Just off the island of Montreal, there is another smaller islet. The quaint Île Sainte-Hélène – as it’s known in the native tongue – plays host to Osheaga music festival and the masses of new wave beatniks, brain washed by a hippie culture that has since been bastardized by MDMA and consumerism. It reminds me of the immortal words of Frances McDormand as Elaine Miller in Almost Famous: “Look at this: an entire generation of Cinderallas and there’s no glass slipper.” It’s nearly impossible to look away from the madness.
The festival is truly unlike any other of the major summer festivals in Ontario or Quebec, it’s clear the focus is just as much on the peripherals; carnival games, food, drinks, parties, half pipes, mechanical bulls, oh and there’s music there too. The crowd comes from far and wide to experience genres from house music to folk, minus anything remotely close to heavy metal (unfortunately), but the organizers did manage to sneak in a few hard punk acts, which was nice of them. The beautiful Parc Jean Drapeau is a maze of somewhat controlled chaos and while the grounds may be confusing, it is a nice place to get lost in.
The first day was scorching hot and fans were crowding to shade like cows in a pasture trying to get relief from the sun. The free water refill lineups were long and mouths were dry. The grounds are equipped with many different types of hammocks, beanbag chairs and other alternative seating structures to support weary wanderers.
The Decemberists played on the Montagne Stage to a sun-drained crowd. They sounded incredible and it was clear that those in the crowd were enjoying the performance; it was just too hot to do anything other than stand and bake. Across the hills and far away Chet Faker played to a more active crowd of avid fans. His songs are generally a bit slower paced but that did not stop people from moving around. His voice combined with some mixing and a great backing band made for a well-polished sound.
The Thurston Moore Band on the Arbres Stage and The Avett Brothers playing the main Riviere Stage added a more old school feel to the festival lineup. While Thurston Moore and his group were a great revisit of classic rock sounds, The Avett Brothers band has put a new spin on the old big band country sound. It’s happy party rock and it is infectious. With quick rapping vocal parts and an excellent stage presence including a long hair, head banging cellist, the crowd could not get enough.
Of Monsters and Men played a more toned down set than most of the day’s other acts but everyone let loose when they played their hit, you know the one. The band is rebranding folk for a younger generation, and while everyone in attendance may not have fully appreciated the musicianship, the fact that they were there and watching is good enough for this old soul.
Edinburgh hip hop/pop group Young Fathers put on an incredible performance at the Vallée Stage. It was some of the best party music I have had the fortune of experiencing. As the three frontman danced around the stage and hyped up the crowd to a whole other level, their drummer jammed behind them relentlessly. At the same time over in the trees Viet Cong were ripping apart the minds of everyone watching with their intense, atmospheric post-punk rock. I seriously thought they were caught in some sort of time loop at one point when they played a riff until they just could not anymore, and then went right into their next song.
While I did not see it myself, Mos Def made an appearance on stage with A Tribe Called Red and I am pretty bummed I missed it. The next day, the festival announced that Action Bronson could not make it so Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) would be filling in for him “last minute” coincidence? I think not!
Florence and the Machine returned to Osheaga to close out the festival’s first day, and they blew the metaphorical roof off of the place, well Florence did at least, the focus was not on The Machine as they were at the back of the stage and backlit. I overheard one person describe the experience as “spiritual” and my buddy Ralph swears he saw her take acid on stage. A female Robert Plant, in both looks and vocal range, Florence managed to connect with every single person in the crowd of thousands as she danced around the stage barefoot in her flowing white outfit. “Do you want to get high with me Osheaga?” She said to the cheering crowd, and then prompted everyone to get up on their friend’s shoulders. Overall her set was “incroyable” and I am personally not a fan of her recorded music. If acts like Florence and the Machine are going to be the future of pop music, I think I’m ok with it.
As Florence was finishing her set rain started to spit and everyone made a mad dash for the exit. Heed my advice and do not worry about catching the encore, it’s not worth being crammed like a sardine for half an hour trying to exit the festival.
Overall, Osheaga’s first day was chaotic yet freeing, hypocritical yet beautiful, frat guy infested yet stayed by real music fans and talent chasers. Now, let’s see what the rest of the weekend has in store.
Kendrick Lamar Wayhome – Where’s Kanye West?
Attendance: 15,000 (start) – (30,000 end)
Set Length: 90mins
TOTAL SCORE: 9
Crowd Reception: 10
Stage Presence: 10
Visual/Sound Presentation: 9
Musical Ability: 8
Wow Factor: 10
After a devastatingly tight opening set by Run The Jewels it was pretty clear that the crowd at Wayhome was 100% in hiphop mode and ready for the rapper from Compton.
