This province is known for its festivals, and in four short years the Manitoba Electronic Music Festival (MEME) has taken its place alongside summer institutions like the fringe, the jazz festival and the annual folk festival as a celebration of cutting-edge music, visual arts, technology and digital culture this city can be proud of.
Nestled in the heart of the historic Exchange District and beaming out from the futuristic Cube stage in Old Market Square, the location of MEME is important for a number of reasons. Along with being perfectly suited for the esthetics of the controversial Cube, it also sets itself apart from other electronic festivals on the Prairies by taking place in an urban setting and using some of the city's most beautiful venues: the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and for the first time, Pantages Playhouse Theatre.
While there may be bigger festivals in larger cities in North America that have been around longer, MEME stands out with its eclectic, forward-thinking programming that is a combination of free, outdoor events and a couple of sophisticated, full-scale after-parties in some of Winnipeg's most sought-after venues, including two last-minute venue changes to host events at the newly opened Union Sound Hall on Market Avenue.
"The whole festival was spawned as a result of a few of us wanting to throw an outdoor daytime electronic music event in downtown Winnipeg," explains MEME artistic director Nathan Zahn.
"Luckily the Cube came along the same summer and we quickly realized we should build a festival around it.
"Part of this stems from the free party scene that we were inspired by from places around the world, but even more important was to grow our audience in the best way possible. In just four years we have reached tens of thousands of people in Winnipeg who were either not aware of the local scene or did not even know that the music could be so diverse and seductive to such a wide audience."
This year the festival has moved from mid-June to mid-August to give it some space from other music festivals, most notably the Winnipeg Jazz Festival.
The crew behind MEME aren't afraid to book big players on the international circuit who may not yet be on everybody's radar. They are also catering to the growing demands of the new generation of electronic music fans and to savvy locals buying into the growing festival culture that has exploded over the last few years.
"The people who put on MEME are all very passionate music connoisseurs who have devoted their lives to music of all kinds, especially electronic music," says Zahn. "We are careful to be aware of new trends and to make sure to appeal to some of the pop-culture success of electronic music right now."
Although having acts like Canada's My Favorite Robot, Germany's Daniel Steinberg and the American Desert Dwellers perform is important, it's locals who really get to shine. Whether it's techno devotée Justin Kace opening for Noah Pred at the WAG, John Norman and Kendra Jones debuting an ambitious audio installation by Impel Theatre called The First Time on Aug. 16 at the Cube, André Bisseck showing why his radio show, Shift Radio, is one of the longest running in the city, or the six-hour run of house and techno on Aug. 17 at Old Market Square, MEME's foundation is ultimately built on Manitoba talent.
To further showcase Winnipeggers making waves, MEME has announced a late-night event on Aug. 18 at Union Sound Hall, a space that was once home to plenty of after-hours events and should channel that '90s underground-warehouse vibe. Expect a lineup that includes some of the best local talent from the festival and a couple of secret headliners who will perform for the diehard music fans who still have any energy left Sunday night.
Maybe it's time to book off Monday, as this festival shows no signs of slowing down.