“Where’s the jazz?” I heard someone comment recently about this year’s TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. I guess at first site it seems true—the festival this year boasts some larger scale acts such as Feist and Kenny Rogers who don’t bring jazz imagery to mind.
But look beyond the surface and you will see a festival that, year after year, really entertains the question: “what IS jazz?” And personally, I like the Jazz Fest because they understand me as a fan of jazz in 2017. They understand that my love of Herbie Hancock also makes me love soul music, such as the many times Jazz Fest brought the spectacular Sharon Jones to our city, and even the queen herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin.
They understand that my love of John Coltrane also makes me love funky, beautiful, free jazz music, such as Kamasi Washington’s incredible performance last year (read that story here). They understand that my love for New Orleans style jazz is not limited to the traditionals, but also extends to funky new artists like Trombone Shorty or the Dirty Dozen Brass, both of whom were hosted recently. And best of all, they understand that I love groups like Snarky Puppy who take all of the above and mash it together.
This year is no exception. This is undeniably the most diverse and beautiful lineup of any festival this year. Below I’ve created a list of my top 10 acts for fans of jazz, soul and funky vibes at the ’17 Ottawa Jazz Fest.
Ottawa Jazz Fest takes place at Confederation Park from June 22 to July 2nd, with artists performing on the grounds or at the nearby National Arts Centre. See the full venue and purchase your passes here.
Top 10 picks: Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre Theatre
Monday, June 26th at 7:00pm – Tickets here
Fans of classic soul and R&B know Mavis well- her voice that can go from honey-drip to wildfire in one phrase was a major part of The Staples Singers’ success. Chances are you’ve heard Mavis sing even if you’re not sure. Maybe you’ve heard Staples Singers’ classic tunes “I’ll Take You There” or “Respect Yourself” play on the jukebox somewhere. Or maybe you’ve heard her incredible vocals in The Band’s final performance of the classic “The Weight” shown in their Last Waltz documentary. Since her equally talented sister passed in 2013, which closed any potential for future Staples Singers performances, Mavis has seemed to come onto the scene even stronger as a solo artist. Her humble acoustic performances with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco took the internet by storm a few years ago, and the recent release of her 2016 album “Livin’ on a Highnote” has been well received by soul fans everywhere. The NAC theatre is a perfect spot for Mavis to take the city by the horns this year–we can’t wait!
CHARLES BRADLEY & HIS EXTRAORDINAIRES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Friday, June 30th at 7:00pm — Tickets here
In 2012, I went to see Daptones Record’s Charles Bradley perform one of his two shows at Bluesfest. I was a big fan of his debut album at the time, and thought I was on the cutting edge… so I arrived 45 minutes early to get a good spot. Unfortunately 45 minutes wasn’t early enough, as hundreds of fans stood around, many holding signs, shouting his name and amping one another up. It was an amazing sight to see so many people I’d never seen excited about soul music. But even as huge fans of the album, I don’t think any of us knew what we were in for. Charles’ energy was incredible, and his humbleness shone as he broke down crying before the encore, hugging fans at the front and exclaiming repeatedly how lucky he was to live his fantasy every night.
Any skeptics who went to that show were surely fans by the end. Unfortunately, last October those same fans, who have since grown with Charles over 2 more albums and a fantastic documentary, were horrified to find out that Charles had to cancel his Bronson Center show due to health issues. With the recent loss of our Sharon Jones, we’re still a bit touchy. For me, finding out that Charles was coming back was not only exciting, but a hopeful indication of good health. Charles–we’re ready if you are!
MACEO PARKER & THE RAY CHARLES ORCHESTRA FEATURING THE RAELETTES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Monday, June 26th at 8:30pm – Tickets here
For fans of funk music, the name “Maceo” is a staple. His work with James Brown and (every branch of) Parliament is considered some of the most important in funk history. He is not only an incredible sax player, but a pioneer of funky rhythms and harmonies that created the framework for all funk to come. However, it seems that he’s coming to Ottawa with a different vibe in mind, with his tribute to Ray Charles. For long term fans of Maceo’s work this may definitely seem like a departure. However, for any fan of Ray Charles and his orchestra-led work like “Modern Sounds in Country & Western,” this sounds like a match made in heaven, especially considering that Maceo has never put out an album without a Ray cover (so the affection is obvious). Truthfully, I have been searching desperately online to find out if his two partners for the show; the Ray Charles Orchestra or The Raelettes, contain any original members, but I guess I will have to go to the show to find out for sure!
