Mapping a Lineage of Female Event Producers Living in British Columbia
The raver experience at festivals is well documented in popular media, such as VICE. What is not as commonly written about is the behind the scenes experience of those who work in production. This is a tale of one woman’s experience working alongside six female event producers and a re-telling of what informs their work ethic.
Even though EDM has roots in the underground, it is not immune to gender stereotypes. I’m proud to share an example of how the EDMC I participate in supports women breaking into new positions of power as event founders, producers and managers. I aim to celebrate these women by re-telling their stories. Dismantling gender stereotypes is heavy work and not for the faint of heart. That is why I categorize these leaders as the bold (those who dare to occupy these positions first), the fearless (those who continue to push the boundaries of what it means to be a boss) and the ambitious (those who are solidifying new opportunities for other women). No matter how you look at it, these women aren’t standing still.
British Columbia, Canada (B.C.) is home to many of the premiere festivals in the country such as Shambhala Music Festival, Bass Coast and Kamp Festival.
Each festival has its own distinct reputation.
Shambhala Music Festival (SMF) is the biggest and oldest. After first opening their gates in 1997 they were selling out by 2011 and have hosted 10,000 visitors annually ever since. The land SMF takes place on is a working family-run farm 11 months of the year. Attendees are free to express themselves in experimental ways through costume and ritual. The organizers keep safety at the forefront of their decisions but post few rules. For example, they do not state explicitly that headdresses are not allowed yet DJ NDN of the indigenous group A Tribe Called Red said at the end of their set in 2014, “Shambhala thank you for being respectful” (Storey 2014).
Those who highly value the music and art at raves greatly appreciate Bass Coast; a medium sized boutique event with roughly 4,000 visitors, founded in 2009. The grounds boast fifty plus art installations and mostly producers (those who play electronic music they’ve composed) fill the bill as opposed to trending DJs (those who mix tracks composed by other people). This level of discernment attracts a more mature crowd than SMF. The organizers help make behavior predictable by posting rules familiar to life outside of the festival. For example, they have licensed areas where they condone the use of alcohol and have strict searches for all banned items, which includes war bonnet style headdresses (Michaels 2014).
For those who are seeking community-strengthening activities, Kamp Festival is a logical choice. Since its inception in 2015 the event has grown from 300 visitors to 600 in 2017. It’s tagline “A summer camp for adults” entices those who are attracted to the festival model (musical performances in spectacular settings) but at a more relaxed pace. The organizers balance their nighttime music lineup with a daytime activity and workshop lineup. This keeps folks positively engaged throughout the day in activities like yoga, crafts, canoeing, lectures, etc. All attendees also belong to one of four color camps. This gives everyone a bigger goal to unify around and allows good old fashion team spirit to run rampant on the grounds. The organizers welcome families and acknowledge the Sinixit, the indigenous people, who first inhabited the land where the event takes place.
These reputations are shaped by the values of folks working behind the scenes. Between 2011-2015 I worked as a production assistant, volunteer talent hostess and public relations assistant and crossed paths with six remarkable female figures in powerful positions at these festivals. The experiences compelled me to probe deeper with individual interviews to uncover what informs their work ethic. Since all of them are at different stages of their careers I began to see their connections across festivals as a lineage, each indirectly setting the stage for the next.
Corrine Bundschuh is a daughter, sister to two siblings and mother of one. In my three years as Corrine’s assistant, I saw her making bold choices. In the spring of 2016, I sat down in Corrine’s living room to reminisce about her eighteen year career as an executive producer.
I recognized Corrine’s boldness in actions like not accepting support from corporations or advertisers and keeping the festival run 100% independently. Her boldness looked like commanding a staff of twelve year-round employees and strategizing how to scale marketing efforts, tickets sales, security, staff meals, volunteer positions, parking, waste management, stage teams and so much more. She was bold when talking with police chiefs, fire chiefs, ambulance directors and city officials to answer any questions they might have about the festival and brainstorm ways to mitigate the effects of the influx of people to the nearby towns during the festival. She was bold to have a sympathetic ear to all the issues that arose unexpectedly at show time, a voice of reason and to never miss a beat on the dance floor.
During my time working at SMF, I was most impressed with Corrine’s negotiation skills. Caught in a difficult position between the limitations of the farm being completely off the grid, pleasing patrons, supporting team leaders, growing the festival and keeping city officials happy, Corrine held it together with playfulness and grace.
One of the best traits about Corrine’s leadership style was that she wasn’t afraid to take control of and responsibility for the festival. By the time Corrine shifted to take on SMF full-time, she was a trained dancer with film, theatre and stage-managing experience. When the festival was still in its infancy and EDM as a genre was largely unknown in Salmo (indie rock and country dominated the radio), Corrine transferred the leadership skills she learned in other industries and grew them alongside the festival. For most of Corrine’s career, no other events like SMF existed for her to learn from. In the beginning she did what felt right and enjoyed using the artistic and business sides of her brain in tandem. Eventually she learned how to motivate different personalities and effectively deliver bad news. Corrine’s ability to include input from many key players during her decision-making helped the team take SMF from “hated locally to beloved nationally”, as she put it. 
