Break North Festival 2012 – Opening Night Experience
Independent music is something that is not easily grasped by the masses. I don’t mean to imply that there is anything categorically abstract about it that makes it less accessible to the general public. And I certainly wouldn’t group all indie music together into a genre per se (that is a huge pet peeve of mine), but I’ve always been intrigued by the way in which these bands approach the songwriting process and expose their work to the public. In many ways, there is a double-edged sword to becoming an indie artist.
On the one hand, there is total artistic freedom with respect to style and composition. Artists have the ability to produce incredible music from their bedrooms, and build hype through music blogs or streaming sites without necessarily spending a dime on physical albums. Many bands create their own mega-specific genre of a sub-genre of a sub-sub genre…, which demonstrates creativity and musicianship in a way that is almost unheard of in the Top 40 world. This creates (in some, not all cases) niche audiences and devout fan bases that are sparse but committed. On the other hand, it is a barren desert of obscurity for most independent artists out there. Just because there is true passion and inspiration in music does not necessarily pave the way for success – it is a difficult process developing a fan base from an already miniscule percentage of the music-listening population. Most offer up their work free to stream and download on sites like Bandcamp or Soundcloud, and allowing the listener to pay whatever price they are willing to fork out for the music. Plus, most venues for music exposure (such as festivals or radio stations where bands can market their sound) have an interest in showcasing artists who are already established. Getting gigs isn’t always easy for the lesser-known ones, and attracting new faces is even more challenging. For me, anyway, this is a big problem.
Enter the Break North Festival. It’s mission is to “showcase independent and emerging Canadian musicians over a four day run of concerts in the National Capital”. It’s purpose is simple – bringing local independent artists into an intimate setting in order to give them exposure as well as provide fans with an opportunity to experience new music in a way that won’t destroy your last paycheque. I spoke with organizer Mark Isbrandt about the purpose and motivation behind the four-day festival. He emphasized the point that there are not many ways for local, independent bands to show off their material to new audiences – a series of shows that bring people to experience new and different music can provide a way for artists to promote themselves and garner some more support.
There are many music festivals in Ottawa, and Mark didn’t shy away from acknowledging the fact that competition is stiff – especially in the summer. He pointed out that there is a lot of diversity in the music scene in the nation’s capital, and that having a variety of bands gives the festival an edge over some others. Hosting shows that aren’t genre-specific give the audience a chance to expand their horizons and get a good idea of what kind of local music is out there. With so many larger festivals such as Bluesfest and Folkfest, the intimate atmosphere at Elmdale Tavern and Rainbow Bistro is a refreshing change where musicians and fans can interact more easily.
|Little Stella @ Break North Festival
I was able to make it out to the opening night of Break North at Elmdale Tavern on June 14th, and got to see things kick off first hand. Little Stella
was the first band to play and their set was a strong start to the festival. Their Canadian folk/rock sound also earned them a spot at the Live 88.5 Big Money Shot competition this year, one they hope to advance through to the later rounds in the coming months. The band was happy to be playing the festival and seemed very comfortable on stage, with all members contributing to a great sounding set. It was nice to meet the guys and hear how excited they are to be playing in front of new people, as they were genuinely stoked to share some of their experiences as a young band and some of their future plans. Hear their EP Songs For Spain
and catch them live at Feverfest next Saturday at the Clocktower Pub (Glebe) 9:30 PM.
The night continued with After Funk
playing next, a group of young talented guys who made the long trip up from my hometown of London, Ontario. Lead singer Yanick Allwood wasted no time getting the crowd involved, and playing funk/soul music that even got the older bartender lady out dancing. Like me, I heard many people in the audience say how impressed they were with the set, which included a mix of originals and covers of Jimi Hendrix, Beatles, Bob Marley, and Michael Jackson, amongst others.
|The Ticket @ Break North Festival
|Arms of the Girl
played next and performed some of their folk-rock songs off their album Versions of Happiness
. They didn’t hold back, as lead singer Carolyn Côté kept the energy going with good stage presence and strong vocals. I met them after the show and they were very down to earth, even nice enough to give me a sample of their music. Check them out June 28th at Zaphod’s with Bleeker Ridge. The Ticket
closed things out with their original sound and style. Lead singer and guitarist Adam broke a couple strings on the first song, but avoided that brutally awkward pause while waiting for the other guitar by providing some impromptu banter. Throughout the rest of their set, Adam let the guitar do the talking and blew away the audience as both he and Jack (on drums) poured every inch of their soul into the set. I was also totally impressed with the sound at Elmdale too, getting it right in smaller venues is not a common occurrence. Props to sound guys, who don’t get enough credit.
