What is happening with the Halifax Pop Explosion?

The director resigns as the storied music festival gets called out for systemic racism.

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The black square post that sparked discussion of Halifax Pop Explosion being performative in its public stand against racism. - HALIFAX POP EXPLOSION INSTAGRAM SCREENSHOT
  • Halifax Pop Explosion Instagram screenshot
  • The black square post that sparked discussion of Halifax Pop Explosion being performative in its public stand against racism.
It started with the posting of a black square. Halifax Pop Explosion—like many other festivals and organizations within the music industry—took to Instagram a month ago to share a message about solidarity with #theshowmustbepaused, an initiative asking the music world to address its own systemic racism.

Then last week, the post started getting renewed attention. Comments underneath the black square expressed concern about HPX being performative in its public stand against racism, or worse: One comment in particular said people of colour in the Halifax music scene had experienced "white supremacist violence organized under [its] festival."

This comment attracted its own attention, in the form of further comments standing in solidarity. And then, comments from the black square post started getting deleted, as if someone with control of the HPX Instagram account was trying to make a growing public relations storm disappear. The fest would later say it was looking into the deletions, posting a follow-up apology that stated, in part, "Our team did not remove the comment and we are actively trying to understand how it was deleted." (For those who aren't giving their thumbs a repetitive strain injury with all the Instagram posting they do, deleting a comment is straightforward if you've got the password to log into an account: You have to swipe right on the comment, then select the trash can icon. In other words it's easy to do, but hard to do accidentally.)

The comments kept pouring in, both from early posters angry their replies were disappearing—and then from members of the Canadian music scene at large. Past fest performers Hua Li and Backxwash both replied to the original post, with the former saying "Accountability needs to be active and ongoing and yet poc members of the Halifax music community consistently report their needs being unheard by this organization." (The latter added on Twitter that artists might be "better off just doing a livestream" if artists of colour can't depend on being treated well or paid enough by HPX.) Haviah Mighty, winner of the 2019 Polaris Prize, chimed in: "Y’all can’t be deleting comments and shit, and pretending the square equates to action..."
Toronto rapper Lex Leosis has been the first artist on the fest's 2020 lineup to drop the fest in solidarity. - LEX LEOSIS TWITTER SCREENSHOT
  • Lex Leosis twitter screenshot
  • Toronto rapper Lex Leosis has been the first artist on the fest's 2020 lineup to drop the fest in solidarity.
Things kicked into a higher gear last Thursday, June 25, with rapper Lex Leosis (former bandmate to Haviah Mighty) releasing a statement that she'd be stepping down from performing at Halifax Pop this year, "after hearing from the community about the blatant racism." Sunday, in the comments of the festival's swipe-through Instagram apology, a comment from HPX's official account said James Boyle, the fest's executive director, has resigned. But the Pop Explosion has not otherwise announced Boyle's departure, and hasn't responded to our interview request.  (On the festival's "contact us" page, Boyle's name isn't listed but there's no announcement of his removal or any mention of the role of executive director. This differs from an internet archive copy of the page from May, where Boyle's name was listed as executive director under a now-missing "staff" section.)

This isn’t the first time the venerable music fest has apologized for how artists of colour have been treated: In 2017, headliner Lido Pimienta’s show was interrupted when a white person refused to cede space to POC in the front row. That person was an HPX volunteer. Pimienta paused her set until the volunteer moved to the back; she had to ask the volunteer to move more than 10 times. Afterwards, Pimienta's Twitter feed filled with hate. Her simple request made her a target for alt-right trolls.