If there’s one thing Ottawa has no shortage of, it’s festivals. Tons of festivals. Festivals, everywhere. Here in the capital, we love to celebrate pretty much everything. Festivals are a major part of Ottawa’s tourism and provide lots of opportunities for local musicians. But how does one navigate the mysterious, and often daunting, festival application process?
It isn’t as hard as you think. Well, not if you are prepared. Festival applications are generally straightforward, but there is a degree a vagueness with respect to what exactly the organizers want from artists. In this article, I attempt to clear up the process and highlight certain aspects that may make or break your application.
Do your research
Festivals come in all shapes and sizes, and draw in certain audiences. Doing some research into who’s organizing the festival and what kind of music they’re programming can go a long way to increasing your chances of success. Do a bit of digging and learn what the event is all about, what kind of music they’ve booked in the past, and how your music would fit in. Do not assume the gender or identity of the organizers, and learn their names if you can.
Think of it like applying for a job with an organization. Would you go in to an interview blind, without learning anything about the company? Chances are, no. The same goes for festivals, and if you’re a solo singer-songwriter, you’re probably not going to fit into the lineup at a punk festival like Ottawa Explosion. If you’re a metal band, CityFolk probably won’t be calling you back. And that’s okay, but save yourself some time and target festivals that can accommodate your sound.
Bio: Less is more
Band bios are tricky. What do you include?How much is too much? For music festivals, less is certainly more. In almost all cases, festivals will ask you to include a band bio in order to get a better idea of what you’re all about. This is where preparation is key. Think about it—do you think organizers want to hear about how you, Steve, Carrie, and Dan met? No, they do not. What they want is a short and succinct explanation of who you are, where you’re from, and some of your top achievements. It shouldn’t read like a detailed history, but more like the synopsis on a book flap. Organizers are short on time and want to know all the good stuff in as little time as possible. So, if you have a long bio on your website, take some time to cut and condense it into under 150 words.
I.D.A.L.G. at Megaphono 2017 (Photo by Els Durnford)
Live videos: The Key
A good quality live video can go a long way. Why? Because it gives organizers an accurate picture of what you’re like on stage, in the flesh. There is nothing worse than vetting bands and having to scour YouTube for poor quality fan-shot videos. They are like nails on a chalkboard.
A well-shot, well-produced live performance or session video can be the deciding factor in accepting one act over another. It’s a worthy investment to hire a videographer or participate in live sessions that are being professionally recorded, as these videos can be put in your back pocket and used as your golden ticket.
Don’t act like you’re famous
Please do not act like you are famous. Please. There are few things less attractive to organizers than a band that over-hypes itself. Organizers are not dummies—in fact, they are usually music industry veterans that have been around bands their whole careers. So, you’re not fooling anyone. Saying that you are “the next Arcade Fire” or “the best thing to happen to Canada since The Hip” will do nothing to help your application. It comes off as pretentious and unbecoming. In many cases—especially in Ottawa—festival organizers want to find new bands and give them an opportunity to play in front of larger audiences. Talking about your achievements in an honest and sincere way can go a long way.
Try, try again
Lastly, don’t be discouraged if your band doesn’t get chosen for a given festival. There are thousands of applicants that attempt to play festivals in Ottawa. The best thing you can do is learn how to improve your chances next time. Festivals aren’t going anywhere, trust me. Before next festival season, do that video shoot. Hire a good photographer for band shots. Try to get some positive reviews in local music publications and blogs. Go to shows, meet people, find bands that have had success and try to get on a bill with them. The music industry can be a tough one, but if your band can weather the bad times, then you’ll eventually get an opportunity to showcase your music on a bigger stage. Hard work always pays off . . . just make sure you’re working hard on the right things.
This article appears in the February edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
Tapas is the name of a new hip hop trio in Ottawa, but they’re anything but rookies. The group consists of two of Ottawa’s finest MC’s—G.Grand, and Hyf—along with locally-renowned producer Jeepz behind the beats. Together they are a force to be reckoned with.
What’s so special about a hip hop crew like this getting together?
I would argue that good chemistry is more crucial in hip hop than more than any other type of music. Not only do the styles and flow need to weave together well, but each MC also needs to offer something different to the music. Think of Wu Tang Clan, El-P and Killer Mike, Talib Kweli and Mos Def, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, Q-Tip and Phife—all the great groups have a push-pull dynamic, working off each other’s style while contributing to the larger work. While each MC is undoubtedly extraordinary in their own right, in the case of hip hop, the sum is greater than the parts.
