Vancouver’s Albatross Festival featured a 2-day line up of Asian acts, showing that the demand for Asian pop artists in North America is slowly, yet surely, a growing phenomenon.

Vancouver saw its first multi-national Asian pop festival at Hastings Racecourse on 14 & 15 September, with artists hailing from China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, United States, and Canada. Resonate had the opportunity to join in on Day 2, and talk to a couple of artists about their experiences as Asians in music.

It’s hard to know what to expect with an event like this: a festival aimed for lovers of Asian musicians, in a North American setting. Los Angeles’s IDENTITY LA Festival earlier this year seemed to have been a success. But then again, that’s Los Angeles—they have a larger population—and that was a free public event.

With festival passes starting at $99, Albatross Festival promised an impressive line up of international and local acts—and they delivered—although, it’s not to say it was a perfect event altogether.

Albatross Festival featured two stages, with acts performing consecutive of each other; international acts performed on the main stage, while smaller, local acts performed on the 19+ stage. Day 1’s most anticipated acts included Vancouver-born Hong Kong star Edison Chen and Korean indie band Hyukoh, while day 2’s most anticipated acts included Far East Movement and Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon.

Albatross Festival’s line up, as seen on their website.

Regularly operating as a horse race track, Hastings Racecourse is a great festival venue, as it allows ample space for a large crowd and for several vendors to set up shop; however, as Albatross Festival was still in its first year, the venue was an unusual choice: with the vastness of the area, its distance from the general city core, on top of event scheduling on the same nights as Taeyang’s White Night Tour, the venue made the crowd visually small for a festival of its size.

“I just think [this festival] needs momentum. We need to do this every year, and get the word out and have all Vancouver, other communities—get the city involved.” said Vancouver-based Chinese singer, Wanting Qu. Wanting predicts that Albatross Festival will see a growing number of attendees in the future, as it’s not only Asian audiences that are interested in Asian music.

“I definitely have nationalities that’s not Asian come to my show during my tour, and they sing in Mandarin. And so when I look at them, I’m like, ‘Oh my god.’ So it’s happening in my own concerts. I think it’s gonna happen here for sure. One day.”

Despite Metro Vancouver’s relatively small population of under 2.5 million, its large concentration of ethnic Asians has made it a go-to city in North America for Asian acts to perform. According to the 2011 Canadian census, Vancouver accounted for 16.4% of all visible minorities in Canada, with the country’s largest visible minority groups including South Asians and Chinese. Most notably, the city has seen an increase in K-Pop performances, with the past 12 months alone seeing the likes of SHINee, Hyuna, Dean, Verbal Jint, Heize, CL, Illionaire, K.A.R.D. and Got7.

Wanting answering questions from the media after finishing her set.

“I find that I tend to grow my following more worldwide—international—because of Spotify and Instagram, and the digital world,” said Filipino-Canadian pop artist Elise Estrada, citing the benefits the internet provided her career as an Asian artist. The Juno-nominated singer-songwriter, whose 2008 radio single “Unlove You” peaked at #11 in the Canadian Billboard Hot 100 chart, stated her ethnic background helped her compete in the North American market. “It helps me stand out, ’cause it’s different enough.”

Not every artist, however, experienced the same competitive advantage as Estrada. Before introducing their 2016 single Freal Luv during their set, Far East Movement’s rapper Kev Nish recounted the group’s struggle with marketability, revealing that they almost quit making music in the past few years. “You have record execs, you have different people telling you, ‘you’re too Asian,’ ‘maybe you should add a girl,’ ‘you’re not marketable.’ You hear all these things, and they get in your head when you’re in the studio.”

“So what we did—what we did instead was we did the complete opposite.” The rapper stated that in making their most recent album, Identity, the group flew out to Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, and China. “We just started learning, learning about what the real Far East is—what that identity is to us.”

Wanting, who performed her track Time, My Friend with Far East Movement, expressed the importance of festivals like Albatross for Asian artists looking to connect with North American audiences. “I think it’s so important that this kind of festival exists because… I don’t know why, it’s hard to cross—to make that bridge between the western world and the Asian world.”

“I think the fans—like, the people here that are Asian—they play a huge part of carrying Asian artists over here—arts—to the western crowd.”

Girls’ Generation leader Taeyeon performing for the first time in Canada.

Despite a smaller turnout, attendees were eager to show their loyalty and dedication towards their favourite artists. Several attendees were visible fans of Taeyeon, with some flying in from other parts of Canada, as well as overseas, in order to watch her first Canadian performance. Fans prepared and handed out banners to hold up during her set, as well as pink light sticks.

Unfortunately, with scheduling delays and Vancouver’s public noise curfew, Taeyeon was unable to perform her entire scheduled time slot. Multiple artists also faced A/V issues during performances, leaving room for improvement on the festival’s end for organization. Regardless, most acts delivered fantastic performances, with special mention going to Far East Movement, who delivered an energetic electronic set filled with familiar radio hits and remixes.

Despite its visible growing pains, Albatross fared relatively well as a festival, catching onto a trend of a diversified demand for entertainment in North America. With better venue choice, continued support by Vancouver’s Asian communities, and repeatedly booking world-renowned acts, Albatross Festival has the potential to become a pioneer in Asian entertainment in Canada.