by Broose Tulloch
Last year the WSO’s New Music Festival added a late night component, Pop Nuit. The two-night affair featured a performance of Beck’s Sound Reader, an album released only as sheet music, from Winnipeg’s own Royal Canoe. More than a coincidence, as Royal Canoe’s Matt Schellenberg is the curator of Pop Nuit, and WSO Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate is a fan of the band. Stylus spoke with Matt Schellenberg about this year’s music, artists, and festival.
Stylus: How did Pop Nuit originate, did you approach the WSO with the project or vice-versa?
Matt Schellenberg: It actually originated with an idea I had on tour. Somehow we (Royal Canoe) got to talking about the New Music Festival and how much great “new music” there was from a Pop perspective that it didn’t seem to cover. I got the idea to pitch an idea to the WSO to allow me to work with them in curating a more pop-centric late night component to compliment the “classical” component.
Stylus: Do you work with the New Music Festival or program autonomously?
MS: We work together. I had the lucky opportunity to be a part of a sort of casual curatorial team that would meet in a basement periodically to listen to music together that we might want to program for the New Music Festival this year. It was a great learning experience for me, sharing my more pop-y ideas for artists and learning about what was going on in the avant-garde classical scene. We are hoping to integrate the two festivals as much as possible as Pop Nuit grows, possibly having parts of the symphony performing with the pop artist who come in for the Pop Nuit portion of the fest.
Stylus: What do you look for in artists ?
MS: I think this year’s headliner, Colin Stetson, is a perfect example of the sort of artist a festival like Pop Nuit thrives on. While one would be hard-pressed to call Stetson’s sound pop music, he has become massively popular in that scene. He’s been nominated for the Polaris Prize and opened for acts like Arcade Fire. It’s odd that the pop genre, once defined by its reverence for convention, is becoming one of the most innovative arenas to make music in these days. Really, I suppose it’s getting back to its roots, whatever is popular, and more and more people’s ears are requiring a little innovation, a little something new. This is what Colin provides.
Stylus: What in particular attracted you to this year’s artists?
MS: Innovation. This is the theme that ties them all together. Venetian Snares is said to have reinvented the breakcore genre. Colin Stetson doesn’t sound like any saxophonist I’ve ever heard; he creates percussion with the instrument’s buttons and valves, circle breathes, and sings into his instrument. Hannah Epperson has made the loop pedal her own thing, doing it better than most, I would say. And Mahogany Frog have been Winnipeg’s very own pop music innovators for as long as I can remember.
Stylus: Are the artists given any parameters or guidance for the shows? Do they approach you with projects?
MS: Last year there were some parameters given; I told Jesse Krause that I wanted him to perform by himself with instruments he’d made and to “make it weird.” As for the second question since I’m a member of Royal Canoe it made it a bit of a different situation, but we wanted to try and do something special for the festival, and Beck’s project seemed to fit the mantra just perfectly.
Stylus: What moments stand out from last year’s festival?
MS: Jesse Krause’s project last year was a stand-out moment for me; his created instruments, and his work highlighting the plight of Biblical king Nebuchadnezzar was just of such quality. A lot of the composers from the New Music Festival proper came down and had a lot of praise for him.
Stylus: Are you concerned or excited about maintaining the momentum from last year’s well received program?
MS: A little of both. I just hope people know about what’s going on, and I’m happy to be talking to you guys about it. I think the lesser known concert of the two currently is Colin Stetson at the Millennium Centre. Not a lot of people know about the venue but it is this beautiful old room made of stone with a giant domed top, so beautifully reverberant. There will be alcohol for sale and I think it’ll be quite the swanky party night.
Stylus: What have you learned, so to speak, from the first Pop Nuit?
MS: I think I learned that this city has a thirst for innovative pop music, and that people here have quite an open mind. People are excited to see something come to their city; and the support I’ve received from people helping me out with the project through word of mouth, their skills and time, or just donating lamps for lighting, has been amazing.
Stylus: Do you have a bigger vision for Pop Nuit?
MS: I’d love for the festival to grow keep growing and evolving. Eventually it would be great to have a Pop Nuit event after every New Music Festival concert, and have some of them coincide with the artists performance with the symphony. For example, this year we are doing Owen Pallett’s work with the symphony; it would have been great if after that he would have been able to do a club show, however scheduling didn’t allow him to make it out. I think the more years we do it the more we’ll learn and the better it will get.
This year’s Pop Nuit takes place Saturday, January 25th at The Union Sound Hall with local electronic psych-rockers Mahogany Frog opening for ex-pat breakcore pioneer Venetian Snares; and Friday January 31st at the Millennium Centre featuring saxophone genius Colin Stetson with Hannah Epperson. Tickets are available at Into The Music and Music Trader and online at bigfunfest.com and newmusicfestival.ca.