ST. PAUL & THE BROKEN BONES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Thursday, June 22nd at 8:30pm – Tickets here
St. Paul & The Broken Bones shocked soul fans across the world a couple years ago when hundreds of videos began to appear on YouTube, showcasing a raw, minimalist, and tough-as-nails approach to soul music by a band that was NOT on the Daptones label. Even more, the lead singer loved to dance. For Ottawa, it was timely, because shortly after the hubbub the band appeared at CityFolk in 2015. For a new band, their performance there blew me away. They recently released a new record called “Sea Of Love” which shows a fuller and more mature sound, but it will be interesting to see if they can deliver it with the same raw intensity we saw before. Looking forward to finding out!
ROBERT GLASPER EXPERIMENT
Tartan Homes Stage
Monday, June 26th – Tickets here
R&B keyboardist Robert Glasper has been slowly gaining steam through the 2000s, even beating the dreaded sophomore slump and signing a deal with Blue Note records. However, it wasn’t until Black Radio volumes 1 and 2 that maybe of us started to take notice. I like to think that this was because he and his band had matured into a slinky, stanky, post-R&B powerhouse, but let’s be honest: the cameos were a huge help! Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Common, Brandy, Anthony Hamilton, Musiq Soulchild–these were huge namedrops! These albums have definitely put Robert Glasper Experiment on the map, but However, I’m glad that despite Glaspers’ recent successes, Ottawa Jazz Fest are treating us right with a late night performance–always a must for a sweaty dance party.
Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
Jacob Collier is an anomaly. In fact, many of us are constantly trying to determine if he’s human at all. His ability to build entire songs out of funky, thick vocal parts is incredible, all done with a voice that can be as sweet and melodic as Rudolph Wainwright and as low and gritty as Isaac Hayes the next. Next comes his prowess as an instrumental jazz musician- he’s proven himself incredibly skilled at jazz piano, as well as very capable on the bass guitar, drums and assorted percussion. In fact, just last year he released a song with Jazz Fest favourites Snarky Puppy, showcasing that both his talents as a vocal looper and as an expressive piano player translate perfectly in real-time. For fans of weird, wacky, funky and beautiful, Collier is your man this year.
Tartan Homes Stage
Wednesday, June 28th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
True jazz or not, jazz-laced hip-hop is a love of mine, and from what I’ve experienced, a huge love of Ottawa’s. Nomadic Massive have shown their promise as a talented, hard-working group reminiscent of The Roots for years. What’s more to say? The last time they came through town they slammed Ritual (RIP), and it’s great to see them back. For fans of thoughtful and hypnotic hip-hop music with fast raps, organized chaos and funky instrumentals, this is the band to see!
Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 7:30pm – Tickets here
Hailing from São Paulo, Brazil, Bixiga 70 are a ruthless afro-latin powerhouse. With complex rhythms and horn lines that cut like a knife, these guys take instrumental afrobeat to a new pace and energy. For fans of brass dance bands like Hypnotic Jazz Ensemble, afrobeat trads like Fela Kuti, or afrobeat moderneers like Antibalas, these guys cannot be missed! This may be the sweatiest, craziest late night show this year- bring an extra t-shirt and your best dancing shoes.
SHABAKA & THE ANCESTORS
Tartan Homes Stage
Tuesday, June 27th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
Last year spiritual jazz fans rejoiced when Kamasi Washington was able to bring his The Epic through the festival. This year is no different- for fans of pulsing, rhythmic, spiritual jazz- Shabaka & The Ancestors may be your favourite act of the festival even if you’ve never heard of them. Shabaka Hutchings is an incredible saxophone player and arranger, and it’s obvious that he brings all the pioneers into these arrangements, from Coltrane and Miles to Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders- The Ancestors toy with it all. The great thing about this kind of jazz is that it’s free playing at its finest while being accessible even to the modest jazz listener- a great introduction to soul fans looking to dive further into the jazz canon.
HIROMI DUET: FEATURING EDMAR CASTANEDA
National Art Centre Studio
Tuesday, June 27th at 7pm – Tickets here
This is an interesting one for me, because I’ve sat in awe at online performances by both of these artists over the past few years, but never expected to see them combine forces. Pianist Hiromi Uehara is known for her blazing fast fingers and expressive passages, and has performed in recent years with many greats like Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Anthony Jackson. I always appreciate her ability to fuse genres together, and her synth work is definitely intriguing. On the other hand, Edmar Castaneda on the other hand, is an incredible harp player who has been rewriting public perception and understanding of what the harp can achieve. His work is experimental but always pretty. I’m really excited to see what these two will do together, and the NAC seems like a great choice of venue for these two instruments to shine.
