To the North is Lora Bidner’s first album, but she’s no stranger to the local music scene. The Ottawa native has performed at Ottawa Folkfest and Musik Ottawa, and collaborated with local musicians such as Raphael Weinroth-Browne of Flying Hörses and The Visit, who accompanies Bidner on the record. The album contains nine tracks, including a collaboration with JustJamaal ThePoet in “Ignite.”
The Carleton University music program graduate is clearly a multi-talented artist, who plays piano, guitar, ukulele, and synth on top of her vocals. The album, which was produced entirely in Ottawa, is an impressive feat for a solo singer-songwriter. While the songs vary slightly in speed and tone, each track flows seamlessly into the next. The more upbeat songs have the modern folk vibe of Young the Giant or Of Monsters and Men, but produce a more earthy sound caused by prominent strings. The distinct presence of violin adds to the haunting elements of many tracks.
What’s most impressive of the record is Bidner’s ability to manipulate her voice to perfectly suit not only her accompaniments, but also her lyrics and the general tone of each individual song. She has a soft, eerie voice, similar to Béatrice Martin’s of Coeur de Pirate. While the record is definitely emotive, her singing is calming and helps to create a highly intricate album that remains perfectly whole. Bidner’s seamless collection of tracks feels both emotional and uplifting, that is sure to give any listener a cathartic musical experience.
In its second year running, MEGAPHONO has upped the ante and significantly expanded its scope and size. The festival, which takes place February 2–5, 2016, brings industry professionals to Ottawa and gives local artists and delegates the rare opportunity to connect with those who are working in the music business.
Last year saw the release of the Connecting Ottawa Music report on the city’s status in the music industry, which presented some revelations about the challenges Ottawa faces with respect to its lack of music infrastructure and connectedness to the wider industry in Canada and North America. We at Showbox were very proud to contribute to this report by providing important data on 2014 album releases.
This unprecedented report not only outlined the barriers that are preventing Ottawa from moving forward as a “music city,” but it also offered a glimmer of hope by providing recommendations and a strategy based on core principles. One of the most critical recommendations from the report reads as follows [p.65]:
3. Connect Ottawa’s music community to the global music industry.
Advocate for Ottawa’s music community at national institutions
Facilitate exchanges with more prominent music clusters
Lead delegations to trade shows and festivals (e.g. MIDEM, SXSW)
Promote Ottawa’s music cluster to outsiders
MEGAPHONO is doing something that has never really been done in Ottawa before. Not only are the organizers tirelessly reaching out to important industry personalities in places like Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, New York City, and London (UK), but they are actually bringing them to Ottawa over the course of the festival. This affords Ottawa artists the opportunity to have an audience with the people that might be able to advance their careers – or at least get on their radar. This includes booking agents, record labels, music publishers, film/TV music supervisors, managers, publicists, and more. Like any other business, music is about connecting with the right people, and just as the report recommends, Ottawa needs to bring industry personnel together so that coalescence can happen.
“MEGAPHONO is about getting the right people in the room to see our artists,” says festival director Jon Bartlett. “The best way to tell the story of Ottawa music is to drag industry folks here to see and hear it for themselves. If we put our best artists on stage with key music people in the room, I’m confident good things will happen.”
Attendees will enjoy four solid days of music, with all performances open to the public. Over those four days, 60 artists will be performing in Ottawa at various locations, 47 of which are local acts.
Noted music critic and author Jessica Hopper (MTV, Pitchfork) will kick things off at the launch on Tuesday, February 2nd with a keynote speech at St. Alban’s Church; MEGAPHONO will also screen a film this year called Terminal Device, directed by Ross Turnbull, edited by U.S. Girls‘ Meg Remy and with music composed by Slim Twig.
Additional panels and networking opportunities with industry reps are available to those purchasing a delegate pass. Fan festival passes are $50; delegate passes run for $100. Both are available at http://www.megaphono.tv/passes/.
