Star Phoenix interview


I got a feature article in the Star Phoenix written by Sean Trembath on April 9th, 2016. I have a few extra edits of my own I’d particularly like people to note:

– Let’s stop using the word “caucasian” to mean “white” because the two are not the same. We live in a world of white supremacy, white privilege, white guilt, and white violence. You don’t get to use the word “caucasian” to deflect away from that politically privileged position. People of the Caucasus region do not benefit from white privilege the way white people do.

– I want to reiterate this quote from the article because it’s especially on my mind these days: “What can the [men] be doing to look at themselves and figure out what’s implicit in their culture that’s leaving other people out?”

– Dear white straight cis man friends, this is my question to you, because I know that the fellow trans and cis women in my life are doing lots of work to address this issue, to make space for themselves and for future generations, and I want you to know that this work can’t be done just from one side. We need you to figure out change too.

– Lastly, just a reminder that the music scene is just a smaller version of society. And society is messed up with misogyny, colonial violence, white supremacy, transmisogyny, racism, A LOT OF THINGS. Trying to deal with them on a massive societal scale is really overwhelming. But starting smaller within our own communities is likely more conceivable within our brains and our own capacities. Let’s figure some stuff out.

Here’s the full text from the article:

As a child taking piano and violin lessons, Melissa Gan was surrounded by plenty of girls and a wide array of ethnicities. Now, as a member of Saskatoon’s music scene, she wonders where they have all gone.

“That’s who I want to find in our city. I’m sure they exist and we should be welcoming them,” she says.

When Gan goes to a show, she knows it will be mostly men and mostly Caucasians.

“Even if a few more come, and say I’m not the only Asian girl there, you can still count us on your hand. I want to get to the point where we don’t need to count things,” she says.

She used to struggle with how to represent her political views in her music. Her solo project, respectfulchild, is mostly instrumental. She can’t spit political rhetoric like a hip hop artist.

Only recently did she realize just doing it was important.

“Me just being here, I’m making space,” Gan says.

No one could argue she belongs. By the end of high school she had earned Grade 10 certification for both violin and piano from the Royal Conservatory of Music. She played in competitions, performed classically and was in a jazz combo as a teen before making her way through the indie rock scene once she hit university. She has appeared on stage with and on recordings by multiple local groups, most notably Little Criminals.

Her early attempts at solo work were difficult. She wasn’t attracted to writing lyrics and found the sound of just her violin wasn’t working for her. Once she decided to explore what kind of sound environments she could create, things started falling into place.

“I bought all my friends’ old pedals and I just started experimenting,” Gan says.

The results are ambient, ethereal and sometimes hypnotic. She says people have described her tracks as “underwater music” or “fairie music.” These descriptors might confuse you, but only until you hear the songs.

She recalls her first show, played in a local basement. After she finished her first track, she looked up to see people had lied down and were fully tuned in to what she was doing. She has played one or two shows a month ever since.

As she participated more and more in the scene, she found herself better understanding the feelings of otherness that have always lingered at the outskirts or her experience. She has become very concerned with representation in the music scene.

“If there’s a show that’s all women, or just not cis-men, you take notice of that,” she says.

“On the one hand that makes me excited, but at the same time, we don’t say, ‘Ooh, an all-male lineup.’ “

A big part of the responsibility falls on the males who make up such a dominant chunk of the scene, according to Gan.

“What can the guys be doing to look at themselves and figure out what’s implicit in their culture that’s leaving other people out?” she says.

The problem isn’t only on the stage. The crowds are usually just as white and often just as male. Gan says there needs to be a focus on creating an environment where the less-represented music fans — and she is positive they exist — are comfortable participating in local culture.

“I don’t want to fill quotas. It’s not about those numbers. It’s the type of values that are being understood and demonstrated, both for audience members and people on stage,” she says.

She admits she doesn’t have all the answers, but says it is important for everyone involved to at least consider how they might be contributing to the problem.

“If we’re not trying then obviously it’s going to stay the same.”