As the Ottawa winter begins to slowly fade away, spring is trying its hardest to break through the permafrost and show signs of warmth, life, and colour. In our city that also means something else – festival season is approaching. The Doldrums Music Festival celebrates the onset of the spring season with great local music, rejuvenating the weary souls of our city after the long cold. This weekend (March 27 & 28) marks the fourth year of Doldrums Festival and just as a tulip’s bulb slow doesit has grown into something special.
The Doldrums Music Festival was founded in 2011 by Lucas MacKenzie, a member of the formerly Ottawa-based band New Teeth. Winter can be pretty drab in Ottawa by February, and MacKenzie felt that there was a distinct lack of music scene festivities during the winter. Why should people resort to clinging onto their couch in front of a space heater in the dead of winter? Why not give them a reason to go out, get together, and brave the weather for the sake of great local music?
Although MacKenzie now lives in Toronto, the festival continues under new management. This year’s organizers Peter Zachar, Andrew Grosvenor (both in Those Gulls/Decathelete), and Gavin Dyke (Black Dogs) are all in bands, which offers them the same perspective that MacKenzie had on running the small festival. Not only that, but Zachar and Grosvenor also run Ringbill Records and have their own studio which they call “The Nest”. Zachar explains:
As musicians, we’ve approached Doldrums with an eye on what we love about it, and how we can expand on those aspects. Part of that has been increasing its visibility through local sponsorships and collaborations, and part of it was making it a more compact and streamlined event.
The Doldrums Music Festival is essentially two nights of music hosted at separate venues, and each offering a different musical “theme.” This makes the festival more accessible to a wider base of music fans, perhaps even drawing some to experience bands live that they might not have seen otherwise.
Friday, March 27, takes place at Pressed on Gladstone and is more of a folk/blues-rock bill. The lineup is impressive, featuring local heavyweights Winchester Warm, Tindervox, Black Dogs, and Riishi Von Rex. We sometimes forget that event organizers are music fans too, and Zachar made it clear that they were more than happy with how this year’s festival came together. “Honestly, the lineup for this year’s festival came from us getting in contact with some of our favourite bands in Ottawa (emphasis on some, we love a lot of music), and them saying yes,” he said.
Saturday, March 28, will take place at Club SAW and feature a very eccentric collection of local bands. The lineup pushes genre boundaries and includes the varied talents of Big Dick, Ornaments, Pith and the Parenchymas, and Dreamphone. From post-punk to experimental psych-rock, this bill is packed with some of our favourite bands in town. If you are someone who is willing to test new waters and go into something with an open mind, Saturday’s event at SAW will provide you with a grouping of the weird and the wild, and is sure to have patrons leaving with their jaws hanging.
When I asked Zachar about the challenge of competing with other festivals in a near-saturated market, he offered a very interesting perspective.
Thinking about it in terms of “competition” is the wrong way to go. We recently had the Megaphono festival, and a large part of that was equipping artists with the right philosophies to succeed, which I think is very important. The new vision for Doldrums is to provide tangible benefits directly to the artists. For example, this year we started a collaboration with the local blog Sometimes Always, wherein we produced short interviews with the bands playing the festival. These of course helped us raise the profile of Doldrums, but more importantly they provide something that the bands can take with them, add to their media kits, and benefit from longer-term. It’s a first step, and moving forward we’re eager to grow this aspect of the festival in collaboration with Sometimes Always and other partners.
If there’s something to be said about the Ottawa music community, it’s that this fraternal mentality of succeeding through collaboration is very pervasive. Zachar recognizes the benefits of locally-run festivals for small time bands, but also the importance of those bands in creating a strong creative community by which more of these grassroots events can happen. Who knows? Maybe even more people will come out and discover more of the incredible music this city’s artists are producing.
Below are some videos made with Ottawa music blog Sometimes Always, Pierce McKennirey conducts some great interviews with bands involved. Be sure to have a look!
The second instalment of Ottawa Implosion Weekend hit Ottawa hard on Friday, Feb. 13, putting Valentine’s Day to shame by stacking two huge shows at different venues on one of the coldest weekends of the year.
Ottawa Implosion is the sister fest of Ottawa Explosion, featuring “the best contemporary underground post-punk, psych, and dark disco from North America and Europe.” It’s a pretty rad addition to the music scene, as last year the organizers brought in bands such as Iceage, Merchandise, Lower, and Father Murphy from all corners of the earth. This time around, Implosion celebrates Ottawa label Bruised Tongue‘s anniversary by presenting acts like Boyhood, Big Dick, Ultrathin, as well as the final Pregnancy Scares show ever on Sunday.
