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Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day One

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Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day One


Photo: Mark Horton

This year’s Bluesfest opener was practically a mini fest-within-a-fest with Skillex’s Full Flex Express taking over the opening night of the festival. They’re a sort of travelling festival going from town to town bumping some serious dance music. If you know Skillex then you can pretty much extrapolate the vibe of this show. Lots of college-aged guys in beach shirts, snap-backs and bucket hats, and a ton of salmon-coloured shorts and pastels. As I enter the festival grounds I get a vague feeling of entering some kind of futuristic penal colony, like if Escape From New York was entirely populated by bros and dub-heads.


Photo: Scott Penner

When I arrived around 6:30pm the band Tycho was on stage doing their thing. I take some pictures and wander around to get my bearings for a bit and then head over intending to watch the rest of Tycho’s set. It sounds to me like they are biting the sounds Alias and Tarsier were jamming ten years ago, except more middle of the road. Before I realized there was an actual band playing I thought the music I was hearing was a loop being played between acts. Swear to god, every song sounds like the last one. This is not a good start.

Between Tycho and A$AP Ferg is Keisza. A Calgary native who caught the ear of Skrillex, she provides the vocals on the Jack U song “Take U There”. She has an interesting voice that reminds me of FKA Twigs but without Twigs’ tripped-out vibe. I guess it’s like FKA Twigs if Twigs did party anthems. Regardless, Keisza has a strong voice and the ability to hype a crowd.


Photo: Mark Horton

After Keisza is A$AP Ferg, and the crowd has grown in that subtle way that you don’t realize until you suddenly find yourself surrounded by bodies. I can’t get anywhere near the stage, people are crowding jostling and yelling in anticipation of Ferg. I wait and wait. The crowd gets restless and smokes—both tobacco and marijuana—are lit. People squeeze and you feel the energy pulsing through the crowd, it shifts and sways like grain in the wind.

This is why I am here: I have been following the A$AP Mob since I first heard about them on hiphop forums. The Mob represents a new style of Hip hop that combines earnestness with street smarts while experimenting with new looks, attitudes and production.


Photo: Mark Horton

Then suddenly Ferg is on stage and the reaction is instant, like a long strung wire letting go with a violent whiplash. Screaming people are jumping, balls are flying, bottles sailing and jets of water spraying over everything. Though fellow Mob member A$AP Rocky may be the eccentric leader of the Mob, Ferg is the party monster of the crew. His songs thump and hit as hard as any hip hop out there now. Pretty soon the crowd overwhelms me and I struggle to extract myself from its clutches before I become a full-blown wreck.


Photo: Mark Horton

Next up is The DJ duo Zeds Dead. Their name is a Pulp Fiction reference. Is Pulp Fiction still relevant? Is Tarantino still relevant? Am I so old that Pulp Fiction has become irrelevant and fully swung around to become relevant again? This time I avoid the crowd but with only one stage going there is nothing much to do other than stare at the light show and feel the booming bass kick me in the sternum.

Photo by Danyca MacDonald

Photo: Danyca MacDonald

Finally, the night’s headliner, Jack U. Its actually Jack Ü which is an apparently unpronounceable symbol and frankly if I need to Wikipedia the name of a group to decipher the proper pronunciation of a band I’m not really down with it. I mean the obvious exemption of Prince who once changed his name to a symbol and blew the minds of stuffy media type everywhere. But Prince is Prince and can do anything he likes. Really though I can’t figure out how to pronounce their name and it kinda bothered me for the whole set. If you know Diplo and you know Skillex, then imagine a kind of middle ground between Diplo’s worldly dance hall style work and Skillex’s Bro-step. It’s wild party music and both men had the crowd amped for the whole run.


It was definitely a soft start for the fest with only the largest platform—the Bell Stage—in use and a fairly small crowd. Despite that the space feels confined on all sides by food stands, empty stages, porta-potties, beer tents and the ever-present small mercenary army of security guards. Speaking of which, I’m actually pretty blown away by the numerous volunteers and workers that keep this little world humming and think they should get more props.

Darryl Andrew Reid
Photos provided by Bluesfest

Griffin Elliot