An interview with Canadian Music Week festival manager Justin Kwan

"Canadian Music Week is, a lot of times, misinterpreted as [having] only Canadian acts"

Canadian Music Week is starting today, and this year’s festival will have a diverse roster of acts, from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Joey Badass to Billy Talent to Lights to Faith No More. This is before we even mention the large number of artists from Australia, which is the spotlight country. Shoeclack spoke to festival manager Justin Kwan to get his insights on yet another exciting year for CMW.

Shoeclack: CMW is now in its 33rd year. What are your feelings leading up to this year’s festival?

Justin: The team’s very excited. For the past year, we’ve been working really hard in bringing something bigger and more vast than in previous years. I think that’s really reflective of the lineup that we have, from bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Faith No More to Joey Badass and some really cool buzzy stuff that’s happening internationally. We’re really happy with the artists that we’re bringing from Australia, which is our spotlight country, and we even have a K-pop component to [the festival].

Shoeclack: CMW has been around since 1981, and you’ve been their festival manager since October 2014. As a fan and then as an employee, how much do you think this festival has grown since you first knew what CMW was?

Justin: I think the general landscape of festivals in Toronto and Canada in general has really grown. Canadian Music Week has grown along with those trends. Especially in the metropolitan cities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver – these big city centres always have a ton of festivals. The amount of volume that goes in and the quality of acts, regardless of who’s putting it on, is some of the best in the world. I’ve always been a fan [of CMW] before I worked here, and now I have a better appreciation of the work that goes in and just trying to make the best of it. I think people who are coming to the festival on an industry level and on a fan level are going to hopefully have a really great time with what we have to offer.

Shoeclack: What’s new about this year’s CMW compared to last year’s?

Justin: This year we’ve expanded to 10 days, so I think with something like that, the fans and consumers and the industry get a little bit more value for the price of admission, per se. With that being said, it’s allowed us to really expand. The genres that we’ve been targeting allowed us to take a little bit more risk in bringing in some really cool buzzy acts, and allowing us to curate some really cool shows as well as really build on certain aspects of the festival. Introducing certain acts that are buzzing from different parts of the world, that’s a really big focus for us. We really want to make sure that we’re expanding and introducing acts that are gonna be [playing] some arenas in three years, and hopefully CMW is a platform [where] they’re introduced in Canada.

Shoeclack: The lineup of music is, to say the least, very eclectic from Billy Talent to Joey Badass to Lights to the Psychedelic Furs to Faith No More. Why these bands this year? What’s the booking process like for CMW?

Justin: We have a really great team when it comes to booking the acts. Everybody had a lot of expertise when it comes to certain bands, and I think we’ve really worked well together in making sure that a lot of genres are represented. Canadian Music Week is, a lot of times, misinterpreted as [having] only Canadian acts. The way I perceive it as [is that] we’re selling Canada as a music country. We’re celebrating Toronto as a premier music city in the world. We want to highlight the best of Canadian music, things that are current now, and the future of the Canadian music industry. At the same time, we want to bring in artists from all over the world that are premier names such as the Jesus and Mary Chain and Joey Badass, and really highlight international acts that we feel are going to pave the way for years to come.

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