THE PEPTIDES – Pop soul with nailed harmonies, political undertones and the most theatrical show in Ottawa Tartan Homes Stage
Tuesday, June 27th at 7:30pm
TROPIKOMBO– The sambafunk band to give “world music” its name back- blistering hornlines and rhythms from dance music around the globe Mercury Lounge
Thursday, June 22nd at 10pm
BANK STREET BONBONS – These guys are everything the “brass band” genre is good at, borrowing spirits from klezmer and latin music but always keeping that N’Orleans bounce Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 1pm
ED LISTER’S PRIME RIB BIG BAND – There’s not enough swing bands in Ottawa, let alone those that play original arrangements and keep the energy up. Check these guys out! Tartan Homes Stage
Sunday, July 2nd at 2pm
ROMMEL RIBIERO – A great player of guitar and cavaquinho, Rommel always delivers the groove with rhythms borrowed from Brazillian and reggae music Tartan Homes Stage
Wednesday, June 28th at 11am
SLACK BRIDGES – Soul music with greasy rhythms and pretty chords. Tartan Homes Stage
Thursday, June 29th at 11am
Garett Bass is an Ottawa musician and showgoer. Not stuck to one genre, he has played and enjoyed soul, jazz, reggae, folk, hip-hop and ska music since moving to Ottawa in 2005.
Trails was the first band to play. Songwriter Allie O’Manique’s sweet melodic voice gently flowed through the air. As we watched Trails perform, we were absolutely entranced by the music. Soft, progressive and quite different from anything you’ve previously heard. The only instrument used was an electric guitar and other a gentle voice. A loop pedal was used in instances where there was a need to write a part of a song over the other.
It’s light, airy, but it’s nostalgic. For this reason it turns heads. It’s very psychedelic and lifts past memories as the performance progresses. It’s sound that makes you see colours, and swirls of them, blues of all sorts twirling around. As far as easy listening goes, this is it not only because there’s heart in the performance but because it’s so refreshing and ethereal. Trails produced harmonies with her voice and a loop pedal, singing over her own voice in different tones, creating something soothing. It’s beautifully haunting and will leave you wanting to hear more.
Next up was a band called Lake Urmia. Elsa’s vocals are smooth, high, and create a soft contrast with the sound of the band itself. They’re loud but at the same time they’re almost quiet and have a delay on the vocals so it gets distorted in the medley of music.
The sound is very refreshing and if you don’t like it at first, it’ll certainly grow on you. It’s a soft indie rock with its own flavour to it. The struggles they face are shown through the music, and although sounding happy, the lyrics represent something deeply rooted. They too allow the audience to see colours but more so violets and wine reds. They’re the perfect band to listen to as you sit by the window with a good book, and a cup of tea, listening to their sound intermingle with the rain.
The last band that I caught was a band from Bloomington, IN, by the name of Nice Try. The band is a pop rock band with vocals that strongly contrast the guitar. Their vocalist, Madelaine, has that sweet voice that you’d imagine wouldn’t work with a rock progression and a heavy drumline but the dynamic the band possesses makes everything fit together like puzzle pieces. The relationship they have with each other really adds to the fact that the music works so well. It’s something infectious that brings out the dancing shoes of the audience, and if they were sitting, they were swaying. The band is what should be classified as a feel good band, and the pure enthusiasm they have for what they do really draws the spectators in. Their live performances are a bit heavier than their recorded stuff but honestly, their sound is much more raw and untouched that it’s impossible not to love.
The last day of Ottawa Explosion really kicked it into high gear and didn’t let the impending tornado and storm warnings stop the party. They kicked it until the very end of it and all in all the day was sunny and warm much like the crowd of people there. So go down to Explosion next year and really get lost in the tunes. Trust me, once any band starts playing—even if your intention wasn’t to see them—you won’t want to leave.
I managed to get to Ottawa Explosion earlier than expected and in time to hear the very last bit of Preemptive Eulogy. I was greeted very kindly by Sacha of Sally Ride and we stood together as the previous band finished.
While local band Sally Ride began to set up, photographer Ming Wu and I sang to “Don’t Stop Believing” and got into the great ‘which movie is better’ debate. There wasn’t a moment that afternoon where I wasn’t smiling and enjoying myself.
