Growing EDM on the farm

Shambhala producer shares her experiences with students and staff

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Co-executive producer Corrine Zawaduk said Shambhala music festival involves a cultural exchange that isn't just about the person on stage. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Co-executive producer Corrine Zawaduk said Shambhala music festival involves a cultural exchange that isn’t just about the person on stage. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

After drawing 10,000 people to Canada’s electronic music haven Shambhala, Corrine Zawaduk is imparting her wisdom on the next generation of event gurus.

Around 150 people, many from the tourism management faculty, heard the event co-executive producer speak about the 17-year-long road that has brought Shambhala to the forefront of the electronic music scene.

Held on a farm near Salmo, B.C., twelve kilometers into the bush, Shambhala is the biggest and longest-running festival in Canada and drew 10,000 guests by 2011. In September, it won four international awards from the International Festival and Events Association.

But Shambhala isn’t just a successful event. The “farmily” from Salmo has created an experience that is infused with their own passion for unique talent, a memorable ambiance and their invested interest in electronic music. Zawaduk’s commentary outlined how the success would hardly be a reality without the genuine investment the Shambhala crew has in electronic music and its enthusiasts.

With an emphasis on the importance to have a mission and a statement about what you’re doing, Zawaduk’s week at TRU involved three classes of students learning what Shambhala’s influence on electronic dance music (EDM) takes.

Tourism management lecturer Billy Collins had Zawaduk and three other Shambhala staff run workshops and lessons in his classes to dig into the business of a successful event. Within the tourism management department, TRU offers an event and management diploma and a concentration in events. Since meeting Zawaduk two years ago, Collins has made an effort to build a relationship with the Shambhala crew to create opportunities for students and keep their education relevant. He said he’s scarcely seen a festival so professionally run.

“For our students it’s huge,” Collins said. “It’s important for our students to hear it from the people that really do it.”

One of the workshops had the students planning a festival as if it was it was only two weeks out, and nothing had yet been organized. In reality, the success of Shambhala is 17 years in the making, and the business of it followed the genuine desire to break ground in electronic music. In her Oct. 23 presentation, Zawaduk veered away from the business side of things and more toward the relevance of Shambhala in the world of EDM.

It all started with an idea that was influenced by Zawaduk’s work with Sony that made her notice the mainstreaming of artists. It launched her family’s search for something fresh and new outside of rock and roll. They talked about the democratization of music.

“We just knew we wanted to accomplish a dream,” she said.

The road to Shambhala really started with artists like Lee Scratch Perry, Donna Summers and Kraftwerk. That music saw a decline in the west and Zawaduk said they believed they were picking up on something that had already seen its last legs. Unlike the robust electronic music scene in Europe, disco didn’t last in the U.S. or Canada.

Fast forward to 2013, where Zawaduk says the mainstream and has radically altered the electronic music scene they saw in the mid-’90s.  Today DJs are playing concerts that mimic a rock show – drastically different from EDM festivals. Zawaduk says electronic shows have always been about the crowd’s connection to the music and each other, and aimed to create an ambiance that’s more than a typical concert.

“It’s about the people on the dance floor, not the people on the stage,” she said.

“There’s a fear from people who love electronic music that pop is going to change the intention of why we started in the first place.

“It’s turning DJs into rock stars.”

In 2012, Shambhala veteran Skrillex was the first electronic artist to win a Grammy, and is now around $200,000 to book – a far cry from his early days on the farm. Fellow Shambhala veteran Datsik just wrapped up a tour in China.

“We’ve seen them grow from just going on the deck to playing huge shows,” Zawaduk said of the artists Shambhala has nurtured.

Festivals themselves have become a commodity with the revolution of EDM, drawing crowds hundreds of thousands in size. Where they were once shut down, they are now promoted.

The production company Live Nation has started capitalizing on EDM by buying festivals, a corporate influence that Zawaduk said has potential to thwart festivals like Shambhala.

“Live Nation could sink us all,” she said.

The “all” included global frontrunners Electric Daisy Carnival in the U.S., Outlook in Croatia, Boom in Portugal, Tomorrowland in Belgium and Shambhala in Canada. Zawaduk said they’re watching what’s happening in Brazil, Portugal and China where EDM is about to break out. She keeps up with producers across the world, which she says is important to knowing what’s going on.

Foreign artists break into the Canadian market through Shambhala, and Zawaduk said they’re always head hunting in Europe. They try to keep one-third of their artists international.

“We are breaking ground for DJs,” she said. “As we develop technology and international relationships, we are influencing each other’s music in global ways.”

Shambhala is currently the biggest festival in Canada, and Zawaduk said it’s something of a feather in the cap of artists who can say they’ve played there. Yet, only four per cent of their budget goes towards talent. Most of their budget goes towards the infrastructure.

Since 1998, the farm has seen stages built, torn down, built bigger and adopt new names. The Jungle Pit is now the geodesic dome, and Downtown Shambhala, the Pagoda and the Fractal Forest are now unrecognizable glories of the former fields and tents. From the technology of video mapping to the silk dancers and magicians, Zawaduk said Shambhala strives to wow people and make them want more.

And it will continue to evolve, as Zawaduk said they are always trying to top the previous year. But they don’t plan on upping the attendance for fear of ruining the ambiance.

“I don’t want it to become too big,” she said. “You start to lose the people who truly loved it. You have to keep your eye on the vibe.

“It’s not just about the music, it’s about the people that come and the celebration of bringing people together. I believe in that cultural exchange.”