I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—one of the most rewarding parts of this job is discovering new artists making music in town. That is certainly the case with the young and aspiring singer-songwriter named Christine Jakel, who I crossed paths with at Bar Robo last year when she played with her other project, Grace Note. Her talents are immediately impactful, and draw listeners in like a tractor beam through the headphones or on stage. As someone with a degree in classical voice from the University of Ottawa and lifelong piano training at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Christine’s kind and modest demeanour struck me as endearing given the sheer level of skill and experience contained within her. Thus, I took a mental note and made sure to keep an eye on her music-related ventures.
Fast forward a year or so, and Jakel announces that she’s releasing a solo EP called Satellite Moons, once again at Bar Robo, on September 30. It came as no surprise, and it seemed to only be a matter of time before she explored her solo songwriting in a formal studio setting. While I’ve only heard a couple songs off of the upcoming EP, my initial impression is that she has a musical “sense” about her that is well beyond her years. The songs weave between genres and influences, as certain polarizing elements of jazz and folk are somehow drawn together and melded with one another in her songs.
Her vocal prowess is put on full display, as Jakel seamlessly reaches the highs and lows of her octave—and everything in between—with laser-sharp precision. The rest of Satellite Moons is sure to contain more treats for us to hear. In the years to come, Ottawa should prepare itself for Jakel’s inclusion into a group of local women such as Kathleen Edwards, Catriona Sturton, and Lynne Hanson, just to name a few, who have consistently shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Ottawa valley and beyond.
I caught up with Jakel this week in advance of the Satellite Moons EP Release, which takes place at Bar Robo on Saturday, September 30th at 8 pm. She will be joined by Mike Giamberardino (drums), Szymon Szańczuk (bass), Dean Watson (electric guitar), and Charlotte Esme Frank (harmonies) on stage, along with opening acts Grace Marr and David daCosta. Tickets are $13, and include a download code for the album. Find more information here.
Interview with Christine Jakel
Can you talk a bit about how has music been a part of your life growing up?
Both my parents took it upon themselves to expose me to music growing up. My dad has been obsessed with jazz ever since I can remember and used to play jazz guitar in his spare time. There are some artists whose CD’s are deeply ingrained into my system from having listened to them so often: George Benson, Chet Baker, Diana Krall, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, to name a few. I’ve probably heard Autumn leaves thousands of times because my dad used to practice it relentlessly. He was also the one who introduced me to Joni Mitchell, now my main source of inspiration for songwriting. Her song Big Yellow Taxi was the reason I started playing guitar. Wondering Where the Lions are by Bruce Cockburn was the next song I learned. He was another artist that I heard a lot of growing up because of my dad. My mom was the one who made sure I was taking classical piano lessons starting at a young age and shortly after we moved to Ottawa, she enrolled me in an arts high school (De La Salle) where I chose the voice program and subsequently became actively involved in its various vocal ensembles, while being trained as both chorist and a soloist.
You explore many sounds and themes in your music. What is most important aspect you focus on when composing a song?
For me songwriting always begins with lyrics and melody. The song craft and the overall message of the song are as important to me as the music itself. This is also what I listen for in other artists’ music. I find that I am most drawn to songs that are cleverly thought out but also genuine and direct. This is what I aim for when composing my songs. Overall atmosphere, chords and instrumental riffs come are there to enhance those elements.
What was the Shot in the Dark experience like for you? Can you describe it for those who may not know?
It felt great to be a part of something that I knew was contributing to the local music scene in a positive way. Not only did I get one of my own songs recorded and filmed for the first time, but I had the chance to hear and meet so many talented local artists that I never would have discovered otherwise. In a way it acted as a spring board for me as a newly emerging musician because it led to more opportunities for shows and collaborations.
