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.
Wednesday night was a rowdy night where three excellent Dine Alone Records bands, The Flatliners, The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, rolled through Ottawa and rocked Babylon Nightclub.
Anyone who reads my articles enough knows the importance of The Flatliners to myself and to Ottawa Showbox. They are one of the reasons Matias brought me on board at Showbox and we have shared many great times listening and seeing them play live. This night was no exception, with the punk rock trio from Toronto reaching deep into their repertoire, but also rocking tracks from their new album Inviting Light. The diversity in their set is key when you realize that the band has been together for 15 years and could easily decide to ignore their earlier work from when they were teenagers. As a long time fan, I know I appreciated it immensely when they played songs like “July!August!Reno!” off their 2007 release The Great Awake.
While some fans screamed out for older tracks, or yelled requests for some ska, most of the crowd was just dialed into the true passion and energy that is a Flatliners set. Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with The Flatliners is Beau’s Brewing, which was flowing all night and whose reps and brewers were very present. If you’ve never sang along at the top of your lungs with a sweaty Tim Duncan, you haven’t lived. Be sure to read Matias’ in-depth interview with Chris Cresswell here.
Setting the stage for The Flatliners were The Dirty Nil, a headliner-caliber band in its own right and who most recently won a Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year. It’s not everyday you see a show where all three acts have headlined your town and tours across the country. When the band took to the stage, lead singer and guitarist Luke Bentham walked in with a big sign that read “HOTTAWA.” I think they were happy to be here. The Dirty Nil played their high energy grunge-inspired punk rock with conviction and style. With perfectly placed bubble gum bubbles for dramatic effect, Luke always looks likes he is having a blast. Bass player Ross Miller however often looks really intense during songs like he belongs in a metalcore band. That’s not a criticism at all, it’s just quite the contrast from the smiling, bubble-gum blowing going on on the other side of the stage. They played a new song “Avidazen” which was quite the rocking slow burner of a track. Dundas, Ontario must be so proud of these boys as they just keep getting bigger and better.
Opening the night was Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs from Toronto. Now here is a band out there having fun and taking names. The group all rock sleeveless jean jackets with their logo on the back and never stop smiling. They play up beat and lively rock n roll that will take you back a few generations and might even make you want to do the twist at times. They have a new album coming out soon and the new tracks sound great and are just as much fun. New songs like “Talk 2 Her” are definitely a step in the right direction.
They also played my favourite track “Gates of Hell” which just has every a great song needs from gang vocals, infectious sing a long moments, build-ups and claps. If you’ve never seen Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs play, you might not know that one of the guitarists plays a double neck guitar which usually leads to a great two man solo (can it still be called a solo if there are two?) – one on the 6 strings and the other on the 12 -neck. I also think this might be the only time I’ve seen the band play where Sam didn’t puke or roll around in the crowd… it was still great, but just saying.
Not only was the 12th of May an insane night due to how amazing the show at the Bronson Centre Theatre was, but it was insane for many reasons. As a short preview, I’ll give a list – dead batteries, between-act adventures, and battery compartment latches malfunctioning. Does that sound eventful yet? Most likely.
The first act to come on was Everett Bird. The dynamic that the band possessed was very unique in comparison to other bands that I’ve seen, and although I had completely blown my hearing, I could tell there was something this band possessed that few do. The band takes scales and plays with them with precision. Everett brought his scales from the highest notes he could use down to middle tones, all while being in harmony with what the others were playing. It was such a strange dynamic but it melded together very smoothly. He even produced noises from the guitar that don’t sound like they would come out of such an instrument.
They took these delicate and high notes and combined them into a gritty song filled with power chords, but they also take an approach to their music that sounds a bit like psychedelic and progressive rock. It’s very easy to get lost in and just let the music sway you. The lyrics take you into a different world completely. They produce vivid imagery through each song and through their lyrics, telling a story through each song. This was not limited to just vocals but it was through every note played. Though they didn’t move around very much, they seemed to take a different approach to getting the crowd lost in their music.