Highlights of this year’s festival include:
MEGAPHONO Meltdown — MEGAPHONO after party in Hull, QC at AXENÉO7
PANELS — daytime talks focusing on music industry-related topics and conversations focused on our local music community
FREE SHOWCASES — Wednesday & Thursday afternoon showcases in the Centretown & Hintonburg neighbourhoods
Over 30 visiting delegates from LA, NYC, London (UK), Toronto & Montreal
Tuesday, February 2nd
4:00 – 6:30pm
MEGAPHONO FESTIVAL OFFICIAL LAUNCH
w/ keynote by JESSICA HOPPER
@ ST ALBANS CHURCH Event Link
THE ACORN / EMILIE & OGDEN / PIPAHAUNTAS
@ ST ALBANS CHURCH Event Link
THE VISIT / HEAVY BEDROOM / NOVEMBER @ BLACK SQUIRREL BOOKS
Yes, believe it or not – Ottawa’s got soul. On a chilly Friday in January, many of us braved the cold and trekked down to Rideau Street in order to congregate at the small, but tried-and-true Café Dekcuf. One thing about this place is that it isn’t a venue that most music patrons in the scene tend to visit often. Maybe it gets a bad rap for whatever reason, being somewhat awkwardly located directly above Mavericks. It’s also pretty chilly and drafty in the winter. However, since I started Showbox nearly four years ago, I can’t think of one bad show I’ve seen there. This night was no exception.
The lot of us were in for a night of funk, soul, and RnB jams. It was also a night of old and new, as soul music veterans Old Stereo and DJ Magnificent (Double Barrel) were also on the bill. Needless to say, the excitement was building. The drinks were flowing, and Magnificent was setting the tone by spinning his most excellent collection of funky 45s.
Slack Bridges is a brand new super group of sorts. Frontman Matt Gilmour (vocals), as with the other three guys in the band, have been involved in Ottawa’s music community for a long time. He has been involved in Ottawa’s punk and hardcore scene for over a decade in various capacities, playing in bands such as HAMILTON, I Refuse, We The Accused, and more recently, Heavy Bedroom.
Garett Barr (bass guitar) is a talented multi-instrumentalist, and previously lent his skills to bands Mackenzie Rhythm Section and Tea for the Voyage. Currently, Barr also plays guitar and ukelele in the rising folk group STEAMERS, and teaches music relentlessly through Big ARTS. Paul Ross (drums) has played in many bands, but more recently played in the long standing indie-rock act, The Gallop.
Marcus Ward (keys) is a seasoned piano player, who has played in The Ethics and currently plays in a ‘yacht-rock’ cover group called PleasureCraft alongside Dave Lauzon of Lauzon Music and Matt Corbiere of Winchester Warm. Chris Elms (guitar) is a master of his craft, and has played in numerous blues and soul acts over the years. In his younger days, he even lent his beat-making and production skills to a few tracks featuring the Tupac-era California rap group The Outlawz.
Needless to say, this band contains some experience.
As the band took their positions on stage, there was excitement and nervousness in there air – no one really knew what to expect. These are great musicians, but who knew where this new direction would take them and what it would sound like? The first measure of the opening track “Beholden” put our anxieties at ease and soothed our minds, bodies, and souls. James’ intricate guitar flares and Barr’s groovy, funk-laden bass lines immediately got the bodies moving on the floor in front of them.
Cue Gilmour’s vocals. Who knew that a guy who cut his teeth in the early 2000’s underground punk and hardcore scenes could belt out soulful, RnB-inspired vocal melodies? Those close to him know that he’s been experimenting with this kind of vocal style for a while now, particularly in his other project Gold Bonds. Slack Bridges is a clear progression for him musically, as he seemed to easily shake off his nerves and explode with vocal energy. His vocals are unique, and he displayed an incredible amount of control as the songs were played live for the first time. Not to mention the sound in Dekcuf was on-point.
Other notable tracks that stood out were “Lion City”, “Smile But It’s Been a While”, and the irresistibly catchy “On My Wings.” One special treat during the set was their cover of “Between the Sheets” by The Isley Brothers, a song which is sampled often but rarely done so well on stage. The night was a success, and Slack Bridges have given us a taste of things to come.
I spoke to Gilmour about his past, and what drove him to form Slack Bridges.
Ottawa’s music community has been my primary binding force through which I’ve met innumerable creative people and learned some great lessons about community building. I’ve been making weird music for a while. With that in mind, I have always thought of music composition in a rather cerebral sense. Studying my fellow artists is how I’ve been inspired to challenge myself, while imitating pop culture is how I learned to have fun.
