When I first met Carissa Gem at a Troyboi show at the Hifi Club in Calgary, I’d never guess how closely our paths would soon then follow. Originally a BC resident, Gem had come to invade both the city and scene here in town. Fast track a year and a half later, and she isn’t just a “girl from Kelowna” anymore but a full on resident of YYC and a huge part of our dance music community in Calgary. A deep dive into Carissa Gem’s bio and social media showcases someone that is far from the average raver. At 25 years old, she’s already been throwing events for nearly a decade. I got a chance to catch up with Carissa Gem shortly after Bass Coast to chat about music, festivals and the difference between growing up in the rave scene in BC versus the scene in Calgary.

FREQ: How did you get involved in the music scene out in BC?
CARISSA GEM: Honestly, all happened by complete mistake. I had been to a few bush parties for grad with some of my older friends when I was 15 years old. I thought “hey, this party would be a hell of a lot more fun if there was a DJ playing music and people dancing”. I didn’t know what a rave was at the time or anything about them, besides what I had seen in movies.

Seeing as my 16th birthday was coming up and it had been some years since I actually had some form of birthday bash, I figured what better time to go all out than to throw myself a sweet 16?

I got in touch with one of the only DJ’s I knew, Arun Zuber (aka Chaosphere). He was super down to throw a party on the condition that we made two separate event pages, one stating it was my birthday, the other saying nothing of birthdays and just the fact that it was a free party (yes- free- ’cause lil old me didn’t know to charge cover) with the list of DJ’s and other event details. Arun got his buddy Troy (aka Datsik) involved in curating the event. I paid for the sound system rental while the boys delivered it and set everything up. To paint a picture for you, imagine 1000 people from all around the Okanagan, 1 sound system, a giant camo print tarp as our dancefloor, an event tent and 1 single light for the entire event (not including the bonfire).

I met a plethora of people at that party who were a part of the music festival scene and rave culture. Following that night I started to receive invites to other similar events around the Okanagan. One place that really stood out in my youth was Fandango in Vernon. It was basically a farm house on a beautiful plot of land to explore and they would throw monthy events. The owners of this space hosted potlucks before each event which carried on into the night. Fandango introduced me to a large variety of different music by booking DJ’s from all over Canada. That’s how I got into the community and became inspired to start djing.

FREQ: What are the differences between the West Coast rave culture versus the rave culture we have here in Alberta?

CARISSA GEM: There are heaps of outdoor parties and all night events/festivals. Typically these events are much more than just a stage and a sound system, people hosting these events create an artistic environment. I just feel like there is a piece that Calgary is missing out on. When you have a 12 hour event versus a 4-5 hour event there is a lot more potential. With an all night event on the West coast there is more passion for art working to make each event truly memorable. I think that is mostly due to the fact that you have more time to enjoy that immersive environment that your team has worked tirelessly to create. People want to stay longer and don’t have to seek out an after party if they aren’t quite ready for the fun to end. Not to mention you have so much more time to work with when booking DJ’s. You have the potential to shed light on so much more incredible local talent.

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FREQ: After some success with throwing bush parties, how did Bushwacked became a full on festival?

CARISSA GEM: After 3 years of hosting Bushwacked on my own and having it gain steady momentum over the years, I started to think about it more seriously. I wanted to turn Bushwacked into a multi day event- a festival. By making it a multi-day event, I knew I couldn’t pull it off on my own anymore and decided to bring my friend Mark Machado on board. Together we had thrown an extremely successful one-night event called ‘Metamorphosis’. Mark and I started seeking out privately owned land large enough to host our festival. Our dear friend, Michael Arnaly, introduced us to somebody who owned a plot of land up in Beaverdell, BC. It definitely was not our ideal space to throw an event. The site was an abandoned logging mill where it looked as if the workers literally dropped what they were doing and walked off site years before. It was a total dump!! BUT, we had no other options at that point and decided to go for it. With an absolutely incredible team of passionate volunteers to back us up, we managed to turn that dump of a plot of land into the magical festival site it is to this day.

Mark and I decided if we were going to continue doing more shows together besides Bushwacked, we needed a name for our company. That’s when we came up with the name Geminate, because we are both Gemini’s. After our first year of Bushwacked and doing many more one night events, our team naturally grew to be quite the powerhouse. Adam Lewis and Summer Brooks stepped in as a more serious partners the following year and were the best support I could have asked for. I contribute the successes of Geminate Productions to their hard work and dedication.

Geminate Productions is what I committed my life to from the age of 16 to 22.

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FREQ: What did you want to accomplish with Geminate Productions?

CARISSA GEM: People here in Calgary are very educated about music, which is one reason why I was so attracted to this city. But in the Okanogan, I felt like it was my opportunity to educate people about music. I took a lot of pride in making my lineups diverse with a lot of different styles of electronic music. I put a lot of time into curating the perfect flow of music. I really just wanted to expose people to as much different music as I could and create an immersive environment where people could feel safe to be themselves and have a good time.

FREQ: How did you link up with Sub Chakra?

CARISSA GEM: I went to one of their shows and met Blaine. *laughs* We obviously got along and had a lot in common and talked about our experiences with shows. Sub Chakra brought me on board right away, I guess they saw the potential and it’s been working out so far.

 
FREQ: What are some short term and long term goals?

CARISSA GEM: I would eventually like to be employed doing work for festivals. I don’t know specifically what position I would fit best in yet because I am capable and skilled in a lot of different areas. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can and hopefully figure out what really makes me tick.

With a hectic schedule this summer, Carissa has played at Local 510, Bass Coast, Habitat and the Hifi Club alongside many of Calgary’s best sound crews such as Girls on Deck, Sub Chakra, New Wave and Noctilux. You can catch the last gig on her itinerary for the summer, as she makes her debut at Fozzy Fest this year on September 14th. Carissa will also be performing at Aemcon November 16-19 at Studio Bell in Calgary. 

Words: Vinh Hoang

Photos courtesy of Carissa Gem

 

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