Shout Back Festival 2013
Words by Adrienne LaBelle
Photos by Hayley Gauvin and Ash Tanasiychuk
Vancouver is a city in need of a lot of things, but affordable and accessible space seems to be one of the hardest to come by. To take on the task of arranging a 4-day festival that is completely all-ages and physically accessible, is an amazing feat spatially, never mind the logistics of coordinating over 70 bands, educational workshops, art shows, film screenings, and free meals at most venues. The organizers of Shout Back Festival took it on, pulled it off, and really carved out some truly inspirational spaces over the course of a weekend.
Thursday August 22nd 2013: Kick Off Party @ Astorino’s
The self-identified “anarcha-feminist, queer, radical, anti-capitalist DIY” festival kicked off with a Decolonization and Anti-Oppression workshop at Astorino’s. About 20 people attended the workshop, which started out with all of us sitting on chairs in a circle, passing a talking feather to share preferred pronouns and personal stories. It was a very respectful and open environment, reminiscent of an intimate support group, though it seemed most people either came alone or only knew a couple other people there. The workshop provided a space to discuss the fact that we are all very lucky to be able to hold such a festival on unceded Coast Salish territories, and encouraged us to really think about what that means, and question how much we really know about the peoples whose land it is that we now call home.
The group shared intimate stories – in some cases tearful ones – of their own personal experiences, wading through years of history and layers of oppression. These are heavy issues to contemplate at the start of a festival, and some might find it to be a bit of a bummer, but as I looked around at the strangers who shared their stories, and shed their tears, a camaraderie and bond was formed. When I ran into some of the same people throughout the weekend, I appreciated that we’d gone through the effort to think about why we’re here and how lucky we are to be able to participate in such a festival.
It was an interesting, emotional, thoughtful, and essentially positive start to a festival in the same place that I have previously described as a dusty, high school gym type of space. Astorino’s is a chameleon: the space is what you make it, and this weekend, it was made into a lively, cheerful, celebratory space where nobody dared complain about the lack of alcohol (an almost alarmingly common complaint for those who run the space). This crowd didn’t need it. There was too much going on.
For those who missed the workshop, the festival started up as soon as the workshop chairs were stacked and pushed to the side. There were free samosas with chutney and sliced watermelon for the offering, banners that shout slogans as political as “NO COPS! NO BOSSES!” to a “Revolution” sign dripping with cardboard-cutout pizza slices.
Everything was hand-made, bright, colourful, patterned, and celebratory in spirit. The Astorino’s space took on an entirely new persona for the kick-off of the festival, and people were buzzing with excitement as the first band started up.
Under a “Bye Bye Patriarchy” banner, Cascadia played a heavy, loud, and straightforward set that had everyone excited and ready to party.
Whip followed with their first show ever, but you wouldn’t know it. They looked cool and collected, almost indifferent to playing a refreshing set of minimalist guitar solos over shred power chords and loud drums.
Imaginary Pants played a set of charming pop duets.
The music, while amazing and eclectic, was mostly a soundtrack to the real show, which for me was the spectacle of the crowd, the volunteers, and the amazingly large array of extra goodies to look at or purchase to support the festival. On one side of the room sat a table dedicated to pamphlets, zines and a nametag-making station. On the other side, a pile of donated clothes was spread out on a big table, free for the taking.
Next to that was the band merch table, which throughout the evening filled up with really beautifully packaged cassette tapes from Lost Sound Tapes (Jon Manning of Imaginary Pants’ label), an Imaginary Pants 7” with a lovely hand-crafted look to it, Cascadia T-shirts and their 7”. Next to that, the official Shout Back Festival mix tapes, all spray-painted bright pink, orange, and green, with a type-written track list folded up neatly inside.
Next to that, the Shout Back Fest T-shirt table, filled with tri-colour screened shirts with aliens giving the finger wearing NO COPS shirts, unicorns eating pizza, etc. It was heavy-handed politics combined with light-hearted humour, which in a sense sums up the themes of the festival.
I had to leave early, but I left feeling excited about the days to come, thoughtful about what it means to be here, now, celebrating, and looking forward to exploring new spaces with new people throughout the weekend.
Friday August 23rd 2013: Art Bank Art Show
I was late for the official art show opening because I spent the entire afternoon making a last-minute zine that would serve as a program guide. We wanted to commemorate the event, as it would be one of the last shows in a 3-year run at this space for the fine folks who run Art Bank, which is a sad, but expected occurrence in this city of ever-closing venues.
When I finally arrived, the space was packed, which was a nice surprise for an early start on a Friday night. We figured that many people would arrive later, and miss the chance to appreciate the art on the wall while the bands played, so we hoped that the zine might provide the extra space needed for a better appreciation of the art. Curator Selina Crammond provides a description of the importance of process over product in the collection of works in the program/zine:
“If the duty of the feminist movement is, as Bell Hooks says, to work collectively to expand our awareness of how sex, race and class interlock to create oppressive narratives, then what better way to build a new narrative than by sharing the space where ideas become tangible? Let us always be talking, listening, laughing, reading, writing, drawing, editing, organizing and shouting together!”