The performance itself was unlike anything I have ever done before and I don’t think it’s one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. When I came on, Dean made the call to remove all amplification and to bring the audience close in around me, so there was zero background noise and I could feel everyone watching and listening to me intently. It was terrifying in the best way (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so exposed), and I couldn’t be happier with the result! (video available below)
What reaction or emotion do you hope to evoke from those listening to the new EP, Satellite Moons, for the first time?
I hope that anyone listening finds something they can relate to in my songs and feel moved or inspired by even if it’s just in a small way. I also hope to send an empowering message to other women out there who may feel intimidated or out of place taking up space or making themselves heard in the music scene. From what I’ve seen, the industry could really use more female representation. Knowing this reality is partly what fuels my work. Furthermore, I would love for people to perceive the depth in my songs and to hear beyond something that’s “cute” or “pretty.” Those are two words that I’ve been called my whole life, that bother me when they are used in a belittling way (whether intentionally or not), and that I’d like to break free from at least in the context of my music. This is why I’ve made sure to include some angry songs on the record.
Do you have a memorable concert experience that you can recount that perhaps influenced your music?
This past March I had the opportunity of seeing The Staves play live at the Bronson Centre. I was floored by how polished their performance was and by the wide range of soundscapes they managed to create using their voices and various instrumental skills. What I particularly like about them is that they stray from the traditional lead-singer vs. band setup. Each member plays an equal part in the singing and the balance between their voices shifts from one song from the next in fascinating ways. Their sound is very much contingent upon them gelling as a team. For me, the experience of hearing them opened doors to new realms of possibility when arranging music, which made me want to go home and write songs immediately.
Is there one venue or city that is on your bucket list to play? Why?
I am open to the possibilities of where my music might take me. Playing music is what makes me happy. Whether it’s in a noisy bar or the NAC or at an intimate gathering, I am grateful for any opportunity to share my work, the more unexpected the better! Short term, however, I do currently have my sights set on Megaphono. I have so many good memories from attending the festival as an audience member and it seems like something I’d like to experience and be a part of, hopefully as a performer this year.
What’s the next step for you musically?
In the next year I am hoping to gain regular instruction at guitar and to lock in a few more hours of practice per week than I usually do. Everything I know so far, I taught myself, besides the odd trick I picked up from my dad and my uncle, and there is so much I have yet to learn about the instrument. This would give me a whole lot more to work with when writing songs, which I intend to continue doing as much as possible. My goal is to have enough songs written by next summer to be able to start on an album. I already have a few on the go.
When Montreal’s HOAN formed in 2015, there was an intention to deviate from the path of jangle-pop and explore new horizons. Cutting their teeth in the DIY scene, HOAN’s music is simultaneously pensive and audacious. Their new EP, Modern Phase, is a 7-track effort that fuses dark and reverb-laden instrumental layers in a post-punk foundation. Alex Nicol’s vocals and lyricism whisp us away, but we’re constantly grounded again by noir moments of frenetic energy. Three of HOAN’s members were in the now-defunct band Kurvi Tasch, and have taken this window of opportunity to write music outside of a box and experiment with electronic elements, as well as explore more issues in the social and political realms in their lyrics.
I spoke with singer/guitarist Alex Nichol as HOAN get set for their show at Bar Robo on Thursday, August 31, with Organ Eyes. Be sure to catch them live, they’ll be playing most of the tracks on Modern Phase live. Doors are at 8 pm, and tickets are $10 at the door.
Interview with HOAN
Some Ottawa folks might remember Kurvi Tasch, a group that contained most of HOAN’s members. Has the change in name signified a larger shift for the band’s approach to music?
Kurvi Tasch was a guitar-based band with a pretty limited sonic palette. We made a bunch of releases under the name and felt like we wanted something new. Alex traveled to India with his computer and began making electronic music. This kind of propelled the idea for HOAN, and it became clear that the music we wanted to make did not make sense under the Kurvi Tasch name. ‘Modern Phase’ was recorded in this transitional period. The next release will have more synths, programmed drums, and so on, as we continue to expand our approach to music.