This is the case with Tapas. Individually, G.Grand and Hyf are well-respected in the music community and considered examples of intelligent, talented MC’s in Ottawa. Hyf is the stage name of Sergio Guerra, an accomplished Salvadorian-born MC, poet, and producer who is also part of the slam poetry/hip hop ensemble called Missing Linx, along with well-known artists Just Jamaal, Cannon2x, PrufRock Shadowrunner. He is also the co-founder of the local avant-garde label, Nationaless Mind Records, which has an impressive roster of artists and continues to push traditional boundaries in the music industry with a progressive agenda and mission. Hyf is also a two-time Canadian Festival of Spoken Word finalist, and has garnered local praise over the years for his broad lyrical vocabulary and sharp phrasing and flow.
G.Grand grew up in London, ON, listening to soul, R&B, and rap as well as a diverse group of musicians with whom his father worked as a manager in the 1990’s. He moved to Ottawa for university and started cutting his teeth as an MC recording tracks throughout his undergrad at UofO. While exploring his new path as a musician, in 2010 Grand was introduced to producer and future collaborator, Jean-Paul Tyo—better known in the Ottawa/Gatineau music community as Jeepz.
Jeepz is, by far, one of the most proficient and versatile producers in the Ottawa area. His style is informed by the smooth, groovy beats from the golden era of hip hop in the 1980’s. Drawing on the methods of game-changing producers from this time–notably the late J Dilla–Jeepz has constructed a sonic bridge for us to experience hip hop in the same way that listeners of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Pharcyde might have in the past.
His tracks give off an air of perfectionism, in the sense that each layer and each tone is intricately fine-tuned to create a truly “vintage boom-bap” sound. As a multi-instrumentalist, Jeepz started working on beats with his first drum set in grade seven, learning the ins and outs of rhythm while continuously trying his hand at new technologies by which he could make music. Over the years, he continually pushed himself to be better, and now he is two-time Ottawa Beat League champion.
Call it fate, or luck, but this chance meeting of ingenuitive minds was the start of a partnership that truly unlocked the skills and potential of Grand, Hyf, and Jeepz.
“The things that never change are an appreciation for quality and craftsmanship in the music and the understanding that hip-hop culture is always evolving,” explains Grand. “Making sure that we stay open-minded to new elements of the culture while still being able to call out aspects that we think are less positive has become more important as we’ve grown up with hip-hop.”
The trio that is Tapas is therefore a well-oiled hip hop machine, with plenty of years of experience behind them. Their self-titled album transcends any specific style and flow of hip hop, dipping into the vintage-era sounds and samples on tracks like “Loop it Up,” but also tracks like “Gotta Love It” that touch on modern-era methods that favour sub-divided hi-hats, heavy kicks, and layered synthesizers.
“The sound is just a natural extension of making the music we want to hear right now,” says Grand. “We didn’t force anything, but we wanted to make sure that we were pushing our sound forward and challenging ourselves to try new things.”
“I hope people recognize the work that we put into this in terms of pushing ourselves lyrically and especially on production side to make a quality project. We also hope that people see that we’re proudly representing the Ottawa hip-hop community because our scene doesn’t get enough credit for producing some very dope artists.”
As music writers, people like me explore our passion for music through words. It’s our way of supporting the music community and providing some much-needed coverage for artists.
In places like Toronto, there is no shortage of media outlets to target for coverage of a new album, video, or tour. However, in Ottawa, the ratio of artists-to-music media is disproportionate.
There simply is not enough coverage of music in town, even with Lynn Saxberg’s continued work at the Ottawa Citizen and newer platforms such as Ottawa Beat and Ottawa Showbox doing what they can. I thought it would be helpful to provide artists with a list of do’s and don’ts with respect to connecting with media—local or otherwise. Here are some pointers to help you have a better shot at getting covered:
Make your objective clear from the outset.
I know it’s exciting to talk about your music and get into specifics, but make sure the opening of your email or press release unequivocally states what it is you have accomplished, and what you would like from the writer or media source. That way there’s no confusion, and you cut to the chase right away.
Keep it concise.
Chances are the writer or editor has very little time and can’t read every single word in the email or press release. We want to read about your music and your band, but we don’t need a full-on history of your musical upbringing and details about your past unless it correlates directly with the work you’re doing now. Less is certainly more, and don’t weigh your corre- spondence down with unnecessary details for the recipient to wade through.
Provide supporting documents and information.
For me, a press release isn’t a must, but there needs to be a body of text that tells me what you’re looking for. More important is an up-to-date electronic press kit (EPK) that includes a bio, links to music samples, past and upcoming performances, high resolution band photos, links to past media coverage, a one sheet, and contact information. Having all of these makes writing about you a whole lot easier, and will save the writer from having to spend time digging up all this information. Plus, do you really want a 5-year old band photo with that former member you no longer speak with to be published?
Be bold in discussing your achievements, but not too aggressive.