Unfortunately, this was the band I did not manage to get any photographs of. This is the first reason my night got thrown into absolute chaos. The batteries for my camera where dead, or so it appeared. It wouldn’t turn on, and I was unable to do anything with it. So as soon as Everett Bird got off stage, I had asked my friend to google the nearest corner store, which was on Albert Street, and while we booked it for the Quickie, one of my very close and dear friends held our spot in case we didn’t make it back in time. The walk was a six minute walk and I had determination that nobody could get in the way of. As soon as we got to the Quickie, we paced around, trying to scope out any batteries, and we noticed them behind the counter. The man charged me a good $10.16 for four AA batteries, and as soon as everything was paid for, we bolted out of the store. We had a brisk walk back, and it was as if everything was in our favour. All the lights turned to the little walking pedestrian as we approached them and we got back just as PS. I Love You had started.
PS I Love You is a group from Kingston that initially started out as a one-man-band, however Paul Saulnier realized that he needed more than just himself to partake in the band, and so Benjamin Nelson joined. The two really lose themselves in the music they create, and the sense of the sound wrapping around you slowly takes over. They really set the mood and atmosphere around them and they know how to control every aspect of it. Not only this, but the two are incredibly talented. Paul had at one point taken his guitar behind his head and shred the most amazing solo which only indicates how much raw talent these individuals possess.
Because it’s just the two of them, they have a very harmonious way of working together. It seems like the harmony goes deeper than just the music, which only helps them in their live performances. Their light and airy sound is drenched in reverb, and soaked in the sound produced by the organ pedal used for the guitar. The sound produced was very heavy yet interesting. I’d never heard anything like it before. It was entirely new to me and if I’m honest, it’s the first I’ve heard of such a pedal existing. The vocals were unconventional in the sense that they’re not perfect or smooth. They’re their own and fit into the very strange assortment of harmonies and melodies that were put together.
Unfortunately, halfway through their set, my camera stopped working once again. For the life of me I could not figure out what was going on until I took a closer look at the battery compartment. For my camera, it was located at the bottom, which meant a lot of force had to go into closing it. I had flipped it over and opened the compartment and as I had done so, I realized the small sliver of black plastic that held it shut had broken off and the little compartment could no longer be closed properly. At this point, I had had enough. I had come to the show to have a good time, and to get some amazing photographs and I was determined not to leave without them.
“But your camera is half broken,” you may say. Technically yes, but literally nothing was going to stop me from shooting this show. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ve been looking forward to this for far too long. In the moment, I looked over at what tools I had (which wasn’t much) and decided on my solution. I quickly wrapped the camera strap around the camera itself, making sure to pull it tight across the bottom. I looped it twice and then looped what remained around my right hand then placed my pinkie right where the battery compartment was and ensured it stayed shut. This wasn’t only difficult to do, but it was painful as well. This is how I managed to shoot the rest of the show.
Ottawa natives Hollerado came on after a quick little sound check from their crew and jumped right into what they do best. The stage went dark right before they emerged and the UV lights lit up the stage and displayed all the graphics that were painted on either large sheets, guitar cases, boxes, or the likes. Dean’s bass resonated clearly throughout the theatre and it could have been because I was very close by, but Hollerado has always been a band that has shown appreciation for a good bass line time and time again. Even the drumming that Jake presents to us is unlike anyone else’s drumming. In its own ways it’s simple enough to learn if you worked on it, however he plays with such energy and passion that I don’t think many could match even if they put their hearts into it. Although I have said that the drumming is simple enough to learn if you really sat down and tried, it’s also not as simple as it looks or sounds. It’s very precise when it comes down when each beat is hit, and it relies on rudiments. The way he even controls how loud or soft the sound gets takes practice and it’s something that most people don’t take into account.
Menno’s vocals are very rock and punk-based, especially with the new album. Of course, there is the backing vocals of Dean, Nixon, and Jake that add that slightly more indie-rock feel, which go back to the roots of the band. I particularly admired Nixon’s playing, especially how quickly he got back on his feet from his injury. The thing about the way he plays, he almost becomes one with his instrument. He knows it as if it’s the back of his hand and that only adds to how talented he is when it gets down to it. He loses himself in the music and he’s so in harmony with the songs, the instrument, and the setting that his performance falls nothing short of amazing. Although Menno isn’t one to rip out these intricate solos he really puts a spotlight on his guitar work, tearing away at power chords like in “Juliette” and “Eloise.” He’ll even create harmonies with Nixon’s playing to give a new depth to the songs that Hollerado plays.