Modern Phase is not only sonically intriguing, but it also touches on many themes and ideas that we deal with as individuals and a society as a whole. Can you expand on some of these ideas, and what caused you to go that direction?
Yea, sure. The first theme that strikes through is the notion of technological advancement at all costs, without the ability to manage or deal with the impact it has. ‘Technocracts’ is the best example of this. I feel like it’s rampant all over the world since industrialization in the West, and will have similar impacts in places that have yet to fully industrialize. Take fracking, for example. You would think that people realized in the beginning that it is harmful on the environment. But the science was there to extract the oil, and there was such a demand for it, that alternative approaches to fueling cars never really had a chance. I feel there is a lot being ignored in discussions around innovation, namely how to sustain communities, give proper job training, the white-washing cultural impact it can have, and so much more. The title, ‘Modern Phase,’ is kind of poking fun at the idea of a “Modern era” in the hopes that people look at the human and environmental costs a bit more closely.
Is there an artist that you’re listening to – either locally or not – that you think people should hear?
Lido Pimienta is great. So is Perfume Genius. Locally there is tonnes of great stuff: Un Blonde, Maggy France, Loon, Blue Odoeur, ANEMONE, Slight, Blanka, the list goes on.
What was the most exciting part about making Modern Phase? Did you try new things? Mess around with new instruments at all?
The best part was trying out a whole bunch of keyboards we never knew existed. A lot of them made it on the record!
Ottawa has a small, yet strong DIY scene, and that ethic translates into a lot of pretty cool music here. Can you talk a bit about the Montreal scene? What are some of the challenges the scene there is facing these days?
Gentrification is gonna hit pretty soon, as the area around Parc and Beaubien is bracing for a new University of Montreal campus next door. There will be a few new spots opening up in Park-Ex and over on St-Hubert, but for the time being it’s pretty solid with the Plante, Drones, Poisson Noir, the Bog, and a couple others.
You’ve played a lot of dates in the US over the last several months. What is the atmosphere like down there? Was general social discontent pervasive in music clubs? Or was it business as usual?
We had some apologetic Americans in NYC in March, and in general a lot of discussion about the socio-political climate at the moment, that’s for sure. A lot of musicians are quite engaged in fighting the good fight – like our friend Richie in Hamtramck who runs a record store on a shoe-string budget in an area that is gentrifying fast. I think the Trump presidency will bring more people into the political process, which is actually a good thing. I look forward to seeing where people are at when we head out for 10 shows at the end of September.
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.
There’s some new music coming our way at the end of the month. Ottawa power-pop trio Sleepy and the Noise is fresh out of the womb and ready to rumble, as they get set to drop their debut 4-track EP called Altitudes later this month at Bar Robo.
Originally, Sleepy and the Noise began as a small solo project by Christian Pasiak. While enjoying making his own music as a singer/songwriter, Pasiak got the ambition to grow his performance and add some accompaniment. It wasn’t long until Kira Montfort (Lora Bidner, Kaleigh Watts, Alexy and The Otherside) and Sarah Fitzpatrick (from one of our favourite local folk-rock groups, Steamers) joined the ranks and the complete trio was formed.
“Since we were adapting Christian’s solo songs to a band context and adding our own individual flare, it was more a case of tuning up and perfecting songs, rather than writing,” Fitzpatrick recounts. “But we also had a clear idea of what we wanted from the get go.”
“Recording was a really great experience, since we were working with David Gervais at Swell Studios and he really quickly got a clear idea of the sound we were going for and had lots of suggestions. Since we’re a trio, working in a recording environment lets us try out a bunch of ideas that are harder to try live, like layering different instruments and vocals to fill out the sound.”
Their sound is full and raw, but not overdone or aggressive. Those partial to Pavement or Dinosaur Jr. will be able to sink into Sleepy and the Noise’s sound right away, as they take us on a fun ride that is not only short and punchy, but also contains several moments of cunning lyricism and undaunted instrumentals.