Overall, the night proved to be a reminder of how important these lower-key festivals are for local independent artists. Having the opportunity to meet some of the artists and organizers involved reminded me that so much passion for music as an art form exists at the grassroots level, and that true music lovers have something to gain from being part of an intimate, small-venue festival such as Break North. Not only is it a great way to meet those involved, but fans also become part of the experience in a way that isn’t quite the same at larger shows. For me, the absence of anonymity was a very positive thing – it was as if you could feel everyone listening and have the bands feed off that connection. I hope Break North becomes a regular fixture amongst Ottawa’s festivals, because I think it is necessary to balance the emphasis of larger events with ones that are solely focused on the local. Supporting our independent artists is the only way to ensure Ottawa remains an artistic centre and an ever-growing source of new musical talent in Canada.
Ottawa Bands at NXNE 2012
NXNE is one of the best festivals to hear loads of new music, from Canada and around the world. Ottawa continually offers up solid additions to the festival, some seasoned veterans and others new to the event. Here is a list I made of all the Ottawa bands and their shows at NXNE this year, I hope some peeps get out to support our local talent in the big city. Good luck to them!
June 13, 2012 at 11PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ El Mocambo (464 Spadina)
June 17, 2012 at 11PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ Rancho Relaxo (300 College)
June 13, 2012 at 9:00 PM
@ Czehoski(678 Queen St. W.)
June 14, 2012 at 2:00 AM (Event starts at 9PM)
@ Crawford(718 College St.)
June 14, 2012 at 9:00 PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ The Piston(937 Bloor Street West)
June 14, 2012 at 10:00 PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ The Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton St.)
June 13, 2012 at 2:00 AM (Event starts at 8 PM)
@ The Rochester (423 College St.)
June 15 @ 10PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ The Sister (1554 Queen W)
June 15 @ 11PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen W)
June 15 @ 9PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington)
June 16 @ 9:30PM (Event starts at 8:30PM)
@ Lot 100 (100A Ossington)
June 13 @ 9PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ The Boat (158 Augusta)
June 15 @ 1AM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ The Sister (1554 Queen W)
June 13 @ 11PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ The Central (603 Markham Street)
June 13 @ 11PM (Event starts at 9PM)
@ The Garrison (1197 Dundas St W)
June 13 @ 10PM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen W)
June 15 @ 11PM (Event starts at 9PM)
@ Bovine Sex Club (542 Queen W)
June 13 @ 1AM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ The Central (603 Markham St.)
June 13 @ 1AM (Event starts at 8PM)
@ Hideout (484 Queen W)
June 16 @ 10PM (Event starts at 9PM)
@ Crawford(718 College Street)
Review: PS I Love You + Army Girls @ Maverick’s (08/06/12)
When I heard that PS I Love You was making a stop in Ottawa, I was determined to check them out and see how good they are live. I got the feeling that they would be one of those bands who would surpass their album sound with a live manifestation of their material. With their 2010 debut Meet Me at the Muster Station garnering attention and acclaim (not to mention a place for them on the 2011 Polaris Prize Long List), Paul Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson are on a worldwide mission to top that with last month’s release of their new LP Death Dreams. This album has proven to be a massive success so far, providing listeners with both experimental aspects combined with the style that most of us grew to love on Muster Station. But anyway, this isn’t an album review so my suggestion is if you enjoyed Muster Station and are into the garage-rock sound then you have to check out Death Dreams.
So last night PS I Love You played at Maverick’s alongside Try Harder & Army Girls. The night started out a little rough as my friend/photographer lost his wallet (still yet to be found), thus causing us to miss Try Harder. I saw Ming of the Photogmusic blog between sets and he said it was great, so it’s too bad we missed them but sometimes these things are out of your control.
