Project SoundCheck Creating Safer Music Spaces in Ottawa

By Emma Kenny

With festival season in full swing, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to staying safe.

Research by Dr. Keri Sampsel (Ottawa Hospital) showed that 25% of sexual assaults were linked to large festivals and events, 98% of the survivors were young women, and close to 60% were drug-facilitated sexual assaults. This doesn’t have to be the norm.

Project SoundCheck is an Ottawa-based organization that works to prevent sexualized violence at large concerts and festivals. The initiative started in 2015 through a collaboration between the Sexual Assault Network of Ottawa and OCTEVAW (Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women), with the support of the City of Ottawa Crime Prevention Program. Given these stats about festival safety in a city where there is at least one festival every weekend in the summer, this kind of program is desperately needed.

Here’s how Project SoundCheck works. A festival or event can reach out to Project Soundcheck to schedule a free, interactive training session for their volunteers and staff. The workshop will take place during an previously scheduled core staff training event to ensure maximum participation and impact. The Project Soundcheck team focuses on providing festival teams with the tools to recognize sexual harassment and assault and intervene in order to prevent any further harm.

A training session takes about 45 minutes, and is done wherever the event organizers and crew are currently working. During a session, facilitators discuss the basis for bystander intervention work and highlight the barriers and implicit biases that can affect that work. The group then goes through some scenarios where participants are encouraged to share ideas and collaborate on the safest ways to approach some risky situations.

There are so many benefits to festivals and events engaging the services of Project SoundCheck as part of their staff training. By empowering festival crews and organizers with the skills to reduce and prevent sexual violence, Project SoundCheck actively works to create a city and music scene that is safer for everyone. Festival goers and organizers aren’t the only ones who benefit from this increase in safety; artists also benefit from being a part of these safer spaces. The peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that everyone can enjoy the show is important, as is the Project SoundCheck policy that encourages artists to be active bystanders both on and off stage.

This is a feeling that MEGAPHONO’s Rachel Weldon can attest to. “Working with Project SoundCheck has been a great experience for our team. It gives peace of mind to us as event organizers, but also to our artists and delegates who participate in the festival to know that our team has been trained in sexual assault bystander prevention. The training equips us with several different options of how to intervene or lend support to possible victims, and emphasizes the importance of keeping both the victim and the bystander safe and free from harm.” Project SoundCheck training has a tangible impact on the comfort of festival attendees.

Project SoundCheck is unique because their training is specifically designed in collaboration with local hospitals and with the feedback of large festivals and live music events in Ottawa. Project SoundCheck’s training is informed by recommendations from all levels of music festival planning and organization, as well as the perspectives and experiences of event attendees and community members.

Project Soundcheck Facilitator Elsa Mirzaei remarked that working on these initiatives is both challenging and rewarding. “Through teaching bystander intervention courses, I've learnt so much about how to connect with people from all walks of life, in order to empower them with tools and skills to take action and become active bystanders in their day-to-day lives.” Mirzaei gets to the heart of the necessity and importance of the work Project SoundCheck does when they state that it “contributes to a larger cultural sphere within in Ottawa.”

“By making events and festivals safer for women and queer folks, these marginalized groups can access cultural programming more easily,” Mirzaei stated. “Music is such an important facet in so many people's lives, whether you are a fan, an artist, or an organizer. Making things safer and more accessible means that more people are able to engage with the arts, have more fun at the countless amazing local festivals, and ultimately improve their own lives through art.”

While their core work is training, Project SoundCheck has also created a variety of customized tools for sexual assault prevention at large events. They recently launched their brand-new Anonymous Reporting Form, providing a safe way for people to share concerns and suggestions around festival safety and inclusivity! Next up is a campaign to make bystander intervention training a requirement of the Special Events permitting process with the City of Ottawa, thereby ensuring that every fest is as safe as possible.

If you want to learn more about bystander intervention and how to safely intervene and de-escalate a risky situation, come out to a FREE bystander intervention workshop co-presented by Project SoundCheck and Girls+ Rock Ottawa on September 20th from 7PM to 9PM at the National Arts Centre. 

Personal Perspectives: Ottawa Explosion, my fat freaky body, and the freedom of punk

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Personal Perspectives is where Girls+ Rock Ottawa readers can share what music means to them. Contact us if you have a story to share!

