Watermarked photos by Stephen McGill Photography
The final day of OXW is always kind of bittersweet. On the one hand, there are usually some great bands scheduled to play in the afternoon and, in this case, it was a gorgeous day out with no clouds in the sky. On the other hand, a lot of us were pretty burnt out from all the drinking, excessive punk rock consumption, and sweltering heat that comes along with no clouds in the sky. But let’s be honest, those of us who remained were excited for what Sunday had in store, putting any complaints aside.
The day started off strangely. A few of us were hanging outside at the SAW courtyard when all of a sudden we heard a massive crashing sound. The sound of metal hitting metal at a considerable speed is unmistakable, and it sounded bad. We ran out to check what had happened, and as it turns out a brand new cherry red Ford Mustang had been sideswiped by an SUV. Everyone was OK, but we all felt bad for the Mustang’s driver as he had to wait hours before being towed (his wheel well was damaged and he couldn’t drive).
Things started a bit late since Chloroform canceled their OXW appearance, and Ottawa’s own Baberaham Lincoln kicked off the final day’s festivities. The cleverly-named three-piece group played some dissonant noise rock that threw me back a few decades. Armed with Jenna Spencer’s Fender Strat, Cory Lefebvre’s hollowbody, and Hillary Lawson’s drums, the band eased us into the day with atmospheric, over-driven songs that served as a welcome balance to the high number of punk bands we had all heard for the last four days. The tone on Cory’s guitar was hypnotic, and the simple layering of the band’s instrumentals drew the crowd in and put us all back into the zone. Jenna’s soft, and at times eerie vocals contrasted well with the fuzzy tones coming out of the PA. Baberaham Lincoln didn’t throw any curve balls at us, but their mesmerizing sound and powerful builds kept the crowd wrapped around their fingers throughout the set.
Baberaham Lincoln at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Next up was Gaycation, a band from Ottawa that I hadn’t seen yet but that I was really excited about. They just released a split demo tape with Weed Mom through Bruised Tongue a week or two ago which I highly recommend, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on that hardware right before they played. Gaycation is a queercore power-pop outfit, and all of us who witnessed their set got see how high energy this group really is. Faelan Sadboy took centre stage on vocals, looking more than comfortable on stage with a big smile on his face and producing powerful and emotive vocals. Above him also hung a Hello Kitty piñata, the destiny of which we could only guess was moments away. In the meantime the band played some fun tunes including “NBD” and “No Bros”, songs which correlated with the huge hand-made sign behind the drummer LP that said “KILL THE BRO IN YR HEAD” — a motto that many of us surely support. One of the band members thanked her mom for coming out to see the band play, after which Alanna jokingly proclaimed, “My mom didn’t come to see me play. She said that she’s already seen me before.” There were a few points throughout the set that Gaycation had some trouble keeping time with one another, and I’m sure with a little more practice they will make their live set really tight. The band closed their set with the fun, dancy song “Gaycation”, and yes, Faelan kicked the shit out of that piñata and candy rained down upon us.
Gaycation at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Blue Angel is a group that I always look forward to seeing live. This three-piece grungy noise rock band consists of Caylie of Boyhood on drums, Sam Pippa of Organ Eyes/Pipahauntas on bass, and Lidija Rositis of Bondar on guitar — and all of them sing. Their lyrics are intentionally repetitive yet poignant, as clearly demonstrated in songs like “You/Me”. The three of them normally wear outrageous outfits or masks, this time opting for a simple face mask due to the heat during the day. Their heavily distorted guitar and bass take me back to the days of Sonic Youth, music that isn’t meant to be consumed comfortably but meant to evoke raw emotion or visceral sentiments. After a few intense songs, drummer Caylie Runciman stopped and joked that she accidentally swallowed one of her long hairs during the last song. Blue Angel ended with the song “Sweaty Belly” that is featured on their three-track EP released in 2014, and made it a memorable one as usual.
In between sets was Drone Zone, a series including drone artists presented by Debaser. It was definitely an interesting addition to the festival, one that had not been included in previous years. Drone Zone was an informal extension of Weird Canada‘s National Drone Day, celebrating experimental, ambient, and drone music. I caught some of Everett’s set, a group that included Willow, Elsa, Tyrin (of Weed Mom) and Fraser. I had never experienced a drone set before, and I made sure to go in with an open mind ready for anything. What I really enjoy about many artists featured on Weird Canada, and in turn drone music, is the off-the-cuff experimentation that can lead to beautiful abstract pieces of music. I was very impressed with Everett as they played their first performance ever, a relatively quick 15-minute drone set that included ambient noise coming from countless knobs and buttons controlled by Fraser and Tyrin. Willow and Elsa stood closer to the audience, and although it was hard to discern their lyrics at times over the drone, their short performance was authoritative and resounding. I look forward to hearing more from Everett as they produce more pieces in the future.
Everett at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Bonnie Doon came on shortly after, having just come off an Eastern Canada tour a few weeks ago. A few fans were wearing the DIY tie dye band shirts they had made for the tour, while lead singer and co-bassist Lesley Demon wore a particularly ’80s looking business suit. Bonnie Doon dove into their wacky and wild set of noisy surf rock, enchanting us with two layered basses played by Lesley and Gina Vinelli, crunchy guitar parts by Madison Watson, and kept the beat going with Keltie Duncan on drums. Watching old people walk by and looking completely and utterly confused by what was happening was a highlight for me. At one point I heard two people walk to the front gate and ask what was going on in the courtyard. They asked, “Is this part of Fringe Festival? Because that’s where we’re headed.” To their content, Ottawa Explosion was not part of Fringe Festival around the corner, and the sense of relief was obvious. Bonnie Doon played some great songs such as “B Hole”, “Pizza Shark”, “Moon Tan”, and even treated us to a trip down memory lane by covering “Lump” by The Presidents of the United States of America. I was secretly hoping they’d break out into Weird Al’s version of “Gump”, but that was just me.
Bonnie Doon at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
My final Explosion set of the festival was Montreal’s The Famines, only because I probably would have passed out by the time Catholic Girls came on stage. The two-piece garage punk band played an intense set, with singer/guitarist Raymond Biesinger playing heavy and distorted basslines, and Drew Demers on drums shredding on the kit even though he appeared to be on the brink of heat stroke. I’d seen them open up for Big Dick at their album release party back in February, and I really enjoy their aggressive and raw brand of garage rock. Several times Biesinger went out into the crowd and played right beside us, and at one point turned to Demers and asked, “How are you doing buddy?” Demers replied very frankly by saying, “I’m fucking dying.” Everyone laughed, but the band was clearly uncomfortably hot, particularly Demers on drums since he was playing so fast and intensely. He powered through most of the set with no issues that we could hear, and Famines kept the party going almost all the way until the end when they had to stop for their own personal well-being. It was at that point that I fantasized about jumping into a nice fresh pool and decided to call it a day. What a festival.
A huge thanks to Luke, Emmanuel, and all the helpers and volunteers for everything they do. Explosion is getting better every year and it’s always what we look forward to most. Until next year folks!