Interview with Patti Schmidt

Deeply involved in Canada's independent and underground music communities for more than 25 years, Patti has been running labels and performing, making radio and programming events.

Patti began her radio career with CKUT, the McGill University radio station in 1987. She joined CBC Radio 2 in 1991 as a researcher and fill-in host for Brave New Waves, a national, nightly, new music program that launched in 1984, which specialized in music and culture from the fringes and the future. By 1995, she was the host and later, executive producer of the program until it ended in 2007. In 2006, she began hosting the Montreal based Radio 1 arts and culture program, Cinq à Six and became the national and regional host for Canada Live in 2007, and national host of Inside the Music on Radio 1 and 2. She has contributed narration to several documentaries as well as writing for film development projects. Having composed, produced and performed music for several bands between 1992 and 2006, she has remained active in the arts community, occasionally DJs and provides sound and music programming for various events and venues. In 2016 she was the Artistic Director and lead faculty of Convergence: Electronic Music + Visual Arts, a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Since 2008, she has worked as a curator, editor and producer for the MUTEK festival of electronic music and digital creativity, based in Montreal.

sowimagePhoto credit: @Naskademini -

Can you introduce yourself? Name one of your achievements in the underground music industry you’re most proud of?

I grew up in the suburbs outside of Ottawa. A place I found to be quite stifling and homogenous, culturally and politically. Punk rock and American hardcore, goth and ska, new wave and alternative music from England were all in full swing in the early and mid-eighties when I was a teenager, and it all altered my universe fundamentally. I’d actually been a bit of an athlete, but by age 15, 16, “rock n roll” and these other ways of being in and seeing the world, became incompatible with those pursuits. I couldn’t wait to leave and be in a real city—which for me has always been Montreal. I did a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Film. Later, at age 40, I started and completed a master’s in Art History and Communications.

I landed my job at CBC Radio working for Brave New Waves straight out of university. Working on that program as a record buyer, researcher and eventually its host and programmer, for a total of 17 years, was as much an education for me as for the dedicated audiences who tuned in every night. The program put me in touch and in dialogue with so many creative communities—across Canada and the world.

The program’s achievement, which I am so grateful to have played a part in, was the way it affected people. It was a source of revelation, new perspectives, new sounds, and inspiration, and caused people to become artists and creators, culture makers and participants in worlds of art and music that have few supports in mainstream society. It emboldened the weirdos and loners, and connected them with each other though the magic of radio and the power of music. That this was a national program, publicly funded, made it a powerful vehicle. There was so much mail from listeners who were moved and touched and changed by it. People still come up to me today to confess their gratitude and tell their personal stories of being altered by what was being presented. I feel incredibly humbled but also ecstatic that I was privileged enough to be a conduit for some of that. Another notable achievement was that I was able to carry on a kind of subversive action that started with the program in 1984. The program was founded by a gay man and a gay woman. And every subsequent host, including me, was able, subtlety, to bring a perspective of queerness and progressive politics to the airwaves, even if it went unnoticed by the audience.


How has music helped you or influenced you throughout major life changes? Have you met any inspiring women during your journey?

Music has always been my portal to the world—not just because of its ability to convey emotion and poetry, but it takes me to other cultures and places, shows me other ways of making and doing. Music was my early gateway to literature, film, contemporary art, politics, sociology, and science.

I generally meet inspirational women through their art or activism, not always personally. Out of fear of not being definitive, I don’t have a quickie list to share. But I encourage everyone to research and consider all the pioneering women of jazz, rock, punk, electronic music, hip hop, classical and avant-garde forms. I will say, however, that meeting and talking to former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson was a real-life highlight for me. She is an inspiring and graceful mix of arts, politics and activism—and someone I admire.


Regarding your long career and your position today in the field of digital arts and electronic music, what do you think has changed in your industry from when you first started versus today towards women?