Soul and R&B music has been no exception. As an adult I had sung R&B ballads at karaoke to get a laugh from my friends, but as a child I grew up singing along to the first two Stevie Wonder and Boyz II Men records I had bought long before I knew the punk tradition existed. After some of my bands dissipated, it made experimenting with soul and R&B music more seriously in Slack Bridges and Gold Bonds a natural frontier for further exploration. I’m enjoying the ride.
On Friday evening, three bands performed in front of the pair of welcoming café windows at Pressed for a fittingly full house. This evening of femmes, presented by Debaser, featured Toronto’s Twist, supported by So Young from London, ON, and Ottawa’s own Trails. Altogether an energetic night, audience members hopped, bopped, and swayed throughout the venue’s crowded floor.
Trails’ dreamy set began with fingerpicked guitar, arriving in starts and stops, and blanketed in airy vocal melodies like a winding mountain hike – up and up, and back down the trail again. This was a voice like a gentle summer breeze. Trails’ music is unconventional in structure, yet satisfyingly poetic – reminiscent, to me, of the disfigured crooning of King Krule, or the sweet singing of Daughter’s Elena Tonra.
A loop pedal allowed for a focus on lyrics and additional layering, as the performer soloed and twiddled, playing and noodling over hypnotizing loops. The reverberation and delay effects on the guitar and microphone bounced lavishly around the room, and the audience swayed gently, captivated by the sounds. 30-odd minutes slid by far too quickly, as I realized I had been whisked away by Trails’ spectacular solo set.
If Trails was a gentle breeze, So Young was a ferocious windstorm – one that would blow the hat clear off your head, or the head clear off your body. This band had an edge that silenced any remaining chatter in the room and left no head unbobbed.
Early in the set, the band and audience members became aware of a ‘ghost in the room’, a meddling poltergeist, a tinkering phantasm, a troublesome technology malfunction. Swiftly, the sound issues were overcome, then crumpled and tossed with the trash by So Young’s powerful rhythms, roaring guitar tones, and heart-stopping vocal harmonies. The band members jumped out of and into songs like impalas. With their powerful pop-rock sound, these straight-faced young men and women delivered a rock-hard set to a satisfied congregation of listeners.
Twist @ Pressed (Photo by Mckinley Leonard-Scott/Ottawa Showbox)
Lastly, the band Twist took the stage, immediately inviting the audience’s attention with a groovy bass-guitar/drum warm-up/soundcheck. This band was slick. Their music, built upon busy hybrid drumbeats, featured soaring lead guitar over fuzzy riffs and bar chords. During their song Albuquerque, frontwoman Laura Hermiston’s vocals stretched and reached, up and up, high into the sky towards the birds and the clouds and the ozone shield. Throughout the set, hazy guitar pursued pulsating basslines in blissful polyphony, while band members hopped in place both on and off the stage, or lurched during their more mellow songs. The audience lurched, too, at times, their dances landing somewhere between a wiggle and a laid-back twist. With their brand of attention-absorbing pop, something like Alvvays with extra grunge, Twist brought the evening to an energetic close for a packed Pressed audience.
A couple weeks ago the world was apace with gift hunting and a great checking of lists. Ottawa’s The Haig, meanwhile, gifted the world not one, not two but three music videos from Dec. 20 to 24th.
Two acoustic renditions of their own “Chinese Maria” and “Devil’s Got a Gun” by Whitehorse were filmed at the Ottawa Marriot Hotel’s penthouse during dusk. The videos were filmed by Mike + Ness Photo in only one or two takes, judging by the light. Both videos were released the day before the solstice and can be viewed here:
The Haig’s “Chinese Maria”
The Haig’s cover of Whitehorse’s “Devil’s Got a Gun”
In the spirit of Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey, The Haig has created From the Crawlspace, a series of short videos that will be featured inside a crawlspace somewhere deep in the bowels of a haunted asteroid. The first of these videos was released on Christmas Eve, wishing us a merry one and a “Haigy New Year.”
