At Somerset and Bay, there was a boarded up former pizzeria that had not seen the light of day in many years. As much as Centertown could use another pizza shop, I’d given up hope of ever seeing the ovens start again in that beautiful heritage building. Don’t get me wrong, pizza and optimism are kind of my things. But it seems that we’ve lost so many community spaces in Chinatown recently – the Daily Grind, Raw Sugar, Monopolatte, and the future of Pressed is uncertain. How can a community survive without gathering spaces? Ottawa has a rich, if underground, cultural scene that needs support in order to grow.
Enter the Art House Café. Sitting down with co-founder Geneviève Bétournay, she trusts that the time is right. “Since those spaces have gone there’s a little bit of a void, but there is no shortage of people willing to step up. There is something going on around here, around Ottawa… It’s so encouraging. I don’t know if it’s because Ottawa has always been a small, tight-knit community? We’re all fighting the image of Ottawa.”
A Hub for Artists
Since meeting over the summer, Bétournay and her business partner, Joe Beaton, quickly realized they had similar ideas about the importance of community spaces to support creativity. Their vision, soon to be reality, is much more than a café – it’s meant to become a hub for creative people. “There are hubs that exist for other things – Makerspace North, hubs for entrepreneurs, but there is nothing really for artists to help promote themselves and grow, and provide the resources they need to do that”, says Bétournay.
There are a couple different components to their business model. Once the shop opens in January 2017, they will:
First look inside the 140-year old building. Once restored, this will be the gallery / gift shop.
Provide wall space to feature the works of local artists;
Open a gallery and “gift shop” to showcase and sell creations made in Ottawa by artists, musicians, and makers;
Maintain two rooms available to be rented – a studio space and a meeting room; and
Offer services and resources – such as printing, silk-screening, access to software programs, website design, “fancy paper cutters”, button design and more.
While the café is the most obvious source of revenue, each of these components combine to set the stage for a business that can sustain itself. “Neither of us are in it for the money”, says Bétournay. “We want to bring something to the community.”
Both Geneviève and Joe are full of ideas for events. “We want to involve the community as much as possible… We want to host a lot of workshops – as many as we can! Same with the store – [we will showcase] as many artists we can fit into the small space” says Bétournay. There will certainly be art-related events and vernissages, but the café is intended for more than just visual artists. They’ll be well equipped to offer local musicians the tools to take their band (or at least their merch) to the next level. The best punk rock is DIY, but sometimes you don’t know where to start, especially with things like making t-shirts or designing posters. Other events may prove helpful, “Ask the expert” evenings and intimate acoustic sets by local musicians.
An interesting element of the Art House Café is that they intend to remain open 24 hours a day once operations are underway. They creating a space where people can work and collaborate, which includes shifting the focus away from a standard revenue source – alcohol. “We won’t have big bands playing, and we won’t be licensed to begin with”, says Beaton. He added that they will periodically have licensed events, perhaps one night a week. “We are working with a six-month timeframe and we’ll assess the reaction of members and the neighbourhood to figure out what people want in the space”.
Supporting a community
The distinctness of a neighbourhood is precisely the kind of thing that makes this model interesting. There are plenty of ‘hidden gems’ in Ottawa that are starting to shine a little brighter, but we sometimes struggle to support an art community. Geneviève recognizes this: “People leave because the scene is not here – it doesn’t exist. They leave in the hopes of… they go where there is a scene already. But that’s exactly why I want to stay here. It’s uncharted territory, it’s like the Wild West. You get to make it what you think it should be.”
So, what should Ottawa be? That’s a question all of us have a role in answering. At the Art House Café, it will be members, volunteers, and partners that help define the space. In the broader context of the city, there are many people working to build a more vibrant cultural community. It’s an area where we can’t accept Ottawa’s sleepy reputation; let’s shape our city into a place where we want to be – and choose to stay.
Cos-founders Joe Beaton and Geneviève Bétournay outside the Art House Café, opening in January 2017 on Somerset W.
Washington DC’s Sneaks performed at St. Albans Church on the second last day of Ottawa Explosion, battling heat and spiritual presences as she performed most of the songs on her self-titled debut EP, with a few additional jams thrown in. Sneaks kept her songs quick and to the point, none of which exceeded two minutes (her seven song EP comes in at well under 10 minutes), opening with a brief rendition of “This Is.”