They opened with a song from their new album, Born Yesterday. This really brought a kick to the show, and although most bands do open with tracks from their most recent release, you could tell each member was fully invested in this. In the moment, they were all there mentally, and physically. This album seemed to take a much more serious tone that the previous two, however due to the incredibly upbeat nature of the songs, you could get down to them very easily. Each riff holds a very intricate sound to it, different from the rest. Even when they slowed it down, the songs still had a very powerful sound to them, heavy on the bass and guitars. They even seemed to explore a little bit with their sound, extending to some more bluesy sounds.
During their performances, as unconventional as they are, Menno brought out cookies at one point, treating the crowd to a little snack. Not only does he get personal with the crowd, but with his friends with whom he shares the stage. He shares his microphone with Nixon from time to time, and they each invade each other’s personal space. Nixon would get up on Jake’s kick drum and jump off, Dean would get right beside Menno, and Menno and Nixon would take turns in each other’s space. Their performances are incredibly intimate no matter how big a show they play. They take this lack of personal space and apply it to the crowd as well. At one point Menno had shoved the microphone in my face and got me to sing along (I was later informed that I sang on key which rarely happens).
They did not disappoint when it came to the performance they put on, and even allowed a member of the crowd to play part of a song with them, asking who could play the guitar. They invited a man up and you could clearly tell he was so happy about the moment and you could tell the band really wanted him to feel like he belonged. Even in the moment where a drunk woman ran up on stage and slapped Menno’s ass, they weren’t angry, they just went with it and laughed it off. They even got an older gentleman (perhaps a family member?) to play a few songs with them.
There was one point where they began to play my favourite song off the new record, Eloise (which they weren’t even sure about adding to the record a year ago until my friend’s sister told them that they need to add it), and a man ran up on stage and told them to stop the show. He needed 9-1-1 called due to a woman passing out, and every member of Hollerado dropped their instruments and ran over to help in any way that they could. When they got back, they informed us that everything was okay, and she woke up and told them she passed out and that she was okay. They picked back up only after making sure that everyone was okay.
This album really brought a depth to the band that had come through before but never with such intensity. With songs about politics, love, and family, they really secured their legitimacy with this record, although they could probably write a song about a sock and everyone would love it just the same. They find a way to take small things and make them fun, or serious. They even have a song about a turtle (go listen to “Lonesome George”).
Hollerado, as a band, is very good at taking unconventional approached to rock, punk, and indie music, including staccato guitar intros, and tremolo picking solos. Much like bands they’re friends with, or have been associated with, they bring such a unique energy that only they would be able to bring to a room. It’s indescribable. It’s terrible to be one to say “man, you’ve just had to be there,” but it’s true! This is the only show I’ve been to where they haven’t fired off glitter and confetti and completely wrecked the venue with those small pieces of paper. Had they actually done that, you probably would have been finding it in weird places for days (this happens, trust me).
They guys themselves are incredibly kind people and all it takes is a conversation to get them talking. They actually even remembered my two friends and I from previous shows that we’ve frequented and asked about how we were doing and how our lives were going. Each member pays attention to you when you’re in conversation and really value your word. And lemons.
This band is one you need to see live before you die and even if you have to call in sick to work, or jump several fences to get there, please do because you will not regret it at all. You’ll probably just have too much fun and never want to go back to your regular life ever again. Also, please bring them Sharpies (or don’t it’s up to you) because they seem to be lacking some. And if you borrow their Sharpie, return it to Dean. It’s probably his.
The closer it drew to 8:00pm, the more the feeling of knowing something good will come out of what I’m doing settled and eventually completely took over. This feeling – remember that I’m talking about it.
Just beyond the arch of Chinatown is a small bar by the name of Bar Robo. Despite what you may think of music clubs – grimy, unwashed bar, people asking for beer by the pint – it isn’t what you’d expect. The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and the place was very tidy, had neon lights, some large potted plants, and cushioned seating. Having only seen the bar in photos, I always thought it had a mellow vibe, but as soon as I entered it, my gut feeling was only confirmed.
The first act, The C.H.U.D.S, came on at around 9:00pm (I admit I messed up and showed up an entire hour early). They proved to be the most difficult to photograph, with Imogen (the lead singer) constantly moving around, kicking over chairs, and flipping tables, and Brenda (the bassist) having her hair in her face at all times.
