Emerging Artists to Perform at WOBIE Fest 2020

 Over the next week, experimental, electronic, and rap genres will collide in WOBIE Fest 2020, a live music festival celebrating underrepresented and up-and-coming artists.

The concerts will kick off tonight at The ’Sco with performances from HOOK and BKTHERULA. White Fence and L’Rain will perform this Saturday, with Nots and DANA closing the festival next Saturday.

College third-year Bridget Conway and College fourth-years Amari Newman and Ben Stevens worked to organize these events. The three are leaders in Oberlin Hip Hop Collective, Student Union Program Committee, and F+ABB: FQTPOC Breaking Boundaries, and they decided to combine forces to host one blowout festival. 

While this is Oberlin’s first-ever WOBIE Fest, the festival is actually a revival of live music shows that WOBC hosted throughout the ’80s.

The idea for WOBIE Fest was a collaborative process between Stevens, Conway, and Newman, but a primary catalyst for this effort came from a class called, “Workshop in Music and Media Technologies” that Newman took with Associate Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts Tom Lopez. They spent the semester digitizing and archiving tapes from DJs of decades past, all the way to the station’s first shows in 1950. The tapes revealed that WOBC used to be active in hosting live shows, and Newman, along with Conway and Stevens, decided to bring that tradition back. 

After coming up with the initial idea in May 2019, they began booking artists in September. Conway booked L’Rain, an electronic and experimental artist and a personal favorite of Conway’s; Stevens booked White Fence, Nots, and DANA; and Newman booked HOOK and BKTHERULA. 

For Conway, WOBIE Fest 2020 is a way to further F+ABB’s mission of featuring and supporting femme artists, especially women of color. By performing at Oberlin, artists gain new exposure and are more likely to get paid for their work than they would be at other venues, according to Conway.

“My goal with getting F+ABB involved in WOBIE Fest, was, again, to represent a broader community on campus and to bring a more diverse musical spectrum to the show,” Conway said.

While the idea for WOBIE Fest is taken from decades past, the artists featured in the festival reflect what Conway believes is a shift toward greater diversity in the music scene. The experimental genre, for example, tends to be dominated by white men. 

“I think that L’Rain was a particular booking in that their music is very experimental,” Conway said. “[Front artist] Taja Cheek … has this background in noise music and [dance and electronic music] is doing this really powerful, really emotional new music that I think a lot of the time is represented at Oberlin, but mostly with artists in the Con and in the TIMARA department.”

Stevens noted how F+ABB’s mission intersects neatly with WOBC’s, which is to provide a platform for students who may not feel heard.

“Giving [underrepresented artists] a voice is what WOBC exists for because we have a driven and independently-minded student body,” Stevens said. “The Review and The Grape and other print organizations offer [a specific type of outlet], but this offers a new type of media… [where] we can [broadcast] that same sort of message and give that a voice.”

Similarly, Newman sees WOBIE Fest as an opportunity to introduce new people to WOBC and encourage others to pitch their own shows.

“We definitely had a lot of applications this past semester and had to turn down a few shows,” Newman explained. “But a lot of the time we turn away shows because it’s just the same thing that we’ve gotten. It’s like, ‘This is the same application we’ve seen 10 other times. We’re not trying to have the same 10 shows.’ And we feel like that probably has to do with the fact that the people applying all come from similar backgrounds, so we’re trying to get people that come from different backgrounds to give us something that we’ve never had on WOBC before.”

Stevens emphasized WOBC’s ability to act “as a springboard for creating programming that represents them beyond just radio.” For example, F+ABB showcases diverse artists in a performance space, not just public radio.

“F+ABB is trying to make sure that artists — like femme artists — who break boundaries are represented on the school’s campus in terms of programming, and we [WOBC] want to make sure it’s represented on the radio, and this way [through WOBIE Fest] we can kind of make sure that both of those things are happening,” Stevens said.

Stevens added that he was nervous, but excited for WOBIE Fest to finally happen after months of planning. 

“I’m going to get to see so many artists that I really like and I feel very lucky to have been given the privilege of being put in the position to have this happen,” Stevens said. “And so, hopefully, other people get a lot of drive and feel empowered to feel that … they can have some more programming in the future and make sure that WOBC is not only a great radio station but is also a relevant cultural force on campus.”