There’s a fine line between being bold and being pushy. We want to hear about your music and milestones, but telling me that your band is “the next Radiohead” or “the best thing to happen in Canada in a long time” isn’t going to get you anywhere. A good approach is to let the music speak for itself. Be proud of what you’ve done, but let the writer make their own judgements. It’s also important to not sell yourself short, because there’s a good chance the writer is excited to hear your music!
Personalize your emails and correspondence to a specific writer or position.
If you are friends with or acquainted to the writer, it’s totally acceptable to start off the email saying something like “Hey Matias! Great seeing you at the show the other night, that was awesome.” A little anecdote or personal flare can go a long way. Writers are really good at figuring out which emails are mass produced, and which ones are tailored to them personally. The biggest faux pas for emerging artists is a “cc” or “bcc” on a mass email to writers.
Proofread your work, or have someone proofread it for you.
This might seem like an afterthought, but it really is a crucial step in the process of getting something covered. Think of it like sending in a résumé and cover letter for a job. Any mistakes and glaring errors will get caught, and cause any good writer to cringe.
Target the right people.
Make sure the website, blog, or media outlet you’re contacting writes about music like yours. Doing some research and checking out the kind of genres and content the source writes about is a good indicator of whether your music will appeal to them. For example, if you’re a local punk band that generally plays shows in basements, don’t email a Philadel- phia-based classical music blog for coverage. I know that is an extreme example, but you know what I mean. Use your time wisely by connecting with the right people.
There’s nothing wrong with checking in to see if your email has been read. In fact, it is appreciated. Sometimes emails get lost in a sea and sink to the bottom, but that doesn’t mean the writer doesn’t care. Feel free to “bump” it up to the top of the inbox again with a simple and cordial follow-up.
Don’t make a last minute request.
If you have an album release party coming up on Friday, don’t send an email to me on Tuesday and ask that I have it done before the show for promotion. Be realistic about timeframes and respect the fact that writers gener- ally have a lot on their plate. There is usually a posting schedule that keeps our lives somewhat structured and it’s hard to throw a wrench in it by adding more last minute work—and stress.
Don’t be too vague or complex in your email subject line.
This is your calling card, and your way to make a first impression. This is where you strip down the flare and fluff and just say what the email is about. I currently have 2,282 unread emails in my inbox (don’t judge) because I simply can’t get to them all. It’s like a triage system solely due to the volume of emails received. I open the ones that I immediately see and understand through the subject line, so make sure yours is one of the ones that stands out right away. e.g. [ARTIST NAME] announces new album [ALBUM NAME] – coverage inquiry
DON’T USE CAPS BECAUSE IT SOUNDS LIKE THIS WHEN READING IT.
Don’t contact writers through personal DMs if you aren’t friends with them.
Getting a “message request” from a random musician on Facebook Messenger is not a writer’s favourite thing to see come up in their notifications on their own time. Email is the best and most professional way to reach out to writers to whom you are introducing yourself and your band. Remember that writers often do what they do as a labour of love, so interrupting personal time to introduce yourself is not a great way to start a dialogue.
Don’t forget social media and streaming links in the email body or footer.
Often a writer wants to get a feel for what your band is all about. Even if you include all of these links in the EPK, it is important to make them easily accessible in the email itself, because after all, those are the links you want them to click on the most. Show me what you’ve got!
Don’t be upset if the editor or writer doesn’t get back to you right away, or at all.
This relates to the point above regarding follow-ups. I personally have three inboxes that I manage, each of which is high traffic. Be patient and persistent, but don’t become annoying with follow-ups or disgruntled. Getting upset or hot-headed about a non-reply will not only make sure you don’t get what you’re looking for—it could put you at the bottom of list for the foreseeable future. I’m not going to spend my time writing about jerks, so always be nice.
This article appears in the November edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
In the world of live music, there are a number of ways in which artists, promoters, and venues can agree to put on a show. For a lot of independent musicians, these deals can seem mysterious and perplexing. These deals can range from very reasonable to overtly exploitative, and the exploitative ones are bad. I mean, really bad.
There are various ways in which a performance deal can be shady and keep money out the of artist’s pocket, but there are a few that I’ll talk about here which are particularly unethical. In the lexicon of the music industry, artists and concert-goers should be wary of the terms “competition” and “showcase.” These are terms that are often used to cover up a pay-to-play scheme—or should I say, scam.
Here’s how they generally work: An organizer creates a showcase festival and says its mission is to promote and support bands. I use the term “bands” because they are usually the targets, although this can also apply to solo artists. Often targeted towards naïve and younger groups, bands can submit their application to play one of several short time slots throughout the event.
In essence, it is a popularity contest where the band that sells the most tickets usually brings out the biggest, most voracious crowd and scores major points with judges.