By Emma Kenny

Disclaimer from the author: In using the terms fat and freaky to describe my body, I want to acknowledge and make clear that I carry a lot of privilege as a white, cisgender woman on the very small end of the sliding scale of fat. I understand and respect that folks of different identities may not share my feelings about punk. This piece is not meant to be prescriptive in any way.

Ottawa Explosion Weekend is my favourite time of the year.

The punk festival has been running during the second week of June every year for the past eight, and is euphemistically called a “weekend” when the “weekend” actually begins on Wednesday evening and proceeds to ruin your ability to be productive at your day job for succeeding Thursday, Friday, and Monday. For me, this week presents an annual opportunity to unleash the side of myself that I keep hidden: the sloppy, lazy, junk-food-devouring, unwashed side of myself. And there’s something particularly powerful about that.

I came to punk later in life, after some detours through classic rock, indie pop, and mainstream alt-rock. My discovery of punk coincides with my decision to stop dieting and start investing that energy into loving my body, choosing to unlearn fatphobia and learn radical body positivity instead of counting calories and allowing myself to be consumed by guilt for eating bread twice in one day. Punk makes me feel like it’s possible to be completely free of negativity and anxiety about my body and appearance. It shows me a different way to be myself, a way that includes the anger, elation, and messiness inside of me. To find a space where I (usually) feel able to give myself total freedom in what I wear, what I eat, how I move, and how I talk is a rare pleasure, and a real privilege.

I always tell the same joke when someone asks me why I like punk: I used to think I didn’t, that I was too soft for punk, until I realized that I just don’t like it when men shout at me. And no, “female fronted” is certainly not a genre, but punk and hardcore bands fronted by women and queer folks provided an entry point to a genre that I used to think was explicitly not for me. I never thought there was a place for an introverted femme bookworm in punk, but once I saw my friend screaming onstage about how much she hates winter and being misread as hetero, I tapped into an anger I’d been denying for a long time. And all of sudden punk made a whole hell of a lot more sense.

In short, I fell in love with punk.

It can become very easy to swallow your anger, especially in world where there is so much to rage about. Punk provides an outlet for me to explore and express my anger, a space where I can try new things - from outfits to dance moves - and the self-assuredness to go home when I’ve had enough without being devastated by FOMO (fear of missing out). The best thing about punk is that there are no rules, which means more than just anarchic violence on the dancefloor and staying out until sunrise (although that’s fun too). No rules can also mean sobriety, freedom from body shame, safety, and, yeah, going home early.  I feel like there’s something special about a genre that’s engineered- in all of its many forms - to allow participants to express anger. Done right, punk scenes make space for people to share rage, sadness, anxiety, and fear in a way that builds community. I’m not saying punk is a utopia, but I think it could be.

Punk lets me be free, and Ottawa Explosion is a time when I can fully embrace that freedom in the city I love with the people who matter most to me. That’s the incredible thing about music: it creates communities based on mutual love. And we can all work together to make those communities more welcoming, inclusive, and safer than ever before.

Bonjay and Too Attached on how 'diversity' isn't just a box to tick

In May 2018, we sat down with Alanna Stuart and Ian Swain from Bonjay and Shamik Bilgi from Too Attached before their Diversity Tour show in Ottawa. In this interview, they break down the meaning behind the Diversity Tour, their contentious tour poster, and why we need to challenge how we think about diversity.

The Diversity Tour was born out of a common thread that Bonjay and Too Attached found in each other's music, exploring the concept of 'diversity' from different perspectives and showing that diversity "is not this multicultural utopia that you see on government banners".

Stuart noted that Bonjay's latest album Lush Life looks at the complexity of diversity, especially in how it is lived out in our cities today.

"What does it actually mean for people to pool their differences together? It's messy and awkward and not everybody's going to want to be encountering differences. People aren't going to want to encounter change. And so we wanted to highlight the fact that diversity is not easy, it's a good idea but it's hard."

Stuart links Bonjay's message with that of Too Attached's latest album, Anger, which speaks about people of colour (POC) anger and dismantles the idea that POC should remain diplomatic in the face of racism and misogyny. Stuart, who sang on the album, says:

"It doesn't matter how subtle racism can be or ignorance can be, let's just call it what it is. I'm going to voice the true implications of how it hurts from our end."