Sara Spicer has worked at SMF since 2001 under many different titles: music curator (for all stages), talent manager, creator of the talent services team, and VIP camping zone and lounge. Currently she is the Living Room Stage director and DJs as Lioness.
My appreciation for Sara stems from her dedication and passion for the rave. Her bold taste-making abilities have been so integral to creating the flavor of SMF that many ideas she set in motion are still practiced. For example, the hospitality at SMF is partially based on the principles she started with the VIP camping zone and lounge and is well known to this day. In 2001, Sara booked up and coming West Coast DJs to help represent the vibe of the festival and also recoup some of the costs by keeping the budget down. This practice still continues today and has earned SMF the reputation as a place that showcases new EDM music. Through all of the growing pains of the festival, Sara and her husband Hoola, have maintained their own music promotion business, The Pride, and continue to host parties in B.C. year-round. Sara has an incredible drive while staying humble. She says, “The best thing I could have done for the festival was step down year 11 [as music curator] so that all [six] stage directors could have full creative freedom”. As EDM splintered into several subgenres, this allowed each stage to become more tightly curated around specific sounds and artists and acquire their own die-hard fans.
These milestones have not come without obstacles. At times six stage directors is like having too many cooks in the kitchen. But like Corrine, Sara also leads by doing what feels right in the moment. “I do my best to show up in the world with authenticity,” she says, “I consider it best practice to operate from integrity”. I think this looks like being respectful of everyone’s perspective, which can be difficult in times of conflict amongst creative people. In my experience this realness emanates from Sara whether she just got off stage or is mingling with the smokers outside the club.
Liz Thomson and Andrea Graham run Bass Coast.
In 2013, I volunteered at Bass Coast on their talent services team. While exploring the grounds, I was enamored with the art installations; it made an otherwise regular campground look pretty. More than pretty, it was interactive, the kind of art you could walk under, sit on or climb up. This was the work of Liz.
I learned from Andrea that Liz is “the eyes of the festival” because she curates the overall look through graphic design, approving art applications, stage design, lighting, etc. Taking on this responsibility did not come without challenges but Liz didn’t let fear control her life. For example when the festival started, Liz was in her late twenties, her son was one, and she was separated from his father and supporting herself. Regarding how she rose above difficult situations she says, “there could have been emotional barriers that prevented me from taking initiative but I chose to ignore them and I had a support network that enabled me to do so”. I asked Liz about her mentors; “My role models are not involved in festival culture, they are involved in mountain culture”. She says they “are people who love life and can take care of their families, business and health”. Each year she refines her vision and motivates her team members to help her realize it by being flexible and accepting “that there are numerous ways of doing something”.
Andrea also DJs as The Librarian. I’m a massive fan of her music. The fan girl inside me was delighted when she asked for my help at the festival.
While I was volunteering at Bass Coast, I arrived early to help set up the cabins and tents set aside for the headlining DJs. On a shelf in one of the cabins I found a Technics 1200 turntable. In the spirit of tidying up, I put the turntable in our gear checkroom. Later, a flustered Librarian came to our check-in gate. “I put something in one of those cabins and...” she began to explain. I felt like a hero retrieving the piece of gear utterly necessary for her performance. “I need to practice”, she said, as she held up her freshly bandaged thumb complete with stitches from the hospital. The wound was from an accident with a skill saw. Later in the day I was tasked with picking up the members from A Tribe Called Red at the front gate and touring them around the grounds. They asked specifically to meet Andrea or Liz; I knew where to go. Andrea didn’t mind being interrupted and I was happy to complete another connection above the usual responsibilities.
In both situations Andrea was warm and full of gratitude, even though I was just a volunteer.
Empathizing with everyone from headlining DJs to volunteers makes Andrea the ears of the festival. She handles the overall sound of the festival through the music and performance curation, audio/stage production and promotional touring.
Her rise to festival founder came as a natural progression in her life. The first Bass Coast occurred two weeks after selling a coffee shop she opened with her mom and successfully managed for three years. Andrea also takes inspiration from outside the festival world, specifically from her late father who managed resort hotels. “He called his leadership strategy ‘management by walking around’”, she says. It’s not surprising then she’s unafraid to get her hands dirty on site rather than simply delegating from afar. Andrea motivates her team by trying to “avoid using the words ‘I’ or ‘my’ and replace them with ‘we’ and ‘our’ when possible”. I believe this helps give team members ownership over their tasks. “There’s always a solution”, is another sunny motto she shared of her problem solving style. Andrea’s dedication to needs of the group makes it feel as if she values cooperation over competition.
Zan Comerford and I have been festival colleagues for nearly five years. She’s one of those familiar summertime faces that pop up as you both run in opposite directions getting stuff done on any given festival site. One of the first things you notice upon meeting Zan is her energy, which she ambitiously throws behind any task asked of her. Over the years, Zan has become entrenched in the festival culture in B.C. and beyond holding titles such as, volunteer coordinator and asset manager at Bass Coast, marketing and enterprise manager at Symbiosis Gathering and talent services manager at SMF.
