Femme Wave: Feminist Music & Arts Fest Dreams Big For Year Five

Festival Organizers Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack. Photo: Jarrett Edmund

Femme Wave is Calgary’s only feminist arts festival and this year, for their five-year anniversary, they’re celebrating big and dreaming even bigger. A successful fundraiser at the Globe in September raised $8,000 for the festival, which, along with the announcement of its biggest and most diverse lineup, including the first black woman and hip hop artist Polaris Prize 2019 winner, Haviah Mighty, it’s clear that Femme Wave has cemented its spot in Calgary’s packed festival schedule.

Co-directors Kaely Cormack and Hayley Muir are not strangers when it comes to the DIY femme-punk scene. Muir and Cormack, both founding members of Calgary band The Shiverettes, write snotty punk that’s not lacking for hooks — either musical or ones aimed squarely at the jaw of patriarchy. As they started playing regular shows and becoming more involved in the community, they noticed a trend that they were not happy with: the lack of femme representation on the stage.

“Hayley and I felt that there were barely any women on stage. We would play shows and it was just men everywhere and men booking the shows and running sound, but where were all the women?” says Cormack.

“In the early days, we’d say, ‘This sucks, there’s no girls anymore,’ but then The Shiverettes played a show and we were like, ‘Wait a minute, we’re on an almost all female bill, not even on purpose.’ We know a bunch of these bands and these people who are doing these things, but why don’t we ever see more of them?” says Muir.

From that moment on, it was Muir and Cormack’s mission to create a safe and inclusive platform that celebrated women and non-binary musicians.

What initially started as a one-off event called Femme Wave quickly evolved into a four-day festival due to the passionate outcry of support within the community. They continued to expand its programming into visual arts, music, comedy, film, spoken word, workshops and, this year, the addition of a “wild card” programming — think clothing and plant swaps, drag and burlesque shows, astrology, all done through a feminist lens.

Muir and Cormack stress that the festival is not about being a victim. It’s about reclaiming artistic spaces and embracing them in a positive, empowering way with the people whose aims are to build one another up.

“The arts community is for you. If you go to a show or opening night in the arts community, maybe you feel like it is not quite your space or that you’re not quite supposed to be there, but I hope at Femme Wave people feel like they absolutely should be here — and not just at Femme Wave, but in all of those spaces,” says Cormack.

Muir adds, “Femme Wave started going hard on making safer spaces, trying to normalize that by making it a huge priority and demanding that of places. We didn’t invent this type of work, but when people start to make noise about it, it starts to spread and becomes the normal and if we can push these boundaries and raise these bars, the whole community grows and gets better.”

Haviah MightyThe Dish With One Spoon Territory, Toronto, ON

Haviah Mighty made history this year when she became the first black woman and hip-hop artist to win the coveted Polaris Prize. She raps about her struggles struggles with racism, classism and sexism, bringing a new level of wokeness to the Canadian hip hop scene. Her headlining set at Femme Wave will be her Calgary debut.

ShematomasTreaty 7 Territory, Calgary, AB

Bursting on the scene in 2009 at a time when all-female bands were lacking in Calgary, The Shematomas brought fuzzy garage rock to the frontlines. Femme Wave is bringing a ripping Shematomas reunion, reminding us of where it all started.

“Kaely immediately said Shematomas when we were thinking of a reunion show. They were a big band for us, especially when The Shiverettes started, because they were this cool, all women band that were scrappy and grungy,” says Muir.

Hua LiTraditional and unceded territory of the Kanien’keha:ka, Montréal, QC

Classically trained, self-identified queer and biracial musician Hua Li defies genre boundaries, combining jazz, R&B, and experimental hip hop that is dancey and emotionally charged. Her debut album, Dynasty, dropped in September and projects a deep-level of self awareness that is bound to connect with many.

The Pack a.d.  — Unceded traditional lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, Vancouver, BC

Blending indie rock with electric blues, The Pack a.d. have been a mainstay in Canada for 15 years. Pivotal players in the mid-2000s garage rock revival scene, they offer a refreshing, insightful perspective to the genre that gets better with each year.

KimmortalUnceded traditional lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, Vancouver, BC

Femme Wave has a history of bringing in artists that are on the brink of hitting a massive wave of popularity and Kimmortal is no exception. Recently long-listed for the 2019 Polaris Music Prize, queer and Filipinx rap musician, Kimmortal, needs to stay on your radar. With tracks that should be household anthems, like “Sad Femme Club,” Kimmortal’s commanding bars will leave you feeling empowered.

Gabi TomeTraditional and unceded territory of the Kanien’keha:ka, Montréal, QC

Gabi Tome does it all, from her intricate guitar abilities to her calming vocal arrangements. Her incorporation of jam and technical style brings a realness to her art that exudes a creative flow.

“Femme Wave is bringing the neo-classical this year at our all-ages brunch,” says Muir.