Bilgi adds that "Diversity isn't just this box to tick".  As an example, he refers to 'diverse' workplaces where many women and marginalized people do not feel like they are being treated fairly, "it’s not just about dotting the i's and crossing the t's". 

Bonjay and Too Attached on carving your own path

Speak up for yourself. Ask questions. Carve your own path. Start by doing.

We sat down with Alanna Stuart and Ian Swain from Bonjay and Shamik Bilgi from Too Attached before their Diversity Tour show in Ottawa to talk about some of the biggest challenges they've faced in music. For anyone who's ever felt paralyzed by the need to be perfect or the by the fear of criticism, this advice will resonate.

 

On recognition:

Shamik: “We came up in the era where a lot of people, if they get signed, they could quit their day job and make it. So I think for myself, my goals were to get booked and try to play shows. I think in the world my sister was in, was trying to perform and get press. So I think that early struggles were just like, you know, trying to be heard and be appreciated for what we were doing.”
Alanna: "Being an R&B singer, I have a tool that other people can use that is completely detached from who I am as a person, completely detached from my character. I can be a vocalist on a producer’s album and not receive any credit, and it can make you feel a bit disposable and so my greatest challenge was: How do I be seen? How do you receive credit for the work you’ve done? How do you receive validation as a producer and a songwriter, and not just a vocalist? How do I become more than just this tool that can be used in a void? Especially as someone who really wants to make music. I don’t want to just be in the music industry, I want an artistic career. So how do I get recognized for that artistry. And on the flip side of that is, how do you become recognized for that artistry but then how do you not spend all your energy being angry, or fighting for that validation. How do you find that in yourself?"
Ian: "I have found that the biggest challenge is coming up with your own thing...I think it can become easy to fall into the trap of reading more and more and following the advice of people. But the tough thing about music is that, if you think of most interesting and compelling music that we love, it’s people who were something original. They found their own path and it was fairly unprecedented."
 

On getting started:

Alanna: "Just doing. I think the greatest gift I gave myself, when I wanted to learn how to produce was to give myself time. I didn’t go out and get expensive equipment, I didn’t go out and buy expensive software, I just had a cheap laptop I bought off a friend. Garageband is a built-in program we have. And I just played with the sounds that were already in the program. I just used what I had."
Ian: "Through doing it, and then kind of reflecting on it, you become better and better. It’s amazing, a lot of our favourite people - how little they started with, in terms of formal training and things like that. It can be very freeing also, that you‘re not trying to aspire to someone else’s vision of what you want to be doing. You’re making it up as you go."
Shamik: "As artists now, the only really struggle we have being a band ...is just trying to keep it moving, like not stay in the same place. How can we push ourselves artistically, to make this song not like the last song and make this record not like the last record...And we just keep trying different things. The goal is always keep trying things."
 

On carving your own path:

Shamik: "We realized that we got here one way or the other, but there was no real rulebook on that. And every single person that is an artist has a different career path when things line up differently, you can’t base everything you want based on what is around you."
Alanna: “So it does involve speaking up for yourself, ask those questions, and don’t be afraid to put your ideas out there...That how you’re gonna learn what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. And just do. Just get your hands in there, get used to the programs. And eventually I feel like the challenges you have trying to learn new programs will spark questions that will bring you to the next step and the next step.”
Ian: "Doing music, whether you are successful in music or not...is one of the best ways to do something where you’re the ultimate judge and there is no finish line, which can be really difficult because you’re not trying to meet the ideal of someone else, you’re trying to create your own new ideal. And it’s very hard to do from the inside, but in those moments where you feel like you’ve created something new, that is your unique story and your unique combination of influences, it makes it all worth it."

Bonjay and Too Attached on what inspired them to get into music

“I really never had much formal training. So it’s really about listening to things and then teaching myself how to do them...which, if you have the  perseverance for it, is a good way to learn anything.”

During the Diversity Tour stop in Ottawa, we spoke to a Bonjay and Shamik from Too Attached about what inspired them to get into music, and how perseverance is the key ingredient to success.

Let us know what you think and stay tuned for the next video in #theDiversityTour series!

10 artists you can’t miss at Ottawa Explosion Weekend

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by Emma Kenny

With the infamous Ottawa Explosion Weekend just around the corner, it feels like summer has finally arrived in the capital. Join in the fun of this amazing fest with our top ten picks below and reject the idea that Ottawa is boring.

