Western Canadian artists converge on Winnipeg for music festival, awards gala
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/10/2014 (2874 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Some of the best in the West will descend on Winnipeg for BreakOut West — a four-day music festival and industry conference that culminates in the 2014 Western Canadian Music Awards at the Club Regent Event Centre.
The 12th annual awards gala, which will be hosted by CBC’s Grant Lawrence, will feature a bevy of local performers, including Fred Penner, who will be inducted into the Western Canadian Music Awards Hall of Fame. A wide cross-section of Manitoba artists — including Royal Canoe, Del Barber, Iskwé, the Perpetrators, Ruth Moody, Mariachi Ghost and more — and industry professionals are up for 44 awards in 28 categories.
More than 70 acts from Western Canada will perform in 15 venues during the BreakOut West music festival on Oct. 3 and 4. It’s an opportunity for Winnipeggers to discover their new favourite bands, to be sure, but it’s also a chance for artists to perform in front of key industry people. Robyn Stewart, the executive director of BreakOut West, says the annual event is a big one for western Canadian artists looking to carve out viable careers in the music industry.
“We’re bringing in artists that are export-ready,” she says. “It’s not so big that you’re not going to get to talk to people. Artists are able to get some real work done. There are incredible industry associations in each province. It’s a one-stop shop for these bands when we bring all these artists and industry people together.”
BreakOut West — formerly known simply as the Western Canadian Music Awards — is the product of the Western Canadian Music Alliance, which is composed of six industry associations: Manitoba Music, SaskMusic, Alberta Music Industry Association, Music B.C., Music Yukon and Music NWT. Each association serves as the backbone for the music industry in each province; together, they form a support network for artists who choose to live and work outside of the traditionally accepted industry centre that is Toronto.
Canada is a big country; having regional showcases and awards — such as the WCMAs and the prestigious East Coast Music Awards — helps fortify the individual music scenes that make up the diverse tapestry of this country’s music scene. While western Canadian acts may not be unified by a particular genre — there is no western Canadian “sound,” per se — they have geography in common.
“In the West, we have bands that are used to getting into vans and driving long distances just to be heard. We’re here to show artists that they don’t need to move to Toronto to succeed,” Stewart says.
She points to Dan Mangan as a success story. The Vancouver singer-songwriter, who will perform at the kickoff party at Fort Gibraltar on Oct. 2, is a multiple WCMA winner who has made his mark on the Canadian music scene. His 2009 sophomore album, Nice, Nice Very Nice, was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, while its followup, 2011’s Oh Fortune, earned a Juno. Both were met with critical acclaim.
But you have to start somewhere.
“I remember going to the WCMAs in 2005 — I had applied and didn’t get accepted. I think I borrowed some money from my mom to get a delegate badge,” he says with a laugh. “I had no idea what was going on. I had no understanding of what an industry conference was. I was very naive. I think I had a burned CD-R demo.
“That was the beginning. I’d played music for a long time, but that was the beginning of me taking it seriously.”
His early WCMA wins helped put him on the map, so to speak. Mangan says that awards shouldn’t impact your artistic process — making music to win awards is a distasteful prospect — but for that one line on a press release or a bio, they are invaluable.
“People assume a certain legitimacy about what you’re doing, even if they’ve never heard of you. It’s assurance that you’re not just someone’s nephew playing for the first time,” he says.
Mangan is of two minds about industry showcasing. For one, he says, artists must be prepared to work hard and create their own opportunities. “It’s not a golden ticket. It’s not American Idol.”
He also believes the industry will gravitate to “what the kids think is cool.”
“That said, I think we got booked at (the Glastonbury festival in England) because the booker was at a showcase.”
Mangan believes that regional support goes beyond boosterism.
“I think it was helpful for me. I know that for a lot of musicians from Halifax, the ECMAs are a big deal. I think when you’re on the extremities of the country, it’s easy to get overlooked by the shiny towers of the music industry. It could be gratuitous back-patting, but I think it’s helpful,” he says.
You’ll be hearing Mangan’s name a lot in the coming months. He composed the score for the new Simon Pegg movie Hector and the Search for Happiness with violinist Jesse Zubot. “It was very humbling, very different, very laborious and very rewarding. I’d never worked as hard on any project in my life,” he says of the experience.
He also has a fourth studio album in the can, set for release in 2015.
“I really want to share it with the world. I’ve never finished an album and felt this confident about it,” he says.
The new record will see him eschew his rough-hewn folk sound for synths and drum machines — but don’t let that fool you into thinking Dan Mangan has gone all Top 40 EDM.
“There’s that sort of sheen that isn’t present on the record. It’s almost deeper and more human than it’s ever been, despite all the synthetic elements. It still feels like it breathes in the way that humans breathe.”
Tickets to the BreakOut West kickoff on Oct. 2
at Fort Gibraltar are $20 at Ticketmaster.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Thursday, October 2, 2014 9:45 AM CDT: Changes headline, fixes cutlines