Vancouver filmmaker Kevan McGovern is in the midst of a huge undertaking, attempting to document the importance and impact of electronic music and festival culture with his feature-length documentary I/O (Input/Output). What started as a love-affair with the legendary Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo, BC, has become an all-encompassing passion. Last year saw the release of the Shambhala Experience, a smaller documentary that dives into Shambhala specifically. I had the pleasure of catching it last summer right before the festival and highly recommend it for those who have gone to the festival and those that are even the least bit curious about the festival. Luckily it’s been made easily available as part of a new Kickstarter to help with the completion of the feature-length I/O. The documentary goes beyond Shambhala to capture the spirit that makes the EDM festival culture so vibrant, unique and ultimate important. (I know EDM is a shitty term, but it’s all-encompassing and easy to type, so lay off.)
It’s not every day you get a chance to nerd out hard about something you love with a genuine expert (And a bigger nerd about it than you) so I couldn’t just leave it with the 5 Questions this time. Take a moment to check out what I/O is all about, and then enjoy our nerdy Shambhala chat and another rousing round of the 5 Questions!
Do you have a most memorable Shambhala set?
The first one that comes to mind is a Bassnectar set I saw years ago. He did a sunrise set on the Beach (Living Room Stage) and it was \different because everyone was used to seeing him at different stages with a higher energy, more intense kind of set. He did this really melodic, beautiful set. I think it was 2007. Definitely a highlight for me.
Was Shambhala your first electronic festival?
It was, yes. My first one was in 2003. I’ve gone every year since except for last year.
Shambhala is pretty much my be-all, end-all of electronic music, I’m not super knowledgeable outside there, so what’s another electronic festival I should keep my eyes on?
I’d recommend Bass Coast for sure. It’s more of a “mature” festival. Some people call it a “grown-up” festival. A lot of people who work in the party scene, it’s their kind of thing, in addition to everyone else who’s down with that vibe. It’s a little bit more low-key, with more room to dance.
Oooh, that’s nice!
Oh yeah. If I did have any criticism of Shambs, that was my main criticism, that I found myself in positions where I couldn’t dance to the full extent that I wanted to, which has never really happened to me before. That happened this year and it just made me notice there’s a lot more people and there continues to be. Dancing is kind of why I go, right, at least one of the reasons.
This year was definitely the first year I had to leave a set that I wanted to see because I couldn’t handle the crowd.
DJ Jazzy Jeff. It just got too much and I couldn’t do it.
Yeah, I’ve been there. <laughs> They extended the capacity for a lot of the stages too. I’d never seen the main stage full, Pagoda, I’d never seen it full and I saw it full several times this year. Pretty Lights was in there and it was actually filled. I couldn’t believe it.
Last year (2014), that year you missed, there were so many people there for Bassnectar that the crowd was out of the Pagoda and wrapped around the smoothie place. It was insane.
I’d never seen stuff like that until this year. But it would never deter me enough to not go because it’s my favourite but it does make me appreciate the smaller festivals and makes me remember when it wasn’t like that. Other festivals I’d recommend are Lightning in a Bottle, in California. It’s kind of like their Shambhala. It’s notorious and I really wanna go back for sure.
So how long have you been working on I/O?
I/O has been in production for over five years now. In the beginning all I wanted to do was just make a sort of expose of the electronic music scene in Vancouver and put it online as 10-minute clip or something. I started talking to people, getting awesome feedback and as things go, they just snowballed and I figured why stop and just make something that could be absorbed and discarded instead of making something timeless that has lots of replay value. That’s the end-game for me. I think I accomplished that with the Shambhala Experience. The type of feedback I’ve got from people suggests that it’s that type of film.
I can’t imagine anyone seeing it and not being reminded of all the good feelings or wanting to go experience it if they haven’t been. I don’t think you can watch it and not feel one of those things.
In Kelowna we did and my grandmother went. I kind of look at her as some of the driving force for making these films because I instantly wanted to discover the culture when I discovered the culture. I knew the only way to share it with my nana was to make a film about it and make it really well, so that she would understand. She came and gave her earplugs and said, “Take them if you need them.” After the movie she said, “I didn’t even need them.” She loved it and she wants to go to Shambhala now. She’s 86 and she’s ready to go. It’s one of the greatest feelings in my life for sure. It was five years of work and training as a filmmaker to get me to the point where I could get her to come to the show and get to see what I’ve been making a fuss about for the last 10 years. Now that we’ve released the film, anybody who buys it is going to be able to do the same thing and I’m sure that’s what lots of people want to do.
1. Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money?
The first album I went out and picked was the the Crystal Method’s first album. That was probably my first exposure to electronic music.
I think that was a lot of people’s first exposure, right? Certainly the beginning of mine.
They were some of the first electronic music pioneers that made it into the mainstream before a lot of others.
Have you seen Crystal Method live?
I’ve seen one of the members play at Burning Man, but haven’t seen both of them?
2. Can you think of a movie that you saw that had an effect on the way you saw the world?
The first thing that comes to mind is the Matrix. I was very deep into that. My favourite movie is Almost Famous and that made me see things very differently. I saw myself in the protagonist. I just love that movie so much. I could watch it forever.
I could watch Philip Seymour Hoffman doing Lester Bangs for all times and be happy.
I know right. “Do not make friends with the rock stars.” There are so many amazing cameos in that movie. It’s mind-boggling how many people pop up.
It’s got my boy Marc Maron!
A lot of people don’t remember Jimmy Fallon is in there too.
3. When is the last time you did something for the first time?
Have you heard of Landmark Forum? It’s a personal development program. It makes you face your demons. For the first time I really faced a demon throughout the weekend course. I called my ex-girlfriend and reconciled with her. It was one of the hardest, most intense things ever. There was unresolved conflict for three years after the relationship and I never felt good about it. Every time I’d see her I’d feel bad about it. It was kind of awkward. It’s totally due to people just not communicating. If we’d just communicated it wouldn’t have been what it ended up being, which is really painful. I was really glad to be able to deal with that with her.
I almost had one of those today with an ex. I could feel it bubbling up and had to stop because it was not the correct time for that conversation so I had to leave it. So similar, but I didn’t deal with it like you and I just left, but I thought it was going there.
That’s natural though. It’s natural for us to leave because it’s so hard. It’s not easy.
4. If you could spend the day with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?
If I was going to do anything I’d want to travel with, I guess, you could call her a soul mate, if I could find a soul mate. I’d like to take in different cultures and music festivals and I’d want to dance and want to just broaden my horizons. I would like to get out of my regular routine and do something totally different. Sometimes you can feel trapped, you know?
5. Do you think technology contains within itself the ability to set us free to a sci-fi techno-utopia, ala Star Trek?
I think if we’re ever going to be set free I don’t think it’s going be through technology. I think it’s going to be through natural elements, just with each other – our own relationships, our own togetherness. Technology is great and it moves of forward but I think it also takes us back at the same time.
6. The Guest Questions comes from London hip-hop outfit OthaSoul…Do you feel like this generation thinks differently than those before us or are we just as egocentric?
I think we’re more egocentric, for sure. I think kids today think that they know everything whereas that wasn’t so much the case before. I don’t really know why that is. Maybe it has to do with technology and that we can learn things faster. Everything’s kind of right in front of us. No one used an encyclopedia, just the Internet. Everything is so instant, so much instant gratification going on that it affects us psychologically. I’ve seen a lot of kids who don’t seem to want to anyone’s help, like they think or know they can do it on their own, even though they have zero experience. There’s always two sides though. There’s so much potential in this generation because we have these tools now and there’s no telling what we can do with them.