Sneaks

Eva Moolchan has been making noise and waves under her stage name Sneaks in the DIY punk scene of Washington D.C. since 2014. We love the way that Sneaks takes up space with her minimalist, mechanical beats and deadpan vocal style. Get bopping at her set at the 27 Club, Thursday June 14, at 11:00 PM.

DOXX

Local hardcore punk stars DOXX will be making their third appearance at OXW this year. Fronted by the grotesque glamour of Sof Shu’s vocals and look and backed by relentless riff and driving drumbeats, this set is guaranteed to be a fun time. Catch them live at the Dom, Friday June 15, 10 PM.

Crossed Wires

This hazy pop-punk trio of Halifax shredders are not to be missed. The dripping guitar melodies of Kayla Stevens put you in mind of a melting ice cream cone while the rhythmic bass and catchy lyrics of Heather Grant get you hopping. They’ll be playing on Saturday June 16 at 2:30 PM - check the OXW website for the TBD venue.

Heathers

A three-piece post-punk/garage outfit from Montreal, Heather’s has been rocking together since 2012. Their most recent album, Midnight is a Place, was released last month. The group’s nostalgic, grungey sound will have you feeling like Buffy Summers out at The Brass for a night. See them Friday, June 15 at Black Squirrel Books, 11 PM.

Fruit and Flowers

This four-piece punk rock band from Brooklyn, NY has been touring relentlessly  all last year promoting their debut EP Drug Tax, and we’re very stoked to see them come to Ottawa. Emotive guitar and warm, assured vocals give the group a sound like summer nights in the city. They’re live at the 27 Club on Wednesday, June 13 at 11:15 PM.

respectfulchild

Get lost in the solo instrumental/experimental project of Gan, also known as respectfulchild. Their stage moniker is the direct English translation of their Mandarin name 敬兒, and their layered, intricate soundscapes act as a way of seeking meaning in that name after a lifetime in the predominantly white environment of the Canadian Prairies. See them live on Friday, June 15 at 10:00 PM in the cozy nook of Black Squirrel Books.

Blood Beach

Halifax trio Blood Beach is keeping rock music cute with feedback heavy, bass-driven tracks designed to make you fall back in love with pop punk. Their noisy tunes will get you in the pit, and the fun, bratty vocals of Taylor Furey will surely be the cherry on top of this sonic sundae. Come jam Halifax style at 2 PM at the Clocktower, Saturday, June 16.

Victime

OXW gets bilingual this year with Quebec QC punk trio Victime. The group released their new LP, La Femme Taupe, in February and here to remind us what punk is all about. Their combination of polished riot grrl vocals with noisy guitar and dependable drums will definitely get you dancing. Don’t miss out on their set - Thursday, June 14, 10:00PM at the 27 Club.

Ziibiwan

An emerging Anishinaabe artist and producer from Toronto, Ziibiwan will take you on a journey through their ambient electronic visions. Their debut EP Time Limits was released in 2016, and since then they’ve continued to work and perform at a variety of fests. Ziibiwan creates mystical soundscapes to get you out of your body and into the fabric of the universe. Catch them Friday, June 15 at Black Squirrel books at 1 AM.

BBQT

This four-piece Montreal-via-St. John’s band brings the party with their repertoire of power pop bops. BBQT supplies sharp guitar riffs and relatable tracks, all with a distinctive east coast flavour. With genius lyrics that play on high waisted shorts and being high and wasted in shorts sung in Amery Sandford’s sweet tones, this group truly has something for everyone. Join the kitchen party Friday, June 15 at the Clocktower at 8:15 PM.

Opinion: Dragon Boat Festival Falls Short

By Tiffanie Tri

The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival is a celebration of the traditional sport of dragon boat racing. The festival website says that it is "part of a larger Chinese cultural tradition that goes back 2,400 years." So why aren't there any Chinese artists in the festival's music lineup?

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Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival is a not-for-profit organization that survives on public funding. It receives funding from the government, including Canadian Heritage's Building Communities and Heritage program which is designed to increase opportunities for local artists and heritage performers to be involved in their community through festivals and events. It is also designed to allow local groups to commemorate their local history and heritage. As part of the program's eligibility criteria, applicants must "encourage local community engagement through activities that promote, celebrate and preserve local performing and visual arts or local heritage".

