The Shape of Things to Come
Bryan Wells - June 16, 2010
This fall, the New Forms Festival based in Vancouver will celebrate 10 years of curating shapes and sounds wrung from technology, while flinging themselves onward into the future.
February 6, 2010, a moment western Canada’s media arts and modern electronic music scenes will never forget; as the world’s gaze focused in on Vancouver for the 2 week long whirlwind of media and sports during the 2010 Winter Olympics, the curators of Vancouver’s New Forms festival and CODE live (Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition) were prepping to showcase their vision to an international audience that went far beyond the festival’s scope of previous years, one which would showcase the curatorial talents that had been waiting for a moment like this since the first incarnation of NFF back in 1999. The timing couldn’t have been better for curator Malcolm Levy and New Forms, with 10 years of experience refining the festivals framework and infrastructure, the time had come to put it all to the test.
Malcolm Levy, co-founder and director of New Forms
Let’s jump back in time to the late 90’s to where this all began.
Malcolm Levy along with Jarrett Martineau (who later went on to be involved with CBC’s ZeD TV), made the move to Vancouver from Montreal. While living in Montreal, Levy attended numerous parties and festivals where both installation art and electronic music were showcased. Upon their arrival in Vancouver both were surprised to find that there was nothing similar to the parties they had experienced back east. Together, the duo felt that installation art and electronic music together, needed to be exposed to a wider audience in Vancouver. At the time, Levy and Martineau were working in film and music so the idea for New Forms happened naturally.
With no outside funding and 50 local artists from a diverse array of art and musical backgrounds, circumstances conspired to launch Vancouver’s first edition of the New Forms Festival (NFF). From the beginning, the vision of NFF was very clear - recognize, present and promote groundbreaking media artists of all disciplines. This formula was extremely well received and Vancouverites welcomed the fledgling festival with open arms. In fact, the festival was such a success that the following year NFF had no trouble earning their first Canada Council Grant, not an easy feat for an emergent festival promoting emergent forms. With government funding and strong support from a thriving new community, NFF was gaining momentum.
After 3 years of highly successful events at a multitude of different venues around Vancouver, NFF found its home in what has now become a legendary hub in Vancouver’s creative community, Open Studios. The idea behind the Studio was to create a space where the development of music and new media could flourish through the sharing of ideas and information. It worked, spawning a flood of now internationally renowned electronic musicians, like Mathew Jonson, Konrad Black and Ben Neville. Open Studios quickly established itself as the home for electronic music on the west coast, cultivating Vancouver’s taste for electronic music and the New Forms festival. Still to this day, Open Studios serves as an epicentre for Vancouver’s most talented artists, DJs and producers.
After a very successful three years and a new home at Open Studios, Levy and NFF in conjunction with CBC’s ZeD TV were asked to do an installation at MUTEK, aptly named Speak and Spell. The connection to MUTEK turned out to be a vital one. After the Speak and Spell installation, Levy and Alain Mongeau of MUTEK began speaking on a regular basis, which would ultimately lead to a long lasting partnership between the two festivals that has thrived to this day.
As an unofficial union of North America’s festivals grew stronger, European organizations had already banded together as ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound) with the aim to create sustainable infrastructures where the amalgamation of knowledge, production and multi-organizational events could thrive. In 2008, MUTEK invited members of the ECAS community, along with members from the North American community of festivals, which included NFF, to join them in Montreal. ICAS (International Cities of Advanced Sound) was born. Along with more than 25 other city festivals from around the world, Vancouver and NFF had found a spot in the global community of modern electronic music and media arts festivals. This newly formed network, whose framework set out to promote sustainability and growth through innovation and a tight knit global community, was intent on piecing together the parts to build an unbreakable safety net for artists, and the culture, to flourish.
By 2006 NFF was attracting more attention than ever and the curatorial team decided to expand their program to include the powerful movement behind Dubstep and Dub influenced music. Dubforms was born, brainchild of Vancouver’s own Michael Red, who was asked to curate this new branch of the NFF, attracting international heavyweights Benga, Kode 9, Deadbeat, 2562 and Appleblim along with the local talents of Max Ulis, Taal Mala and Self Evident in the years to follow. With a finger on the pulse of the future, NFF had done an amazing job curating environments that would push the boundaries for both artist and spectator, once again providing that all important platform for new forms of media arts and electronic music to grow in a pure and organic fashion.
True to their original vision the NFF was recognizing, presenting and promoting groundbreaking media artists of all disciplines. Having built the framework in conjunction with the worlds leading, modern electronic music and media arts festivals, it was time for NFF to take on a challenge that would test every facet of their festivals vision. In anticipation of the largest media and sporting events to hit Canada’s west coast since Expo 86, Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic committee felt as though this would be a perfect time to showcase to the world what Vancouver was all about. The Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition (CODE) was formed to showcase Vancouver’s cultural and aesthetic awareness to the rest of the world. CODE and NFF was a custom tailored partnership, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for both. Cleverly nestled in the middle of the Olympic mayhem, CODE and NFF hosted an event of epic proportions on February 6th, 2010. With Canadian and international artists, like Konrad Black, Junior Boys performing a DJ set, LA Riots, and The Golden Filter, the music of the evening was a perfect foundation for the interaction between digital media artists, installations and human connection. Held at the Emily Carr Institute's “The Hanger,” at the Great Northern Way Campus’ Center for Digital Media, the venue was the ideal site to house the magnitude of the event. The partnership between CODE and NFF was a huge success, further solidifying the vision that Levy had implemented from the beginning.
Taking place around Vancouver in September, NFF_TEN will celebrate a decade of connecting local and international arts and modern electronic music communities, and focus on increasing global consciousness of Canadian media artists across multiple disciplines.The theme for NFF_TEN: “Traversing Electronic Narratives," will showcase the festival’s roots by featuring ten collaborative media projects that mirror NFF’s thematic curation over the past decade, while integrating the network of global partnerships that will continue to bring Vancouver’s voice to the world. The framework instilled by the global collective of the ICAS members is now deeply ingrained in the fibers of NFF, which allows the possibility for substantial growth for all communities involved. NFF_TEN will also put a spotlight on the numerous venues around Vancouver which have played a key role in the NFF's development since its inception. Many of the exhibitions will take place in conjunction with Vancouver’s two-day artist-run SWARM festival.
The future looks brighter than ever for Vancouver’s media arts and electronic music communities. With the help of visionaries like Malcolm Levy and NFF, Canada’s west coast has now cultivated a platform which supports artists from all angles; giving artists a firm ground to stand on, allowing pure art, collaboration and community to flourish well into the future.
Heavily involved in the modern electronic music scene out in Canada's west, Bryan Wells is an avid record collector, writes for Exclaim.ca and their electronic music section Frequencies, co-host's of Edmonton's longest running electronic music radio show "Catch the Beat" on CJSR FM 88.5, and has been a long time house/techno DJ playing at western Canada's top clubs and festivals.