Sometimes the application even costs money, without any guarantee of a performance or mention whatsoever. Successful applicants are forced to sell as many tickets as possible and are given a short time slot to perform—again, without any guarantee of money. The applicants who sell the most tickets are typically offered some sort of prize. There is usually some promise of leveraging oneself in the industry, or “fast lane to fame” by skipping over the hurdles that prevent artists from hitting it big.
In Ottawa, there are two examples that I would like to examine. First, Landmark Showcase Festival (LME) is a scheme which most local musicians are familiar with, mostly because the organizers encourage bands to apply by email-spamming them on a regular basis. LME takes a handful of submissions and doles out tickets for bands to sell, usually to their dedicated fanbase, family, and friends.
However, the 15 acts playing the event may have nothing in common with one another musically, and industry judges choose the top performers who get selected to win “grants” in the final round. The criteria includes tightness and professionalism, stage presence and performance, originality/creativity, songwriting/structure, and crowd engagement and reaction. There is no criteria for diversity or inclusivity, so the lineup could conceivably consist of 15 bands made up of straight white guys with goatees and bad nose piercings. This is problematic on many levels.
In essence, it is a popularity contest where the band that sells the most tickets usually brings out the biggest, most voracious crowd and scores major points with judges. While runners-up aren’t given any sort of financial award for their efforts, they are allowed to talk to the industry professionals afterward and attempt to give themselves a “leg up” or “in.”
In the case of E.L.E. Festival, which was hosted by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa in September, the organizers circulated an email to applicants which explicitly stated that the act with the top ticket sales would win the grand prize of $500. Second and third place were to also get a smaller prize, but the next 10 runners-up were only allotted a 15-minute time slot to perform. That’s it. No money, no prizes, nothing.
The festival is “designed to be a stepping stone event between bar gigs and some of the city’s larger festivals like Bluesfest, CityFolk, and Escapade.” In fairness, when it started a few years ago, the lineups were curated more fairly and it was run independently with some money going to charity. However, in its current form, it is difficult to see how larger festivals or promoters could take E.L.E. applicants seriously when its entire local lineup is based on ticket sales and not vetted by quality of music. Ultimately, E.L.E. scrapped the pay-to-play idea last minute after a harsh backlash from the music community in Ottawa.
Any deal that doesn’t guarantee performing bands some set monetary fee or percentage split of the door is unethical, exploitative, and toxic to a music community.
In both of these cases, all applicants are put to work in order to sell as many tickets as possible, yet only the top few receive a cash prize. Moreover, both events promised the runners up a chance to leverage themselves in the industry, gaining “exposure” with industry professionals larger festivals. The last time I checked, there is no official currency called “exposure,” because that isn’t a real thing.
Having bands sell tickets under the guise of “self promotion” without any guarantee of payment or returns is fundamentally unethical. This is exploiting their labour solely in the interest of driving revenue for the organizers, sometimes without a guarantee that the applicant will even be allowed to perform, let alone get paid for their work.
“Pay-to-play” doesn’t necessarily mean bands must literally pay money to have a shot at playing on stage (although forcing bands to fork out cash to apply is the absolute worst—e.g. Sonicbids). It can also mean they pay with their time and effort by being forced to sell as many tickets as possible for an obscure chance to finish at the top for some prize. Bands put a lot of effort into their music. It takes time and money to write songs, buy instruments, rent studio time, record albums, and make merchandise. Any deal that doesn’t guarantee performing bands some set monetary fee or percentage split of the door is unethical, exploitative, and toxic to a music community.
It is my belief that the best way to “make it” in the industry (for lack of a better term) is to come up through the local scene, focus on being part of the community, work hard, and pay your dues. That includes supporting other bands, meeting the people in the community who actually give a shit about music, and most importantly, about musicians. These good folks often include small venue owners and bookers, independent show promoters, community radio station personalities, record store employees, music journalists, and, of course, musicians themselves. These people are usually in the game for the same reason—because they care, and music is their life’s passion.
This article appears in the October edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
With co-founder Kwende Kefentse leaving Ottawa, the 12-year-old dance party expands and contracts
Emerging in 2005 from the basement of Eri café, the first thing I heard about this party is that it was one of Ottawa’s “hottest” dance parties—by which I mean the temperature in that room was very warm. The ventilation wasn’t great, dancing made you sweat more than you typically would in a public space—physically, it might not have been comfortable. Despite this, my friends would recount their evenings with glowing smiles. Clearly, the DJ collective founded by DJ Zattar were onto something.
“For over a decade, we’ve been providing a space to consume culture that’s fresh and new and pluralistic and that’s part of a larger collective,” says Kwende ‘Memetic’ Kefentse. “We feel that it’s essential and it exists in a lot of modern cities—at least, a lot of the places that I want to be.”
