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.
There is so much going on during the Saturday of Ottawa Explosion Weekend it feels like you are sprinting during an over 12 hour musical marathon. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cheap Wine kicking things off at SAW Gallery during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
I started off my day with a dose of Cheap Wine. It is so great to see Eric Neurotic back on the horse after Feral Trash ended. Add in that he is joined by Steve Adamyk and Jordy Bell (The Creeps/Crusades) and you know you’re in for a rocking good time. Now if they would only get some stuff recorded so I can listen to it all the time and not just wait for their next live show that would be great.
Heather of Crossed Wires at SAW Gallery during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
Crossed Wires were next and they continued the influx of really good bands from Halifax playing Explosion. Actually come to think of it, it feels like a band from Halifax has played every day and that their numbers are comparable to Ottawa bands at this festival. I really enjoyed their sound just as I have at previous Explosions and loved that the guitarist was rocking out with a Wayne’s World ball cap on. Lead singer and bassist, Heather, was so grateful to be back, “thanks to organizers and volunteers this is my favourite weekend of the year.” The band closed with a cover of the theme song to the TV show Daria which appears on a split with locals Creep Waves.
Sonic Avenues getting burning like fire at SAW Gallery during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
Next up was one of the most fun sets of the day, delivered by Montreal’s darlings Sonic Avenues. These lads really know how to write songs and play them with great passion, even in more than 30 degree weather. Their set had locals, Steve Adamyk, Emmanuel and Davey loosing their mind at the side of the stage. They were singing a long none stop, Davey jumped on the mic a few times, Emmanuel was towelling/fanning the guitarist and all three were just having a blast. It was great to see. Sonic Avenues played a little bit of everything from their collections, from a great new track “Where No One Falls,” to my favourite “Automatic” to digging back to their early days with Hiding From You.” They closed out the set dedicating the song “Heartland” to Steve Adamyk for being “the MVP of the festival having already played 5 shows.” They will be back July 22 at House of Targ with Needles // Pins, Steve Adamyk Band and Creep Waves, more info here.
Alex Hamlyn of Century Palms using a Beau’s glass as a slide at SAW Gallery during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
As supper approached, Emmanuel said “get your Palm Bays it’s Century Palm Bay time,” and with my love for puns and play on words I could not resist. So with a nice cold Palm Bay in hand I settled in to watch Century Palm. The band played a bunch of new material, none of which I had heard before, in anticipation of a new record out later this year. It also marked their last show with guitarist Alex Hamlyn, who is moving on and on good terms they assured us. For their last song, they turned the mic to Hamlyn and he led them through a rocking rendition of the 1980’s classic “I Want to Destroy You” by Soft Boys. A great way for him to cap off his time with the band and to end the afternoon session.
Black Tower bringing out day time ghosts and ghouls at SAW Gallery during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
My evening kicked off with the dark and devilish local trio known as Black Tower. The band opened with the first 2 songs of their record The Secret Fire. The first one being “Death March” which really puts the bands punk and metal influences on display. The band delivers such great heavy riffs with haunting vocals that echo from the depths of a cemetery or from a ghastly queen. Black Tower makes me want my long hair back so I can just let it flail along. The band also threw in a couple of new tracks that sounded great.
Future Girls inside SAW Gallery during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
Saturday’s great surprise for me was Future Girls from Halifax. The has two members of Crossed Wires who played earlier in the day on guitar and drums. I don’t know why I was surprised with how much I liked them considering every band from Halifax this year was killer, including Crossed Wires. Nonetheless I had never seen them before I truly enjoyed their set. They just recently released a new two song demo, The Problem of Motivation Demo, which happens to have my favourite song “Middle America” on it. I don’t know whats in the water out in Halifax, but it is growing incredible power pop and pop punk bands seemingly non-stop.
