Festivals have exploded in the last few years, how many there are, and how many attend, with more people discovering that they can create, and curate, a place and time featuring music and art that speaks to an open and curious audience. Establishing a voice to call communities together to showcase new forms of media, music, art, film, technology-based installation and performance is exactly what festival directors Malcolm Levy and Jarrett Martineau had in mind when they founded New Forms Festival over a decade ago. As part of the growing international media and electronic music festival movement, NFF aims to connect artist and audience and encourage discovery on a local and global scale.

This year’s iteration, a groundbreaking journey in sound and visual arts, will be held at several locations around Vancouver, from the Centre for Digital Media to a free all-ages symposium at the Western Front, to live, sit-down performances.

The festival is produced by the New Forms Media Society (NFMS), a non-profit media and arts organization that exists to unite the creative communities of innovative digital media artists. The festival promotes the work of these independent and trailblazing artists and societies, inviting the public to explore and engage with subversive and underground art movements.

Michael Red, New Forms curator for over 10 years and Vancouver based producer, performer, DJ and promoter, tells me that he looks for both local artists who haven’t played the festival before and who have a slimmer chance of being brought to Vancouver by other promoters. “That’s motivated by a sort of holistic diversity, giving Vancouver the opportunity to see acts they might not regularly get a chance to see here otherwise.”

From past exhibitions demonstrating the pioneering work and creations of designer and electronic instrument builder Donald Buchla, whose contributions to the field of electronic music in Berkeley in the 1960s left an indelible mark on the genre, to the vanguard of today, NFF aims to be extensive and expansive in its programming.

Red speaks to NFF’s primary motives. “Unofficially, there seems to be a pattern emerging of showcasing emerging genres […] together with a thread of acknowledging history and the people responsible for shaping the current trends of today.”

As part of the board of directors, organizer Alexandra Chen asserts that there has also been a concerted effort to involve diversity on all levels – from the board to the curatorial team to the staff and the artists booked.

“I don’t really think about it as just adding diversity, but rather supporting a wider range of perspectives, while still fitting with the festival’s vision and mandate. The audience can make the choice to think critically beyond the music or not – but I feel curators and organizers have a responsibility to be aware of the structural inequities some people in the electronic music industry face. This can make a difference in providing more interesting experiences for the public.”

Chen and Red both speak to New Forms filling a gap of particular expression needed in Vancouver and on the North West Coast while providing a service to the arts community as a whole.

“It’s been great to witness more crossovers and exchanges between cities, there is amazing talent in and around Vancouver,” Chen assesses. “We live in an interesting time with regards to the socio-political landscape of electronic music, and the drive behind hosting a symposium and partnering with Current (a Pacific Northwest Feminist Electronic Art Symposium) is to address that.”

Red agrees. “I see it [NFF] as a key component to maintaining a certain inspiration and motivation for several pockets of underground music and more fringe expressions of art here. I know of countless examples of local artists who met at the fest or who were directly inspired by the fest to create work and go on to become important players in the scene here.”

New Forms Festival runs September 28-30 in Vancouver, featuring artists such as Juliana Huxtable, Aïsha Devi, Das Ding, Aleksi Perälä, Electric Indigo, Vladimir Ivkovic. For more information, tickets and lineup, go to newformsmediasociety.org.

Words by Magdalena Gorski

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