On August 25, one guest, Martin, told me about his memories. “I first went to Timekode at the Eri café, in the early 2000s when I was new to this city. Sometimes I went for the pool, but mostly for the hip-hop. They were good parties.”
Timekode celebrated an ending of sorts on August 25, where they took their party to a boat along the Outauoais River. Half of this dynamic duo is about to embark on the next part of his journey, bringing him to London, England to study architecture.
In some ways there is a sense of loss—once again, someone who works to make this city a more vibrant place has moved to a bigger city. Yet, the impact of someone like DJ Memetic is is such that it can continue without him being here. He, along with DJ Zattar and Timekode’s many guest DJs over the years, have helped to create the conditions where culture can develop.
The story I want to write isn’t about someone moving away. This may be a retrospective look at a cultural institution, but it isn’t an ending. Running into Kwende at House of PainT, I ask earnestly, “So is Timekode finished?”
He comfortably replies, “You could say that we’re expanding. We’re planning a guest DJ [in Ottawa] next month, and we’ll have events in London [England].”
One guest to Timekode on August 25 said “a monthly dance party is about the right speed for Ottawa.” It’s true. This city is well-educated, highly engaged, and diverse. We are a small city—there are familiar faces pretty much wherever you go out. Many of our residents tend to look for patterns, and find comfort in the option of a routine,whether or not we choose to follow them. Our sister, Gatineau, is less predictable, at times rougher around the edges. She’s fun; it’s nice to have her around.
It’s interesting how a collective experience in appreciating music will bring people closer to each other, and closer to the city. One of the guests on August 25, Tariq, said “Timekode was always my faith in Ottawa. When Ottawa failed to step up, Timekode was always there.”
He told me more about how he heard about the party, first attending about 12 years ago. “It was upstairs from a bumpin’ party at the time called Disorganized. Upstairs was Zattar. It wasn’t crowded or anything, it was just awesome. After that, Zattar wanted to do his own party, which turned into Timekode.”
They’ve had a number of homes over the years, from Eri Café to Makerspace North to D’Afrique. Still, some things have remained the same. Guests at the August 25 party communicated a sense of appreciation for the open atmosphere that had been created over the years.
Another dedicated fan said “I started going four years ago. They were some of the most accepting, easygoing parties you’ve ever been to. It wasn’t a party dedicated to one group—it wasn’t a hipster party, or a raver party, it was just an everyone party.”
Creating this atmosphere was intentional.
“Part of it is about the space, part about the music, part is about the process of mixing,” said DJ Memetic. “Pluralisms, bringing people together from different places, sounds, and communities. In way that forms something unique, if just for an evening. There is value in that process, no matter where you go.”
DJ Zattar plans on keeping the TK tradition alive. (Photo: Facebook)
A good DJ is able to provide “edutainment,” as the Mercury Lounge’s resident DJ Trevor Walker once told me, citing KRS-One. Walker has been a recurring guest at Timekode, and these groups have a shared ability to both educate and entertain their guests. Certainly, in experiencing music we tap into a sense of community. There’s beauty in having multiple generations in a room together, enjoying the same music.
“I am keeping Timekode going here every third Friday like the last 12 years,” assured DJ Zattar. I’ll be presenting more guests both local and out of town. I’m also doing live TK webcasts every month or so from Record Centre and a new location to be announced shortly”
Ottawa is changing. As a city, we are growing and developing something entirely unique. As individuals interacting in this space, we have a chance to leave each other better than when we met. It would be a great honour to know that you made an impact on a city, but in this case the evidence is clear. Kwende Kefentse left Ottawa better and for that we have one thing to say—thank you.
Be sure to check out Timekode’s 12-year anniversary party at D’Afrique on November 17. This article appears in the September edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column. More information here.
Let’s rewind to the mid-2000’s, a time when Ottawa was bursting at the seams with garage, rock, and punk bands that would play often and play hard. Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party wasn’t just a party where people would dance, drink, and see new bands—it was a meeting ground and an incubator for the music community.
Luke Martin, OXW co-founder and musician, and Brad M., aka DJ B-Rad, started the weekly pizza party in late 2006 at Babylon Nightclub. Soon after Emmanuel Sayer, OXW co-founder and DJ, also jumped on board in spring 2007.
The party then moved to Bytown Tavern in February of 2008 where it had its longest run until February 2009 and really caught its stride.
“Brad and I started it the last weekend of November 2006,” Martin recalled. “Brad was working at Babylon and they wanted a new Thursday weekly so we jumped on it. I came up with the name and idea of giving away free pizza every week from a band photo shoot that involved slices of pizza. It seemed like a perfect fit.”
Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party stuck to a simple formula: Doors at 9. Bands at 10. PWYC if there were bands, and free if there weren’t any bands. DJs all night, with a lot of guest DJs. Free pizza at midnight or later.