Army Girls definitely knew what they are doing, even though lead vocalist Carmen Elle being admittedly nervous before the set. Each having been in a number of bands before their current one, as well as collaborating with Ben Cook (Fucked Up producer), their spot as a fixture on the Toronto DIY scene is well-deserved. The duo seems to be an inevitable pairing, combining Andy Smith’s dynamic and powerful drums with Carmen’s attitude and rawness. They have done what many other up-and-coming DIY artists have, pulling together all different aspects of their musical inspirations and styles to make music that won’t be forced into any specific genre or category. They began playing as people were still making their way into the venue, so the crowd was still a little quiet and reserved. Except for that one guy who kept yelling in Carmen’s left ear. However, once they started playing the energy level became noticeably higher. Her comfort with the fretboard and laid back demeanor gave the impression of “I’m a bad ass and I’m going to make you love our music”, the same kind of edge you might expect from The Kills. Although the vocals and higher guitar tones were difficult to make out sometimes (by no fault of their own), songs such as ‘End of Days’ and ‘White Towel’ really set the tone for the night as Carmen seemed to let loose throughout the latter portion of the set. I was really happy I got to see Army Girls perform, especially since I was still kicking myself for missing Try Harder. I get the feeling they will continue to go on doing great things, and hope that they come back to Ottawa soon.
Check out a great Blog T.O. interview with Army Girls here.
When it was time for PS I Love You to take the stage, Maverick’s had filled out a bit more. After a 10-minute wait for a piece of equipment, the band cranked the volume and began to play what would turn out to be a powerful set through and through. What originally attracted me to PS I Love You was some similarities with the band Fucked Up with respect to the style and composition of their music. There is an unmistakable punk aspect at the core of both of these bands, but each has transformed their music into something more. The lead guitar punches out arpeggios and riffs that mesh so well with the rhythm and drums, not to mention the vocals that are anything but ordinary. What I also found funny is last summer I could not stop listening to David Comes To Life by Fucked Up, and songs like Queen of Hearts. Fast forward to this summer and I can’t stop listening to Death Dreams, particularly the songs Princess Towers, Don’t Go and First Contact. There are so many good reasons why Fucked Up won the Polaris Prize in 2009, I see no reason why PS I Love You wouldn’t be a contender this year.
Seeing Paul Saulnier showcase his guitar talents on stage live was a treat. No wonder he was voted #99 in SPIN Magazine’s Top 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. His style is really unique, making it look easy to do tricks on the upper frets and sing at the same time. His work with the double-necked guitar is masterful. The duo is now a trio, as they added instrumentalist and van-driver extraordinaire Tim Bruton. It seems as though their relentless touring schedule over the past couple years is paying off, as each song was played with perfection and its own complexity. Drummer Benjamin Nelson was in a percussive trance state throughout the show and carried Paul’s melodies to the audience all night long. They ended the set with First Contact, which is probably my favourite off the new album. The show was, as expected, amazing. One of the only downfalls was that my friends and I probably have permanent hearing damage. I suppose I can forgive them for this, and maybe I’ll be smart enough to buy $1 earplugs at the door next time.
Check out this performance of ‘Don’t Go’ at Studio 211 Session for CBC Radio 2’s Drive:
Video: BEACH HOUSE – Lazuli (Official)
Think what you will about music videos, but I still believe that they can be an incredibly effective compliment to a song, or album. Ever since I accidentally flipped to Muchmusic when I was 6 and watched Green Jelly’s “Three Little Pigs” (which was horrifying at that age, to say the least) I have been intrigued by what music videos have to offer. Nothing can really replace how the song actually makes you feel when you listen to it, whether it be the bassline, rhythm, lyrics, or a simple guitar riff. However, in some cases – and I say some because the music video world is populated mostly by idiots – the video provides another dimension to the music. Beach House seems to take that quite literally with their video for ‘Lazuli’ which mostly takes place in the 4th dimension. For some reason it reminds me of ‘Paranoid Android’, a video which we all know and love. Maybe it is the presence of despairing characters. Or maybe it’s because no one has a frigging clue what is happening throughout either.