I learned about Zan’s experience of gradually moving up the rungs in the festival world. During the same time she became a new mother, Zan grew from a vendor with a separate business, to a festival volunteer to a festival manager. How did she do it? “The main thing I’ve noticed about moving forward in this industry is seeing opportunities and jumping on them as quickly as possible”, she notes.
I asked her what her responsibilities often include as a manager at festivals. She responded with several explanations: “keeping the vibes high and moving in the right direction”, “not passing on stress to other team members” and “holding a high level of integrity and focus without being afraid to be silly at the same time”. In the midst of her new position of power, Zan remains humble, “the parking and garbage crews are the real rock stars. We often joke, without parking and garbage crews, a festival is just a giant dirty riot in a field”, she says. Spoken like a true production manager, someone who doesn’t just worry about the hype but also takes pride in the style in which the mundane logistics are carried out.
I met Ruhamah Buchanan about four years ago when the Grove Stage started at SMF; she was the performance art director, which included curating and managing the circus, aerial and dance performances at the stage. She also shares the volunteer coordinator position with Zan at Bass Coast and assists at directing Kamp Festival. I’m blown away by Ruhamah’s ambition to be dedicated to multiple summer events in B.C. because even while juggling many responsibilities that can push the limits of financial pay, she remains approachable at show time and doesn’t take out her frustration on others. Speaking from experience, it’s a relief to know you have managers who won’t have a meltdown.
It makes sense Ruhamah is able to stay calm in the eye of the storm, she’s had practice. Through her performing arts based high school she was encouraged to volunteer at the Edmonton Fringe Festival and Blues Festival as early as fifteen years old. Since then she has volunteered and worked at all styles of events across Alberta and B.C. “enjoying a combination of music and art at each”. Now she’s a self proclaimed festival junkie.
Along the way, Ruhamah says she’s “discovered production is an art all of its own”. One of the best techniques she uses to maintain good relations with her co-workers is the wrap-up meeting. She explains, “I often speak with many of the performance groups and other production members after each event to discuss all aspects of the event. This helps me learn how I can improve my communication approach”.
These moments are the building blocks of the legacies of six female event producers in the West Coast bass scene, legacies that ripple out into the larger EDM community like the reverb from a sound system washing over the people on a dance floor. In my time working at these events and others, I see how it has taken the bold to stay true to their values even when they are not popular in the mainstream. It takes the fearless to carve out original niches and the ambitious to set the pace as positive role models. All three types contribute to building a community of female leaders that empower each other.
These moments document leadership through vulnerability; each had examples of giving/receiving feedback effectively, starting new trends and sharing responsibility with their fellow workers. This stands in stark contrast to the top down hierarchal structures that capitalism privileges. Something special is happening in B.C. rave culture! Without the help of affirmative action policies, women are rising to positions of power in these businesses. At the same time, these businesses continue to gain in popularity (by consistently increasing their populations or selling out of tickets completely). I feel the values of inclusivity and cooperation upheld by these women trickle out from production to the public thereby creating a uniquely relaxed environment to work and play.
For me, these women demonstrate it’s possible to get your hands dirty and make confident business decisions all while gaining the reputation as a revered and beloved leader. It’s a reminder that these festivals are not only transformative on the dance floor but also behind the scenes.
Jennifer graduated from McMaster University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and Cultural Studies and Critical Theory. At Shared Shift Communications, she creates training manuals for small businesses that provide creative and flexible workplace environments for young people. http://www.sharedshift.ca/.
Storey, Nicola. 2014. “Shambhala Music Festival 2014: Freaks, Fairies and Magic Mushrooms”. 19 August 2014. <http://www.ixdaily.com/the-buzz/shambhala-music-festival-2014-freaks-and-fairies> (Accessed 5 October 2017).
Michaels, Sean. 2014. “Canadian Festival Bans Native American-Style Headdresses”. The Guardian. 25 July 2014. <https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jul/25/canadian-festival-bans-native-american-style-headdresses> (Accessed 8 October 2017).
 Due to health reasons, Corrine stepped down from her job at SMF in 2014.
 Sara Spicer, email with author, Sept. 28, 2016
 Sara continues to curate the Living Room Stage at SMF with her husband Hoola.
 Liz Thomson, email with author, Sept. 6, 2016
 Andrea Graham, email with author, Sept. 12, 2016
 Liz and Andrea continued to innovate and keep Bass Coast relevant in the West Coast bass scene in 2017.
 Zan Comerford, email with author, Sept. 15, 2016
 Zan again accomplished working at Bass Coast, SMF and Eclipse Gathering in 2017.
 Ruhamah Buchanan, email with author, Oct. 1, 2016
 Ruhamah again accomplished working at Kamp Festival, Bass Coast and the Grove Stage at SMF in 2017.