It's a classic "if you build it, they will come" story.
In 2012, when a group of ardent local music scene supporters announced they were mounting an indie music festival in January -- in Winnipeg -- it was met with some skepticism. Just look out your nearest window.
Well, the people came and now, Big Fun -- which kicks off tonight and runs through Jan. 26 -- is heading into its third year.
"The whole reason we decded to throw this festival -- especially this week -- is because it's the breaking point for people," says David Schellenberg, one of Big Fun's artistic directors along with Stefan Braun, Aaron Johnston and Lauren Swan. "You want to curl up and order pizza and never do anything ever again. We wanted to say 'C'mon Winnipeg. We're tough. We do this every year. Get out and see some music.'"
Named for the fictitious band in the 1988 cult classic Heathers and modelled after urban music festivals such as Calgary's Sled Island and Pop Montreal, Big Fun showcases the best and brightest local talent, as well as a select few out-of-town acts, in multiple venues throughout downtown Winnipeg.
This year's genre-spanning lineup features 35 acts, 29 of which call Manitoba home. Schellenberg figures Big Fun received about 200 artist submissions, 95 per cent of them local. "That was hard, but also really exciting," he says. Indie-folk crew Yes We Mystic, electropop act Indicator Indicator, hip-hop duo SMRT TYPE and post-rock outfit Warsaw are just a handful of the Winnipeg acts that will be taking the stage over the next few days.
Toronto's noise-rock titans METZ -- whose self-titled sub-pop debut was shortlisted for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize -- is one of the festival's headliners, performing at Union Sound Hall Thursday night. "I've been working on getting METZ to play Big Fun since May or June," Schellenberg says with a laugh. (He's also Union Sound Hall's talent buyer.)
Big Fun will be co-presenting Saturday night's Venetian Snares show in collaboration with Pop Nuit, the edgier, late-night sub-sect of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival.
Going tête--tête with the mighty NMF -- which starts Jan. 25 -- initially made the Big Fun crew nervous. "Last year, we were very scared when we saw Pop Nuit come up," Schellenberg admits. "Then we found out Matt Schellenberg (Royal Canoe) was doing it, and we love Matt."
In true creative Winnipeg spirit, Big Fun viewed Pop Nuit as an opportunity, not an obstacle. In fact, Big Fun and the NMF (along with Union Sound Hall and the Windsor Hotel) are presenting the solo Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) show featuring Jim Jarmusch on Monday, Jan. 27.
And Big Fun isn't just shedding light on what's new and now in music; it's also challenging Winnipeg's perceived lack of music venues. For Big Fun's run, smaller rooms such as the Army, Navy & Air Force (ANAF) Club 60 -- the legion at River Avenue and Osborne Street frequented by hipsters -- The Ballroom (at 218 Roslyn Rd.) and galleries such as aceartinc. will present music alongside more traditional venues such as the Windsor and Union Sound Hall. Schellenberg is particularly excited about using the Sherbrook Hotel. "It could be the new Albert," he says. "That room has so much potential."
Schellenberg says that response to the festival -- particularly in the form of packed rooms -- has been encouraging, though he notes that industry folk in other cities are still skeptical. "They say, 'People actually come?'
"People actually come."
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Manitoba Music is launching a new music conference to coincide with Big Fun. From Jan. 24 through 26, The January Music Meeting will host industry pros from a host of respected labels, management agencies, publishing groups, festivals and more for panels, workshops, discussion groups and one-on-one meetings.
Cost is $50 for Manitoba Music members or $75 for non-members. Visit manitobamusic.com for full conference details.