25 Mar Behind the Scenes with The Electric Circuits Festival
Cutting-edge sound and diverse artistry combine in Kingston’s one and only digital art and electronic music festival, Electric Circuits. With a focus on surreal landscapes, the 2019 Electric Circuits festival is a two-day can’t miss event for any Kingstonian. This year, attendees can expect to do everything from hanging out in a ball pit to dancing along to house and electronica during a live laser show. Coming onto its third year, Electric Circuits will take place on March 29th in the Isabel, and March 30th in the Agnes. I was lucky enough to hear from two incredible artistic visionaries, Shannon Brown and Claire Grady-Smith, during their experience working as coordinators for this year’s festival. The ladies have some exciting stories to share about the event, as well as advice for all the creators out there looking for a bit of wisdom. You can buy tickets for the festival here and learn more about it below.
Let’s begin. Tell MUSE a little bit about you. How would you describe yourselves as artists and arts educators?
I’ve been a cultural animator for over 17 years, creating and marketing events in Ontario. My first curated exhibition was at Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron in Ottawa when I was 17 years old, and I opened an artist-run-centre in Guelph when I was 21, which continued for a decade after I moved away. In Kingston I was instrumental in bringing podcasting and storytelling to the community, with projects for Visit Kingston and also a bi-monthly, live event called Garrula. For the past four years I have contributed to Electric Circuits as a grant writer, website manager and marketer. I have my own web development and marketing business, and I teach these topics at St. Lawrence College.
I live by my artist mission: Make/Teach/Transform/Art. I do this through my job at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre as the Program Coordinator, but I’ve also spent many years as an arts educator, documentary film producer, community engagement coordinator and I have a painting practice as a Visionary Artist. I also LOVE to dance and have fun. So, bringing Electric Circuits to life in Kingston is really something I am just so passionate about. Setting the stage for 24 DJs and Digital artists to perform in inspired spaces creates so much magic!
Electronic music and digital art are two staples of the festival, but for those who might be unfamiliar, how would you explain the Electric Circuits Festival in your own words?
Electric Circuits is a festival of unexpected, immersive experiences. There is nothing like it in Kingston. We design 5 rooms of visual and audio artistry, and each room is different from the last. At any given moment, you can encounter acrobats, digital projections, hoop dancers, stilt walkers, fantastical otherworldly environments, and of course music that will move you deep within your soul.
I like to say it’s one-part awesome dance party, one-part immersive arts experience and one-part community celebration! It has something for everyone with Techno, House, Ambient, Chill, Electric Pow Wow and Dubstep, plus all the amazing interactive and beautiful digital art.
Getting more into specifics- it would be amazing if you could break down each of the two nights in the festival in terms of performances and experiences for attendees to expect.
In the Isabel’s Studio Theatre, ambient artist Equal Ways will be gently easing you into an ethereal landscape complete with “plants”, animal heads, and clouds created by Ottawa duo Dems and Doll. Ylang Ylang, from Montreal, will be performing live vocals and ambient sound.
In the Rehearsal Hall, be prepared to DANCE. With visuals by digital art heavyweight Markus Heckmann, known internationally for his laser shows and projected visual mapping, enjoy a night of techno, house and electronica by Mat Almeida (local), Raul Vargas (from Hamilton) and headliner and MUTEK alum, Claire Kenway, from Montreal.
Electric Circuits, night two. Take all the ethereal hyper-stimuli of night one, and add an adult-sized ball pit!
When you enter the Agnes Etherington, you enter the main party space. A huge atrium will have a surreal landscape created by a dynamic team comprised of visionary artist Shannon Brown and spatial mapping digital artists Pixels and Plans. The visual environment will complement three amazing techno, dub and house DJs: Anishinaabe DJ Boogey The Beat from Winnipeg, and SteinJah and Antwon Faulkner from Toronto.
Down the hall and up the ramp, you’ll find two more rooms of incredible sights and sounds. Synth-pop and local superstar Konig will be followed by Montreal’s softcoresoft in the Studio. A student project will project films onto a standalone sculpture, created by Yan-Nick Michaud.