The band gets up in your personal space and the members really immerse themselves in every song they perform. Not only did I enjoy their sound, which I can describe with having tones of thrash punk with a unique twist, making it their own. They heavily touch upon the societal injustices that trans people face every day, and just how poorly they’re treated. This is why I really admired them, they’re a band that is very open about trans rights and they’re very active in getting awareness out in spite of how difficult it is.
Audrey (the guitarist) threw in many amazing riffs that sound like they were very well thought out, melding so well into every song. The band even toys with having controlled feedback, which is often hard to fit into songs naturally. James’ drumming added intensity to the overall sound the band had and really set the pace for each song. It seemed to determine the energy the room held and got everyone moving, and of course Imogen played a huge role in that as well.
After they had finished off their loud performance, I managed to talk to a few people, and learned that out of all the bands James was in, this one was the one with the most meaning. I have never listened to any of his other bands, but I decided since the person knew James for a number of years, I would take their word for it. I believe this especially because the whole focus of the band is to amplify the voices of people who identify as trans. They voice their pains, struggles, and how they matter. They sing and scream about the trauma they face daily, and about the violence they face from society. They do not hide from what they are and they stand very firm in their beliefs. The band is a reaction to the expectation of being respectable and quiet, as Imogen had told me. She even brought up how she sings about resistance, drug addiction, and cis complacency.
She even touches on the hypocritical side of punk. Punk has always been considered a genre that’s meant for everyone. Everyone is welcome to the punk scene, everyone can be a part of it. It’s about resistance, and never letting anyone take you alive, so why are trans people being out cast from a genre that is supposed to include, to resist, to bring awareness to important and pressing issues? Within this band’s violence is liberation.
It didn’t take long for Street Eaters, a duo from California to begin their performance. They took the two instruments people care about the least and transformed them into a full-throttle truewave punk band. They really impressed me with the coordinated drumming and signing brought forth by Megan March. This is something that’s incredibly difficult to do. Not only was this something that blew me away, but it was also the way that John played his bass. The approach is unconventional – he played it as if it was a guitar. This produced a heavy and gritty garage sound and shook the floor with its raw power. Their singing and shouting melded together and really brought the mood of their songs together. If you like Black Flag, I’m sure you’ll find yourself loving these guys.
Their commentary about Ottawa’s weather was accurate, but they bounced back with that if we were to go down to the USA, we could insult their weather patterns as well. After this, they performed a song that they seemed to sarcastically admit wasn’t about the hail storm they experienced while coming up to Canada. The song is called ‘To the Ice’ and it’s from their new record The Envoy which you can pre-order on their Bandcamp.
They closed off with the joke of “we’ll do you one better, we’ll play one more song” after suggested they cut their set down to two more songs. The song they closed off with was one they claimed to be about punching Nazis in the face, in reference to the event that occurred a couple of months back with Richard Spencer. This one seemed to strike a fire in both of the musicians that I had seen glimpses of throughout the night, but never with such intensity.
After they finished up, I managed to speak briefly to Megan, who was incredibly down to earth, and despite the angry sound of the band, was incredibly kind. We spoke of the band briefly and a very small amount about photography regarding the band before I let her go do whatever she was set to do. During this time, a few other people had piled in and had come to support their friends in the next band.
When Warp Lines came on, I immediately recognized their lead singer and guitarist Johnny from the TARG show a few weeks back with Steve Adamyk Band, however don’t let that fool you into thinking this band had the same sound. Although possessing some of the same roots, the sound is dirtier and grittier. Technically classified as pop-punk, these guys really nailed that heavy punk rock we were there to see. The trio brings a lively performance with them, coordinating very well with each other. The dynamic the guys have was incredible, sharing smiles throughout the songs they played. They drumming relies on crash cymbals and a very heavy beat all thanks to the wonderful Dave Sec whose technique impressed me. The riffs thrown in by Johnny, in their song ‘Weak Signals´, where perfectly placed and the string bends added a new depth to the song. Some riffs were kept light to contrast how heavy the entire song was and yet, it oddly fit so well. The bass, played by Kurt Rafuse (of The Yips/Tropical Dripps) shook the floor and made itself stand out in every single song they performed. It’s no doubt that this band is not afraid to bring out the bass.
