Femme Wave cofounders Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack

Meet the women behind Femme Wave, Calgary’s Feminist Music and Arts Festival

How a pair of punks filled a need in the Calgary scene, and how the community has rallied to grow it with integrity.

- Nov 16, 2016
Co-founders Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack at Femme Wave 2015. All photos courtesy of Femme Wave.

Femme Wave, Calgary’s Feminist Music & Arts Festival, enters its second year today, making it one of many new music festivals to pop up in Canada in recent years. Starting today (November 16) and running until Sunday (November 20), Femme Wave jumps from venue to venue with a long lineup of Alberta bands and musicians including Feed Dogs, Borscht, Quantize, FOONYAP, Katie McCullough, TEETH, and Mercy Lamola, plus acts from L.A. (Peach Kelli Pop), Toronto (catl.), and nearby-ish Regina (Homo Monstrous, firestarter, The Garrys, Man Meat). Find the whole lineup here.

Femme Wave festival poster

Femme Wave’s specific mission, however, sets it apart from many other fledgling festivals, and shows an organization with a fresh take on programming can make it impossible to complain about festival oversaturation, even in a city blessed by the success of Sled Island or, say, in the Too Many Music Festivals Capital of Canada, Toronto, where I can confirm my jealousy pangs over Calgary’s Femme Wave are real.

Femme Wave’s stated mandate is to “create an integrated, encouraging arts scene with opportunities for women and non-binary artists,” and “intentionally program art that is accessible and showcase the talent of women and non-binary artists in warm welcoming spaces.” In chatting with co-founders Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack of The Shiverettes, I found this ethos has laid a foundation from which they and their communities could grow something unique and essential.

A collective-run organization with board and committee members assembling from backgrounds including Sled and the Calgary Folk Fest, radio stations CKUA and CJSW (Hayley hosts shows on both), and Girls Rock Camp, with deep ties in Calgary’s music, arts, comedy, and activist communities, Femme Wave’s programming spans not only music but visual art, comedy, and film, plus a Sunday takeover of the Royal Canadian Legion #1 for workshops and more.

Activism and social justice are at the heart of Femme Wave, with 2016’s schedule including a Not Enough Fest Town Hall (some acts playing Femme Wave are Not Enough Fest creations), a Girls Rock Camp showcase, workshops including “Fingerweaving and Indigenous Holistic Medicine,” “Hip Hop Songwriting,” and “Astrology, Feminism, and Resistance: Your Inner Lilith,” and a panel called “What is Cultural Appropriation?” Attendees can also take part in separate intros to both Noise and Screaming.

Fist City

Fist City at Femme Wave 2015

I talked to Hayley and Kaely about the need they saw for a festival like Femme Wave, and how they’ve grown it with integrity.

Chart Attack: What made you start Femme Wave?

It seems like people are starting to feel more comfortable speaking out and standing up to things that are harmful and toxic in the community, which is really great to see.

Hayley Muir, Femme Wave co-founder
Kaely Cormack: Hayley and I play in a local punk band. We were playing a show about three years ago that had women in every band and we were really impressed, but at the same time disappointed that this wasn’t the norm. We wanted to program a show that had at least one woman in every band, but then decided to grow that to include comedy and visual arts and showcase a bunch of women we know that are doing great things in Calgary. It just sort of snowballed from there once we got talking to friends about it and turned into a 4-day multi-venue multidisciplinary festival. It was clear to us that there was a huge need for something like this in the city.

The Shiverettes - The Creep

How have you grown since 2015, and how has the fest changed?

Kaely: We’ve grown immensely. Last year we had a real grassroots DIY thing happening, whereas this year we’ve formed an official Board of Directors, filed as a not-for-profit society, and expanded our committee to 20 people. We’ve also expanded our programming to bring in artists from L.A., Toronto, and Saskatchewan (last year it was all Alberta based). We’ve also booked at larger venues — last year we sold out nearly every event we put on, so this year we’re really hoping to grow our audience.

The schedule for 2016 is amazingly diverse. What are your main priorities programming Femme Wave?

Kaely: Our main priority is to create an integrated and positive arts scene for women and non-binary artists. We want to provide a platform for voices that aren’t normally heard and encourage more women and non-binary folks to create art in the city. So we select our programming to showcase women, but also to inspire other folks to get involved because hopefully they can see someone on stage that they identify with and that will encourage them to make noise and take up more space that they so deserve.

I'm familiar with SASS (Society for the Advocacy of Safer Spaces) and it seems like they're doing great work. Why is hosting a panel called "What is Cultural Appropriation?" important right now?

Kaely: We all need to hold ourselves accountable for the communities that we create, and educating ourselves is the best way to do that. This panel is an attempt to amplify the voices of those with lived experiences and hopefully empower the community to enact change.

There are very practical realities we have to face. What practices harm a culture instead of celebrating it? What exactly does this harm look like? People need to know how to ensure they are not accidentally or intentionally causing the further marginalization of minority cultures.

This panel will provide an opportunity for many of us who want to better understand how to include and appreciate the cultures of other Canadians, and how we can help them fight the injustice they face everyday.

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Sled Island has had a significant effect on Calgary's music scene. How does Femme Wave differ from and / or complement Sled?

Hayley Muir: Sled Island has definitely helped Calgary get a big spotlight in terms of music in Canada and really, probably set a bit of a stage for something like Femme Wave to pop up. Femme Wave has a very specific mandate to focus on women and non-binary artists, which, while Sled Island does make a very conscious effort to do as well, it is not their main goal. Our driving force is to provide opportunities for specific individuals who may not have had those opportunities before.

It’s such a beautiful, positive thing that both our festivals can exist and thrive in Calgary and we love Sled Island and all they do. Both our organizations support the other and learn from one another which is very encouraging. We hope the work Femme Wave does over the years influences other organizations to have a bit more awareness of diversity, safer spaces and community outreach and I think that’s happening already for sure.

I think there's been a rising level of openness to social activism in Ontario's music scene in the past couple of years, and judging by the birth of Femme Wave and the recent push against the Palomino, I'm guessing Calgary may be the same, though I could be way off. Have you noticed a change?

Hayley: There are definitely some changes happening and the climate of the Calgary music scene is starting to shift. I think there are more eyes on Calgary right now with a few of the recent things that have happened here and we’re starting to be held to a higher standard - both in other communities and our own community. It seems like people are starting to feel more comfortable speaking out and standing up to things that are harmful and toxic in the community, which is really great to see. We’ve noticed a change for sure and we are confident positive change will continue to happen here, although it’s a long hard road.

The climate now vs. when we started is definitely different — even in just the number of people loudly and publicly speaking out against things and demanding better from venues, bookers, bands, “VIPs” in the scene.

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Finally, I have to ask about “Intro to Screaming.” Where does the idea come from and what will it be like?!?

Kaely: We’ve built a nice relationship with Not Enough Fest Edmonton since we created Femme Wave last year. This is a workshop that they offered in Edmonton and had great success with it, so we asked if they could come down to Calgary and run it as part of our Femme Wave Workshops being offered this year. It essentially teaches proper vocal techniques to project your voice along with some basic live instrumentation, but in a more theoretical sense, it teaches women / queer / trans folks that it’s okay to be loud and take up space and make noise. There’s a lot of confidence building in the workshop, and creating a safe and accepting environment to encourage folks that it’s okay to be loud in a society where their voices are often silenced.

Honestly I was sad I couldn’t attend the workshop in Edmonton, so I can’t wait to participate when it comes to Calgary for Femme Wave.

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