Nonetheless, I love it. A cool video for an even cooler song. Cheers to director Allen Cordell and his brain.
PS I Love You is almost here…
This Friday, PS I Love You is making its way to Ottawa for what should be an amped-up show at Maverick’s. The Kingston duo of Benjamin Nelson and Paul Saulnier have announced a small tour that includes Canadian and US dates. It is also worth noting that Saulnier was voted the 99th Greatest Guitarist of all time by SPIN Magazine. We can expect quite a few new songs off their full-length ‘Death Dreams’ release through Paper Bag Records, including (hopefully) one of my favourites ‘First Contact’. If that song doesn’t get you excited for this show I’m not sure what will. Their timely release of the music video for ‘Princess Towers’ last month sets the tone for these shows, which can be watched below. From what I have heard from Toronto-based openers Army Girls, this should be a great night start to finish.
Check out The A.V. Club’s interview with frontman Paul Saulnier, it’s a good one.
Weekly Pick: Young Empires – Wake All My Youth [EP]
The time has come to bust out the new playlists and add new tunes that will inevitably become your soundtrack for summer. Well, for me anyway. If you are like me and like to keep things updated on the old ipod, then keep an eye on my weekly picks. I’ll be adding new weekly pics in order to keep things fresh, for myself and anyone generous enough to read my blog or visit my website. I’m not going to go into too much depth with these pieces, just give a recommendation and brief overview of what you can expect with said pick.
Young Empires – Wake All My Youth [EP]
Released: Jan. 31, 2012
Toronto’s Young Empires
have been increasingly making their presence felt. Their new groove-driven, dance-causing, merrymaking debut release ‘Wake All My Youth’ EP follows indie electro-rock forefathers Passion Pit and Empire of the Sun in creating genre-defying eclectic songs. They released their EP through Pirates Blend
, who also represent the likes of Bedouin Soundclash (a long time personal favourite of mine). The EP itself is a logical extension of the original ‘Enter Through the Sun’ release in 2011, combining synth, beat-laden and bass heavy aspects with raw guitar riffs and stunning vocals. Their songs have also reached top spots on Canadian charts and the Top 15 on The Hype Machine
. It is undeniably fun from start to finish. It should prove to be a solid basis from which to create a full-length album in the (hopefully near) future.
Feature: Bluesfest 2012 – Youth Lagoon
Every year, Ottawa Bluesfest draws an impressive group of artists from different genres to lay their sound down on Lebretton Flats. This year is certainly no exception. After a bittersweet 2011 festival (which included scary storms, a stage collapse, and some cancellations), Bluesfest 2012’s lineup provides an excellent mix of renowned, lesser known, and local area musicians. As a series of features, I will examine some lesser known and local artists that are particularly worth your time if you plan on attending the festival in June. In my experience, you will often be surprised with what you may find when seeing an band or artist you haven’t heard much of.
Boise, Idaho, US
Active since 2010
Ottawa Bluesfest 2012: July 14th
23-year old Trevor Powers is an unlikely breakout artist. His project, Youth Lagoon, has gained serious traction since the debut LP release Year of Hibernation in September 2011 on Fat Possum Records. As far as indie goes, Powers has hit it big with this debut album (it should be noted that the LP was recorded and mixed in his room). Since recording finished a year and a half ago, Year of Hibernationhas become a furiously blogged and well-received album. Pitchfork gave it an 8.4 rating and spot on its “Top 50 Albums of 2011”, obtaining similar reviews across the board.
Similar to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Powers seemingly locked himself away and poured his heart out writing the songs on Year of Hibernation. The delicate synths, perpetual reverb, and shy vocals provide the dreamy undertones that deliver listeners to a place where he tells of twenty-something tribulations. Having dealt with anxiety and heartbreak, the album is a story that unfolds in way that so many of us can relate with. The song that got me hooked is called “Bobby“, which, ironically is not a part of the standard issue LP (included as a digital release on the 7” bonus disc that comes along with the vinyl LP). It, like so many others, is laden with emotion that makes it quite difficult to stop listening. It opens with the lyrics:
You camped out in my mind
and told me evil things
like a demon I cant find
but I named you.
I named you.