As soon as Sally Ride began, I jumped to action. They’re quite the “go with the flow indie band” that seemed to hold fragments of a bohemian soul within their sound. It’s the perfect sound for long summer road trips. In fact, it’s probably what you’d play while rolling down your car window and driving through a deserted valley area somewhere warm. This was their first show, and despite how nervous they were, they hid it well. The music was infectious and it became impossible not to dance or sway to the beat of the songs.
The vocals were smooth but not in a perfect and polished way, which added character to the performance. There was a keyboard being played for the first little bit but that dropped off and got switched out for another guitar. To really set the tone of their performance and give off a taste f their personality, they played the theme tune of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and someone picked up the task of bubble blowing for them during their light and airy performance.
After Sally Ride came the Empty Nesters, another local band. They didn’t particularly move around too much but their music made a mark. It’s the sound of gritty rock attic demos recorded on a cassette tape. With these guys, no two EP’S or albums sound the same. This time, they were loud, garage rock with soft voices that resonated across the courtyard and down the street. The band has songs that get softer and quieter, reduced to vocals, only to pick up with a loud booming sound and jump right back into a fully energized performance.
They’re full of distorted fuzz but in the most lively way, and they manage to keep the energy contained. It’s the music that you sway to and give no shits about the fact that you’re holding your beer and might spill it. They take you into their own world and away from the one you’re currently in. A sound with much reverb, a boisterous drum beat, and the perfect amount of discord thrown in, it offers a refreshing the garage rock scene.
It’s noise but it’s the noise you want to hear. The noise that will leave old folks waving their fists in the air and saying “those darn kids!” and leave you wanting to hear more of their hypnotic tunes.
A band from Calgary, AB, by the name of The Shiverettes played promptly after. They’re an angry feminist punk band that’s out seeking justice for the misogyny faced day to day. They’re a band that get you on your toes, and jumping around. Their songs expel immense amounts of energy and anger that the audience feels down to the core.
The band consisting of three females and a male drummer conveys the struggles women face in life such as the things asked when a women reports sexual assault, the catcalling that they have to endure on the streets, and fundamental rights being taken away or not taken seriously. The anger and frustration in the screams of the lead singer really convey the emotions that women hold rooted deeply and it projects onto the crowd so well that despite the catchy and punk power chords there’s an impact left on every member of the crowd. They scream in favour of those who don’t have a voice or can’t speak up about the pressing issues in society.
They’re aggressive, but not in your face. Their points come across effectively, and loudly. If you think women don’t have voices, think twice because this band will blow you out of the water with how powerful theirs is.
Toxic Thoughts is loud, angry, in your face, and aggressive all with good reason. They voice the volatile thoughts that we have about ourselves, though it’s more so on a personal level with them. They get the crowd roaring and throwing themselves into a mosh pit at an alarming rate. The drums are well played and clearly a good part of the backbone of the song structure. The guitar seems to follow the bass line and the way the mass of noise comes together to form something so beautiful yet so full of frustration leaves you in mystery of how much anyone had to go through to be able to produce what’s essentially pain packed into music. The band toys with controlled feedback and they have managed to tame that beast. Not only is it difficult to produce it unless you have the right equipment, but it’s also very possible for it to get out of control. Their song “The Void” really showcases this, making the controlled feedback the spotlight of the song along with the bass lines.
The amount of talent that extends to minorities in music and the many different genres the festival showcases, there is something for everybody to come see. No stone should be left unturned when it comes to this festival as there is something for everybody.
During Ottawa Explosion’s fourth day, the outdoor stage at Club SAW was rocked by the Mint Records Showcase featuring The Smugglers, NEEDLES//PINS, Tough Age and Expanda Fuzz.
The iconic Canadian garage rock band The Smugglers headlined the wonderful evening. The band from Vancouver, BC existed from 1988 – 2004, and just recently reunited for select shows in 2017. Lead singer Grant Lawrence, who many know as a host on CBC Radio 3, is wildly energetic and engaging as a frontman. He kicked off the show by saying: “Ottawa, it is so good to be back in the city that birthed The White Wires, Stand GT, Resin Scrapers, The Creeps, Million Dollar Marxists, Tokyo Sex Whale and so many more!” That was quite the tribute to the locals here, and many of the aforementioned bands had members in the audience. He continued “Since the last time you saw us in Ottawa we have had nine children and one heart attack.
They call themselves a rock n’ roll band, which they most certainly are, with hints of surf and very danceable garage (maybe those terms weren’t cool back when they were). Their sound is amazing and infectious and had people dancing and singing along non-stop. I try to make a point to not comment on a band’s attire, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the full suit and rubber boots look sported by many of the members.