Sure, Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival presents the work of local artists, with several Ottawa-based artists in its lineup. However, there is little attempt to present the work of heritage performers. Only one act in the lineup includes an Asian musician: Birds of Bellwoods bassist Kintaro Akiyama.

Not only does Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival fail at presenting opportunities to heritage artists, the gender diversity of the festival lineup is also appalling.

Only two of the 18 acts are fronted by women and only seven of the 18 acts are not all-dude acts, with the majority of these non all-dude acts being mixed acts, some of which have only one female artist embedded in a group of dudes.

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Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival lineup pictured without the all-dude bands.

But back to the original question: Where are the Chinese artists in a festival that supposedly celebrates Chinese culture? This is a part of a larger conversation and problematic habit of Western society "picking and choosing" what it wants to accept or not accept from other cultures. Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival exemplifies this behaviour by paying lip service to Chinese culture (a paltry description about Dragon Boat Tradition on its website) while shutting out Chinese artists.

Given that it receives public funding to build heritage and “inclusive” community, the Festival should look for Chinese and other Asian artists to feature on their lineup.

It should also include heritage artists that perform traditional Chinese music, dance, sports and activities. Not only do I believe that the citizens of Ottawa would be interested in learning about Chinese culture, but given that Ottawa has such a vibrant Chinese community, there is no shortage of Chinese artists and cultural activities that could be included.

The greater danger of activities like the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival is that they benefit from cultural traditions of an ethnic community without any real inclusion of culture or heritage. This leads to the co-opting and erasure of the culture and heritage of the community these festivals are supposed to be celebrating. Representation matters.

At the current rate, Dragon Boat Festival is more likely to be associated with white, male indie rock bands than Chinese culture. If the Festival wants to benefit from Chinese culture, it's time to step up and truly support and showcase Chinese heritage and culture.

Representatives from Dragon Boat Festival could not be reached for comment.


This article appears in the May 2018 edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint, page 7. 

Girls+ Rock Ottawa named United Way Ottawa GenNext Community Builder of the Year

We are happy to announce that Girls+ Rock Ottawa has been named a Community Builder of the Year by United Way Ottawa! Every year, United Way Ottawa's Community Builder of the Year Awards celebrates the people and organizations that work tirelessly, passionately and collectively to help make change happen in our community.


We’re honoured, inspired and humbled to be named a recipient of this award & we look forward to keep growing our impact in the community.  A huge THANK YOU goes out to everyone who has supported us: our amazing volunteers, campers, parents, friends, businesses and organizations. We couldn’t have done this without you! 


To learn more about the Community Builder of the Year Awards and join us at the Awards Gala on May 31st:
https://www.unitedwayottawa.ca/event-evenement/community-builder-of-the-year-awards-gala/

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By Ariane Bell Vila

Great news: singing is a skill like any other - the more you actively work on it, the better you become!

I believe that everyone can, and should sing. You don’t have to be an aspiring professional singer to take an interest in learning more about the instrument you carry with you at all times. That said, singing can definitely leave people feeling vulnerable, and there is a strange expectation that in order to be a singer you have to already have a well-developed voice and a perfect musical ear.

I believe that everyone has their own unique singing voice. Here are three ways to uncover yours:

1. Practice makes permanent

Practice is everything, and it’s not just about practicing songs. You should regularly be warming up, training your musical ear, practicing breath control as well as body awareness, and more!

2. Don’t be limited by categories

Voice types such as alto and soprano exist, but don’t let these categories dictate how you explore your instrument. Saying “I’m an alto” and never singing any mid to high notes is limiting, because you’re intentionally ignoring part of your instrument. It’s like playing a piano but ignoring the upper and lower-most octaves entirely because you are used to playing on a miniature keyboard. You might not sing in a certain range in performance, but it’s still worth exploring and developing the entire range of your instrument in the practice room! (P.S. Voice types can change throughout your life as your body changes).

3. Confidence is a skill

Just like you can practice singing, you can also practice dealing with nerves and stage-fright. BulletproofMusician does a great job explaining a technique called centering (and many other great articles about practice and performance anxiety in general) which can be incredibly effective with practice.

Above all else: be gentle, patient, and kind to yourself and your voice. Your best singing today may be different than your best singing tomorrow, and that's ok!

For more tips and advice to find your unique singing voice and conquer stage-fright, download our FREE Vocal 101 Guidebook!