About the Beer: I had this beer on tap at Big Rig Brewery. I love that this peppermint porter isn’t overdoing it with the peppermint. I’ve had plenty of other peppermint-flavoured beer where I was better off sucking on a Christmas cane. I would say there are more chocolate notes with a little minty finish. I had two beers to make sure… Yup! Delicious!! You can find it at Beau’s brewery, or get it delivered by the BYOB program, Brew Donkey, and of course at Big Rig on tap.
The commercial description goes as follows:
Beau’s All Natural & Big Rig Brewery’s collaboration Peppermint Porter is a holiday treat! This is a dark ale with rich chocolate malt undertones that are echoed with the addition of cocoa nibs, and complemented with clean, cool peppermint in the finish. Matthew O’Hara of Beau’s and Lon Ladell of Big Rig designed the recipe together and brewed it up at Beau’s.
I could have spent three weeks on this playlist and not even touched the surface of all the Christmas songs out there. At first, I hated this time of year for music. But a bit of research, you will find amazing songs out there. With the help of my pals here at Ottawa Showbox, I was able to incorporate some great local music too. Here are some of my favorites, but even reviewing my list, I found a ton more. AHHHH!!
If anybody knows about snow in Canada and making a gig for the holidays, it’s the Sadies. This might not be a Christmas song. But it should be!!! At around 1:40 of this song, start surfing the snowy waves.
Breakdown Wednesday’s Christmas Edition at Zaphod’s was the most eclectic show I have attended all year. The night saw electro, pop-punk, hip-hop and progressive metal bands grace the stage.
Kicking off this night was Willows, a very interesting band to say the least. Playing only their second show, this electro duo was really impressive. What really stuck out was the vocal range of the singer. No song really sounded the same on his end as he displayed great variety over some pretty captivating beats. Definitely looking forward to seeing and hearing more from these guys, in the mean time I strongly recommend you check out their song “True.”
Rydell live at Zaphod’s in Ottawa, Ontario.
“Come have fun with us, most of these songs aren’t even Rydell songs,” is how Rydell lead-singer opened up their set. He wasn’t kidding as the band opened with “Sex” by The 1975, “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, and “You’re So Last Summer” by Taking Back Sunday. “It’s like karaoke without the screen and I know the words,” said the singer. Rydell was playing a bunch of covers because they have been writing so much new material and figured it would be fun to play others’ music. It started off okay but then took a little turn down a rocky road as they jumped into Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue.” They struggled with the lyrics pretty bad after getting through the first verse and chorus. They did recover, however, by performing possibly the first ever hardcore breakdown during a Yellowcard song… After that they decided to play songs they knew better, like their own, playing a new song off their upcoming album and then “Lost Boys.” They left us with a great image, “We are the drunk uncle that shows up at Christmas and kisses you on the cheek. Merry Christmas!” The bass player also happens to be one of the most animated musicians in town.
Up next was local rap trio The Adding Machine. They were super in-your-face heavy aggressive rap, which is not 100 per cent my preference in the hip-hop world, but it was still an enjoyable set. I must compliment them on how fast they spit it sometimes though, it blew my mind. They also had pretty good energy and really moved around on stage using all the space. What was really interesting was that the vocalist from Willows is part of the group and had I not seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. With Willows he appeared a little shy, awkward and sang some love songs, but with The Adding Machine he sported a completely different personality.
We Were the Fires of Rome slaying it at Zaphod’s in Ottawa, Ontario.
Headlining the show was a band called We Were The Fires of Rome. The local prog-metal group impressed me right away, starting their opening track with violin and some keys – not what you see everyday. We Were The Fires of Rome are a pretty perfect match for fans of Protest the Hero, but what is great is they navigate the genre perfectly avoiding most clichés. They don’t fear or shy away from off beats and integrate pretty technical guitar playing seamlessly. It was super entertaining to watch the singer/screamer bounce back and forth from his mic at the front of the stage to playing the keys and singing at the same time. And when he was tired of the stage, he got down with the fans, leaving the stage to sing during “Dreams.” I am always impressed when a singer can also be the screamer and do it as well as they do and nailing the transition so smoothly. The track “Kissing Knives” is a really solid track, probably my favourite of their set. The band was tight and also put on a very entertaining show – two things that do not always go hand in hand, but are much appreciated as a fan in the crowd.