This August Big River, Saskatchewan, will play host to Electric Sky, a three day electronic music festival aimed at continuing the legacy of the late Connect Festival.
Formerly located in Moose Jaw and dubbed “North America’s original electronic music festival,” Connect ran for 22 years before shuttering last year. Throughout the entirety of its run it remained largely a showcase of underground Canadian talent.
In the wake of its demise the organizers of another Saskatchewan music festival, Ness Creek, approached well-known Saskatchewan-based event contractor Harley Steinke about using their festival site to launch a spiritual successor.
Steinke then enlisted the help of Jon Farber, who operates Porcupine Plain’s Bass In The Bush music festival, and current Calgary resident Dane Hanson, better known by his DJ alias Danger Bay.
“Since I was still tied up in the Saskatchewan scene and I worked with him for six, seven years promoting, naturally he came right to me and he was like I want you involved,” says Hanson.
Hanson, who’s originally from Saskatchewan, moved to Calgary a year and a half ago and has since been responsible for helming a series of techno related club nights, such as the wildly successful T403 series.
Before moving he also worked as one of Connect Festival’s stage managers for five years. For Electric Sky, his role has primarily shifted to that of booking agent and online marketing.
According to Hanson, Electric Sky differs from other Western Canadian music festivals in its diversity. The lineup features over 60 artists that cross the spectrum of electronic music, a trait that’s mirrored in the festival’s headlining acts.
There’s bass-heavy acts like Matt The Alien, Woofax, Freddy J and JFB, house and techno courtesy of Max Ulis, Kloves and ThOr, drum and bass violinist Kyatami, Calgary footwork icon Homesick, and the hip-hop infused stylings of The Gaff.
The list of headliners also demonstrates that Electric Sky has firmly adopted Connect Festival’s aim to highlight home-grown talent, with a particular focus on emerging Alberta artists.
“It’s probably about 90 percent or more Canadian talent, and since I’m from Calgary I really wanted to focus on Alberta,” says Hanson.
Hanson hopes this strong showing of Alberta artists on the inaugural bill will entice a growing number of the province’s electronic music fans to venture east in years to come.
“I’m planting the seed, so to speak, with Calgary for sure,” says Hanson. “Year after year we plan on bringing out more people from Calgary.”
Although planning for the festival only began 11 months ago, Hanson’s business plan is aimed at long term growth.
“This is a ten year festival minimum,” says Hanson.
“We’re planning this out for ten years so we’re thinking very far ahead.”
What gives Hanson and his team the confidence to plan that far ahead is Saskatchewan’s history of ardent electronic music support. In addition to sustaining Connect through it’s 22-year run, Saskatchewan also has a proven track record of showing up in great numbers for local artists and promoters.
“Saskatchewan has a long history of supporting electronic music, from the PPM days where they would throw 1000 to 1500-person raves, and the support that they got back in the day,” says Hanson.
“We have a long history in Saskatchewan of electronic music, of a tight knit community in electronic music.
“It’s just something that Saskatchewan has always been passionate about, and it’s something that we wanted to continue now that Connect Festival is over.”
Hanson notes that even in modern times Saskatchewan’s showing of support for electronic music often surpasses that of Calgary.
“The scenes are almost the same size from my point of view, like we would throw shows in Saskatoon and would get 250 people, 200 people at a techno show,” says Hanson.
“You throw techno shows here [in Calgary], you’re lucky if you get 40.”
The same level of support is also present across all the various genre niches of Saskatchewan’s electronic music community, a factor that validated Electric Sky’s decision to opt for a diverse lineup.
“I know it’s more spread out in Calgary, but man it seems like it’s tougher in Calgary than it is in Saskatoon,” says Hanson.
“It seemed like in Saskatoon it didn’t matter if it was breaks, or drum and bass, or house and techno, everyone came out and supported.”
Electric Sky is also bolstered by a level of administrative support and infrastructure that dwarfs that of many first time electronica festivals.
“The Ness Creek crew has been doing festivals at this location for 28 years, and that’s who we have under us, that’s who’s helping us,” says Hanson.
“So the infrastructure, it’s a 20 year infrastructure, they have everything, it’s all planned out, so there’s definitely going to be no Fyre Festival happening.”
Electric Sky, which begins on August 3, is spread out over two stages, with the main stage boasting a PK sound system composed of 18 bins, and the second stage touting an elaborate laser setup. Tickets are currently available on the festival’s website, and attendees have the option to rent lodging in one of the site’s various cabins.
Hanson ends by explaining that the festival is actually named after the aurora borealis of Northern Saskatchewan. It’s a symbol that at its core, Electric Sky is a celebration of Saskatchewan’s identity and its ability to stretch across provincial boundaries.
“We just wanted something for Saskatchewan, something home grown that we could call our own basically,” says Hanson.
For further information, visit Electric Sky’s website at https://www.electricsky.ca/
Words by Jonathan Crane