“Lyrically, I take as much from social theory and post structuralist philosophy as from other musicians,” Pasiak clarifies. “But I really appreciate John K Samson, Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird – and some leftover angst from the 90s like Propagandhi. As for the sound of this EP, we were trying to get a little taste of our musical variety: the ‘sleepy and the noisy’. Since this is the debut, tried to keep it lighter, even though lyrically these songs document struggles with anxiety, especially My Medusa.”
My favourite track, if I had to choose, would be the song “Mountains & Valleys,” one that elucidates Pasiak’s word-smithing abilities and strong use of metaphors and imagery in his songwriting. Moreover, some irresistible guitar tones and backup vocals by Fitzpatrick makes it one that you won’t be able to resist having on repeat.
Ottawa is buzzing once again in anticipation of this year’s Arboretum Festival happening August 17–21. Going into its fifth year, the festival has grown from a boutique music and arts festival held in a parking lot to a full-on institution in the capital. That includes incorporating and celebrating important aspects of Ottawa’s music, art, food, history, activism, and more. Not to mention that there’s an entire conference portion (called Assembly), where informative, interactive, and sometimes uncomfortable-but-necessary discussions can be had about challenges people in our community face. Each iteration of the festival has built on its previous self, adding one crucial piece after another to make it into something that can stand up to any festival of comparable size in North America. Ottawa is on the map.
We at Showbox have been lucky enough to witness Arboretum grow into an exemplary and multifaceted entity since 2012. Moreover, we are honoured to be part of the festival this year as a presentation partner with the Witching Hour Official Arboretum After Parties being held at Bar Robo every night of the festival.
This year’s festival can be broken down into two physical domains: the Concert Village and the Festival Village.
The venue portion – a.k.a. the Concert Village – includes venues and spaces around town that will host band showcases, conference panels, mixers, speed meetings and after parties. Folks with full-festival passes will have the ability to bounce around the map and have plenty of chances to catch intimate performances, schmooze, and really see what Ottawa has to offer under the surface. There is also another (albeit pricier) option: those who don’t want to get the full pass can pick and choose which venues they’d rather go to by paying cover at the door.
The centralized Festival Village site is located behind Ottawa City Hall on Lisgar Street, and brings together some of the best local food, drink, shops and more, in addition to the music. The village itself will have two stages: the Main Stage, which is the larger of the two and where larger acts like Sloan perform, as well as the Debaser stage, where some emerging and experimental acts will play. The Arb organizers promise no Jumbotrons.
Here’s a breakdown of each day’s activities during Arboretum Festival 2016:
Wednesday kicks things off at 11am with some crucial and informative discussions at Bar Robo, Discussions include topics surrounding the transforming role of record labels and the new realities of building and sustaining a home for recorded music, ageism and professional roadblocks and cultural biases experienced on either end of the age spectrum, followed by a round of speed meetings for participants to network with industry delegates.
The evening will begin at St. Alban’s Church with the keynote presentation featuring acclaimed writer and broadcaster Andrea Warner (author of “We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music”) which will explore the institutional and internalized sexism facing women in music. Attendees have the option of sticking around to catch Evening Hymns, Safia Nolin, Her Harbour play sets at the beautiful sounding church, or head back to Bar Robo for the Hand Drawn Dracula Showcase or over to House of Common for the You’ve Changed Records BBQ.
If you’re into some late night drinks and jams, don’t forget to hit up Bar Robo for the Witching Hour Official After Party featuring Hand Drawn Dracula DJs. Robo will have a special Arboretum cocktail called “Capo Melo” served all week long, which contains CAPO CAPO, grapefruit juice, vodka (it’s the perfect delicious summer drink). Great music and discussions all around on the first day.
The Must-See: Partner 9:00 @ You’ve Changed Records BBQ, House of Common
They’ve been called the “best new bands in Canada,” and that’s no bullshitting. They’re heavy, they’re punchy, and they’re relentless. And they will consume you whole with their blistering live performance.