Big Eyes rocking us at SAW Gallery during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
I then returned outside for Kait Eldridge’s band Big Eyes from Brooklyn, NYC. The band led off with the song track off their new LP coming out in August, and well after hearing it, August cannot come soon enough. Such a rad track and a great way to kick off a set. The rest of Big Eyes’ set was great and just to remind me that August is way too far, they played “Local Celebrity” the lead single off upcoming near the end.
No Fuss showing us less can be more at Ritual Nightclub during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
After Big Eyes, I headed to Ritual Nightclub for the first time of the festival. Kicking things off there was local duo No Fuss, a bass and drums duo featuring Chris Cook (Finderskeepers). Unfortunately there wasn’t many people at Ritual until much later, but it didn’t look to bother the duo. The duo is super tight and I love that they both contribute vocals. They only have four recorded songs under their belt, but you can already see the growth from their first three song demo to their newest track “Old Truths.”
Fresh Hell getting close at Ritual Nightclub during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
The local acts continued as Fresh Hell took to the stage next. The four piece is composed of members from a bunch of local bands, and together they are something really special. I think they are one of the catchiest and most infectious punk bands to ever come out of this city. Fresh Hell gave us a taste of a bunch of new music which really rocks and cemented their set with tracks like “Home,” “Old Sheets,” and “Surrounded,” from their debut We Never Sleep. During the set singer and guitarist Cory Levesque saying “be kind and love each other,” which giving the current state of the world, can not be overstated.
Wasted Potential getting heavy at Ritual Nightclub during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
Next up was a total change of pace with London, Ontario’s pizza party hardcore punkers, Wasted Potential. The crowd really hadn’t grown much by now, which really didn’t make any sense to me, but I guess that is the nature of having so many bands going at multiple venues. On the plus side I got to set up pretty close to really get the full face melting effect of the solos and not miss a singer dance move. There are very few if any singers more animated than the lead singer of Wasted Potential. Even if attendance was lacking, they didn’t slow down and played stuff from all over their repertoire, including “Here’s Your Exit Letter” off of their first demo. They also played “Never Asked” which they introduced as “this is as close to a pop song we can write… and it fucking sucks.” It wasn’t that bad…
The Dirty Nil absolutely crushing it at Ritual Nightclub during Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 in Ottawa. Photo: Eric Scharf
I capped off my night with probably the best band ever from Dundas, Ontario, The Dirty Nil. The three piece perfectly blends grunge and punk and it is never more obvious than during songs such as the one they opened with “No Weaknesses.” That also happens to be the first track on their debut album, Higher Power, that they dropped earlier this year that had many people, including myself, saying it could be one of the best releases of the year. You don’t hear that often in February. In a fun twist the band dug deep to their earlier days and played their anthem, “Cinnamon,” with the killer line” You can be pissed off if you want to,” repeated several times. I was so pumped up after this set I needed a nice long walk home to have any chance of falling a sleep.
Day two of Ottawa Explosion got off to a rocky start thanks to the fact that it was raining sideways, but Mother Nature pulled through eventually and ultimately delivered another beautiful night for punk rock.
Boyhood not letting the rain dampen their spirits at Ottawa Explosion Weekend in Ottawa, ON.
Getting things started outside despite to downpour was Ottawa’s very own Boyhood. Led by Caylie Runciman, Boyhood are experimental and dark, and perfect fit for the gloomy evening. Boyhood played a great set with some pretty sweet beats and cosmic sounds, and this was most apparent during the performance of their new song “Sooner Than You”. If that song is sign of the band’s direction and evolution, then I am thrilled. The ’80s synth undertones, as well as the grimy and funky bass lines by Luke Martin made people forget about the rain and get lost in music. It was also great to hear them play songs off the 2014 release When I’m Hungry, like my favourite “Fresh Meat”.