As the crowd quickly swelled in anticipation for what was to be the largest drawing set of the festival, fireworks could be seen over the tree line towards the WayBright stage, as last minute fill-ins Broken Social Scene finished their set. BSS were filling in for Passion Pit who cancelled due to illness the day before. Rumors were abound that another surprise, Mr. Kanye West himself was on his way up to Oro-Medonte a day before his scheduled performance at the grand finale Pan-Am games in Toronto.
Word is, Kanye is the surprise guest at #wayhome Kan-yay or Kan-nay?
— CBC Music (@CBCMusic) July 25, 2015
“I’m glad y’all warmed up cause we got a long motherfucking night tonight man. The last time I came here the energy was on a 10. We gonna take this shit up two notches by the times we done, you feel me? Let’s make sure my homies is out here. So I see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd right now. A lot of people that’s been rocking with me since day one.” Before he broke into The Art Of Peer Pressure.
Lamar pulled the majority of his set from Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in an effort to please the party thirsty Saturday night crowd with bangers. This choice which largely ignored his latest album To Pimp A Butterfly worked for the largely white sunburned suburban audience who ate up what Kendrick and his A+ band were serving without question.
The Rapper/Hype man made it a point to keep the energy turned up to 12 at all times.
“I think this might be the loudest side right now. Or is this the loudest side right now? Everybody in the middle and the back where the fuck y’all at right now?” Said Lamar several times as he stopped to check the crowd’s energy between every second song.
“You see the reason I’ve gotta keep checking the temperature is because if this side’s got energy then that means that this side’s got energy and that means that everybody in the back’s having a good time. And then we go home and talk about it, tell everybody how crazy the motherfucking show was, that means I come back and do this shit all over again.” Said the rapper, playing the role of hype man in-between songs.
“By the end of this show, we will make sure that this will be the loudest motherfucking crowd that this town has ever seen in their lives, you know what I mean” stated Lamar, but before anyone could mistake his confidence for arrogance the young rapper made sure to clarify something in his next breath:
“… And I made a vow to myself since the first time I came out here and yawl showed me love, that I always make music, that real people go through like yourselves, you know what I mean? I make sure I sing about you, so remember think about me as well.” Finished Lamar before breaking in to Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst.
The second half of his set included songs from To Pimp a Butterfly and ADHD from 2011’s Section.80.
Ending with Compton, Lamar reiterated: “I will be back, I will be back”, as the band played on and fireworks filled the air over the main stage.
By the time the dust settled, the Wayhomies were now in full party mode and searched the festival grounds for their next adventure. The only conundrum left for the evening was ODESZA vs Bassnectar, both of whom were scheduled to close on opposite stages at the same time leaving only the answer “who cares” to the lingering question of the day…”Where’s Kanye West?”
1. Money Trees
2. Backseat Freestyle
3. m.A.A.d city (pt II)
4. The Art Of Peer Pressure
5. Swimming Pools
6. Fuckin’ Problem
7. Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe
8. Poetic Justic?
9. m.A.A.d city (pt I)
10. Sing about me, I’m dying Of Thirst
12. king kunta
13. The Recipe
Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Seven
Lebreton Flats was bathed in a pleasant shade of orange as the seventh day of Bluesfest began. Gone were the rainstorms and humidity, replaced with a cool breeze and cloudless skies.
Perfect blues weather.
And in a rare occurrence, the early goings of Wednesday’s Bluesfest was dominated by acts that actually fit the festival’s moniker.
Blues veteran Walter Trout took one stage with a jam-heavy four piece blues set. Trout’s guitar tore through endless licks and solos, while a powerful rotary organ drove the set forward.
On the next stage over, Current Swell proved that they could rock the blues just as well as the veterans. The Victoria band established themselves with a raucous set that included a twanging slide guitar, thunderous bass lines and an ever-present harmonica wail.
The group pulled in a large riverside crowd, and got their feet moving, even getting the fans to perform a gritty call and response with lead vocalist Scott Stanton in their final song.
While the blues drawled on by the river, one of Ottawa’s rising stars got a chance to take the main stage. Stepping in to replace the scheduled De La Soul, G.Grand got a chance to break out his cerebral raps in front of his hometown.
While the crowd was not as loud or involved as those downhill, G.Grand still managed to impress with verbose rhymes atop spacey synthesizers.
It was after G.Grand’s set ended that the crowds really started to form. As the sun began to fall behind the War Museum, CHVRCHES took the stage in front of a mass of swaying fans.