“This happened every single Thursday for years,” Sayer said. “The pizza literally came from 2 for 1. Literally out of our pockets. We didn’t really make any money at this and that tradition continues to this day!”
At one point in 2009, the pizza party was out of a spot and ended up at The Royal Oak for a few weeks.
“The manager went back on our deal to have us there,” Sayer said. “We immediately relocated, but the first week we were gone they hired some dude to play “rock” music CD’s and he was spotted in the empty bar eating pizza.”
Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party was a crucial first chapter in the story of OXW. It was a place where new bands could play, people could meet up and share stories or start bands, and where touring bands could come and play to a room full of energy on a regular basis. Although the party got moved around a lot, and eventually folded in 2010, it was a major chapter of the OXW story.
“I met Ian Manhire (of White Wires and Voicemail) for the first time at Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party,” Sayer said. “Shortly thereafter he released the first few Going Gaga zines then started releasing records and put on the first Gaga Weekend in 2008. RRPP was always the opening night for Gaga Weekend.”
Going Gaga: Gaga Weekend
If Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party was the ongoing heartbeat keeping the community’s blood pumping, Gaga Weekend was the adrenaline jolt making Ottawa’s heart race. The two events coincided like pepperoni and cheese.
Gaga Weekend was the brainchild of Ian Manhire, a devout participant in the garage/punk scene in Ottawa at the time who published a zine series called Going Gaga, and also ran Going Gaga Records. The first edition was held in 2008, and was molded out of some great festivals like Gonerfest (Memphis, TN) and Budget Rock (San Francisco, CA) which focused on inclusivity and everything being done as cheaply as possible.
“There were lots of great bands, lots of great parties, everything was done on the cheap, it was all about good times,” Manhire said via email. “I really liked the idea of a local celebration too. There was the feeling that we had our own world here in Ottawa, and it was (still is) special.”
“There were 3 Gaga Weekends, and a lot of traditions!” Manhire continued. “The opening night was always at the RRPP, usually with three or four bands playing, lots of late night drinking and then lots of free pizza! The Friday show was always a basement party, just a total shitshow in one of the many basements we used to party in. I loved those basement shows—59 Argyle, Cozzie’s place, A&A Speedshop.
Then on Saturday it would be an [all ages] matinee show with like 12 bands at Yogi’s Meatlocker. Fun in the sun! Really relaxed. Great bands inside, people hanging out in the parking lot outside. Then the Saturday night we’d go down to Babylon for a big blowout, usually three or four bands. I’d always get DJs to flip records at all the shows, that was a great part of it too.And then there would be an after party, which I remember 200+ people in Davey’s backyard!”
This yearly get together was yet another hotbed for people in the community to meet new friends, play with new bands, and have a great excuse to party for three or four days straight.
A treasured keepsake of the Gaga era is the Ottawa Gaga Compilation, Vol. 1, of which there were only 330 pressed on vinyl with a zine included. The compilation was recently posted on Bandcamp, and thankfully is still available for all to hear. The concept was to avoid going the standard compilation route and record all the songs live off the floor at the old Capital Rehearsal Studios on Bank Street, now located at City Centre, in order to maintain a cohesive feel.
“The idea was to record a small snapshot of some of the bands in the scene, at the time,” says Jordy Bell, one of the sound engineers of the compilation and member of Crusades,The Creeps, and Cheap Whine.
Ultimately, Gaga Weekend only lasted three years but its impact cannot be understated. Manhire decided it was too much to carry on Gaga Weekend on his own, and at the time he was collaborating a lot with Martin and Sayer on a lot of projects. They sat down and talked about Ian’s departure from Gaga and what it would mean going forward.
“I asked Emmanuel if he wanted to take over and do his own thing,” Manhire said. “He didn’t need my permission, but things like that are basic respect. Plus, our friends all looked forward to that weekend in mid-June when all of our bands would get together. He was doing a great blog at the time called Ottawa Explosion, and he and Luke were on fire booking bands. So I stepped completely out of the game and they started fresh and just rolled with it. And look at it now! The evolution of OXW was natural… and crazy impressive!”
OXW’s first edition took place in June of 2011, featuring over 40 bands from Ottawa and other cities. Each year the festival has grown in scope thanks to key personnel like Azarin Sohrabkhani, who manages the administration, business, and logistical elements of the event. As the Industry Director at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF), Sohrabkhani’s experience with festivals and events have provided much-needed expertise to the organization. From nurturing partnerships to co-ordinating volunteers, her collaboration with Martin and Sayer to achieve common goals has proven successful year-in and year-out.
Even more, OXW has become catalyst for inclusivity and representation of minorities in the music scene.