The rain continued to fall as I made my way to Mugshots to see the kids in Weed Mom. The band unfortunately had to deal with some sound problems outside of their control, but they persevered. The band is young, fun and finding its place. The subject of their songs made me laugh as they went from one song about making out with your friends to another song about the pains of having sex with someone with a big dick. As the sound started to improve, Weed Mom played their debut single “Plum Tree”, which I really like. To top everything off, guitarist and singer Sasha pulled off drummer Tyrin’s shirt and ate sushi off his chest. Oh Weed Mom, I am excited to see you bloom.
It was an emotional show for Ottawa’s Nightshades. On one hand it was positive, as it was the band’s tape release party for Wendy, their second EP in less than a year. But it was also sad because it marked the last show that bass player Sarah Grant will play with them as she is about to leave to travel the world. The band is in good hands, as Sarah said, “CBC learned about me leaving and have offered Shad to replace me… it will now be Nightshads.” In all seriousness, they have another bassist lined up and Nightshades will go on. They played a set filled with music off of both albums. They also had to struggle through some sound issues, we could barely hear the guitar and sometimes could not hear the backup vocals. Highlights were “Broken Bag”, “Teenage Fool”, and their new single “Wendy”. Sarah – we at Showbox wish you the very best going forward!
With the tears wiped from our eyes it was time to summon daemons, dance with goblins, and draw pentagrams with Black Tower. Ottawa’s three-piece got the rain to stop thanks to their pact with the devil. They opened with their latest single the solo-laden and driving “Death March” to set the tone. No moment of the set better summarizes Black Tower than when bassist Scotty said, “This song is called ‘The Dark Lord’, it is about the Dark Lord.” Lead singer and guitarist, Erin Ewing, has an intense and haunting voice, perfect for their metal-inspired punk rock. She has moments of guttural vocal fills, with the occasional incendiary high-pitch screaming part that ignited the entire courtyard.
Lightening things up was new wave punk band Century Palm from Toronto. It was hot, sweaty, and packed inside Mugshots for their set. Their music is really fun and was a great change of pace from Black Tower and the rest of the heavy bands I was about to see. During their set lead-singer Andrew Payne asked the crowd, “we cool?” The crowd cheered and he smiled. All I could think was, “we are not cool, my sweat is sweating it is so humid in here.” The band treated us to a new song off their upcoming album which was pretty cool. But what really made their set was when they pulled a saxophone out of nowhere and I fell in love.
Coliseum slaying it at Ottawa Explosion Weekend in Ottawa, ON.
Back outside it was time to take it up a notch with Coliseum. I was sure it was going to be a good show as local artist and all-around great guy Jordan went straight to the front of the stage. When Jordan is up front and dancing, you know you are seeing a great band that it takes it to the next level. It was equally sweet to see the lead-singer and guitarist give him props after the first song and say, “I remember you.” The band played a killer set full of awesome songs like “Used Blood” and “Black Magic Punk”, as well as songs off their latest album Anxiety Kiss. But their music was not the most important part on this night. The was the comment made by singer/guitarist Ryan Patterson: “It is so great to see so many women involved in front and behind the scenes at this festival, unlike some jock shit like at Rock Fest.” He continued, “Gender inequality is not just a punk issue, but a human issue and it is a beautiful things you have here.” Well said, sir.
Now inside SAW it was time for Meat Wave from Chicago. They played fast short songs and once again Jordan danced so you knew it would be good. This noisy three-piece was strongly endorsed by Big Dick, as both members Johnny O and Dave Sec sang, cheered, and clapped loudly. Meat Wave’s lead-singer and guitarist, Chris Sutter, shared a little information with us: “This is our first time in Canada, home of Rush, Nomeansno, and hockey… sorry about that last one.” Burn. Really glad I saw these guys and discovered another cool band.