The band played a high energy 12-song set featuring “Vancouver BC,” which Lawrence mentioned “was almost a hit on Much Music,” the International Smuggler Dance Competition judged by the drummer of NEEDLES//PINS and “Booze” which was dedicated to the drummer of The Gruesomes, a band from Montreal that changed Lawrence’s life, who happened to be from Ottawa. They closed with “Rock n’ Roll Was Never This Fun” and thanked us all for attending what could be one of the last Smugglers shows ever. It is bittersweet that my first Smugglers show may be my last, but I’m ecstatic that I got to see them play my favourite festival.
NEEDLES//PINS took to the stage before The Smugglers and were full of apologies from the get go. After playing their opening song “Drop It” they said “Feels so good to be back, I can’t believe we missed an Explosion I’m sorry. We will never miss another.” I sure hope the Explosion team holds them to that as I love knowing I will see this band every year. Before launching into “Best Friend” they urged us all to high-five our best friend which was a really fun moment to watch happen all around them in the packed Club SAW courtyard.
They also played a bunch of music off their new record, Good Night, Tomorrow, which hadn’t been released yet but is now available. The new tracks sounded great and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the album. Their set featured one of the cutest and most heart-warming moments of the festival. Not everyone knows that even though the band is from BC, one of their members is from the Ottawa Valley. Emmanuel Sayer (OXW organizer) noticed some of the family members, mostly older, sitting by the stage during the set and ran them over some earplugs. What a gentleman. It is always awesome to see NEEDLES//PINS perform, they are incredibly talented but also just such nice and positive people.
Tough Age, formally from Vancouver and now based in Toronto, played Ottawa Explosion again and are becoming a festival mainstay. The new-ish, stripped down three-piece (formally a bigger band) have really embraced some post-punk influences and sound with their new music, such as the song “Not That Bad.” I, and a couple of people I was chatting with, really dig it. One of the things that blows me away about this band is how the guitarist and bass player just switch instruments back and forth throughout the set. I have massive respect and am in awe of bands that can do that, it’s just wild. Member Jarrett Samson said in closing, “I’m excited to see NEEDLES//PINS and if they don’t play “Drop It” I’m going to burn this tent to the ground.” Lucky for him and all of us, NEEDLES//PINS opened with “Drop It” as mentioned and we all avoided a catastrophe.
Opening the Mint Records Showcase was local duo Expanda Fuzz. I was unfortunately running late and missed some of their set, but as always what I did hear was most excellent. Their fuzzy and drone garage style sound has this perfect slow crawling build that leaves me wanting more. In a short time as a band, they have already released a bunch of great music, but I am constantly going back to the first song I heard them play “Flavour: Zombie.” Every time I see them perform that song I get a big smile on my face and have to bob my head. I’m glad that even arriving late, I managed to catch it.
This being my first time at Ottawa Explosion I didn’t know what to expect except for great tunes and a very kind group of punks. I didn’t exactly expect the chaos that ensued, then again, these were punks and a punk show is always chaotic either due to the time it starts or due to the go-with-the-flow-screw-time attitude.
I made it to Warp Lines early and sat through the booming sound check. If you think sound check is loud enough, it’s nothing compared to how loud the band itself gets. Their voices resonate and bring a livelihood to their otherwise gritty rock sound, and let me tell you – this band does not fear noise in the slightest. There also isn’t as big a need to mic the drum kit itself, because even without it you feel the drumbeat in your heart and the bass rattles you.
The way the three guys work all together is astounding. They’re loud and proud, all while creating a very garage-like setting despite being situated in an artsy bar by the name of Avante Garde. They know how to capture your attention and though some may say it’s a more generic sound, there’s nothing remotely generic in their performances and how they capture the crowds attentions with their singing and screaming.
I’ve seen the band once before and had even reviewed them, but honestly, I was shocked when I got the email asking if I could photograph this time. I hadn’t received an offer like that beforehand and this was new. I knew Johnny was an incredibly nice guy (see House of TARG show review with Steve Adamyk and Bar Robo show review with Warp Lines) but this was beyond a pleasant surprise. Naturally, I complied and actually managed to get some decent shots despite the hardships with lighting. Curse it for being light out at 7:00 PM!
