each year.

One thing that struck me as incredibly special was the recent collection of notes published on safety and accessibility at OBEY. The notes included a zero tolerance list, as well as information regarding an all ages incentive, sliding scale admissions, and an accessibility breakdown of each individual venue.

While its easy for growing festivals to shift focus and lose a close connection with the community they spawn from, how important is maintaining an open and inclusive environment to the planning process of OBEY?

I have to give a HUGE shout out to Hannah Guinan, one of our board members and the director at The Khyber Centre For The Arts, in this regard. Not only for offering me so much time, energy and insight personally, but for fostering a whole new wave of awareness and inclusivity in Halifax. She is an amazing force. Others, such as Nick Dourado, Nathan Doucet, the amazing people at South House, Jayme Melrose at Common Roots Farm, have been instrumental in helping us realize how to actualize these priorities. Without the many amazing communities surrounding OBEY, we simply would not exist.

OBEY has long been interested in inclusivity, safety, accessibility. It’s a festival of underrepresented culture so we’re working with people who are on the margins in many ways and for many different reasons. While this looks different year by year, and these interests may not have always been active and explicit, I think this has always been the case.

This area is where I’ve put a lot of my energy towards the festival and lost a lot of sleep over in the past year. I’ve learned so much. Speaking as a cis-gendered, straight, white male of privilege who is responsible for a pretty large amount of cultural space, my place (and the festival’s place) within systemic oppressions has been made more and more apparent. Really working at changing this. I’ve fucked up a lot, but I also think I’ve savoured those fuck-ups as a learning experience and OBEY is a little bit better for it.

The bottom line is that we really just want as many people as possible to be able to access and participate in the incredible music we’re bringing here. Learning how to say that, as an organization, is an amazingly intricate and nuanced thing.

What else do you think sets OBEY apart from other festival experiences?

Something that my mentor and festival founder Darcy Spidle really impressed upon me is that everything has an art to it. So the entire festival is approached as a piece of art. While there are plenty of access points throughout the programme, for those who are willing to go on the entire ride, the four-day weekend functions as a narrative piece. It’s a heady and challenging festival, so having a sense of shared experience is a big part of it.

OBEY is very much opposed to the idea of art as entertainment. Music, for us, is a spiritual experience. We try to present the work in a way that reflects that. In this light, we’re also opposed to the very common model of ‘musician as beer salesman’. Since we’re working within a capitalist framework and a Maritime culture, this is a constant struggle. But ultimately we are interested in the ways in which music can expand a person’s consciousness and the artistic choices reflect that as much as possible.

Since the first incarnation of OBEY ten years ago, what do you think has changed the most about the Convention?

I guess I’d say the scope of the festival. Darcy did an amazing job growing the festival from a DIY punk and noise festival into one of the biggest festivals of fringe music in the country. So the size of shows we’re doing, the genres we program, the profile of artists, the funding level, has grown tremendously since its inception. The scope of the programming has also changed. I think OBEY has succeeded at reinterpreting its mandate in a contemporary way every year. When the festival started, ‘underrepresented music’ meant something quite different than it does today. I’m proud in the way that this growth has felt natural, genuine.

And what do you feel has most remained the same?

There’s definitely an identity that has remained with the festival all these years. But how to put it into words? There’s something very subversive about the whole thing; provocative even. The relationship between the artistic direction and the focus on accessibility has best represented this spirit lately. Like, ‘Hey we’re programming this avant-doom band from Indonesia. It’s going to be kind of terrifying, but your kids can come for free!’. I’ve always liked that element.

What are some of your personal highlights in this years programming?

Oh gosh, so hard to choose. I’ll limit myself to a top five in no particular order:

1) Elysia Crampton – An amazing electronic producer making music like absolutely no one else. A very twisted blend of club music tropes, Latin American trad music and kitsch kulture. Her music is otherworldly. I have a hunch she’s about to strike it big. She’ll definitely be the artist that suckers in two years time will scratch their head and be like, ‘What? Elysia Crampton played here in 2017??’.

2) Aquakultre – This dude is just 100% #1 in my books. I totally fell in love with his music and then saw him perform for the first time a few weeks ago at Radstorm. Totally floored me. His energy is MASSIVE. So much love emanating off him. He hugged me the first time we met. That’s the kind of relationship I wanna have with artists, y’know?

3) Xylouris White – One key element to OBEY programming is the virtuoso. Each year we like to bring someone who is a totally next-level player. This year it’s Jim White from Xylouris White. He was in Dirty Three, and backed up Smog, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, PJ Harvey, etc. etc. Basically one of the biggest drummers of the last 25 years. His approach is unreal. Teamed up with George Xylouris (a virtuoso in his own right), I can’t wait to see him rip.

4) Moor Mother – This one is a no-brainer. If you don’t care about what Moor Mother’s doing right now, you’re basically dead inside. How do I even pitch this? She’s the most important voice in contemporary American music. Just totally exploding hip-hop from the inside out. A true poet.

5) The Library Programming – Halifax Public Libraries have been nothing short of incredible to work with. The range of work we’re presenting with them this year is insane: a gnarly punk show in a loading bay, a deep listening intensive with river stones, a laughter meditation workshop, a new piece by Montreal’s Kara-Lis Coverdale, a personalized history of black punks c/o local legend Chris Murdoch. So amazing! And all free!

6) BIBELOT – Okay, just one more thing… I really can’t wait to experience the world premiere of Jay Crocker’s BIBELOT. Jay is a fucking wizard. He built this room-sized installation that self-composes a never-ending minimalist score. It’ll be up all weekend-long at the Anna Leonowens Gallery. It’s this beautiful, madcap kind of infinite jest. As far as I know, there’s no one else working on his level in Atlantic Canada. Crousetown’s Cheshire Mystic.

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