If you listen to Steve Adamyk, PUP, or Hollerado, Warp Lines is a band that you’ll find yourself drawn to without a doubt. They’ve lively and really immerse themselves in their performance and despite bordering pop punk, they don’t fall into what the stereotypical association with that genre is. In a way, they grasp it, make it their own, and bring a new flavour to the punk and pop punk scene of Ottawa.
The night ended on a really positive note and gave me the opportunity to speak to a few more people, Johnny was one of them. He’s a very sincere and approachable person despite how serious he may look. Once you jump into conversation with him, he’s a really pleasant person to talk to. I also managed to say hello to Steve (Steve Adamyk Band) and Pat (Telecomo) who came out to support their friends. Now, remember that feeling I told you about in the very first paragraph? That feeling is something I had during the entire time I was in the small bar in Chinatown. This was without a doubt one of the best shows that I’ve been to, and the whole night the atmosphere was filled to the brim with positive energy.
Overall, any of these bands mentioned above are worth seeing live because you’ll either never find the recordings no matter how far you delve into the World Wide Web, or if you do, the recordings will never do the band justice and will never possess the same grit, grime, and liveliness that their live performances hold. That being said, make sure to catch The C.H.U.D.S and Warp Lines at Ottawa Explosion weekend in order to hear their sick tunes live and raw.
After a very, very last minute decision to go to a show, I was set to take on Pressed Café on the 13th of April. For those who have never been, Pressed Café is a small coffee house and bar on Gladstone Avenue. The venue is one of the smallest I’ve seen to this day and the room itself seems to be designed to fit maybe thirty people seated. This “full house” standard was once broken, but that is a different story for another time.
On the 13th, Pressed was not a full house, however, everyone left with hearts filled with something they’d come to the venue without. For me, it was pride and hope, and lungs filled with the smoke from the fog machine (yes, they did indeed have one).
Nightshades was the first to perform, and Mallory (guitar and vocals) even admitted that at practice the night before, everything sounded amazing. But when she went on that night, she felt like it just wasn’t as good. However, I beg to differ. Their sound, although described as garage punk, thrash, or grunge, is astoundingly similar to The Breeders, and Mallory’s voice is so much like Kim Deal’s that I was completely blown away. Her vocals sweet and melodic but with a little depth that you wouldn’t expect. She didn’t hold back at all, and laughed off not being able to quite remember the set list, joking around that it’s what professional bands do. The overall sound of the band, going past just describing it as The Breeders, is gritty. Accompanied by a strong baseline that caused the building to shake was a heavily distorted guitar and some really unique drumbeats.
If you came to see Nightshades for a heavy and overpowering guitar sound, you’ve come to the wrong place. Dean’s bassline is the focus, it’s aggressive but doesn’t make a big deal out of itself and when Geoff pounds the drums, it’s truly something else. It’s not like most drummers that I’ve seen that go at the drums like Grohl. This is something that came from the late 80’s and transitioned into the 90’s. Not quite the anger from the grunge movement but definitely holds a strong element of it. It’s so well put together and the fact that the band itself seemed so into what they were doing just created a more positive experience overall. A favourite of mine was by them is for sure a song called “London Bass” because the bassline is prominent but has a unique build with the guitar.
The next band to play was one by the name of Look Vibrant. They’re a band that seems to be a bit of noise rock with a psychedelic twist to it. Here’s a better visual for you. Remember back in the 70’s when kids would get high and listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon? This is a band that you would probably do the same thing with. They’re an incredibly unique band, and believe me when I say I’ve never heard anything like them. There are falsettos used in every song, but it feels just right in a strange way. With many keyboards, drums (with a broken crash symbol), and some synths, this band of five is impressive. How they fit these instruments that look like they shouldn’t be able to go together, I won’t understand, but they managed to do it all. The overall style of the band really caught my eye because they seem like what would either be considered hipster or very 80’s, but when they began, I was blown away by the harmonies and by how lost they got in the music. Not to mention how much they enjoyed performing for a small room despite the limited amount of space. Overall, the performance was one that drew you in either out of curiosity or because you genuinely enjoyed it. It was soothing and if you ever find yourself in a place where you might have a creative block or just need something to listen to while laying on your floor thinking about the rest of your life, by all means, find their Bandcamp and all of their EP’s. I especially recommend the song “Clouds” if you are going to do the aforementioned.
