“This year the scene just blew up,” Ryan Kruger, co-founder and promoter of Southern Ontario’s World Electronic Music Festival (WEMF), tells Spinner. Established in 1995, the three-day outdoor festival was held annually in varying picturesque locations around the Canadian province until 2008. “We’d gotten to a point when we were just getting tired and wanted to do something different,” explains Kruger. “So we decided to put it to bed, thinking if we wanted to do something similar again we could always do a smaller reunion-style weekend.”
But it was culture that came calling instead. “It felt like 1995 again across Canada and the U.S.,” Kruger notes, citing the particular excitement surrounding dubstep. And so he and his business partners, along with Toronto’s trendsetting promotions group Embrace, have come together for WEMF 15, which will run August 12-14 in South Algonquin, ON.
“When we started in 1995, nothing like this existed in North America,” says Kruger, adding that electronic music no longer occupies an underground niche like in the early-to-mid-’90s. “Still, the actual events themselves aren’t that prevalent.” Montreal has MUTEK, Toronto has Harvest Festival and Salmo, BC, hosts Shambala, but there is no electronic music festival that serves central Canada in the way WEMF did during its previous 14-year history. “We decided to bring it back bigger than ever,” says Kruger. “And I personally feel that we’re coming back next year, too.”
L.A.-based wunderkind Skrillex and British trendsetter Rusko — among the biggest names in explosively popular, aggressively bass-y dubstep — are two of WEMF 15’s top billed acts, alongside big names like Calvin Harris, Pendulum, Andy C, Caspa and Flux Pavillion. But even longtime ravers like Erez Eisen of psy-trance legends Infected Mushroom (who play WEMF on Friday night), agree with Kruger’s analysis of dubstep propelling the resurgence of electronic music culture in North America.
“I was so happy to discover dubstep because, to be honest, I was bored,” says Eisen, whose Israeli-borne group is known for incorporating various influences, like metal, into their brand of hypnagogic trance. “After so many years it’s refreshing to hear people like Skrillex. He went to No. 1 on the iTunes dance chart, but he makes difficult music — I don’t think it’s commercial at all.”
Toronto-area DJ/producer XI (Christian Andersen) was one of the first local advocates of Rusko, who he’ll share the stage with on Friday. “In 2009, we brought him to Toronto and I remember being really taken in by the digi-dub influence in his music,” he says. XI, who ascribes the loose descriptor “dark garage” to his music, credits Rusko with kicking off dubstep’s recent popularity. He also defends the British musician — who has audible UK Garage and joyously rhythmic references — against the slanderous label “brostep,” which sees frat-boy co-option of the genre’s more aggressive, wobble-heavy side. “Recently, I was playing older Rusko for a friend and he was surprised to see how it’s changed from that era,” explains Andersen. “But it retains the light-hearted party vibe and funky basslines that his protégés may not have grasped.”
Debates aside, dubstep has clearly provided Kruger and his WEMF associates with enough confidence to pull the festival off after a three-year hiatus. And in line with its name, the event promises to pull in artists from different countries and genres, like Australian drum’n’bass duo Pendulum.
To top it all off, Kruger and his team have arranged for the third-ever appearance of the Tower of Destiny stage. A three-dimensional light show/art installation/stage, Tower of Destiny debuted at Burning Man last year and has since only been seen at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Above the massive lineup of performers, a chance to see old friends, and maybe even the resurrected festival itself, Kruger seems most excited for the Canadian debut of Tower of Destiny. “The minute we saw it we knew that if we were to ever do another outdoor show here, we’d want to bring that stage to it.”