Last wheeze for Accordion Noir? Let’s hope not
Wither Accordion Noir, one of Western Canada’s most unique music festivals?
Katheryn Petersen is sounding the alarm.
“This is a big year; it’s our 10th,” said Petersen. She’s artistic director for the Accordion Noir Festival Society, the festival’s presenter.
“It’s a great achievement. But it’s probably the last time you’ll see the Accordion Noir Festival Society pull off something like this for many, many years.”
The problem isn’t lack of interest, but that old arts-and-culture demon, underfunding. Petersen says that the festival hasn’t been able to procure development funding and believes that it has “hit a wall.” Losing the festival now would be a shame, especially as it’s gaining a reputation overseas.
Last year, guests Nefertiti in the Kitchen were so enthralled by the festival that they returned home to France singing its praises. The artistic director of Le Grand Soufflet (The Great Bellows) — the festival in Rennes, France, that is the model for Accordion Noir — has contacted Petersen about coming to check out the Vancouver event. “So the word is out,” Petersen said. Despite its shoestring budget, the festival has consistently managed to introduce Vancouver audiences to international acts. This year, guests include Finnish solo artist Antii Paalanen and Russian all-female group Iva Nova. Both are making their North American debuts at the festival; neither fit the traditional accordion-playing image once so roundly mocked by SCTV’s polka kings, The Shmenge Brothers (The Cabbage Rolls and Coffee Polka). Paalanen leans toward performance art in his shows and sets his accordion-playing to modern beats, and sings/snarls his songs; Iva Nova are even more modern, even borderline ravey.
While Accordion Noir is an unusual event for North America, Paalanen notes that, in Finland, accordions and accordion festivals are much more common.
“Especially in Finland, we have lots of accordion players — there are maybe 10,000,” said Paalanen, who has studied music at the Sibelius Academy at the University of Helsinki. “We also have many accordion festivals. Also in Central Europe, and the mountain area of Austria, the accordion is still very popular. And in Russia. I think the Finnish influences come from Russia more than from Western Europe.”
Besides Iva Nova and Paalanen, this year’s festival includes an album-release show by local accordion player/songwriter Geoff Berner; a game of “Drink-o Bingo” hosted by Victoria’s Grayson Walker; a performance by American accordion DJ Lykaire; and the regular festival-ending feature Underdog Instrument Grudge Match. In it, players team up in a comedic battle for accordion legitimacy. As well, Montreal accordion-fixer Meladona will help restore broken and damaged instruments.
“I think accordion is having a renaissance,” Petersen said, when asked how Vancouver has been able to support such a festival for this long. “You’re seeing more and more of it. It’s in the zeitgeist of young artists. It’s something that, in North America, represents the voice of the underdog.
“In Europe it doesn’t have quite the same punch, but it does have a very strong artistic life. My main focus has been to bring those two forces together — the voice of rebellion and the artistic history of the instrument.”
Following this year’s festival, Petersen plans to step away from her role as artistic director, and pursue her own accordion practice. Whatever happens with the festival, though, fans will still always have Accordion Noir 2017.
Finnish musician Antii Paalanen, who plays at the festival on Sept. 8, sets his accordion-playing to modern beats and sings/snarls his songs.
Russian group Iva Nova, that are modern and borderline ravey, plays the 10th annual Accordion Noir Festival on Sept. 8.