OF PEOPLE’S CULTURE: A look back at the
Under the Volcano Festival of Art & Social Change
Under the Volcano started out as a
means to get diverse youth together, and
today we bring diverse peoples together.
First Nations and settlers alike, we come
here to share our stories outside of the
mainstream media vortex. The Festival
is a cultural tool to educate and inspire
real alternatives to the overwhelming
oppressive forces of patriarchy, racism,
capitalism and control by the haves over
the have-nots in these post-9/11 days
of the US empire. We need Under The
Volcano more than ever. This year, ore
than 100 community groups join with
artists from around the world and mix
with several thousand BC residents in
our 55-acre forested site.
In this fifteenth anniversary year the
Festival programming again reaches
out to Ireland, Iraq, Egypt, Philippines,
West Africa, India and the Cree and
Cherokee Nations. We program with our
attention to injustices internationally,
but we are also busy looking amongst
ourselves - and around ourselves - in our
communities. We particularly address
this year the unfinished business of
our white-washed settler history here in
urban and suburban Vancouver.
Our Festival venue has been generously
provided by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation,
whose unceded territory covers the
expanse of Indian Arm and much of
Vancouver, including the Burrard Inlet.
They have shared these waters and lands
with the Squamish Nation and Musqueam
Nation for thousands of years.
To mark the 15th anniversary, Under the Volcano has embarked on “Whey-ah-
Wichen Facing the Wind Cultural Heritage
Project.” Looking back 50 years, we see
a rich history of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation
sharing this site with settler artists,
squatters, and counterculture arts
festivals. Whey-ah-Wichen, or in English,
“facing the wind,” is the name for Cates
Unknown to us when we started this
festival in 1990, 20 years previous
thousands of young people gathered
at the same site for pleasure faires,
renaissance, and country faires. Then
in 1971 the Maplewood Flats squatter
community was burned out by the local
government with promises of progress
and a shopping mall.
More on this cross-cultural community
art project is available at a new website:
www.whey-ah-wichen.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also for our 15th year, we would like to
especially acknowledge our hosts, the Tsleil Waututh People (“People of the Inlet”). On the programming front, the Festival is working with members of the Nation to bring you interpretive canoe rides, traditional foods, a forest walk, children’s storytelling, and song and dance.
The Festival pays tribute to the cultural heritage of our site, including our namesake, the autobiographical novel “Under the Volcano,’ written by Malcolm Lowry. He penned this famous literature on this site, where he lived with his wife Marjorie, until the squatters’ community was forced out 50 years ago. 81 homes squatter shacks were situated on the foreshore, in what later became Cates Park. The Festival’s spoken word traditions are joined with diverse music, dance, and theatre, as well as a great children’s program, workshops, community tables, local artisans, and more.
Using the “Under the Volcano Festivals”
banner, we have expanded and produced
dozens of events in BC, including several
festivals in the Kootenays. These
have all been tagged by our popular
logo, designed by Kwakwakawak’w
Artist Gord Hill. Hundreds of people
have collaborated and brought their
inspiration to this volunteer-run “people’s
culture” project. Too many to name here,
hundreds of people have spent parts of their summers doing this work. As well, several people have given thousands of hours of their time over the years, including founder Irwin Oostindie and long-standing collective members Jeremy Galpin & Meegan Maultsaid.
In the Festival’s early years we challenged Lollapolooza’s Pepsidrenched corporate sell-out of music and politics. Fifteen years later, things have stayed the same with our non-corporate environment and “by donation” ticket policy which ensures no one is turned away from public events because they lack the money.
The Festival was born out of Vancouver’s very active indy music scene in the late 1980s. Some of us were active with CattleProd (Vancouver’s busiest and progressive promoter in the 1980s), and we were inspired by the autonom movement in Europe and the fledgling D.I.Y. scene in North America. Some of us were DJs at CiTR and COOP Radio. In 1988 we started a non-profit society called Youth Art Works, and in 1989 we opened up youth-run arts centres in warehouses in an industrial area of North Vancouver and in Gastown. No Means No, Brilliant Orange, the Evaporators, and others played at our all-ages shows.
We soon found that producing gigs at places like Seylynn Hall was too expensive because of exorbitant municipal rental and deposit fees. Not settling for status quo, we did an outdoor protest gig outside Seylynn to demand better access to these community spaces for youth. When we saw how easy it was to produce a spontaneous outdoor gig, we figured the next move was to start an outdoor youth music festival in a park. We built up the Festival from 300 people the first year, to 1000, to 2200, to 4000 and then to 8000. It’s wavered between 5,000 - 8,000 since. We did this mostly by grassroots promoting, handing out thousands of flyers, and spending many late nights postering all of the GVRD.
Festival organizers also worked on other projects like publishing ARTEST: Youth Arts & Issues Magazine, operated First Street Studios, produced Rock For Choice (the annual benefit for abortion clinics) Mayworks Festival of Working Class Culture, and others.
With so much pain and alienation in the world, there is always going to be a need for gatherings of people with like minds wanting to refuel their resistance
batteries. We could have gone for
corporate sponsorship years ago, in fact
we were going before Lollapalooza, and
when it came to town the first year we
were attacking it for its corporatization
of alternative culture. We don’t want to
move to Thunderbird Stadium, and we
don’t want the sponsorship which could
float this around North America. As long
as we stay a sustainable size, we will
A headline from right-wing North
Shore News columnist Doug Collins
declared our Festival to be the “Commie
Fest” and warned all good citizens of
the perils of attending. He also tried to
embarrass local officials enough into
revoking our arts funding.