The group’s ethereal vocals floated atop pulsing bass lines that could be felt across the park. Even the seagulls seemed to join the fun, swarming and diving for food in rhythm with the swirl of electronic music.
Across the park, another local hip-hop group was putting on a different act entirely.
“We live a few blocks away from here,” announced one half of rap duo Flight Distance as they began their set. The duo made their hometown pride abundantly clear, rapping about Parliament Hill and Winterlude.
When they brought on members of another local group, Sound of Lions, they announced it as “the best thing to happen to the city since the Nando’s opening on Elgin.”
Amidst their local knowledge and loyal fans, the duo moved around stage with energy and chemistry, and dropped skull-pounding beats. They tossed phrases back and forth with ease, and got the crowd hyped and ready for the next act- Run the Jewels.
Three groups took three different stages to close out the night, and while Hedley and The Gaslight Anthem both put on solid sets in front of impressive crowds, none could match the furious energy of Run the Jewels.
In the 15-minute break between Flight Distance and Run the Jewels, a restless crowd packed in and flooded up the hill facing the stage. It wasn’t long before the group got restless, chanting “Run the Jewels” and cheering at every soundcheck.
When El-P and Killer Mike stepped on stage, they were not disappointed.
The duo broke into a set of intense, energetic hip-hop, transforming the crowd into a sea of writhing hands and bodies. Early in the set, El-P announced that everybody in the crowd had been given an invisible 36-inch gold chain, and could tell any old warmongering men to fuck off. That escalated an already intense show into insanity.
Small pockets of mosh pits formed throughout the crowd, and when the duo broke into “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” they exploded into a chaotic mass of bodies slamming into each other. Phones were flying, lips were splitting and everyone was having the time of their lives.
Run the Jewels thrived on the crowd’s energy, dancing and smiling from start to finish, and announcing that their manager had told them they had best get to know Canada, because Canadians love their music.
A night that started with basking under the sun’s orange glow ended with hip-hop induced mosh pits. The lord may have rested on the seventh day but in Ottawa music certainly did not.
Written by Noah LeFevre
Pictures provided by Bluesfest
The set began with a quiet, sparsely populated crowd, country music bleeding over onto their stage. But it ended with an electric crowd dancing, shouting and calling for more.
Blakdenim’s Thursday night Bluesfest set didn’t come easy, but it proved that Ottawa is more than capable of putting out truly elite talent.
Horns squealed in lip-splitting solos, vocalist Erin Tompkins sang with the passion and poise of a 20-year soul veteran and frontman Precise Kenny Creole’s infectious personality bled into the crowd from start to finish.
All of this was emphasized by the country music backdrop of the rest of the night. While country musicians may be working on reconciling their past, they’ve still got a long way to go.
When Creole spat verses about racial profiling, police shootings, and gave a direct call-out to Ferguson, it was hard not to wonder how many people would turn out for Jason Aldean wearing confederate flag memorabilia.
In a furious rendition of “DeCypher,” Creole wove a hard-hitting narrative of the struggles of a young black girl.
At the song’s finale, Creole rapped over a single haunting flute, “Live by the gun die by the culture created/ gotta say we made it.”
His lines addressed both the North American culture of hatred and the issues prevalent within the group’s own hip-hop genre.
“I don’t even gotta say shit/ I don’t agree with it becoming a term of endearment/ It’s in the song so sing along with it/ Making it okay to say the names they gave the slaves and shit.”
The band’s politics were abundantly clear in “Horticulture,” where they called upon the crowd to join in the chorus, singing “Tell me who’s worried about the oil/ Officer I’m just planting seeds in the soil.”
The chorus built with Creole’s declaration of “I push knowledge,” before Tompkins broke in with a heart-wrenching chorus that soared above the climbing horns, a sparkling gleam in her eye beneath the stage lights.
It wasn’t the heavy verses that pulled in the crowd however, it was the intoxicating funk and contagious energy of the entire band.
Unswayed by the quiet audience at the beginning, the band was clearly just happy to be there from the first song. All smiles and dancing, the atmosphere pulled more listeners toward their riverside stage.
A few songs in, the audience’s cheering drowned out the sound flooding over from the next stage. The joy that the group took in that was painted in neon colours across each member’s face.
By the time Creole and multi-instrumentalist Vick Bernard broke into a dance-off midway through the set, the captive audience had tripled in size. The two performers slid across the stage smooth as the calm water beside them, laughing as they broke out impressively fluid dance moves.
