As the Ottawa winter begins to slowly fade away, spring is trying its hardest to break through the permafrost and show signs of warmth, life, and colour. In our city that also means something else – festival season is approaching. The Doldrums Music Festival celebrates the onset of the spring season with great local music, rejuvenating the weary souls of our city after the long cold. This weekend (March 27 & 28) marks the fourth year of Doldrums Festival and just as a tulip’s bulb slow doesit has grown into something special.
The Doldrums Music Festival was founded in 2011 by Lucas MacKenzie, a member of the formerly Ottawa-based band New Teeth. Winter can be pretty drab in Ottawa by February, and MacKenzie felt that there was a distinct lack of music scene festivities during the winter. Why should people resort to clinging onto their couch in front of a space heater in the dead of winter? Why not give them a reason to go out, get together, and brave the weather for the sake of great local music?
Although MacKenzie now lives in Toronto, the festival continues under new management. This year’s organizers Peter Zachar, Andrew Grosvenor (both in Those Gulls/Decathelete), and Gavin Dyke (Black Dogs) are all in bands, which offers them the same perspective that MacKenzie had on running the small festival. Not only that, but Zachar and Grosvenor also run Ringbill Records and have their own studio which they call “The Nest”. Zachar explains:
As musicians, we’ve approached Doldrums with an eye on what we love about it, and how we can expand on those aspects. Part of that has been increasing its visibility through local sponsorships and collaborations, and part of it was making it a more compact and streamlined event.
The Doldrums Music Festival is essentially two nights of music hosted at separate venues, and each offering a different musical “theme.” This makes the festival more accessible to a wider base of music fans, perhaps even drawing some to experience bands live that they might not have seen otherwise.
Friday, March 27, takes place at Pressed on Gladstone and is more of a folk/blues-rock bill. The lineup is impressive, featuring local heavyweights Winchester Warm, Tindervox, Black Dogs, and Riishi Von Rex. We sometimes forget that event organizers are music fans too, and Zachar made it clear that they were more than happy with how this year’s festival came together. “Honestly, the lineup for this year’s festival came from us getting in contact with some of our favourite bands in Ottawa (emphasis on some, we love a lot of music), and them saying yes,” he said.
Saturday, March 28, will take place at Club SAW and feature a very eccentric collection of local bands. The lineup pushes genre boundaries and includes the varied talents of Big Dick, Ornaments, Pith and the Parenchymas, and Dreamphone. From post-punk to experimental psych-rock, this bill is packed with some of our favourite bands in town. If you are someone who is willing to test new waters and go into something with an open mind, Saturday’s event at SAW will provide you with a grouping of the weird and the wild, and is sure to have patrons leaving with their jaws hanging.
When I asked Zachar about the challenge of competing with other festivals in a near-saturated market, he offered a very interesting perspective.
Thinking about it in terms of “competition” is the wrong way to go. We recently had the Megaphono festival, and a large part of that was equipping artists with the right philosophies to succeed, which I think is very important. The new vision for Doldrums is to provide tangible benefits directly to the artists. For example, this year we started a collaboration with the local blog Sometimes Always, wherein we produced short interviews with the bands playing the festival. These of course helped us raise the profile of Doldrums, but more importantly they provide something that the bands can take with them, add to their media kits, and benefit from longer-term. It’s a first step, and moving forward we’re eager to grow this aspect of the festival in collaboration with Sometimes Always and other partners.
If there’s something to be said about the Ottawa music community, it’s that this fraternal mentality of succeeding through collaboration is very pervasive. Zachar recognizes the benefits of locally-run festivals for small time bands, but also the importance of those bands in creating a strong creative community by which more of these grassroots events can happen. Who knows? Maybe even more people will come out and discover more of the incredible music this city’s artists are producing.
Below are some videos made with Ottawa music blog Sometimes Always, Pierce McKennirey conducts some great interviews with bands involved. Be sure to have a look!