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Adham Shaikh
Electronic artist Adham Shaikh will perform at Wonderment Festival on Sunday, Aug. 1 in Victoria, BC.

Wonderment Festival Is Riding A Wave Of Bold New Sounds

The Victoria-based ambient and electronic music festival celebrates its sixth edition.

by Candy Thomas

Wonderment is a west coast celebration of live ambient and electronic music. It’s also one of the first in-person events to return to Victoria, BC. Hosted by the Garden City Electronic Music Society, the outdoor live performance series marks its sixth edition July 30 to August 2. With six live performances alongside multimedia installations, the inclusive event is free to the public and is suitable for all ages.

“Wonderment is built for the people who intend to attend as much as the people who stumble upon it,” artistic director David Bodrug says. “We believe the music we present has universal appeal, and one of the more rewarding things about the festival is the sense of discovery for those who were not expecting us on their walk through the park.” 

Some noteworthy attractions include an audio-visual installation at Open Space Gallery, featuring Indigenous artist and Polaris Prize shortlist nominee, Matthew Cardinal and multimedia artist Stephanie Kuse. Electro-acoustic performances on July 30 and 31 feature electronic and traditional instrumentation including harp (Elisa Thorn), violin (Meredith Bates), and classical guitar (Alexander Klinke). Friday, July 30 also features Meteoric Twin, who employ ethereal vocals sung in Láadan, a language created by Suzette Haden Elgin for her sci-fi series, Native Tongues, in the 1980s.

As anticipation around Wonderment builds, Bodrug walks us through what to expect, why Wonderment is important to the Victoria music community and the space for ambient and electroacoustic music online.

Congratulations on your sixth edition. Can you tell us how Wonderment came to be? 

In the late 90s, I held an ambient event at Sombrio Beach near Port Renfrew. This was a memorable experience as most people at the time were accustomed to beach parties, not a social listening environment. Since that time, ambient music has been prevalent throughout society, whether it’s in television or cinema, or in the waiting rooms of yoga studios. There’s a lot of great ambient music being made locally, regionally and internationally but not many opportunities for the artists to perform it, or audiences to hear it. We saw that ambient music has the potential for broad appeal, so decided to pilot an event at Banfield Park, which we’ve used every year since the first event in 2016.

How does Wonderment align with the values of the music community in Victoria?

In building the initial board of directors for the Garden City Electronic Music Society, I reached out to all areas of the music and arts community. We’ve had all sorts of people in our leadership, from board members who bought their first synthesizer in the early 1970s, to art gallery directors, to music technology educators, and the President of CFUV. We are also committed to diversity in our programming and in our leadership – which I think is important in all of the arts at this moment, and we’ve made improvements on this every year. 

Was it a difficult decision for the festival to do in-person events? 

There’s calculated risk with any public event. We were one of a handful of in-person music events to take place in BC through the summer of 2020. Our evening programming shifted to livestreams, but we still held three daytime park events adhering to the COVID regulations of the day. So we had the experience of running safe events during the pandemic already. In planning 2021, I spent a huge amount of time keeping tabs on what was happening in BC, as well as the rest of the world as other jurisdictions started to open up. The messaging from Dr. Bonnie Henry early on was that outdoors was better, and bigger spaces are better than smaller spaces, so we planned all of our events outside, including events like the Sunday evening video art / music performances that would normally have taken place in an indoor theatre setting. 

Is there any online programming for those who don’t live in Victoria or who aren’t physically able to attend?

The evening programming and the Monday afternoon will be live streamed through our website. All events will be documented in 4K video and portions of those performances will make their way online later this year. With respect to accessibility, we have asked for temporary parking for those with disabilities, and most of our sites are accessible given they are in well used public parks.

What are some things you are particularly proud of going into year six?

Surviving the pandemic while continuing to program events for both 2020 and 2021 has been a milestone. We couldn’t have done this without the COVID funding programs set up by the BC Arts Council and Heritage Canada. What I’m most proud of is that we’ve built a unique festival that cuts across demographics. I think our focus on live performances over DJs, and providing a platform to genres normally not seen at other festivals, has distinguished Wonderment from your usual EDM festivals. 

What is something that you want someone who has never been to Wonderment to know about your festival before they attend?

Come prepared to spend an afternoon or evening in the park as you would on a normal day. Pack-it-in, pack-it-out, and make sure you at least have sunscreen and water. We try to have a minimal impact and aesthetic in the parks, so there won’t be concessions on site (most parks have amenities nearby, however). If people plan ahead for the day, it will make their experience more enjoyable. Above all else, come with an open mind – but not just towards more abstract forms of music. We intentionally blur some of the conventional boundaries of festivals to create a dialogue. At its heart, Wonderment is a community arts festival that seeks to instill a sense of curiosity and “wonderment” as to the possibilities of what a festival can be.