Next up was WLMRT, who I’d sprinted over to Club SAW to see. I thought I had made it just in time, but they were finishing. However, I managed to catch three of their songs. They’re loud, aggressive, sometimes shoeless, and overall astounding. The lead singer and bassist were both up front and centre, and they really set the tone. I’m always rooting for female fronted bands, and always looking out for them because there simply isn’t enough. Let’s be real – female fronted bands are badass and deserve far more attention than they get because they’re incredibly talented and full of fiery passion.
The bass lines really encompassed what punk music was supposed to be, with everyone else seeming to flawlessly (but with that sloppy punk character) build around it. Their music itself doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, and there are some underlying tones under it that let some seriousness peek out. Despite being there for a small amount of songs, the performance shook me and it carried an infectious need for you to move. Perfect to thrash to, mosh to, and just let out all stress and anger to. If you get the chance to see this band, they are truly worth seeing live.
After WLMRT I quickly ran outside to witness the very bizarre Cincinnati, OH, band Mardou. Their energy was so odd and their performance was so unique that it drew me in and kept me staring no matter how much I might have wanted to go to the band playing inside. The clown doll, the pink LED fairy lights, the exaggerated movements. Everything set the tone. It reminded me of post-punk and new wave music, but I honestly think it would be more of what Kim Gordon classified as No Wave.
Their sound was almost Joy Division-esque, but with such a different twist to it that it’s a band you’d have to go see to understand what they’re about. There is nothing generic about this band. It’s fresh and it’s new. The lead singer’s voice was monotonous but worked well for what they’re trying to do. It, as well as the entirety of the performance, almost puts you in a sort of trance.
Through all of Ottawa Explosion, you’ll see the bands smoking outside, or walking around downtown. You might catch some people just hanging out or jamming out to their friend’s songs. Everyone seems to be supportive of one another, or their friends and fellow musicians, and the beauty of it is that they’re people just like you, and just like me. You could probably strike up a conversation, no hesitation needed. Explosion, and all the bands that play during it, unite the people, the punks, the oddballs, the ones who have a deep affinity for music. Take a break from your high school work (we know exams are happening next week but come on!) and get down to Ottawa Explosion at Club SAW.
It is that wonderful time of year again when you know all that matters is going to the punk show with your friends. Yes, Ottawa Explosion is back for its 7th year and once again mostly situated at Club SAW.
On day 2 I took in eight bands and could not think of a much better way to spend the last day of my 20s, surrounded by great music and even better people.
Headlining the night was Ottawa’s very own Crusades, which happens to feature Emmanuel Sayer, one of Ottawa Explosion’s organizers. Emanuel opened by saying “RIP JS, it is weird not being pelted by beach balls right now,” referring to last years show where JS had ordered black beach balls and decorated them with friends, just for the Crusades set. It certainly is weird not having our lovable JS around for those types of funny moments. If you see people sporting Hawaiian shirts, they are most likely doing so as a tribute to our good friend who left us too soon. Crusades put on a ripping set as always, I just can’t get enough of their style of heavy punk rock featuring three very distinct vocals. The band was celebrating seven years just like the festival, and as they prepared to play their final song, they were stricken with technical difficulties. Emmanuel simply said “We have been a band for seven years…” hilarious way to cap off the night.
Setting the stage for Crusades in the dimly lit Club SAW was Edmonton’s post-punk act Rhythm of Cruelty. This band is like no other I have ever heard. Their blend of ambient with post-punk and synth is pretty wild, but then when they add in a trumpet and loop it, it blew my mind. It might have a been a little too drone-like for the masses, but I was very impressed and would love to see them again.
Also playing inside was Sudbury Ontario’s greatest export, Strange Attractor. I believe the band has played every Explosion and always fast and hard, like everything they do. They barely have any songs over two minutes long and cram as many as they can into every set with ferociousness. One of the great things about a festival like Explosion is the bands generally stick around and watch other bands. And nothing is better than seeing a band you just watched (Lonely Parade) front and centre jumping, singing and all around losing it to another band.
Getting things started for the late-night indoor portion of the show was Black Tower. They brought us inside and delivered the metal as they summoned ghouls and ghastly creatures from Explosions past. Erin Ewing’s vocals sends shivers down your spine for all the right reasons when she unleashes the darkness within with a banshee-like flexing of her vocal cords. They are the perfect band for fans of punk, metal, and Tolkien-style fiction.