The Art Bank felt like a celebration, and while the artwork played a minor role next to the loud music, it definitely played a large part in providing that revolutionary ambiance, the feeling that just occupying a positive space such as this was a revolt of some sort.
I spent most of the evening hidden in the back room, working the minimalist bar which also housed a small zine library composed of various donations from community members, their own zines as well as their collections of others. The tiny room provided a bit of a refuge for the people who couldn’t handle the overwhelmingly muggy small room where the show was taking place, but the music was good so most people didn’t seem to mind.
All the bands were great that night, but the pinnacle of the evening seemed to be when Hooves covered a Le Tigre song and the whole room freaked out, jumped around and started shouting along happily.
As the night wound down and the crowd filtered out, the positive energy remained, as did the artwork. Although we knew that the walls would eventually be bare again, the space felt truly transformed.
Saturday August 24th 2013: Astorino’s
With the decorations still up from Thursday’s opening night, Astorino’s kept up the positive spirit for a nice, chilled out afternoon show featuring some diverse acts, switching between two stages set up on either side of the hall. Smaller, quieter acts provided a nice ease into the day as I sat from the zine-making table/library, watching people filter in and out, from room to room. Most people sat cross-legged on the floor during these quieter performances, but as the day went on, the crowds grew, regained their energy and really started getting into the performances.
During the day, a fix-your-bike workshop was hosted at Kickstand in the basement of Astorino’s, and a skateboarding workshop was hosted in the back parking lot behind the venue. For the rest of the day, enthusiastic skaters of all ages found dangerous but creative places to try out their new skills by skating around inside the venue (not at all recommended for future attendees of Astorino’s).
Reverter and Shearing Pinx brought a lot of energy back to the crowds and the bigger room was pretty packed by the end of the day, which closed out with Lori Goldston (of Earth and Nirvana fame.) It was really nice to see some younger audience members out, and refreshing to see diverse crowds adjust to each band as the styles changed through the day. Everyone was very respectful and supportive.
I was exhausted from the first two days of the festival, and all the running around I’d been doing leading up to it (I was only peripherally involved in the festival, I can’t imagine how exhausted the main organizers and volunteers were feeling!) so I packed it in and rested up for the final day’s events.
Sunday August 25th 2013: Strathcona Skate Park
As per tradition (this is the second annual Shout Back Festival), the final day started out with a Waffles and Noise house show. The only non-accessible show of the festival took place at a private residence, and served up vegan, gluten-free waffles to go with a more experimental, noisy set of bands and performers.
The tradition of non-traditional venues continued at the outdoor skate park show. I showed up equipped with a picnic blanket and a bag of cherries for sharing. Between the basketball courts and the skate park sits a patch of grass, where the now familiar faces of the festival’s attendees were waiting patiently for the music to begin.
At this point in the weekend, it felt like it had become a kind of club, where we all are familiar, and it’s agreed that while we may be coming from different positions politically, musically, artistically, and aesthetically, we can agree to sit outside on a Sunday afternoon and revel in the glory of this D-I-Y festival that laughs in the face of authority. A park ranger visited and couldn’t deny that although perhaps some permits were missing, and although some laws may have been broken, what we were doing was ultimately better than not doing it, and he would have probably felt pretty bad shutting down such a positive gathering, laws be damned.
As I walked past one of the organizers, I heard her talking to her friends about how it felt like it was the end of summer camp. Some people had come from out of town and were going home, the rest of us would have to go back to “real life” again once Monday rolled around. It really did feel like summer camp; a radical, queer summer camp where everyone comes out with new friends, or new skills – hopefully both!
Shout Back Festival originated with a few friends wanting to share and celebrate the amazing talent we have in our community, and inspire others to do the same, and state their goals firmly in their wo/manifesto:
“We aim to affirm and encourage all artists doing it ourselves and empower us to keep moving forward, doing it together. Creating an environment where we break systemic barriers, help foster conversations and build relationships. Offering resources, workshops and skill sharing. Solidarity in the struggle. Gender liberation.” – from shoutbackfest.tumblr.com/MANIFESTO
The spaces occupied by the festival this weekend were transformed with a hopeful, rebellious spirit, and if you consider the amount of positive, collective energy that was expended and shared throughout the weekend, the festival felt like it could have been a small revolution in itself. However, much like summer camp, it came to an end, making the everyday seem more difficult, less supportive, less bright and colourful. But instead of feeling sad about its loss, hopefully the festival’s attendees felt as inspired as I did to branch out, expand, learn, create, share, and get ready for next year’s festival. Shout Back proved that with heart and hard work, we can create our own versions of the world we’d like to see. If anything, this festival taught us that it’s important to celebrate the diverse ways in which we each go about smashing patriarchy; whether with direct action and heavy politics or through abstract art and light-hearted humour, it all counts.