The last band,Smokes, was a band I found myself enjoying a lot more than I thought possible. With small moments between all the members and the way they threw themselves into it, it really set the tone of the show and created a positive atmosphere. Everyone felt like they were part of something. The genre was a strange one and verged on punk and rock, bordering it all but throwing in elements that you wouldn’t see in either. When I say that, I mean they managed to throw in a violin into the mix of guitars, and drums, changing the sound of it with many pedals, but nonetheless, it was incredibly impressive. When you learn that those few sounds that sound like a synth are in fact a violin, it blows your mind away completely and all notions of what a punk band needs to be are blown out of the water. These guys push the boundaries, and I mean that in a good way. They certainly make explorations with their music. Playing the bass more like a guitar, plucking at the violin strings, combining some guitar into that and an intricate drum beat that doesn’t remain the same throughout the entirety of every song, it was incredibly impressive to watch. They took absolutely every detail into consideration to make sure it sounded ideal. Not only that but the movements throughout the performance really proved for a more enjoyable show and challenged photography if you tried to get a shot of just one of the members. All in all, their distinct sound which faintly echoed that of Depeche Mode’s was truly money well spent. Their lyrics were insightful, especially in the song “Body Heat,” allowed emotional connections to the songs they performed.
After all the songs, save one, were performed, it was exactly 10:59 pm. People scattered and started to help dismantle the drum kit, and packed up equipment while others got a beer and handled the merch tables. During that time, I went and thanked the bands and talked to them a bit about their show (making sure they weren’t in conversation or too busy). It turns out Look Vibrant was thrown into an Ottawa show and they didn’t really realize it, but went with it anyway and drove back to Montreal for a show the very next day.
Pressed is an intimate venue where you can go up to people, start a conversation, and just simply connect with the bands, which is exactly what I did. Some engaged in conversation, others exchanged information and it was left at that but overall, everyone was incredibly friendly and pleased to have a conversation with you.
I strongly suggest you keep a lookout for these bands if you want your mind blown, your creativity to flow, and to hear a strange and artistic take on your favourite genres. Your experience will be a pleasant one, you can hold me to that, and if for some reason you don’t find yourself tapping your foot to at least one of the songs, a least you got out of your stuffy home.
House of TARG is one of those unique places that makes you feel at home when you walk down the dingy basement stairs. The room was probably about a billion times hotter than it should be and only got worse through the night. That being said, it didn’t discourage people from having a party.
“How does one make a punk show out to be a party?” one asks. Well, the answer to that is simple, booze, good tunes, and lively bands that either know what they’re doing or have no idea what they’re doing but do it well. That’s exactly what went down on the 7th April, and of course, continued until the early morning of the 8th.
When my best friend and I walked in, we were greeted by Matias who then introduced us to a long-term Showbox writer, Eric. He also introduced us to Eric’s girlfriend, and both were exceptionally kind to the two of us. After some conversation, we headed to find a table and patiently await the show to start.
Robots! Everywhere! was the first to perform and he put on an acoustic set which reminded me very much of a band by the name of AJJ. He sang about sports, going to the park with his daughter, and terrible dates. Phil does not take himself very seriously, which is something that you don’t see very often in the music scene, and much less in a punk music scene. He embraces forgetting the words to a song with no shame and jokes around with the crowd, even looking at a notebook he placed on the floor to remind himself of what songs to perform. Through the night, with friends there to support him, a smile did not leave his face. He even performed a song that he doesn’t perform live and he let us in on a little secret; it’s because his girlfriend is typically at shows and well, the song is called “Call Me Some, If You Are Looking for a Time”. The song consists of the lyrics “If you are ever bored and you want to get married… call me.” And yet he is not. He brought forth an energetic show, one that would remind you of summer camp where you’d gather around the fire and sing together, just way better and with a little more yelling. Seeing Phil live is well worth your money if you don’t take yourself too seriously, or even if you do, you can’t help finding his music infectious.