Partner from Sackville, New Brunswick (SAPPY FEST!) headlined the outdoor portion of the night. A lot of bands enjoy playing music live, but very few bands demonstrate that happiness and fun as clearly and openly as Partner. They are out there having at riot at every show and just loving life. It was raining pretty hard during their set but that did not deter them or the crowd, we simply huddle in tight under the tent, the band even giving up much of their space to make more people comfortable. They played a bunch of great new songs off their latest release Sounds of the Future, which is named so as the songs will eventually appear on the next full-length album. The highlight of the show for me was when they stopped during “Gross Secret” to ask the crowd if they had any secrets to share. The crowd was hesitant at first, but then Anthony Cardozo emerged from the side of the stage to happily admit he still picks his nose. The crowd cheered loudly and then more people started telling their secrets. Way to go Tony.
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Lonely Parade from Peterborough, Ontario also rocked the outdoor stage at Club SAW. They get better every single time I see them. It has been really awesome watching this band grow having seen them several times over the past few years. They played a lot of new songs, which they jokingly called “new song 1” then “new song 5.” These new tracks really show off the bands progression and evolution. Don’t get me wrong – I love their earlier songs, but the new ones are very tight, rocking and just have that little something extra.
Montreal’s Towanda also played. This sludgy three-piece from Montreal really rip it up. While many may focus on the guitarist, I was really impressed with their super solid drummer that really drives the music. That said, the lead singer and guitarist lives to shred and does it quite well. She also sports a scowl all set long making it just that much more intense. This band would pair perfectly with Ottawa’s Bonnie Doon.
The first band to play was one of Ottawa’s newest acts Ultralove. I was super impressed by the trio’s performance. I am always amazed when I see a drummer who has a very prominent vocal role. Some people struggle to walk and talk, so hammering the skins while singing just has that automatic wow factor. The band plays a melodic noisy punk rock with strong hardcore influences. One of their songs had one of my all time favourite song structures. A song with one verse that is repeated several times with the music and the vocals intensifying every time until it crescendos into an explosion of emotion. Local readers really need to checkout Ultralove next time they play live.
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.
The Famines are a Montreal-based noise garage music duo made up of Raymond Biesinger (who also happens to be an incredible illustrator) and Drew Demers. But they are not just a band, the duo is also a “DIY-minded experimental record label thing” called Pentagon Black.
In early 2016 Pentagon Black released it’s first compilation containing 23 unreleased songs from bands from across the country as a 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with download code. They had 17 compilation release shows including 30 bands at various locations across the country for it. In April 2017, they did it again with compilation number 2, once again on 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with a download code.
Pentagon Black are back with another compilation, and while they stayed true to their other compilations, they changed it up a little. Pentagon Black Compilation No. 3 is a “phone comp.” It is named as such as 16 diverse bands between Edmonton and Saint John recorded original unreleased tracks live via phone (no multi tracking allowed). This time they went with a smaller format of a 6X6″ postcard with download code.
Eric took some time to discuss with drummer Drew Demers about being a band and being a record label, as well as the story behind the compilation and the inclusion of bands from Ottawa.
Interview with Drew Demers of The Famines/Pentagon Black
What inspired/motivated the two of you to not only be a band but be a label?
Drew Demers: After releasing music on vinyl for the better part of a decade, we realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage/produce. Turn-around times don’t work in anyone’s favor. We were sitting on a recorded full length and didn’t want to have to wait an additional 4 or 5 months just to get a test pressing back. On top of that, the cost was just too great for us to be enthused about it anymore, so we decided that we would just produce things as cheaply and quickly as we could on our own.
[…] we weren’t really trying to establish anything specific. We are a punk band, and so we typically play with like-sounding artists.
Subsequently what pushed you to put out these trans-Canadian compilations?
Drew Demers: We had already released a single and a record on the newsprint poster format, the latter as Pentagon Black and the former in partnership with Psychic Handshake in Montreal. We were discussing what to do next, and the idea started as a split record with The Famines on one side, and then another band on the other. The problem was, we were at odds over whether it was going to be Century Palm or Kappa Chow. We played a show with a ton of pals at this crazy fest called Strangewaves outside of Hamilton.
The lineup included a ton of bands that ended up on the first compilation, and it was beautiful because there was hardly anybody at the show outside of band members. We all just got up and played for each other and there was this sense of communal spirit behind everything. It took us maybe one day to realize that we needed to make something bigger and connect more scenes together, and the first compilation was born out of that notion. BTW, the lineup for that show: Strange Attractor, The Famines, TV Freaks, Mick Futures, Century Palm, Kappa Chow, Lizzie Boredom, and Flesh Rag.
How did you select the bands and decide how you wanted the first two to sound?
