When the Province of Manitoba declared 2014 the Year of Music, the organization behind the Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition (MEME) really took it to heart. Along with celebrating the fifth year of their festival at the Cube in Old Market Square and various venues around town Aug. 14-17, they held an electronic music showcase at the Met as part of the Juno celebrations (unfortunately, former MEME headliner Noah Pred lost to Ryan Hemsworth), DJed on the frozen riverwalk and held a DJ party on the bridge at The Forks this summer. They also collaborated with the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art for a rooftop DJ and visual-arts series, are set to participate in the Nuit Blanche festivities in September and are preparing for the first electronic music concert this fall at the yet-to-be opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
What started as one day at the Cube in 2010 has evolved into a four-day celebration of electronic music and digital arts that has also managed to expand its footprint and carry on throughout the year as one of the driving forces behind the growth and promotion of electronic music culture in the province.
"We are pleased with the fact that a wider demographic of people is taking an interest in our festival," says Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition of Technology, Innovation & Creativity (MEMETIC) festival director Nathan Zahn via email. "We don't want to be pigeonholed as a narrowly focused event and have worked hard to showcase the wide variety of artists within the electronic music realm."
With the growth of festival culture since 2010 and the explosion of interest in electronic music, the group behind MEME hasn't lost focus of the original intent behind the event and have used some of the unique aspects of a prairie-based urban electronic festival to attract significant artists, including the Orb's Thomas Fehlmann, cEvin Key from Skinny Puppy (performing as Download) and Detroit techno innovator Kevin Saunderson, along with a host of artists who may not be on everyone's radar yet.
"It has become clear that we are a 'boutique' festival compared to other mega events," says Zahn. "Our four-day attendance could maybe reach 15,000-plus people and that means that we are a relatively small event compared to other festivals. This size festival taking place in a downtown environment, where there is such a large free component, continues to make us a very unique event. We also continue to book artists that are not just the flavour-of-the-moment acts, so we are less 'pop'-oriented and probably will always be that way. Challenging people to discover new music is a big part of what we do."
Focusing on a strong local and regional lineup has been key to the success of MEME. It has not only given DJs and producers exposure to wider audience, but has helped kickstart the local club and after-hours scene when the festival is over. Its collaborative approach has also brought together a wide range of interests and allowed for a much more inclusive festival. It has also showed anyone who has travelled to the event from other cities just what a strong and vibrant electronic music culture exists in the city.
"I think that MEME has really brought a lot of different smaller groups together and also brought a lot of bedroom producers out of the woodwork who want to take their music to a wider audience," suggests Zahn. "MEMETIC and MEME seem to have raised the eyebrows of booking agents, artists, media and people from around the world, which is amazing. MEME is definitely the highlight of the year for electronic music in the city and therefore is the best foot forward our scene can make each year. We are excited to be able to take this momentum and continue to build smaller, pop-up events throughout the year as we establish more and more relationships with other arts organizations and venues."