Sound Seekers

Sounds Seekers: Momentum Builds for Music City North

The inaugural Ottawa International Music Conference (OIMC) kicks off this week with three nights of music and two days of panels and networking events. The goal is to connect audiences, venues, and artists in Ottawa around a mutual love of electronic music.

Most events take place at the Maker Space North warehouse at City Centre and at satellite venues around the city including Babylon, Overkill, Ritual, Le Petit Chicago, and at the Mercury Lounge in the Byward Market.

There are dozens of acts to see including Kenny Dope, Nomadic Massive, Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and Ottawa’s own Souljazz Orchestra.

Check out the poster for the full list and find the lineup on Facebook and the OIMC site. The conference starts Friday, May 29 and continues through to Sunday. Full passes are $85. Individual ticket options can be found here. (P.S. We’re giving away a full conference pass. See our Twitter feed for details).

OIMC executive producer Claudia Balladelli has worked as a talent booker at the Mercury Lounge for years.

As part of her work there, she’s attended ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event), Canadian Music Week, and WMC in Miami regularly over the past decade. She wanted to bring some of those ideas back to the capital.

“Ottawa is getting better, but still needs more underground festivals. Some festivals are too commercial and others are too indie,” she says. “This year seemed like a good time to make it happen. [Mercury owner] John Criswick bought and renovated Maker Space North. It is truly the perfect space to make it happen. OIMC is a chance for musicians and entrepreneurs to start solidifying their networks and to transform Ottawa into a better place for arts and music.”

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DJ Trevor Walker, at the Mercury Lounge. Photo Alex Vlad

The OIMC follows similar events in Ottawa in recent months. Megaphono and Ontario Scene generated conversations about what needs to be done to make Ottawa a music scene town in the way of Austin or Nashville. A Kelp Music scene report, released in March, discusses economic spinoff benefits, and makes practical infrastructure suggestions. The report is a great step toward building a music city.

Still, a lot of this discussion seems familiar. I’m sure we had this conversation when nearby Montreal was hype central. Or when The Washington Post praised O-town’s “unselfconscious cool.” The recurring inferiority complex seems to be the hallmark of our urban identity, a case we’ve made before. It would be nice to get off this pivot and move toward making Ottawa Music City a reality.

There is some traction. It’s been nice to see some champions at City Hall making an on-paper commitment to get this moving. Kelp Music’s idea to get an immediate point person to lead this change seems like a great next step.

The OIMC also provides momentum. Its organizers hope to continually develop Ottawa as a key player in the world of music. Balladelli says it’s important to show entrepreneurs and artists that they are essential in making the city a music hub by developing  and drawing people to local festivals, events, and venues.

Panels at this weekend’s conference will offer artists practical tips on running your own business, securing grants, programming, and surviving clubland.

Each panel deals with on-the-ground realities and skills needed to build Music City North, particularly its electronic music culture. (A discussion on the culture of music will also take place during OIMC. I’m on that panel with some swell dudes.)

Policy talk is mixed in with parties all weekend and the festival closes with a sunset warehouse party at Maker Space North on Saturday. See you there.

P.S.: We at Ottawa Magazine would love your thoughts on what would make a great Music City North. Comment, tweet, and add your two cents.