The Etherington House will showcase charming handmade abstract films by Sean Bokenkamp, to be enjoyed in a pit of balls and lounge environment created by local collective Powerlines. Ambient and visual artists will be creating a magical reality here as well. Sarah Hamelin’s art will surround DJ TigerStylez, who will be opening up the night, followed by Franco Bellavita, originally from Argentina, and finally Magnanime whose art will stir up and then calm down the primal, sensual animal in you.
Coordinating a festival is a tough job, but incredibly rewarding when the final product arrives. What drove your involvement in the Festival? Why was taking on this role so important to you?
We all come to the festival for different reasons. Creating a spectacle is enormously fun and creative. My personal reasons for working on this have a lot to do with learning how to launch a publicly funded, professional event that can one day have national or international appeal.
I’ve spent many years creating great parties and performances, and I know it’s a specialized skill that I’ve honed through the years. So, when this opportunity came along I jumped on whole-heartedly. I also have a real interest in creating curated spaces that are inviting and intriguing. It’s not like going to a bar, this is a living environment and we all make it happen when we come together. It’s an ancient feeling when people are moving and dancing together as one. Like bees in a hive, or birds flocking. It takes a very special environment to pull that off.
Why do you think events like these are important for students in the Queen’s and Kingston Communities?
We like to live in a city that surprises us. To attend an event with unknown and unexpected moments or experiences suddenly opens up the minds of young people to the possibilities available to them, even in a smaller city like Kingston.
We all work so hard and are so dedicated in our lives. So, this is a chance for students to just let loose, be amazed and inspired! It’s also not really a big drinking crowd at Electric Circuits, it’s more like going to a multi-dimensional art show. So, we hope people dress up in festival wear and really show up!
What is one experience you’ve taken away from the process so far that has helped you discover something new about the artistic community you exist within?
I think it was year one, when Erin Ball performed in a lit-up costume. Erin is an acrobat who is also a double-amputee. She performed to DJ Alicia Hush, so the music was intense and Erin’s performance, especially at the climax when she removed her prosthetic legs at the top of a strip of aerial silk, suspended over the crowd…we saw tears and jaws dropping all over the room. It was a special moment, celebrating difference and survival and beauty, but it also showed us all that the combination of music, art and performance can bring a group of people together in a shared experience. That night is still talked about in our community today, and it’s wonderful to know we made that possible.
Ditto Claire!! Lol. It blew my mind! I also loved watching my paintings transformed into geometric shapes projected on the wall of the Isabel Art & Media Lab while Colleen Linesman played crystal bowls and DJ MagicD spun his psychedelic brand of chill house. The next night DJ Duo Pelada from Montreal threw it down in the basement of the Renaissance Room, Chris Vargas in her oversized lion sweatshirt and platform pink patent leather heels, spinning hardware acid,club and house music with a healthy dose of Don’t Give a F*$*! It was pretty intense.
For those interested in pursuing a career in the creative industries, what advice can you offer to performers and behind the scenes coordinators alike?
For performers, I would recommend making sure you have a web presence that shows videos of your work. We tend to invite artists to the festival that we have seen in person, but, we would love to discover more people who haven’t yet been making the festival circuit yet! If you are hoping to get into festival programming make sure we have some way to see what it is that you do. If you can, hire a professional videographer, or if you’re a DJ or musician, make sure you are putting out new work on Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Resident Advisor. For coordinators, go to grant writing workshops or info sessions! The bulk of your budget will come from grants, so don’t shy away from learning how to write grants. Remember that Grant Officers are available and happy to help you with your application, so call them early and often!
For behind the scenes, internships are key. We work with Saint Lawrence College and Queen’s students, volunteers and friends to make this all happen. We love to share our experience and mentor up-and-coming event coordinators, so reach out! Being really organized and having a good team is most important. A good rule of thumb: always keep your eye on the prize! It’s going to be hard work, but in the end truly amazing.
All images are courtesy of the Electric Circuits and Isabel Bader websites.