8 highlights of Halifax’s OBEY Convention

OBEY IX pushes boundaries with music, art, and free shows for anyone under 19.

May 19, 2016

Photo: Joshua Abrams

OBEY Convention used to be one Halifax’s best kept musical secrets, but over the past few years the rampant success of the event has pushed it from the fringes of the port city right to the forefront – a welcome move.

A gathering that combines both contemporary and storied artists in multiple disciplines for four jam-packed days of boundary-pushing art and music, OBEY is billed more as a convention than a festival, though it’s a bit of both. Founded by Darcy Spidle and now run by a tight-knit community in Halifax, OBEY keeps growing every year, having had artists as diverse and celebrated as Tasseomancy, Low, Le1f, Grouper, and Tim Hecker grace various venues across the city.

With OBEY Convention in its ninth year, we thought we’d take a look at just what makes this year’s event running May 24th-29th so special.

Free shows for anyone under 19

Image via The Coast (Ian Hart)

Starting this year, OBEY has stated that all of its shows that are unlicensed will be completely free to anyone under 19. Combine this with the fact that the majority of its shows are hosted at alternative, underage friendly venues around the city, and it’s clear that the organizers want to get as many people involved as possible.

This comes at a time when we’re seeing a large push for more accessible, alternative, and under-19 friendly venues in Halifax, to get a newer generation of artists involved in the scene – something that has sorely needed addressing in the last couple of years. Without any push to get the next generation involved in art, you risk stagnation and insularity.

Advocating hard for all-ages programming, OBEY has ensured that everyone – despite their age – has the opportunity to get immersed in inspiring and challenging art.

Alternative and community focused venues

Image via 7 Bays Bouldering

One of the most exciting things about OBEY is that, by and large, it eschews the typical bar scene in Halifax and instead utilizes community spaces around the city to host events. In the past few years, there has been more and more talk of the dangers of equating the music industry, and music in general, with drinking, and the assumption that music and booze are forever intertwined.

OBEY bucks this trend by hosting the majority of its events in unlicensed community spaces, where anyone can come and hang out, and not feel pressured to slam back Molson products at breakneck speed.

Utilizing community spaces like the North End Public Library, the Khyber Centre for the Arts, Fort Massey United Church, and the 7 Bays Bouldering rock climbing gym, OBEY has not only made it easier and more accessible for people to get out, but also so that people who come out can get to know community oriented spots around the city that they otherwise might not have known about.

Feminist and LGBTQ focused programming

OBEY has always been a staunch supporter of marginalized groups and inclusivity, having placed an emphasis on art and music from minorities, artists who identify as female, feminist-focused art, and LGBTQ artists.

In a world where most music festivals are composed predominantly of straight white males, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air, and one that has succeeded in breaking down barriers in the scene, uniting people under a common love for boundary pushing art.

OBEY is not just about art and music, it’s about bringing people together, forging a feeling of acceptance and community, and giving a platform to marginalized groups. OBEY strives to bring people together, regardless of background, to share in genre defying art, and to ensure that everyone feels safe, supported, and inspired.

Art In Fest

In collaboration with OBEY, Art in Fest is a multidisciplinary celebration of the arts that runs alongside the festival. It runs the gamut of contemporary art, drawing from everything from performance art and spoken word to painting and projections.

Spearheaded by Hannah Guinan and the Khyber Centre, these free-to-attend artistic presentations and installations happen throughout the four days of OBEY. They include film screenings, artist talks and OBABY, an art workshop for children 0-10 (accompanied by a guardian) on the morning of Saturday, May 28th at the Khyber.

Drone Day and EverySeeker Symposium

New to OBEY this year, the EverySeeker Symposium is a series focusing on the intertwining of music and other areas as widely varied as dance, psychology, film, and science. It’s composed largely of lectures at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and supplemented with other experimental events like “sound walks.”

EverySeeker is also partnering with longtime festival supporters Weird Canada to present an installation for Drone Day, a national day celebrating drone and ambient music in Canada. This year, they will broadcast live drone performances from every territory and province in Canada. Festivalgoers will be able to listen online, in venues, in parks, and on the streets of Halifax.

Local and international musicians

While most music festivals tend to push their programming to one end of the spectrum and either focus on big name international artists or a slew of local ones, OBEY once again steps outside of the box by doing both in a big way. This year features Indonesia’s Ridwan rau rau, Nadja returning from Germany, Chicago’s Joshua Abrams, New York’s Zs, Austin’s Rabit, Vancouver’s Sarah Davachi, and more.

OBEY has always been about supporting the progressive, underground, and undiscovered local art that Halifax, and Nova Scotia in general, has to offer, but in the past few years the festival’s success has allowed them to include lesser-known, but incredibly accomplished international artists in their programming.

These are predominantly artists that without the help of OBEY, would probably never make it to Halifax. Ukranian composer Lubomyr Melnyk, German free jazz saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, and French composer and multi-instrumentalist Pierre Bastien are just some of the more impressive international acts that OBEY has managed to snag.

Century Egg

Image via Shane Keyu Song

Described playfully as a “multi-race rainbow band,” Century Egg is one of the most talented and hyped bands to come out of Halifax recently. Bursting out of the gate strong, they began to garner an immense buzz shortly after their first show. For months before I got the chance to see them, they were talked about in an almost whispered reverence – people were gushing about how powerful, catchy, and boundary-pushing the band was even three provinces over.

Kudos to the band for far exceeding those high expectations, both with their fantastic debut EP and their enthralling and captivating live shows. Honeysuckle pop hooks with feverish riffs and intelligently ramshackle rhythms, Century Egg are not only one of the must-see acts at OBEY this year, they seem to be poised for greatness all around.

Wayne World

Image via Bandcamp

The awe-inspiring infamy of Wayne World knows no bounds. One of Halifax’s weirdest and wildest musical acts, their reputation absolutely precedes them. Featuring a lineup that’s composed of a slew of staples in the local music scene, Wayne World combines equal parts noise, avant-garde, free-jazz, improvisation, angular dissonance, Egyptian-esque scales, and Mark Grundy in a cube.

With an all-star cast of Cheryl Hann (Picnicface, Heaven for Real), Nathan Doucet (Heaven for Real, Eddy), Mark Grundy (Quaker Parents, Heaven for Real) and Andrew Neville (Moon), Wayne World chucks performance art, avant-garde music and improvisation into a centrifuge and the result is a splattered rorschach test of sublime beauty, dingey macabre, and everything in between.

Wayne World don’t play very frequently due to members all being busy with a plethora of other projects, but when they do unite, they form a Megazord of engulfing, enthralling, perception-challenging art. With an approach to writing that’s described as “non-hierarchical,” drummer Cheryl Hann told The Coast “the overlap on our Venn diagram of influences is, like, math-rock and death metal. We are embarrassed by that.”

OBEY Convention runs May 24th-29th. Check out the full line-up, schedule, and buy tickets or passes at the festival website.

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