Vancouver’s Postering bylaws
But Doug Collins was not the only
conservative force trying to shut us down.
The City of Vancouver was so upset that
Under the Volcano Festival organizers
exercised our constitutional rights to
freedom of expression by postering.
They tried fining us and tried haranging
District of North Vancouver officials into
revoking our park permit.
Threatened by young
“E Division” is the headquarters of
the RCMP in the lower
mainland and these
gentle folks went
over the heads of the
local North Vancouver
detachment to try to stop
our North Vancouver
event, not once, but
twice. Their first was a
phone call to the staff
at the North Vancouver
Parks Department lying
about how “the last
time the band ‘Roots
of Resistance’ played
there had been a riot.”
Of course there never
was a riot, and ‘Roots of Resistance’
was not a band, but a political
organization comprised of young people
of colour from Vancouver’s immigrant
communities and First Nations.
Our tribute to Victoria hosting
the Commonwealth Games in 1993
emphasized the not-so-pretty effects of
the Crown and Canada’s on their colonialist
objectives for BC’s unceded First Nations’
territories. The orca resistance stickers
were very popular.
In 1995, Under the Volcano united
many forces to protest the largest armed
policing action in Canadian history against
a small band of sovereigntist protesters
near 100 Mile House in BC.
Inter-Nation-All Hip Hop & Hardcore Festival
POWER out of Portland brought its
political hip hop message to Vancouver
for our Whey-ah-Wichen/Cates Park
event, and as well, in 1995, for a special
youth festival. This event was to mark
the 25th Anniversary of the North
Vancouver Arts Council, and was a coproduction
with Under the Volcano.
Souls of Mischief and Casual (from the
Hieroglyphics crew) also performed, as
well as locals CUB and Sparkmarker. This
was the largest ever hip hop event to date
in Vancouver. Due to the misfortunate
positioning of the stage (and huge sound
system) at the Norseman Field location
(Lonsdale @ Hwy #1) homeowners up
the mountain became part
of the festival’s audience.
They were shocked to hear
lyrics bounding up the
hillside and overwhelmed
911 operators with phone
calls (to request the ‘3
Tenors’ perhaps). The
resulting controversy in
the North Shore News was
actually very favourable
for the Festival, ensuring
local officials heard the
resounding public support
for youth programs in
Under the Volcano Festivals
Volcano Founder set up shop in the
West Kootenays and opened an office
in Nelson, BC, as a base for several
film, music, and interdisciplinary arts
festivals. Nelson may be quaint, but its
Nelson City Police staff outnumber its
arts and recreation municipal staff 23
to 4. Together with the rural RCMP, they
obstructed and harassed organizers as
we produced dozens of major cultural
events over a two year period. Of the
100+ national touring artists featured in
our festivals, highlights include Buffy St.
Marie, Lester Quitzau, Hanson Brothers,
Malaika, Ellen McIlwaine, Amos Garrett,
Cordelia’s Dad, Martin Simpson, the
Scrappy Bitches Tour, and all-night raves
on Morning Mountain. Today the Under the
Volcano Kootenay Moving Pictures Film
Festival continues, and is in it’s 11th year.
Security Bond for Festivals
North Vancouver RCMP teamed up with a
District Councillor to instigate a $5000 bond
fee payable in advance. The RCMP argued
this was to provide for potential RCMP
cost over-runs for overtime wages in its
monitoring of our tremendously safe event.
In 15 years we have hardly any public safety
issues with a self-regulating and respectful
combined audience of approximately
100,000. Through a media assault back, we
managed to stop the harassment.
Just a few year ago the NV RCMP also
demanded to station a half dozen police
vehicles at the park entrance with a search
of our patron’s cars. This police escalation
and harassment had the threat of
stopping peaceful citizens from exercising
their right to assemble in a public park.
These days a dozen plain clothes and
dozen uniformed police has become their
normal level of monitoring. All this as the
“charitable” Hose ‘N Reel Festival attracts
3000 to a drunken beer garden at North
Vancouver’s Mahon Park.
Hundreds of artists have been presented
over the years, here’s just a scratch at our
David Hilliard – co-founder and Chief
Of Staff of The Black Panther Party in
the 60’s and 70’s, David’s workshop with
Jeneda from Blackfire and Splitting The
Sky was a political highlight for the festival.
WithOut Reservation – One of the
first Native American hip hop crews
ever, They hooked up with Festival
organizers attending an Indigenous
Environment Network gathering in
Oklahoma, and later headed north to
attend the Festival.
Aztlan Nation followed up the next
year by heading north from California
with their Chicano hip hop challenging
US bloody domination of their territories.
Consolidated brought their
eco-justice and anti-patriarchy
message to the park.
Claude Mackenzie of Kashtin
played to a hot summer night’s crowd,
including an audience of many First
Tribe 8 letting it all hang out with
antics by that year’s Festival MC
Boukman Eksperyans brought
their liberation voices from Haiti, as
they toured in the fledgling “world
music market” of the 1990s.
Kokora Dance brought a unique
performance flavour each time they performed
their butoh dance.
Insult To Injury/ Submission Hold – in
both of their incarnations, bringing their
own brand of anarcho-punk and community
activism to the stage
Hope For The Future
15 years of community organizing, many
challenges, many political and artistic
victories, and a continued passion for
celebrating our resistance. As long as
the fight for social justice and people’s
liberation continues, so do we.
Spread the word, culture matters.
By Irwin Oostindie