“I’m very proud that OXW is still around and has stayed true to its independent and DIY approach,” Sohrabkhani said. “I love looking around and not being the only PoC at a show, this feels like a big development. I think that has a lot to do with learning from our community and working on fostering inclusive spaces and programming—which is always a work in progress.”
“I’m also stoked that we have a new generation of emerging and young artists, fans, and volunteers at the event. For organizations like ours, growth is only compelling if it comes from engaging with those who will feed the future of arts and culture in this city. I believe we’re doing that and it’s pretty darn exciting.”
OXW continues to be one of Ottawa’s strongest community-based music festivals. Although the story has evolved a lot since the mid-2000’s, the event’s importance as an incubator for new music remains, and will continue to encourage a new generation of musicians and friendships.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2017 occurs Wednesday, June 14 – Sunday, June 18. Weekend bracelets available for $80, day passes also available. More info/purchase passes, click here. For full festival schedule, click here. This article appears in the May Edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
Music festivals don’t just grow on trees. Whether it’s a small-scale boutique festival like Sappyfest or a large-scale behemoth such as Osheaga, festivals are the end product of a whole lot of teamwork, labour hours logged, blood, sweat – and sometimes tears.
When Garett Bass decided to move forward with a new music festival called Bangers & Mash, he knew it wouldn’t be a simple undertaking. His first rodeo was 2015’s FOLK IT ALL Festival, a packed night-long event at The Rainbow which saw a number of heavier folk and country acts hit the stage, including headliners The Jerry Cans. But 2017 offered a new opportunity to bring together musicians that share a common funky thread – soul music.
“After seeing momentum build this past year, I feel like it’s a now-or-never moment to put these bands in the spotlight and help people realize the level of talent we have here,” explains Bass. “I felt like it was time to do something similar to FOLK IT ALL for the soul music scene here, which I’ve been in entrenched in for the better part of the last decade.”
The idea took form last year when Bass and his wife went to Blakdenim’s CD release at Mavericks, where a number of bands and DJs were showcased in a small amount of time. They did short and punchy sets, all acts shared the backline, there was an MC handing out prizes in between, and afterwards they reveled in how incredible and efficient it was.
“So I decided to do a soul festival where bands play their ‘bangers’ – I thought, ‘let’s get as many acts as we can into one night with the simple rule of playing only their best songs and then getting off stage as quickly as humanly possible.”
As a member of Ottawa’s own Slack Bridges, and a past member of bands such as Steamers, Tea For the Voyage, and Mackenzie Rhythm Section, Bass is no stranger to the stage. However, organizing is a different beast altogether, so he made sure to gather a team of dedicated organizers to help him from the start.
One crucial member of the team is Ed Lister, a musician himself and founder of London Gentleman Records. Lister is a member of Chocolate Hot Pockets, Thrust, Eru-Era and an impressive Chaka Khan tribute act, and has joined forces with existing bands such as The Hornettes and The Split.
“I chose Ed to run his own stage, because he’s been the number one instigator of action and collaboration in our soul scene,” Bass says. “Ed moved here from the UK a few years ago, he plays in more acts than I can count and has helped encourage collaboration between artists all over Ottawa.”
While there are some collaborations occurring in town, it’s difficult to define a particular soul music “community” in Ottawa. There are festivals such as Ottawa Explosion, Arboretum Festival, and Megaphono that act as a crucial hub for musicians to coalesce. However, there has been a gap between the soul music fans and the musicians themselves – a gap which Bass means to fill.
“Just look at The Souljazz Orchestra shows, which have been sold out and for years. People trust anything those guys put out. The Jazz Fest late night series has been a huge success for people who love to dance to live rhythms such as Snarky Puppy, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Tennyson. Sharon Jones played here over half a dozen times to crowds of intense fans. Our most successful local nights are generally funky DJ nights such as Double Barrel or Timekode where people can go dance to DJs spinning soul music in its most authentic form – the 45 record.”
“Places like Irene’s and Bar Robo have picked up and have started weekly/monthly nights of funk jazz, and Mike Mikkelsen has been using his connections to host lots of local live and mixed soul music at Kinki’s Kitchen. Yet, I find the weird thing is that some of these bands still don’t know one another, there’s little collaborating within a genre that is historically built on collaboration.” All that to say, it’s clear that there’s no shortage of love for soul music in the capital.
Bangers and Mash will take place on the evening of March 18, and have two stages at two adjacent venues – Black Squirrel Books & Coffee and House of TARG – that will operate simultaneously. Live music and DJ sets will be staggered between each, giving concert-goers the option for either.
The impressive local lineup includes Mackenzie Rhythm Section, The Hornettes, Slack Bridges, Tropikombo, DJ Magnificent and DJ Zattar at House of TARG, while Chocolate Hot Pockets, Mack & Ben, Blast From the Sun, DJ Jas Nasty and The Full Time Groove hold the fort at Black Squirrel Books & Coffee.
