Shifty Business: Fredericton Fest Turns Inf4rno

Shifty Bits Cirucs Inf4rno 2015

Shifty Bits Cirucs Inf4rno 2015

Every spring festival’s poster dominates Facebook feeds and music blogs. Within the last few years, those posters have been followed by blacked out versions that erase all the male artists to highlight the disparity between male and female acts. Fredericton’s Shifty Bits Circus: Inf4no is a festival trying to challenge that imbalance.

“That was pretty scary,” Penelope Stevens said, when she saw the lack of equality in this summer’s biggest festivals. Stevens is one third of Motherhood, one of the founding bands of the Shifty Bits Cult, an all encompassing arts stable which started in 2012.

“I was already kind of on my way at that point with booking bands,” Stevens said. “But when I saw [the blacked out posters] it registered in my mind, if i were to do that with our poster it would still have a lot of bands on there. It was like a pat on the back, those festivals are fucked up and we’re not.”

Penelope Stevens, Photo by Ryan Lebel

Penelope Stevens, Photo by Ryan Lebel

“We tried to keep an eye on keeping it 50/50 local and non local, and also book as many bands with females in them as possible,” Stevens explained. “I don’t go out of my way to book bands just because they have women in them, but if they have a girl that’s a plus, and we were able to book a lot of bands with females in them that are badass as fuck.”

Stevens is likely on to something, and maybe it’s just the water in New Brunswick. This past week SappyFest in Sackville released their lineup and it included nearly 50% female acts as well.

Shifty Bits Circus has been the highlight of Fredericton’s summer for the past three years. Just look at local blog Grid City Magazine’s Home Scene feature, where many locals include the Circus as the music scene’s yearly highlight.

The lineup features local bands like the Waking Night and Keith Hallett & the World’s Fair, while also tapping bands from Halifax (Vulva Culture, Weirdo Click) and a few from Ontario and Quebec (Boyhood, Towanda). Fittingly, half of the artists mentioned here feature a female presence.

Inf4no is the Circus’ fourth incarnation, and this year’s theme is based loosely on Dante’s Inferno, and promises to feature “scary, spooky demon shit,” according to Stevens. This year’s Circus will have several new features, including art installations organized by shiftwork, a Fredericton artist collective, of which Stevens is also a member, and a partnership with the Connexion ARC gallery to present the Circus’ first film festival.

Stevens handles a lion’s share of the conceptual and organizational work when it comes to Shifty Bits’ community plans. For the past few years, that planning has generally been dominated by the circus.

“It’s just nice for us to have something that’s so obviously Fredericton branded,” Stevens said. “I think it gives people pride and motivation to be doing stuff. Like a lot of bands are working on recordings right now, that will come out just before the Circus. Or people are talking about doing crazy collaborative noise art pieces. It creates a different platform for people to do shit they wouldn’t normally do, or feel like they couldn’t do.”

The Shifty Bits Cult, Photo by Dana Budovitch

The Shifty Bits Cult, Photo by Dana Budovitch

This idea of creating something for Fredericton is pervasive in all of the Cult’s actions. And it’s important for the bigger bands in smaller cities to reinvest their time to develop something unique and special for the city. All smaller scenes are used to the boom and bust moments, the peaks and valleys. The Cult is working to change that cycle, and sustain Fredericton’s current artistic boom.

“We’re also a cultural hub,” Stevens said. “No one really recognizes that but we’re starting to slowly change. We’re trying to make people realize Fredericton is just as good as Halifax, or Montreal, or Sackville.” One of the ways the Cult has bolstered Fredericton’s scene is keeping the Circus affordable. In four years Circus tickets have never cost more than $30. This year tickets can be preordered for $20, that’s less than one dollar per band. The more accessible a city’s scene is, the more likely it can sustain itself. And for Stevens, provoking younger female musicians is a means to tap into an underrepresented artistic market.

“It’s mostly my personal taste to encourage the other women that are capable of playing music to do it,” she said. “And I think the more females they see playing, maybe by osmosis they’ll develop the confidence to write their own music. I know there are a lot of girls around Fredericton that are creative and musical, but they need an extra little push to say ‘oh fuck, I can start a band. Why didn’t I start a band already?’”

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