Closing out the night was one of my must-see acts, Obliterations, a hardcore band from LA. The band play fast, intense, and in your face. Which is doubly entertaining as the lead-singer’s face reminds me of Weird Al. They opened with “Scapegoat” and blasted straight ahead playing other greats like “Sick Feeling” and “Narcissist”. Unfortunately they experienced some pretty serious technical difficulties with the guitar amp and head crapping out. Eventually someone came to the rescue with a new amp and head and we were back in business. They picked up were they left of, just slamming through the set, capping it off with lead singer Sam James Velde walking through the crowd and standing on the bar. Don’t miss these guys.
Ottawa’s punk/metal band for literature nerds, BLACK TOWER, released a new video last week for “Death March” from their pending full-length The Secret Fire.
BLACK TOWER are inspired by a great mix of influences — from author J.R.R. Tolkien to Iron Maiden, and a lot of black metal in between. The three-piece from the nation’s capital via Middle Earth features members from The Creeps, Crusades and The Visitors.
The new video, put together by Jason Gilmore at Urgency Company, perfectly encapsulates the band’s influences as you are taken on a journey through clips of the 1982 cult classic “Sorceress.” The storyline for the film is as follows:
“To maintain his powers, the evil wizard Traigon must sacrifice his firstborn child to the god Caligara. His wife, however, has other ideas and runs away after giving birth with her twin daughters. Before dying, she hands the girls over to the warrior Krona who promises to raise them as great soldiers. Twenty years later, Traigon returns and begins hunting down his daughters once again, still intending to sacrifice them to Caligara. Will the twins, with the help of the Barbarian Erlik and the Viking Baldar, be able to defeat their father?“
Join the twins as they fight off warriors, archers, wizards, and a pack of alien zombies… while BLACK TOWER provides the metal for the girls to meddle with Traigon’s plans.
TV FREAKS broke through the static and kicked off Ottawa Explosion Weekend with a bang outside of Saw Galley on June 19th.
Fresh off rocking out at North by North East (NxNE) in Toronto, TV FREAKS were tight, noisy, energized and a force to be reckoned with. With members of Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs standing in the front; dancing, singing along and crowd surfing the lead singer, TV FREAKS played an explosive set. They are a great mix of garage sound with hardcore intensity, and some pretty sick dance moves. They played some great tunes like “Spilt Milk’’ and “Mall Punk.’’ TV FREAKS were the perfect band to headline the first night of Ottawa Explosion Weekend, which saw an awesome crowd show up.
Montréal’s Bummer played before TV FREAKS and the trio really impressed me. The lead singer/guitarist was rocking out with his curly hair flying all over the place. Check out their tracks “Kids on the Run’’ and “Reminder,’’ they got me moving.
The ghost Elvis or Buddy Holly must have been next door at the jail hostel and possessed, Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs. These old school rock n rollers with a dash of punk twist made me want to do the twist and shout. Three mics for six people, no problem, they just shared or in the case of the drummer and bass player, they just yelled out the words from a far. I loved there set and really liked the tracks “Lose that Bitch’’ and “What Have I Become.’’ To top it all off the keyboard player’s grandparents, great aunt, aunt and uncle showed up… most punk rock people in town.
The local portion of the evening was provided by Uranium Comeback and Black Tower. Uranium Comeback were introduced as a band who has only played 12 shows ok 6 years. Their set of upbeat punk was very fun and made me want to dance and tap my toes. Songs “Walking’’ and “Out of time’’ really stuck out for me. I hope they start doing more shows. Black Tower were a female lead metal and punk trio. I really got into the intros of a few of their songs, made me miss my long hair. Also missing his long hair was the drummer who half way through the set took off his huge black hair wig to reveal his bald head. Nothing wrong with a chrome dome brother, we save a bunch of money on haircuts and shampoo.
Emmanuel Sayer, one of the organizers, capped off the night by saying, “thanks for coming out everyone… we have five more days of this and it will only get worse.’’ His laughter was met with the crowd chanting “Let’s get worse! Let’s get worse!’’ I am sure there are a ton of great performances left among the 90+ bands yet to perform.
Day one is in the books. If you missed out on the fun, don’t let it happen again. Check out the festival schedule here.