As a solo act playing bass to a drum track, Sneaks nonchalant, matter-of-fact lyrics and lo-fi vibe really carry each song with vaguely-relatable lines, what appear to be inside jokes with herself and seemingly random words. The catchy chorus of “Tomorrow maybe / today for sure” during the fourth song of the set had me quickly singing along. Before moving on to the next song she briefly looked around the front of the church behind her, and pointed out that there was some “supernatural stuff going on,” and then proceeded into her single “X.T.Y.” Sneaks wrapped up with “True Killer.”
Shortly after Sneaks finished up, Gatineau’s FET.NAT began to set up their gear facing each other in the middle of the church floor where all of the pews had been removed. FET.NAT dived into their set with reckless abandon and formed an instant connection with the crowd, which completely encircled them during their performance. The amazing acoustics at St. Albans really made the show an immersive experience and most of those in attendance were quickly grooving hard to the energetic, off-kilter rhythms and intentionally abrasive sounds that permeated the church.
Unfortunately, for those of you reading this FET.NAT is one of those “you really had to be there” type of acts. I know that it sucks to read that, but it sucks more for me trying to write about it. While SNEAKS is as wonderfully DIY-simple and straightforward as it gets, FET.NAT’s music is precisely engineered chaos, practiced and preformed by an insanely tight band. The crazy combination of soprano sax, live drums, and electronic samples somehow fits well with the distorted franglish vocals, piercing guitar riffs and odd songs structures. I personally challenge anyone to attempt to cover one of their songs.
FET.NAT opened with the first track from their latest EP, Stop Saying It’s So Beautiful, with the aptly titled “VEGAS PARIS,” wherein the main refrain is those words repeated as the chorus as a digitally modified vocal sample. “Dre,” also on the same EP followed shortly after. The band rounded out the set with “WTF Jumpin’ Bean” and “Blunt l’Inspecteur.”
Throughout the set they managed to maintain a super fun, engaging and energetic atmosphere. This was definitely one of my favourite shows at Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 and if you are ever presented with the opportunity, I highly recommend seeing both of these acts, albeit for completely different reasons.
Here is a taste of FET.NAT playing “WTF Jumpin’ Bean” live at Pop Montreal a few years ago.
Bob Barker encouraged us to neuter our pets, Nardwuar has his doot doola doot doo and Ron Burgundy wished for San Diego to stay classy. Prevenge, they signed off paying a house show in the basement with the lights turned down low surrounded by their Ottawa friends.
Ottawa’s Dead Weights playing at Funeral Home.
Locals, Dead Weights kicked off the show. This is the shortest hair iteration of the band I have seen play live, Derek and Steve chopped off the mops. The boys played a bunch of new tracks including a yet to be named track where Jon signs “keep an open heart.” The song is freaking killer and can’t wait for them to lay that one down. Derek pulled a his best BA Johnson impression and took off his Prevenge t-shirt just to reveal another Prevenge t-shirt underneath. Well played sir. Dead Weights capped off the set with crowd favourites “Friends First” and “Barely Breath.”
Panic Attack from Montreal playing Funeral Home.
It was now time to begin the Montreal invasion as Panic Attack took over. The three-piece play 90s flavoured emo-punk to perfection. Many of the songs make you want to pogo, which would have been tough in a basement with a clearing barely over six feet. I love hearing “I Can Work It Out,” “Not Your Fault” and “Pictures.” In closing Frank said “we have two songs that are fairly good and we are going to play them now before Dig It Up destroy the whole house.”
Panic Attack were not kidding. Dig It Up tore it up. Two songs in the lead singer said “I hope you guys don’t like recognizing songs,” as they shredded our faces. We could decipher them, but even if we couldn’t the sheer energy and power that is Dig It Up is infectious. The often overlooked member of this band is drummer Andrea. The drumming in this band so solid and awesome. Just see this band, do it, do it every and any chance you can. During the final song one of the guitarist passed his axe to Prevenge’s guitarist Chris for quite the hardcore finale. Dig It Up dug Prevenge’s grave at Funeral House setting the stage for them to bury themselves.
Panic Attack drummer Nicolas Turcotte holding the mic in the crowd during Prevenge’s final Ottawa show ever.