Drew Demers: The first compilation was an amalgamation of friends we’d made on tour. There really weren’t that many artists we didn’t personally know on the thing. The second time around, we wanted to focus on hitting specific zones we hadn’t traveled to in a while, and so we enlisted some close friends to give us suggestions on who we should talk to that might be interested in a project such as ours. There are a small handful of people involved in the second compilation we’ve actually never met.
In terms of the sound that we were going for, we weren’t really trying to establish anything specific. We are a punk band, and so we typically play with like-sounding artists. There is an obvious tonal undercurrent that runs through all three of the compilations, but there are significant departures happening on each of them as well.
What makes this third compilation special?
Drew Demers: This third compilation is all about spirit. The songs are rough, in many cases unfinished, and in all cases under-produced. It’s exciting to think that sonically it’s an even playing-ground for each of the tracks. For the most part, it sounds like all the bands recorded in basically the same room with the same gear. It’s also special because it’s the first time we’ve outsourced the art side of things. Historically Raymond has taken care of the art side of Pentagon Black/The Famines, but this time we placed the project in the esteemed hands of Lisa Czech. We explained the project to her and she absolutely nailed the chaos with her cover art.
This has been our most inexpensive and rapid turnover for a compilation. The postcards cost basically nothing to print, and all of the bands recorded their tracks in a three week time frame. Also of note – this one was released not too long after our second compilation, and it came out as a surprise. We were originally planning on dropping it the day of our showcase at Ottawa Explosion, but instead we just decided to jump the gun because we felt like it this week, and a project like this allows us the freedom to do that.
I am excited to see Ottawa bands on all three comps, what drew you to the Ottawa bands you selected ?
Drew Demers: We have a ton of respect and admiration for The Yips, and knew that we couldn’t release our first comp without them involved. Bonnie Doon are officially Pentagon Black royalty. They were on the first two comps, and played both the compilation releases with us in Montreal. Deathsticks are actually fairly new acquaintances of ours, but we feel connected by the sisterhood of two piece bands. They were suggested to us via our pal Karol aka garbageface in Peterborough. We can’t wait to play with them and hang out with them in Ottawa next weekend!
If you track Raymond or myself down in person, we can become pen pals and send you a postcard.
If you’re a little more adventurous, you can head to a show in your town featuring any of the 48 bands we’ve worked with and ask them very kindly to dig one out for you.
What do The Famines and Pentagon Black have planned next?
Drew Demers: Famines have a couple things up our sleeves, including but not limited to writing material for a full length album to come out under Pentagon Black sometime in the next decade. Ottawa Explosion is actually the only show we have booked right now, and it’s exciting facing a blank canvas. As for Pentagon Black, we intend to keep things fast and easy. After releasing the PRIORS record, we realized that we’re open to the idea of putting out music for other bands and want to move forward with that in the future, however that will work.
May is always a nice time of year. The tulips start popping out, the trees start getting greener, and it becomes normal to slab some poutine onto your pizza slice. That’s right, May is POUZZA FEST month. In 2015 we took over Montreal and followed some Ottawa bands in a very, very DIY film called Ottawa Invades POUZZA FEST: A Documentary. If you were to watch that, you’d get just a glimpse of how POUZZA usually goes down.
This year, we couldn’t all make it to Montreal, but our photographer-extraordinaire Els Durnford did. Here’s a look at some of the incredible photos she took while diving into all the madness. Enjoy!
CityFolk (f.k.a. Ottawa Folk Festival) has announced an impressive list of artists for it’s initial lineup Tuesday. This year’s festival will see a diverse medley of musicians hit the stage, some of which are newer acts, but many of which are also veterans of the stage. Some of the long-time performers that are sure to well up some nostalgia are Jack Johnson, Amanda Marshall, Broken Social Scene, Matt Mays, The Philosopher Kings, and yes, the one and only Rodriguez (Sugarman has been found!).
Other stand-out acts that have been announced are Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Sin Little, Royal Canoe, Father John Misty, Bahamas, and many more talented artists that will rock Lansdowne in September. We’ll keep updating you as more announcements are made.
CityFolk will be offering a limited pre-sale offer that begins at 10 a.m. EST on Wednesday, May 17. General tickets go on sale Thursday, May 18. Check out the CityFolk website for more details and purchase information. Have a look at the initial schedule below:
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS
THE SUITCASE JUNKET
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
A TRIBUTE TO JESSE WINCHESTER
THE SUITCASE JUNKET
FATHER JOHN MISTY
CORB LUND & IAN TYSON
THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS
TANK AND THE BANGAS