I wish I had the time to talk to Phil after his set, however, Telecomo took the stage immediately after and who was I to complain? Telecomo brought a more serious vibe to the bar, opening with brand songs that I couldn’t find anywhere on the internet yet. They completely shifted the mood. Not only did they make it feel like they belonged playing in bars due to their sound, but they made you feel like you were in your friend’s garage, watching their band go at it with heart. I found every song infectious and the composition was incredibly well done. I have also never in my life seen a bassist move around as much as Gary did. His basslines shook the floor with its power. I have always deeply admired strong basslines, and Gary’s blew me away. It’s something that really added to the songs and the experience.
The third last song Telecomo played was “I Met You.” It reminds me so much of a song from my childhood and yet I can’t for the life of me figure out which one. This is probably one of the reasons that I have a strong love for that song. They played their last two songs, “For Sale” and “Lipstick” then began to pack up after their very heartfelt thank you. Their drummer and friend, Pat Johnson, was revealed to be working double time because he was also the drumming for Steve Adamyk Band that night. He seemed very modest and began to shake his head when a round of applause was asked to be given for him.
I managed to talk to Adam and Gary after they performed, who were both incredibly sweet people. They even talked to me about my photography and Gary mentioned how he tried to “muck it up” for me, and hoped I got some good shots. They were very genuine people and even asked for my social media. After that I went to find Phil, which Matias kindly directed me to, and I managed to exchange some info with him. Phil, if you manage to talk to him, is a sweetheart. Not only did he make sure everything was alright, but he kept checking in with my best friend to see if she was enjoying the show and if she was okay. This wasn’t something we asked for, but it was certainly much appreciated. His friend chimed in and even told us that we had very nice smiles and that although we occupied the table that he had been eyeing all night, he couldn’t be mad at us for it.
Telecomo will be releasing their debut LP For Sale in June, it is a must-have and will be available on vinyl as well.
As things began to settle down, Steve Adamyk Band began to set up. I was pretty excited to hear them live for the second time because their recorded stuff doesn’t do this band justice. When do CD’s, LP’s, or cassette tapes ever do a band justice though? They opened with “Through My Fingers” and really threw themselves into the music. Pat was going at the drums with every ounce of energy that he had within him. Later that night I learned that he had broken something close to sixteen drumsticks, and two kick pedals because that’s how rock and roll works. I even managed to snag a photo where his drumstick is breaking. Their sound is pop punk with a dash of fuzz added to it. Their energy got people on their feet and dancing, and got me bobbing my head to the fast pace of their songs. Unfortunately, on this night they were a trio as opposed to their usual foursome but their delivery was still spot-on despite this fact. They talked to the crowd and all in all were incredibly friendly people. If you want to listen to a song of theirs that will for sure get you on your feet I highly recommend “False Teeth.” It’s a little gloomy sounding at first, but it picks up fast and gets you moving with a strong baseline that draws the song together.
Talking to Steve was a pleasure. Not only was he thankful for the photos I was taking, he spoke to me about how he loves talking to people who were born and raised in Ottawa and even talked some about how Ottawa is a home to many bands they’re friends with, officially and unofficially. We spoke briefly, but in that time we spoke of the local music scene. These guys have a passion for music that’s so clearly written on their faces, in performance, and in conversation. After thanking Steve for the time he gave me, I headed over to Matias as I got very excited about a photo of Steve Adamyk Band that I took. It is by far my favourite photograph of the night and I knew I could not wait to send him the photo. I needed to show him there and then.
There was a wait period between Steve Adamyk and B.A. Johnston. The whole vibe suddenly shifted, whether it was because it was the opening act or because a significant amount of people immediately flooded towards the front, I don’t know. All I really knew about B.A. was that he makes a joke out of everything and anything, and that in his shows he includes a performance art component to it which most people don’t actually consider an art. Watching this man perform was incredibly absurd. Not that it was bad by any means, it was just incredibly strange. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Not only did he wear three sweatshirts, but at the very beginning of the show, he ripped a pair of Velcro pants off. His humour consisted of not understanding how an iPhone 5c (his Walkman) worked, and writing songs with very oddly specific names. He had even written a song about GST cheques. Besides that, his humour gave off the vibe of Hamilton, Ontario (so he claims), which is where he’s from. He went around the crowd belting out lyrics in his hoarse voice and crushing beer cans on his head whenever he was handed one.
