MEME brings international favourites to bolster a growing festival

When Nathan Zahn and his friends proposed an outdoor electronic music festival back in 2009, the timing felt a bit like fate.

“After we approached the Exchange District to do something at Old Market Square, they sat us down and showed us the architectural drawings for the Cube,” Zahn, now the director of MEME, says. “We thought it was great because as much as it kind of has issues for bigger bands, it really suits what we’re doing so it was kind of destiny to have it built the same year we started.”

Since its inception in 2010, MEME has grown rapidly, pulling in acts from Berlin, Vancouver, L.A. and Toronto. Even with an international roster, MEME still provides a venue a platform for local acts to garner more presence.

“I don’t think we thought it would grow so fast,” Zahn says. “The first year we did a one day show at the Cube from noon until 11:30 p.m. Initially there was maybe 50 people, and then right at sunset it got to be pretty packed, like around 700 people and we thought, ‘wow, this is great’. Then the next year we did three days at the Cube and on the first night by 9:00 we were at capacity. It was kind of a nice surprise.”

As for 2015, MEME acts like Nickodemus from New York, Isis Graham from Calgary, and Edmonton artist Jams are just a few of the great roster you can expect in August.  

“This year there’s definitely some really cool diversity,” Zahn notes. “The music scene in general, especially the electronic one, is kind of notorious for not having a lot of female representation. We’ve got more women booked than ever before, so we’re really pleased to be bringing in more female headliners and locals. It wasn’t something we went out of our way to do but it’s definitely important to us.”  

This year, Zahn hopes to try some new setups for the downtown venue. During the day, a second stage beside the Cube will provide a venue for more locals to get some valuable play time before the main show opens later on in the evening 

“It’s nice to be able to take all of your passion for music and pick the artists that are going to play on these venues and at the Cube,” Zahn says. “We’re really careful to make sure we think of what people would like, and what’s going on at different scenes. In a way it’s living a dream, like ‘hey, pick your three favourite acts’. I’m glad it’s us representing the scene and not more of the commercial top-40 EDM stuff, which might be a bit more boring.”  

MEME has also been expanding its community presence to include events year round. Whether that’s teaming up with Winnipeg Folk Fest to present 1001 Nights, an event with DJ Adam Shaikh, or throwing a bridge party at the Forks on July 4th and again on September 19th.  

“It’s just been really nice to have the blessing of the city,” Zahn says. “Being in the WAG for our shows a couple times and also Pantages, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, The Forks, that have all these amazing venues that let us throw these really cool shows. A decade ago, it would have been harder to throw a techno party in one of those venues. Now it’s all possible.”

Part of the series: The 7th Annual Summer Festival Guide

Published in Volume 69, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 3, 2015)

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