The Hidden Gem: Andrea Warner 5:30pm @ St. Alban’s Church
In this keynote presentation, Warner will be discussing internalized and institutional sexism in the music industry, an issue that effects women from small clubs to the highest levels of pop stardom. Moderated by Vish Khanna.
This day is packed to the brim with goodies. No early mornings today, but be sure to get to Bar Robo by 12:30pm for a panel on publicity and media relations in today’s ever-evolving media climate – particularly helpful for new bands or artists that aren’t yet established and looking for some guidance on how to crack the code on getting your music out there. The second round of speed meetings also takes place at 2:30pm, so get your networking pants on!
In the evening, you might have to make some tough choices on the schedule. You could start off at the Babely Shades Block Party at House of Common around 6:15pm, and if you decide to stay all night you’ll catch stellar performances from Toronto’s Above Top Secret and Lido Pimienta. Or you could hit up our very own Telecomo showcase at Bar Robo, one of Ottawa’s hottest new tickets. Or do both, the venues aren’t far apart!
From there, one option is checking out Jeremy Gara (of Arcade Fire), Ottawa’s youngest and brightest talents Trails, and the one and only Tim Hecker at St. Alban’s. I can’t think of a more appropriate venue for this lineup, and it’s sure to be a mind melting experience. Another louder option is the Buzz Records showcase at Babylon Nightclub. Dilly Dally are not to be missed, and their 2015 album Sore was an absolute tour-de-force. They will be supported by Fake Palms, Twist, and one of our Ottawa faves Bonnie Doon. Let’s just say Buzz Records can do no wrong.
Once again, Bar Robo will be hosting the after party and the Pony Girl DJs will be providing your soundtrack late into the night.
The Must-See: Dilly Dally 11:30pm at Buzz Records Showcase, Babylon Nightclub
A little bit of 90’s angst, a lot of full-throttle overdriven riffage that will make the sonically meek curl up into a ball in the corner. Full disclosure, Sore was my favourite album of the year in 2015 which I wrote about in Mixtape Magazine. Raw and unclean, Katie Monks takes this band into the stratosphere with her powerful vocals and energy on stage. Like, seriously, don’t miss them.
The Hidden Gem: Above Top Secret 9:15 @ Babely Shades Block Party, House of Common
Babely Shades aren’t just making a huge impact here in Ottawa with their activism. They’re bringing in acts that push boundaries and smash them. One example is Above Top Secret, a Toronto-based “experimental, rap – electro – dub hop mashup infused with feminist politics” who are making music to bounce to while fighting against systemic injustices at the same time. Read a great interview that Elsa did with them in a recent issue of Ottawa Beat.
The Festival Village opens. Before you go discover the wonders that lie there, at 5:30pm there is a discussion with city planners, venue owners and managers, cultural developers, employers, and music promoters regarding zoning and city planning for performance venues in Ottawa at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annex at City Hall. Make sure to get there early enough to see local pop punk three-piece BB Cream open up the village at 6:00 pm on the Debaser stage. Their self-titled debut has ten songs that reflect a band that came to age attending punk shows all over town. They are fun, awkward but mostly fun. Go check them out and dance with a friend or make some new friends.
Travel back to the 90s and see Sloan play at 8:30. They will be performing their gold-certified and Juno award winning album, One Chord To Another, from start to finish which kicks off with the Canadian smash hit “Good in Everyone.” Bar Robo will be going late into the night with DJs Lamb Rabbit and Pat Egan spinning gold all night.
The Must-See: Sloan 8:30pm @ Main Stage, Concert Village
Sloan hardly needs an introduction, let alone a reason why they are a must-see on Friday night. This rock/power-pop group has been kicking out the jams for 25 years and have shown no sign of slowing down. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see them play their seminal 1996 album One Chord To Another from start to finish.
