We Make Waves

Inaugural festival celebrates nonconformity

Words By Maggie Devlin

Date: 09.11.17 – 11.11.17
Venue: St. Elisabeth-Kirche, Villa Elisabeth & ACUD
Time: Times vary. Check programme for scheduling.

This year a collection of knowers and doers from the music industry launch the first We Make Waves; a festival focused on women, trans and nonbinary artists. We talk to one of the founders, Caoimhe Mcalister ahead of the event.

We’re just a few weeks away from We Make Waves 2017. What do we need to know about the event? It’s a new festival, conference and network for female, trans, and nonbinary people, bringing together performers, artists, and activists for a multi-genre festival, club lineup and a pretty packed daytime conference programme.

What does the We Make Waves team look like? Well, by this point, excited and a little bloodshot. We’re an international crew: Melissa Perales from Chicago, Danielle Kourtesis from Brooklyn, Bade Kaya, Melissa Vey from Istanbul, Lucy Thomas from Cardiff/Munich, Mirca Lotz from Munich and Caoimhe McAlister from Belfast. We’ve all worked in the music industry as performers, bookers, promoters, managers, label employees, festival organisers, journalists, all the usual suspects. (Special shout out to our French graphic designer Julie Gayard, and our web designer Cecilia Palmér from Sweden.) As such, we’ve witnessed the negative impact of bias in the industry, ranging from the relatively innocuous to the outright misogynistic/transphobic/racist/homophobic/etc., and have a vested interest in evening the playing field as much as we can.

Did you draw inspiration from any other events? We drew a lot of (both positive and negative) inspiration from the events we’ve worked on ourselves, and industry conferences and festivals that we’ve attended. Melissa and I spent time in the pub after a VUT Music Industry Women meetup at Reeperbahn a few years back discussing dissatisfaction with the way that issues of inclusion and diversity were addressed at mainstream events (with the context that Reeperbahn was doing a better job than most), and swapping ideas for ways we felt it could be approached a bit better. Cut to today, and we’ve kinda just put our money where our mouth is. We’re hoping to go deeper, and to build on it from year to year. We’ve taken a lot of inspiration from similar festivals like Women’s Work in Belfast, local institutions like female:pressure, Heroines of Sound, Reclaim the Beats, Yo Sissy!, etc, and from more distant festivals like Sonic Cyberfeminisms, Afropunk and others that aim to empower, educate, and/or showcase the lives and work of marginalised folks of any kind.

As a host city, what does Berlin bring to the festival/conference? The most important thing that Berlin offers, in my opinion, is a wealth of DIY collectives and initiatives geared towards issues of diversity and inclusivity. We’ll be showcasing as many of those as possible during our event, with workshops and meet-and-greets with some of the key players, and a roundtable that we’re calling ‘Build Your Own Tribe’, with some of our favourite local festivals and collectives (including those named above).

An event of this size must come with a few challenges. What have they been? How do you navigate them? Mainly just that starting with a very small team, like most initiatives of this kind do, and building everything from scratch and often by trial and error is pretty much as time-consuming as it sounds! It’s been quite a ride, and we’ve loved it, but we’re really looking forward to the luxury of having a whole year to curate the next one.

What’s an ideal outcome from the festival, this year and in the long-term? Well, we aim to create tools by which to measure progress in the industry. We’ll be crowdsourcing a sort of code of conduct/manifesto for the music industry from a series of town hall discussions and working groups, which we’ll maintain year-round for use as a yardstick to measure our own progress, and the progress of the industry. Beyond this, we also anticipate that the talks, moderated panels and open discussions will be really useful for everyone present, for a deeper context of the issues facing women and gender nonconforming people in the industry. We’ll be building networks, ideally opening up plenty of new opportunities and just basically having a great time, and introducing lots of new amazing artists and activists from all over.

There’s a real international flavour to We Make Waves. Was it important for you to plan globally? Thank you! Yes. There’s a real richness to the local Berlin scene but it was important to us to feel like we were bringing an added dimension or two. Berlin’s earned its reputation as a progressive and forward-thinking creative incubator, but we feel a healthy dose of outside influences and a bit of extra food for thought, not to mention a more international focus when connecting individuals and groups will be really beneficial.

Who can we look forward to seeing? Dai Burger! She is incredible, and you’re all going to love it. Julianna Barwick, of course; Meredith Graves, obviously; Dorit Chrysler the legendary theraminist..; Vaginal Davis, homocore punk innovator; Marisa Anderson guitar maestro. I mean, literally every act on the lineup is unmissable, so look forward to all of it. And we have a really excellent lineup of talks, panels, discussions, and workshops lined up too.

You’re running a crowdfunding campaign. How’s it going? How can readers contribute? It’s ticking along nicely, but we still need a lot of extra help! You can buy one of our totes, sign up for a backstage Sekt reception with us and the bands, or just get a regular ticket with a few extra perks thrown in. Or you can just straight up give us your money. That totally works for us too! Contribute here.

This is year one for We Makes Waves. Are you already making plans for next year? We actually started preparing for it not long after being awarded funding for this year’s edition, such is the funding cycle. We’re really looking forward to building on the experience of this year, and starting planning the next edition straight away, with this one still fresh in our minds. But we’re trying not to get too ahead of ourselves either, and remembering to enjoy this round before moving on to the next one.

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