More women are taking up more prominent roles in the culture and creation of electronic music and digital arts. And that is amazing to witness. There are still ingrained sexist attitudes and biases that dominant the culture at large, but I have never seen such an explosion of creation by women, as in the last 10 years or so.

Being taken seriously has often been a challenge. It is for women in all fields. Being heard is another challenge. Björk said: “Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times.” Women have be more likeable and friendlier than their male counterparts, and if you want to gain entry into the circles of men who make most of the decisions in my milieu and industry, you have to check your emotions and your opinions in ways I’ve often been bothered by. I also think it’s more difficult for older women to navigate music worlds, just as it is for older actresses. Roles and role models are scant, and I have often felt without a roadmap for how to be.


During its 2018 edition, which will be held from August 22 to 26, the festival is showcasing women in electronic music and digital arts under the banner Keychange—an initiative aimed at the empowerment and professional development of female artists. Tell us more about it. What will change concretely in that edition?

Keychange originated with PRS Foundation in the UK as a response to the low numbers of participation of women in music making practices across Europe, including their representation on festival stages and in conference programs.  MUTEK is one of the 7 founding festivals in the project, which aims to tackle discrimination and increase the number of women in their lineups, with festivals pledging to achieve gender parity by 2020. The other crucial element is a commitment to career and skills development, along with the physical making of networks with other women across disciplines, and from around the world. I’m helping to put together a 2-day symposium (August 21 & 22, 2018), that includes keynotes from notable women working in electronic music and digital art practices, panels, presentations and workshops. More than 35 women artists and innovators from Canada, the UK, Europe and Latin America will participate, including in performances during the festival.

This year we will achieve gender parity in our programming, and that would have seemed impossible only a few years ago.


MUTEK is the only non-European partner and key anchor for this project in the Americas. Were you involved personally in supporting that project here in Montreal?

I’ve always been personally involved with advancing women at MUTEK. As the only woman working in programming for the last 10 years, I’ve been quite vocal about inclusivity and diversity. Pushing us to develop policy and awareness because these things don’t change by themselves. The representation of women at the festival had started to shift positively in the last couple of years, but Keychange offers us a more pointed context in which to pursue this work. I’ve been active in promoting and working on our version of the project since last fall, and I can’t wait to see it all come together.


The project is very interesting and important in the present context. Do you feel that key actors in your industry are more opened and supportive about gender equality?

It’s still slow work, and there is still plenty of resistance, but a conversation has become possible and dialogue is happening. I definitely feel like something has opened up in regards to not just discussion about fairness and gender issues, but also intersectionally, across class and cultures. For the last 15 years I’ve felt stuck by the issues around gender equality and opportunity and perceptions. But now it’s in the air, there’s a generational shift, a momentum. Maybe the younger generation who are calling for righteous and rightful change might not understand feminism, or think of it pejoratively, because of all the battering and misrepresentation that feminism has endured, but I’m absolutely hopeful we’re getting somewhere new. I also find that once the people with the power start noticing the injustice, they can’t stop noticing.


We feel like you could inspire women to take initiatives in their own field. What would be your top advice for those who want to contribute to the women’s movement?

Notice how the world works, question it. Track how power manifests itself and how structures and biases affect everything. Read. Talk. Act. Embrace feminism. It means fairness.


Tell us more about the cause you want to support through our Act Beautiful Campaign, and to which Yves Rocher Canada will be donating the money raised. Why is it close to your heart?  What’s their mission? Etc.

I’ve chosen to support Plan International Canada’s Because I am a Girl movement.

sowimagePlan International - Because I am a Girl

They also have an excellent charity ranking when it comes to distribution of funds and impact.

International in scope, their programs sponsor girls around the world, understanding as they put it, that “girls continue to face unique barriers that violate their rights and keep them from achieving their full potential. Discrimination against girls leads to grave injustices like gender-based violence, being forced to drop out of school, child marriage and early pregnancy.”

Empowering girls is essential to achieving gender equality.


sowimagePhoto Credit : Courtesy of Plan International Canada


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