The first installment of Indie Underground’s brand new series, Community Difference Makers
The series will serve as a valuable resource for people who want to learn more about the DIY indie music & art scenes while getting to know the tireless, determined people who quite often volunteer their time all for the betterment of their community. We talk to these people to discover their key motivating drivers that inspire them to build these special events year after year, plus we uncover important event details about why you should attend, get involved or perhaps even create your own community event.
Now, in its fifth year, Long Winter continues to offer one of Toronto’s most anticipated cultural events. Once described by Rolling Stone as having the “the anarchic, circus-like atmosphere of first-wave Lollapalooza,” Long Winter presents a curated mix of immersive and interactive visual art, installation, performance and the highest caliber of up-and-coming musicians. The result is an unpredictable and stimulating music-going experience meant to offer refuge from the humdrum of winter months.
Originally conceived in 2012 as a winter showcase by Toronto rock-band Fucked Up, Long Winter continues under the guidance of guitarist and event organizer Mike Haliechuk. Along with the help of more than 60 organizers, including 20 volunteers, Haliechuk is able to create the monthly series which runs from November-March and frequently sees more 1000 attendees per installment.
For the Toronto music community, Long Winter has become a coveted opportunity to perform for up-and-coming musicians. Past shows have included: Whimm, Blonde Elvis, Twist, The Wooden Sky, Mozart’s Sister, So Young, New Zebra Kid and Buck 65 among many, many others.
The next Long Winter will be held on February 4th at The Theatre Centre in Toronto and will feature music from Devon Welsh, Saidah Conrad, and Young Clancy. Amidst organizing, Mike Haliechuk took time to speak to Alissa Chater for Indie Underground.
Alissa: For those who don’t know about Long Winter, can you provide one sentence in your own words that sums up the inter-arts festival experience?
Mike: Hopefully it’s a bit of an overloaded, choose your own adventure style engaging, meta-performance piece.
Alissa: What are you most looking to at February 4th’s Long Winter?
Mike: Using the little space downstairs for DJs and spoken word.
Alissa: Do you approach Long Winter more as a musician trying to create the type of show they want to see or as a promoter trying to create something interesting for the community?
Mike: It’s a bit of both and also a fun project to have passed between a lot of good friends and colleagues. [Ideally], I like to see the project as part of a greater continuum of experiences that will lead people who attend the festival as young people to do interesting things and live artfully.
Alissa: Why is Long Winter a project you continue to take on?
Mike: It’s fun to do, I think it’s important, it’s fun working with everyone, I have fun seeing all my friends at the events, etc.
Alissa: In the past, Long Winter was consistently held in The Great Hall. This year, each event is being held in a different location including The Theater Centre and The Gladstone Hotel. What are some of the challenges and opportunities of hosting Long Winter in different buildings and spaces? (Although, a very diverse venue, for me, a concern at The Great Hall was accessibility as had multiple sets of high stairs).
Mike: It’s really hard to convince people to throw a big all ages event. It’s hard to find places that cater in size and specifics to the kind of party we like to throw. Stuff like this faces barriers rather than encouragement for the most part.
Alissa: How do you approach curating visual, performance, and various sized installations with musical acts to create different micro-environments within the same venue?
Mike: I don’t have a lot to do with curating the art, but lots of care goes into making sure things flow and work well together. [A lot] of the ambiance is dictated by the audience. The ‘feel’ and flow of the nights always depends on how the space is filled by people who come to a long winter.
Alissa: What would you say are the most notable things that have changed about Long Winter series over the four-year period?
Mike: Losing the great hall [and] we had a bit of a staff turn over last year as well. The things that make it special – pay what you can, all ages – those will always stay the same. The rest is up to the audience.
Alissa: Since the beginning, the mandate has been to offer something exciting to curb the boredom of the winter months. What would you say is the most fundamental element of Long Winter that keeps it exciting for Torontonians year after year?
Mike: As above – the all-access nature of the event. We try to make it as barrier free as possible, so you get a sense that it is your space, and you get to make decisions about what to see, where to go, what you like, who to talk to, etc.
Alissa: In the past, you’ve said that you’ve changed focus from having a headliner to planning events which highlight up-and-coming artists. How do you find out about up-and-coming artists? What makes a musician a good fit for Long Winter?
Mike: Ha, I don’t know. I just always keep a running list and then when it comes time to book stuff, I usually forget where I found everything. We like stuff that is weird, stuff that gives voice to things that aren’t normally given a spotlight, things that are more performance than just people standing there playing a song. A certain kind of energy and risk taking.
Alissa: Do you have any advice for a band that is looking to book a gig at Long Winter?
Mike: Be special.
Alissa: What advice can you give people to get involved with contributing or assisting with community events like Long Winter? Was there a key event that took place in your life that help orchestrate your passion to contribute to your scene?
Mike: We always love volunteers. Most of the people involved in our team got here by coming to the events and wanting to take part more than just attending. I grew up going to punk shows in squats in Toronto where there weren’t security guards and barriers and time slots and stuff, you showed up and had to figure it out. It fostered a sense of independence in me as a curator and artist.
Alissa: One final question, being that you were born on May the 4th, have constantly sensed that the force is with you?
Mike: Of course.
Join Long Winter’s Next Event on Facebook (Saturday, February 4, 2017)