Youth Lagoon’s DIY approach to producing this album serves as a symbol of truth to the music. Powers explains – “I just want to perform music in an honest way” and this is exactly how it comes across. The songs are intimate and peaceful, yet tearing in a way that resembles Daniel Johnston’s music (see “Some Things Last a Long Time”). However, throughout the album the wispy keyboard and creative drum loops keep things moving with occasional build-ups that temper the melancholic aspect of the music.
Youth Lagoon is a must-see for people interested in attending Bluesfest. I think a lot of individuals go for the headliners, but I am a proponent of experimenting with new music. Who knows, if you end up at the stage Youth Lagoon is playing at on June 14th, we may even run into each other.
Purity Ring + AGOR @ Cafe Dekcuf (05-23-12)
Tonight really solidified my desire to continue pursuing a naive transformation into full-time music experiencer. Damn the man, because the man has shitty headphones and no time to pursue life’s passion – of which mine is (live) music. Ok that may be a little bit harsh.
I’ve been to a lot of concerts and live gigs. LOTS. I don’t mean that in a “No Big Deal” kind of way… In comparison, Purity Ring and AGOR was a completely unique show that transcended anything I had seen before. Cafe Dekcuf provided a perfect (tiny) venue through which to experience their music.
Purity Ring is on the indie label 4AD, along with acclaimed artists such as The National, Grimes, Bon Iver, Deerhunter – to name a few. I had heard of them last year while rummaging through The Hype Machine, and since their songs such as Lofticries and Belispeak have been amongst the most blogged music peaking in the top 10. Out of all the songs I had heard on there, Purity Ring was different. Their melancholic undertones hit me in a way that most other music out there doesn’t. The only word to describe it is haunting – an adjective that doesn’t normally bear positive connotation – haunting in a way that if you put your headphones on and crank the volume up, you can’t take them off.
Being a huge fan of bands like The National and Bon Iver got me interested and wanting more, but they only had 3 or 4 songs released at the time. This was frustrating. Luckily last month they unveiled plans to release the new track Odebear and a new album dubbed ‘Shrines’ on July 24. Leading up to a few European dates and NXNE festival in Toronto, they played tonight in Ottawa at Cafe Dekcuf. Not able to miss this opportunity, I came ready to hear a few new songs and maybe even meet them.
AGOR was the opener, I had never heard of him before. With the name AGOR, I was half expecting a hardcore death metal band to come up. Synth-electropop as he is described – his timid demeanour was quickly drowned out by his experimental bass drops and complex transitions. I kind of thought of him as Kid A’s nephew. His set got everyone up and dancing, which set the tone for Purity Ring. After he finished I spoke with him – an extremely nice, gentle dude – he told me a bit about Arbutus Records and a few bands he has been listening to.
Purity Ring came on and instantly put the sold-out show into a trance. Hearing them play their bone-chilling songs live – with cool light show in operation – was surreal. There was something eerily reminiscent of the song Teardrop by Massive Attack to me, everyone just watching as Corin played the bass with lanterns and Megan flawlessly navigated strange and complicated vocal parts. The new songs were very impressive, but only gave a taste of what’s to come on the new album. Still frustrating. Can’t wait. I spoke to Corin briefly after about the album release and thanked them for making a stop in Ottawa.
This was one to remember, and something tells me that next time Purity Ring plays in Ottawa, the venue might have to have a slightly larger capacity.
‘4in1’ Ottawa Park Acoustic Sessions
|Fevers @ Dundonald Park
What: Photogmusic Presents: ‘4in1’ Ottawa Park Acoustic Sessions
Where: Dundonald Park, Centretown
– Avid Napper
– Scary Bear Soundtrack
– Jenna Tenn-Yuk
Del Bel + Lisa Bozikovic Jessica Ruano
Ok, so this whole thing is new to me. I’ve decided to snub the man and take on this project because I love music and want to write about it. As I walked to Dundonald Park in Centretown I realize that I am actually doing this. It’s happening. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon on the May long weekend.
Needless to say, my mind was a little bit blown. All the performers had a unique story to tell and did a terrific job at doing so. Here’s how it went down.
