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The Return of Edmonton’s Purple City Music Festival 

The multi-day, multi-genre celebration sets its sights on reinvigorating the city’s all ages community and beyond.

by Stephan Boissonneault

Photo by Eric Kozakiewicz

Since taking over Purple City Music Festival as executive director in 2020, Ryan Rathjen — who also moonlights as a radio host of CJSR’s Phased Out — has been trying to make the annual event more inclusive and collaborative each year. With 2023’s festivities now at our doorstep, it’s safe to say he’s put in the work.

Originally established in 2013 under the name Up + Downtown until 2021, this year’s Purple City will be entirely all ages and host to a number of collaborative showcases, including one where BatScratch, a Calgary-based hardcore band fronted by seven-year-old Robbie Andrew, will be on the same bill as hardcore punk supergroup, OFF!

When OFF! frontman and former Circle Jerker Keith Morris asked who was going to be playing Purple City, Rathjen and Mattie Cuvilier (who runs the DIY all ages booking agency Cleanup Your Act Productions) caught his attention when they told him, “a punk band with a child frontman.”

“He was like ‘What? That’s amazing, we’ll do it,’” Rathjen says. “So we’re going to have this band of punk rock legends playing on the same bill as a kid who has to be in bed by 10 p.m. 

All ages shows have been taking a hit year after year in Edmonton, due to the pandemic, noise complaints, city regulations, and mass gentrification, but Rathjen hopes this year’s Purple City will be an inspiration for the under 18 crowd. The OFF! and BatScratch show also happens to be Cleanup Your Act’s 15th year anniversary show.

“I’m not really sure if the all ages scene is still healthy here, but we have Mattie who has been trying to keep it alive for the last 15 years. So we need to highlight that and the idea now is to inspire the next wave of young bands to play places like the Starlite Room at festivals like Purple City.”

Frankie And The Witch Fingers are among the headliners at Purple City Music Festival 2023.

The Purple City collaborations don’t stop there. In tandem with Purple City, this year will also be host to must see showcases; a post-punk/goth show with headliner, Light Asylum, from Brooklyn, NY, put on by the BC darkwave festival, Verboden and LGBTQ2S+ community, Fruit Loop, a psych rock night put on by Montreal’s Mothland record label with American headliners Ringo Deathstarr and Frankie & The Witch Fingers, and an Indigenous shoegaze/dream pop show from The Heyoka Healing Society of Edmonton, headlined by Toronto’s Zoon.  

“We’re definitely inspired by festivals like Levitation and Desert Daze, which are full of cool collaborative shows,” Rathjen says. “So with Purple City, we’re definitely in the mindset of elevating and signal boosting great organizations to help us bridge the gap across Canada. It’s not about competition, but spreading the word about each other.” 

Rathjen also made sure that all Purple City venues this year are within walking distance from each other to ensure a maximum amount of live music on any given night.  “A kid could have a wristband and technically go to a bit of everything,” he says. “We definitely started off as a psych festival, but man, that term has changed so much in the last 10 years. So when I say ‘a bit of everything’ I mean, post punk, dark wave, chill RnB, everything.”