His sound can only be described as something you’d hear from video games from the 80’s, with a mix of pre-programmed beats, synthesizer, and a few acoustic songs. His guitar is a clear indication of the type of act he puts on. A modge-podge of various bits and pieces stuck on, and stickers littering the old thing. There were even carvings in the face of his guitar, and even a metal pick guard somehow stuck on to it. If you paid close enough attention, you could see his feet floating above the ground from time to time as he played. He later claimed to be “a forty five year old man whose only pleasure is forcing people to drink Sourpuss”.
His act went on well past 1 a.m. and although I didn’t stay for the last few songs, I guarantee that there was a lot more drinking, dancing, and singing going on as the show came to an end. I got a cab home and Matias made sure my friend and I stayed safe, walking out in front of TARG with us.
The night was overall filled with great people, fantastic music, and most of the vibes were incredibly positive. Everyone was incredibly friendly and grateful, no matter how drunk or tipsy they were. The live music allowed the room to surge with energy, and as soon as the bands played everyone crowded around TARG’s stage.
If you’re looking for lazy punk, garage punk, punk with some fuzz to it, or folk punk with a side of comedy, this was the lineup for you. And if you want and incredibly wild night with no regrets (except for that headache you’ll be sporting), come on down to see these incredibly talented artists next time they play.
Standing in the Westin picking up Juno Awards media passes, my phone buzzed. A screenshot from a friend of a tweet saying there was a pop-up Arkells show at a *secret* location, hosted by CBCq and Tom Power. What the hell is that, you ask? Pop-up show? Secret location? Challenge accepted. So, The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq began.
As we left the hotel we made a plan. It was 1:30pm, the show was at 4pm. Start the clock.
1:32PM – We narrowed down possible venues for such an event in Ottawa. The tweet said that the first 50 people who emailed CBCq would get access to the show. We knew it would be small.
1:37PM – We hauled ass to the car, snow flying down everywhere, and decided first stop would be at the source. Off to CBC we went. Once we parked and found our way around the the entrance that actually let us in (harder than you’d think, there’s like five doors to that place). The security guards were quick to stop us, we showed them the tweet and I’m pretty sure they thought we were off our rockers. Thankfully, one gentleman didn’t think we were completely loony and offered to help us out by introducing us to the CBC host he was waiting to meet. Amazingly enough, the host he was waiting for also happened to be the moderator from the morning’s panel discussion on Ottawa As A Music City. Though he also had no idea what we were talking about he was nice enough to wish us luck as we left on The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq
2:05PM – Next we tried to think logically. CBCq hosted an event at the Bronson Centre the day before. Perhaps they were holding all their gear there for the broadcast. So once again, off we went. We got inside only to have the person behind the desk look at us like we have eight heads. This was becoming a theme. We thought this was a logical choice, but failed to consider the size of the Bronson Centre, and how it could fit many more than 50 people.
2:30PM – Though we didn’t admit defeat, we decided that CBC probably knew a thing or two about keeping secrets. We carried on with our day.
3PM – Out for lunch where I ended up with a full pint of beer in my lap and ate perogies that would later nearly kill me (that’s a story for another time).
3:45PM – *Phone buzz.* What’s the line up outside LIVE on Elgin? We once again hauled ass to the car.
4:05PM – Late for the 4PM start time, we parked, j-walked and carefully knocked on the door of the venue. Security opens the door and quickly starts questioning. We got a quick no, and a door close.
4:07PM – Some parts of this story need to remain a mystery, right?
4:10PM – WE GOT IN! The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq was a success!!! We quickly stripped off coats, rigged up cameras with lens, and flew like the wind towards the stage. Arkells were going full tilt, we started shooting. Max flew everywhere through the crowd. He was dancing, throwing his mic stand around, finally just took the glasses straight off my face. Insanity. Private School, Drakes Dad, Happy Birthday, Jackson Five.
4:50PM – Post show CBC Host Tom Power striked up a conversation with us. We hesitantly told him details of The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq, unsure of the response we would receive. He got a laugh, seemed impressed, all was fine, the end.
4:55PM– Still losing our shit, we went on with our day. The rest of The Juno Awards awaited us, little did we know there was much more in store for the weekend. Check out the full photo gallery for more of what I got up to throughout Juno Weekend.
Join us next time as I tell the story about how I puke outside Petrocan before meeting another CBC radio host.