At the show’s climax, Creole got the crowd to join in a memorable chant of “Blakdenim one word no C, what?” while the band jammed. Then he broke out his freestyle chops.
Creole’s improvised verses were hilariously meta and self-effacing, admitting his own freestyling flaws and smiling the entire time.
Even amidst all the impressive vocals, it was impossible to ignore the talent of the instrumentalists. Bassist Karl Acelin and drummer Sacha Nagy held the night’s set together with their tight rhythm section. Mark Onderwater’s moody keys added drama and built tension when the band needed it, and the horn section took the music to the next level.
The lows of Sebastien Christopher’s tuba vibrated through your chest while Ed Lister’s crisp and chaotic trumpets brought the funk. Bernard proved to be the band’s jack-of-all trades, providing poignant trombone, atmospheric flutes, haunting back-up vocals and of course the aforementioned dance moves.
When it came time for the final song, the group had the audience singing the chorus of “Hold up, Hold On.” Creole ran backstage only to reappear in the crowd, jumping and dancing around with his newly won fans.
Blakdenim’s Bluesfest set was simply monumental, perfectly displaying the talents of one of Ottawa’s most creative and impressive acts. Familiarize yourself with Blakdenim’s catalogue, because they’re going places.
Photos by Danyca MacDonald and provided by Bluesfest
NXNE 2015 Day 2: House of Vans at Berkeley Church and Sean Leon at NXNE Hub
“Who let the savages out of the zoo?” says Sean Leon. It’s quarter to 2 in the morning and the NXNE Hub at Spadina and Queen has turned into a madhouse for the Toronto rapper’s set. Photographers are hanging from the ceiling as beer drips. Someone keeps banging loudly on the air duct between songs. Popped balloons sound like gunshots with alarming frequency. At the end of it all, Leon lies on his back, seemingly spent after 45 minutes of concentrated chaos.
Five hours earlier, I’m waiting in front of Berkeley Church on the other side of downtown to get into the Pitchfork-presented House of Vans show. The staff is polite but firm on my inability to enter the venue at 8. I stake it out and talk to a few other journalists in similar situations. Everyone’s hoping his or her tenacity will pay off.
I eventually get in during Magical Cloudz‘ set. They’re an act fit for the church’s reverb-y sonics as Devon Welsh’s unadorned voice echoes into the halls. He frequently bursts into primal whoops as a sort of tribute to the victims of the Charleston attack.
I finally see a full Tink set and it reconfirms my faith. The front of the crowd doesn’t stop moving for her entire performance and the rising Chicago multi-talent is engaging throughout. “Is this your song?” Tink asks a particularly excitable girl up front before she performs the Future Brown collab “Wanna Party”, “Alright, then let me see you dance.” She gladly obliges.
Vince Staples is also interested in seeing the audience get into his performance, but the LA rapper’s version of interaction is much heavier to match his music. He urges everyone to put both of their hands up, not in celebration but in solidarity against the police brutality he’s faced growing up and that continues to this day all across the States. Staples successfully makes a case for classic gangsta rap’s (threats of violence intermingled with somber reflection) relevance in this decade with minimal, pummeling beats (“Blue Suede” wrecks the place) and insidiously catchy hooks like the one in “65 Hunnid”.
Even though I can’t think of a more metal venue than a church, Brooklyn post-metal band Sannhet suffers from a washy live mix and the fact that damn near everyone in the venue has either left or moved all the way to the back. Their self-programmed light show looks cool, though.
Late night comes and I hitch a ride to where Sean Leon is performing. Vancouver future producer/DJ Ekali opens with turnt-up rap and R&B edits, including the most monstrous “Know Yourself” sing-along I’ve been a part of.
Sean Leon is one of the most definitive proprietors of the “Toronto sound” in rap: slow tempos, ominously filtered vocals, and an overall nocturnal atmosphere. It’s the more menacing counterpart to Drake’s moodiness. Leon has created a rock star persona around himself, namedropping Pink Floyd as a primary influence, performing with a live guitarist, and calling his upcoming release Black Sheep Nirvana after the band, adopting a modified version of their smiley-face logo as his own. He opens his set by teasing unreleased material from BSN and from there it’s an assault of dark, ignorant art-rap. The crowd moshes for most of it.
Leon shouts out his infant daughter Xylo during his newest track “This Ain’t 2012” and stresses, “We have no label backing us, no industry people…Just us.” If the rapper known to his fans as Maui Slim and “Daddyvelli” can whip a strong, self-made local following into a delirious frenzy then the come-up truly is coming.