“Basically anytime there’s a DJ on at Black Squirrel, there’s a band playing at House of TARG, and then it flips,” Bass clarifies. “We’re going to recommend that people plan their night well, as there may be times when one of the two venues is at capacity. Fortunately, there’s lots of amazing stuff to see!”
Bangers & Mash will take place on March 18, ticketing and event information can be found at www.bangersmashfest.com. This article appears in the March Edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
As the music industry continues to shift under their feet, Canadian artists are being forced to adapt to a future that seems at once full of promise and forbidding. Stories of quick YouTube success are balanced by the struggles experienced by the everyday band on the road. The recipe for stardom that once seemed straightforward has been lost in a world where albums are streamed, not purchased. The rules in this new music economy seem to change with each passing month, and many artists are beginning to try new things to get noticed.
Ottawa has seen its share of such experiments. A Tribe Called Red achieved some notoriety by releasing their debut album for free, copying Radiohead’s In Rainbows play. Many local bands have begun releasing tracks on Spotify and Apple Music in addition to selling records. Since the introduction of MySpace in 2003, there has been an expectation that some music be accessible online, a sort of teaser for fans, and an encouragement to come to shows.
But how much is too much? How much is too little? Live shows have become the main medium through which artists make money, but does that mean that newer artists should allow access to their recordings through streaming services that, by all accounts, pay fairly little or nothing?
Local artist Kalle Mattson thinks so. He feels that the exposure of such platforms, in addition to the income, makes it worth it.
“Not to say there aren’t problems with streaming services. There are,” he says. “But on the whole I think they are positive for the industry and over time the kinks will get worked out.”
He points out that these services can help get you noticed. In Mattson’s case, it was his being featured on the front page, in playlists and banner placements, that gleaned him something in the range of 5 million plays on Spotify, a number mostly attributable to his popular cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling.”
Kalle Mattson (photo by Eric Scharf/Ottawa Showbox)
His point is that, while it may be a raw deal at the outset, there isn’t much of a downside to listing music on such services. To Mattson it comes down to a “why not?” And since there is very little cost associated with having a presence on such services, it makes sense to be there.
However, it can be hard for artists to see how plays on services like this translates into success in the traditional sense. Much of the time, artists rely on the feedback of fans to determine whether the music they have online actually translates into ticket sales.
Gloria Guns of local synth-pop band Scary Bear Soundtrack has had a different experience. Their notoriety has been in some part attributable to their presence on free streaming sites like CBC Radio Music, which allows them to reach a larger audience than they otherwise would. Still, she has thus far refrained from putting her music on larger sites like Spotify or Apple Music, largely because doing so is not necessarily easy and the benefits are difficult to quantify.
“If it’s too complicated to sign up for a service, then that service is going to lose a certain population of artists,” says Guns. She also notes that much of the bad PR that larger services like Spotify have received may make newer artists reticent to put their life’s work on a streaming service.
This may be part of the larger problem with these services: that signing up with them may feel like signing a deal with the devil. Many local artists see this kind of deal as unnecessary, especially when it involves a perceived devaluing of music.
Travelling through town for Arboretum, Dan Boeckner reflected on the way in which the music industry has shifted from a model that sold music, to one that sells brands and people. Wolf Parade, he says, rose to stardom at an opportune time. They were there for the beginnings of Radio 3 and iTunes, a time when even the smallest presence online would be noticeable.
Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade / Operators
“We could reap all the benefits of the internet, but people were still buying albums,” he points out, almost nostalgically. These days, Boeckner’s music, either with Operators, Wolf Parade or Handsome Furs, is available on all major streaming services, in some cases for free with minimal audio ads for support. But Boeckner, a major music fan himself, doesn’t seem bothered by the easy access to his entire life’s work.
“I have subscriptions to both Spotify and Apple music,” he says. “I mean, some music is only available on one or the other.”
That’s the allure of streaming services: access. They are a club that offers a wide bevy of music to their members. And that is enough to demonstrate the value of the services, at least to music fans, but as Mattson points out, there is a sense in which this devalues music as a whole.
“There’s no free version of Netflix,” he points out. Why should not musicians be given the same respect for their art as film or television artists?
So, while there is no question that these services have a future, the question of what role these services will play remains a difficult one. Is the goal exposure or income? Which service is the best? Is any of this fair?
The answer to each of these questions varies by artist, and will likely continue to shift as streaming services become entrenched. The only recourse artists have is to continue to observe and adapt.
This article is cross-published between Ottawa Showbox and Ottawa Beat, the city’s new music newspaper. Find it in issue 4 of the paper at various locations around town in September.