The Hidden Gem: Moss Lime 7:00pm @ Debaser Stage, Convert Village
This minimalist post-punk trio have been bubbling under the surface in Canada’s independent music landscape for a few years now. While their music sounds like something between Joy Division (cliché, I know) and The Slits, Moss Lime have created a distinctive sound that includes 3-part vocal harmonies and simplistic yet irresistible riffs.
Shake off your Friday hangover at the Back Lot BBQ at Spaceman Music starting at 11am, because hair of the dog works… right? Or head back to the Village for the OPEN AIR BRUNCH CLUB at noon presented by Buchipop. Free brunch prepared by chef Mike Frank (ex- Mellos Restaurant / Bar Robo) dishes out Egg Snackwiches, Vegan and Vegetarian grub, taters and more. Wash it down with Buchipop Mimosas or caesars from Union Local 613’s cocktail bar. To top it all off, Brockville Lions Steel Drum Band plays at 2 pm which I am sure will be super cool.
Keep the drum theme going at 5 pm on the Main Stage with the Kina Nimiwag & Anishinabe Drum Group. They combine traditional Anishinabe drum-song, dancing and electronic dance music which will blow you away. Join them as they take you on an adventure through a contemporary and traditional performance.
After watching all that dancing you will certainly want some dancing of your own. When the sun goes down and 8:15 rolls around, Jef E. Barbara’s Black Space will take to the Debaser stage and it will be nearly impossible not to dance to the sounds of sultry 70s love making beats. Think of smooth bilingual Roxy Music.
You will quickly want to rush back to the Main stage for 8:45 pm to see the incomparable Mykki Blanco. Mykki Blanco is the stage name American rapper, performance artist, poet and activist Michael Quattlebaum. Don’t miss your chance to see Mykki’s poetry and rap with unrelenting energy and emotion. Cap off the night with NYC’s Junglepussy, who will be sure to amaze, or head over to Bar Robo to experience DJ Memetic of TimeKode until the wee hours of the morning.
The Must-See: Junglepussy
7:45pm @ Main Stage, Concert Village
New York’s Junglepussy is an artist that has been exploding onto the scene after her first mixtape in 2014 went viral. Her music is heavy and the beats are deep, and her powerful vocals are reminiscent of her predecessors such as Lauryn Hill. Strap yourselves
The Hidden Gem: Jef Elise Barbara’s Black Space 8:15pm @ Debaser Stage, Convert Village
Get ready for one funky-ass party. Jeff Elise Barbara’s performance is centred around the idea “of blackness and the rejection of racialized tropes within white spaces.” Sounding like a blast from the past, this purveyor of glam would fit perfectly right next to Prince and Blood Orange and revel in the fact that they’ll make your sweat ooze from your pores.
The Comedown Day party will be kicking off across the river in Hull with drinks, games for kids, pedal displays by Fairfield Circuitry, and more. You’ll see sets by Montreal’s Dixtorchons and hometown gems Pony Girl, as well as a soundtrack provided by DJ Glory Hull, Mister Caffrey, and DJ Daisy. What better way to end the festival?
Switches and Expanda Fuzz brought the garage to Bar Robo Thursday night.
Expanda Fuzz getting down and fuzzy at Bar Robo.
Local garage rock duo, Expanda Fuzz, opened the night playing songs off their new debut album Bleuetswhich they released on beautiful wax that night. Expanda Fuzz are a very interesting combination of drone and garage sound with pop lyrics that will make you swoon. This duo, equipped with a drum machine was only playing their second show ever, having first played at Ottawa Explosion. Their second track, the lead song off of Bleuets, “Flavour: Zombie” is such a great song and gets me from the first note. One half of the band is Chris Page of such bands as The Stand GT, Camp Radio and his great solo work. Page is one of the nicest people ever, I promise just talk to him and try to tell me different, and has an ageless voice that has simply become part of the capital region’s sound. They mostly played songs off of their new album, most notably “It’s Your Glow, UFO” where the other half of Expanda Fuzz, Niki Nine Doors‘ voice shines. They ended their set playing “Devil Town” by Daniel Johnston. They may be a new band, but on stage they look like they have been doing it for years.