I tried to make it out to the Boyhood show at Gabba Hey earlier in the night, but it sold out really quickly because it was an all-ages event. Given the time constraints and the real danger of hypothermia, I decided to head directly to House of Targ where Big Dick was setting the stage to release their second full-length LP Disappointment. Being on Dirt Cult Recs, they had a hefty supply of vinyl available and even pressed some really good-looking limited blue LPs. I pretty much snatched one of those up as soon as I walked in.
The Famines opening the night (Photo: Eric Scharf)
Opening the night was garage/noise rock duo The Famines out of Montreal. Their website says that they were once described as “berzerker barrage,” and although that might seem pretty cryptic, I think it accurately portrays their style and sound. They opened with their relatively restrained track “TWA Flight 553” which in a way built up the anticipation for the rest of the set.
Most of their songs ran about two minutes long, so they fit in quite a few. I am always astonished by two-piece acts that exude so much energy and emotion from the stage. The chaotic nature of their music came through loud and clear, with lo-fi guitar riffs by Raymond E. Biesinger and intricate, booming, and at times obscure percussion by Drew Demers. The crowd seemed entranced and focused, but at times confused and unsure about how to actually respond to the music.
This didn’t stop The Famines from tearing through their set with ferocity, playing a lot of newer songs that have been written since the release of their 2008-2011 Collected Singles. This included a songs such as “Stay Home Club”, which they had never played before the TARG show and will appear on the A-side of the Psychic Handshake single coming out this April, and “Too Cool”, which will be released on vinyl LP through Mammoth Cave later this fall. They ended their impressive set with the track “Who Wants Disarmament?”, which apparently they have only played three times and will also appear on Psychic Handshake. Word is that they have been confirmed to play Ottawa Explosion this year, so be sure to check these guys out when they’re back in town (and when it’s not deathly cold out and we can party outside).
Next up was the Ottawa-based bass n’ drum punk band Big Dick. The much-anticipated release of their sophomore LP was delayed because of some vinyl pressing issues with shortages, but they had the records ready to go on this night. I have to say, hearing Disappointment on vinyl for the first time today made me appreciate what these two guys are doing even more. It’s in your face, and hardly lets you come up for a breath of fresh air throughout. I should also mention that the LP was recorded at the Meat Locker by the one and only Paul ‘Yogi’ Granger, co-owner of House of TARG and all-around legend.
Johnny O and Dave Secretary immediately dove into their set with the new tracks “Sick” and “Up a Step,” Dave blasting away at the drums and Johnny ripping on his bass. It wasn’t long before they played the leading single “Let Down” from the new album, drawing the attention of the crowd and showing us all how solid a two-piece band with chemistry can be. The sound wasn’t the best unfortunately, as Dave’s kick drum was being drowned out by Johnny’s bass – particularly in songs with really heavy and over-driven bass parts. It’s a tough room to play for this reason sometimes, and for a band like Big Dick one really needs to hear all the parts in order to feel the full force of their music. I’m not a sound engineer so that’s about all I can say on that, and it was no fault of the band. Hell, I might have just been standing in the wrong spot.
Big Dick LP release (Photo: Eric Scharf)
Big Dick impressed nonetheless, and kept the onslaught coming throughout the set. They played a few older songs too, including “Medic” and “Colours” off their 2013 self-titled release. The crowd loved hearing these well-known tracks, and were jumping around in front of the stage and getting into it. The only disappointment for me was that they didn’t play my favourite song off the new album, “God’s Teeth.” But they had plenty of others that really stood out, including one of my other favourites from Disappointment called “Mariner.” There’s no doubt that this record will be a strong contender for our top albums of 2015.
Their set was executed with precision and contained enough force to blow almost anyone’s eardrums. That’s what makes Big Dick such a good band – their songs don’t just rely on the loudness to drown out any mistakes. They nail every beat, every riff, and their skills are on full display at every show they play. You can’t fake it with just two people on stage, and Johnny and Dave made sure we all knew why they are Ottawa music veterans by the end of the set.
Show poster (by Mike Laderoute)
Ottawa Implosion, Vol. 2 (poster by Julia Dickens)
Big Dick (illustration by Ainslie Coghill and Mike Laderoute)
Big Dick “Disappointment” vinyl LP, in black and lim. ed. blue.