It was finally that time. The moment where you are filled with excitement and sadness all at once as a band you love plays for the last time. Prevenge‘s lead singer and guitarist, Alex Cartier, began by saying “It has been 8 years of doing our best… we are Prevenge for the last time.” Fittingly open with “Buried Alive,” off their 2011 7 inch split with Dig It Up. The pact basement crowd emphatically screamed “bury us alive” at the top of our lungs. It was most certainly more of a celebration of life than a funeral. People sang along, rushed the mic, danced, moshed, drank and JS obviously crowd surfed. After playing “DOUBLECHEESEBURGERCOKENOICE,” Alex said “I’ve been coming to house show in Ottawa since the 90s and I’ve never seen any where that supports like Ottawa.” The set was jam-packed with many of my favourites including “Half to Black” and “Who Kills It Fills It.” Ottawa clearly holds a very special place in the heart of the members of Prevenge. “Over 8 years of touring, Ottawa is usually the last day on tour and its the best way to cap off,” said Alex. They closed with “The Way We Live Today” and as they finished Alex said, “We will be back in different form forms, but goodbye forever.” RIP Prevenge thanks for the memories and one hell of a ride.
Vallentin is one of those musicians that thinks differently than the rest. He approaches his music, and other art for that matter, with a certain intellectualism that isn’t found on every stage. It translates into something different in our ears. Although it isn’t necessarily easy to pinpoint what it is, one can decipher these small strokes of genius by throwing on some headphones and simply listening to Hedera the whole way through.
The album itself is minimalistic, meditative, yet so full of brilliant moments that they are difficult to keep track of.
There is a comfort/discomfort contrast that arises and disappears at various points throughout the album. The dissonant and distorted secondary vocals in “Garden I (You Own To Fight)”, for example, contrasts with beautiful and tranquil vocal and instrumental melodies. Another example of this dualism would be the song “Laputa”, an abrupt-yet-gentle 40-second long intermission consisting of various bleeps and bloops. The songs before and after “Laputa”, which are “Hindsight” and “I Will Be Water”, respectively, could arguably be the two most beautiful songs on the album.
After spending the last two years focused on the music of others, the self-taught musician experienced a surge of writing and creativity his first time outside of the country. His initial 72 hours in San Juan he said nothing and wrote most of what would become Hedera.
I hesitate to draw a comparison between Vallentin and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, only because of the cliché involved with that assertion. But the deep, at times brooding, vocal style along with his intricate instrumental makes it almost impossible to miss. Fans of the delicate minimalism of Bon Iver will feel at home with Vallentin’s Hedera.
Vallentin utilizes a variety of instruments, from a heavenly-sounding hollow body guitar to electronic elements. Ultimately, the record is a smattering of beautifully crafted notes, melodies, and sounds.
“I was fearful the electronic production would cause the record to sound too sterile, too polished,” Vallentin said. “So I mixed the record myself. I can’t hide the fact that this whole thing was recorded in my bedroom and living room, so I embraced it.”
This week’s Throwback Thursday is dedicated to Jeff, aka Moesplant, aka Ska Jeff, aka Filburt Shellbach, aka one of the raddest dudes in Ottawa and the awesome ska show he once promoted. Through his label and promotion company Finish What You Started, Jeff is presenting Finish What You Started Fest this week (starting tonight). This is the five-year anniversary of this awesome DIY punk rock label and the festival lineup is amazing. But it’s important to note that Jeff has been promoting shows for much more than five years, let me take you back to 2005 when Skattawa (Jeff and a few friends) organized an amazing ska show at the Blackburn Hamlet Community Centre.
Back in the day, Punk Ottawa, a message board and show listings site, was the source of pretty much all musical information in town and Jeff, aka Moesplant, was a huge contributor to the community. Most people now know Jeff as a promoter of mostly punk rock and hardcore, as well as a bass player in some pretty heavy bands. But back in the day, he was huge into ska, hence the nickname Ska Jeff. Through Skattawa he presented Winter Fest 2005, featuring Rude Dudes, One Night Band, Finkelstein Shit Kids and Take One for the Team at the Blackburn Hamlet Community Centre for $6. Ah the good ol ‘days when all-ages shows were abundant and Ottawa had a ska scene.