Avid Napper, Gloria of Scary Bear Soundtrack’s side project, came up and played a couple Springsteen covers. This was a great start as I became slightly more familiar/comfortable with my surroundings, and because who honestly doesn’t like the Boss?
Scary Bear Soundtrack then came up and played a few politically/socially charged tunes that piqued my interest. I had seen the new ‘Asian Fetishist’ video a few days before and I was thoroughly impressed with their adaptation in a live acoustic setting. Gloria has a simple but engaging voice, and the harmonies were sick.
Jenna Tenn-Yuk came up and began with her ‘Jamasian’ poem. Let me just pause here and say that the only exposure I’d had to spoken work was a few Leonard Cohen pieces, so I’m no expert. I am a sucker for stories though, whether in song, movie, or as it turns out, poetry. She blended some poems with songs, covering Austra and playing originals. I was impressed how seamlessly the poetry and song blended together, something I can say I had never experienced before.
Jessica Ruano gave me a second, more forceful dose of spoken word. She was the designated ‘time killer’ since Del Bel and Lisa Bozikovic had to run for sound check. Wow. Jessica touched on themes I think we all experience at different points in our lives – particularly powerlessness, but also strength to recover from our our times of weakness. She kicked ass.
My most anticipated act came up, Fevers. This electronic/pop group formed last year has really been making a name for themselves. They impressed me by playing perfect acoustic versions of non-acoustic songs, Passion is Dead & Radiohead’s Idioteque. Previously, I was convinced that Idioteque was a non-coverable song as it is extremely experimental and unapologetically complex. I was dead wrong. Colin beautifully adapted Thom Yorke’s mutant vocal powers into a version that was very accessible to anyone listening. Something that stood out to me during their set was that I never felt as though one vocalist was more dominant than the other. Colin and Sarah are a highly effective duo, similar to the dynamic of the band ‘Of Monsters & Men’. I spoke to them briefly after the show and they were very down-to-earth and obviously enjoying every minute of their musical endeavours.
Eriksen rounded things off playing a set of originals. His songs provided a nice end to what was a perfect Sunday afternoon.
I look forward to seeing Fevers play @ Babylon this Friday the 25th, and hope to see the other performers around Ottawa in the future.
Check out photos of the event on Photogmusic’s blog:
Photos of 4in1 Acoustic Sessions in a Park #2 [May 20, 2012]
Starting Things Off – What I’m About
Hello. My name is Matias.
So I’ve decided to take on this new project to create a website and blog about the Ottawa music scene. What do I really mean by this? Well to be completely honest it gives me a great excuse to:
a) go to a lot of shows,
b) meet lots of new people involved with live music and arts in Ottawa,
c) use my supposed writing skills in a way that doesn’t include Political Science jargon, and
d) help showcase some of Ottawa’s local talent as well as acts who have decided to not forget about this nice little city between Toronto and Montreal.
I’m also starting this because I have lived in Ottawa for a while now (previously grew up in London, ON) and honestly believe that there is a thriving music scene here – and, while not necessarily recognized as such across Canada – I believe it should be documented and spread. What I do know is that in cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, there are countless websites, blogs, groups, boards, and small armies that help create a rich and undying environment for music-loving folk.
I think that us in Ottawa have that same passion, but then again we don’t have millions of people from which to create our small armies… Let me just say this – I hate when people say that “Ottawa is great, but it’s a government town.” Part of me wants to say ‘shut it’ when that is said, and the other part sympathizes with this perceived inferiority complex to the music scenes of bigger cities in Canada – and the world.
Well I’m here to say that is all bullshit. Ottawa has some great venues, radio stations, music stores, studios, and a hell of a lot of musical talent waiting to be thrust upon the world. My self-appointed job will be to join the other ambitious and established bloggers in Ottawa such as Apt613, Photogmusic, Spotlight Ottawa and Byward of Mouth, to help bring the music community together – a spot for musicians, fans, venue owners, or anyone who enjoys busting their eardrums on a week night to access information on the Ottawa music scene.
So here it goes. The website will be online this week sometime, as I’m putting the finishing touches on it and making sure it’s good to go. I hope to be able to run into people at shows, maybe even share a beer. Until then, feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.