Switches from Edmonton rocking out during their first ever show in Ottawa.
Headlining was Switches from Edmonton. “We are very excited to be here, its our first time in Ottawa and we are going to play some songs for you,” were the first words out of their mouth. This female fronted punk band with a hint of synth where a delight. I had listened to them a few time online, but Tara’s vocals live just have that extra oomph which is then complimented by both other female vocals. Switches also happened to play my favourite “15 Beers” off of their LP “i just wanna” as their second song, a new theme maybe? Take note bands playing Ottawa, hahaha. I was loving the set and didn’t think it could get much better, when all of a sudden Tara took to the mic and said, “We are going to do a Tracy Chapman cover now. Can anyone guess which one?” We all screamed “Fast Cars” and were very pleased to be right. Yes you read that correctly, everyone in attendance last night got to see a 80’s punk synth rendition of “Fast Cars.” It was a total game changer. And just for good measure after a couple more of their own great songs, they also covered Shangri-Las. You know that American pop girl group from the 1960’s, oh what a treat. Switches closed with “Push Pull” and the absolutely rocking “Spinning Out” from their new EP All My Darlings.
Switches reminded me of a female fronted version of The Sedatives with a little more bite and I say that as a massive compliment. Heck, they should play together next time they are in the same city. They have four dates left on their tour, Quebec City, Montreal, Peterborough and Toronto (more info here). I strongly urge you to go check them out then and next time they are near.
My first show ever at Ottawa’s Bar Robo was one filled with great folk artists Old Cabin, Clara Engel and Quin Gibson.
Quin Gibson playing at Bar Robo in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
Many know Quin Gibson as the guitarist and singer of Steamers, but what you may not know is he also plays solo and writes his own stuff. Armed with an acoustic guitar plugged into an amp, Quin played us songs soaked in small town and working class values. Never more present in “Blue Collars,” a song he was playing for first time ever played live in front of more than a couple of cats, with lyrics like “take nothing for granted, love what you got and what you need, not what you want. ” There is always a lot to learn from in a Quin set. He later played Steamers’ “Head North,” which was a fun treat. He finished his set by leaving the stage and playing an unplugged rendition of his song, “Fast Train,” as he said “I don’t need a mic because I scream the hell out of this one.” Great track.
Clara Engel playing Bar Robo in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
Next up was the dark and introspective lyrics and haunting vocals of Clara Engel. She brought her doom folk or folk noir to Ottawa from Toronto on the bus. “I took the bus here today and I’m taking the midnight bus home tonight, I feel like Cinderella,” said Engel of the ordeal. I really liked her sound, it is something very different than the norm of most solo artists with a guitar. The song that really stuck out was “What Should We Leave for the Monster Tonight?,” which she explained she wrote for her 4 month old nephew. Check out Clara Engel if you can, it is a unique opportunity.
Old Cabin playing at Bar Robo in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
The night was capped off with Yukon’s Old Cabin. Being so far from home only two members of Old Cabin made the trip, which left openings for Théan Slabbert of Bosveld and Pascale Oflaki of FET.NAT and so many more bands, to fill in wonderfully. The band played some real rocking folk, much more rocking live compared to the more laid back sound of the record. Most notably during one of my favourite songs “Steady on the Wheel.” The show wasn’t only full of excellent music, but there was even some trivia “Beautiful people of Ottawa what province is Whitehorse in?” Everyone replied Yukon. We were then told “Trick question, Yukon is a territory, you’re all wrong.” The absolute highlight of the set was the incredible organized chaos that was the avalanche of sound between the final two songs “Where Did You Go?” and “I Got You.” Watching four talented musicians simultaneously exploring their respective instruments all at once live on stage is a wonderfully powerful thing. When they can do it and seamlessly transition into a song, that is the sign of true musicianship. What a wonderful way to end my first concert at Bar Robo.