The Rude Dudes were the Ottawa kings of ska, always playing high energy sets full of great horn play which got us stomping our feet to the beat (listen here). And the Finkelstein Shit Kids were a new band, playing their first show I believe. They were a great group of young teens and played super fun music (check them out for yourself). I caught them several more times after this show. Sorry Take One for The Team, I don’t remember your band or your set, but I am sure you rocked it. The band of the night though, was the only none Ottawa band on the bill, One Night Band.
The band from Montreal absolutely amazed my 15-year-old self. Their originals were great, like “When I Fall In Love” sung by a gorgeous saxophone player with a soft voice, “Feeling So Low” (as seen in the video), and “Rolling the Dice” (listen here). The band was so tight and did an amazing job of covering classics like “Message to Rudy” by The Specials and some Skatalites, if I remember correctly. Needless to say, I skanked my way through their entire set and loved every minute of it. Check out the video above of One Night Band playing the 2008 Ottawa Skafest at The Underground, now House of Targ.
One of the coolest parts of the entire night though was Skanking 101. It was originally offered by Jeff but executed by Vince (of the Bad News Bears… I think). Here is Jeff’s post on Punk Ottawa announcing the lesson, the entire thread can be found here, what a sweetheart.
Between Take One For The Team and Finkelstein Shit Kids sets I will give all you new skanksters, who are trecking out to your first ska show, some quick and easy skanking lessons! You’ll be moving your feet, skanking to that beat!
Clearly Jeff, or whatever you want to call him, has and still is a huge part of the Ottawa music scene. You should really find time in your schedule over the next four days to check out any of the wonderful shows at Finish What You Started Fest, I know I am planning on attending every one of them.
I am greatful to have such an awesome person contributing so positively to my city and most of all to be able to call such a wicked dude my friend. Here’s to forging many more memories Jeff. Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!
One of Ottawa’s foremost bluesy rock n’ roll groups, StillNative (CastleRock Recs), are doing things a little differently for their second full-length album. Like more and more artists seem to be doing, they’re taking the DIY approach and launching a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to fund it. Taking things into their own hands, StillNative seem to be doing everything right in order to build anticipation for the new record. Some perks available to fans willing to support their Indiegogo campaign are:
$15 – A digital pre-release of the new album
$25 – A signed physical album
$30 – Signed physical album + digital copy
$40 – An exclusive Patrick Steele EP
$40 – A music lesson
$40 – A B-sides and rarities DVD
$100 – The whole package
$200 – Prestige Package
$250 – Studio Day
$350 – House Show
For more details on the perks, go to StillNative’s campaign page. All dollar amounts are CAD.
The Tropical Dripps welcomed everyone to “Jeff Fest 2013.” Ottawa’s premier surf rock band was at its finest, as they closed down night one of the awesome DIY local punk festival, Finish What You Started Fest. They were on point, noisy, rambunctious and had people dancing up a storm. And there was a lot of people! I was helping Ska Jeff manage the doors at Luneta and he was blown away by the turnout. “I hope it’s like this tomorrow,” he said rocking a smile from ear to ear.
Moon Destroyer were dropping cosmic, instrumental jams before hand. The ambient rock band, sort of like if Explosion In The Sky had a punk rock child. I loved this one part where the drum exploded and the band flowed from organized chaos into a grooving bluesy rock beat. (They did not actually explode, that would be a total fire code violation.) I don’t want to take anything away from their set, but I would not do justice to their set of I did not mention the guy trying to unzip the bass players pants a couple of times.
Opening the fest was Cryptids! No, they are not a psychobilly Riptides cover band, they are however great fun punk. I really enjoyed what I heard from them and dig their four song demo (find it below). I really can’t wait for them to get some more music written and see where it goes. Also readers know I’m a sucker for females voices in punk, and they have two female back-ups but I also LOVE ”oohs,” which they had a steady dose of. If you weren’t dancing you were sleeping.
If you were wondering what to do with yourself (this weekend or this lifetime) you should take a page from the book of Finish What You Started Records. Energizing, supporting and empowering the local talent is at the core of this hardcore label but what good ol’ Ska Jeff’s really saying is don’t wait around to be what you want to be. Go forward with it! And if you need to create something, do it yourself.
Oh and if you like to mosh, skank, scream, and feel the sweat fly from a musician’s banging head you’re going to have to attend the Finish What You Started Fest this weekend. It starts officially in four hours! It’s a manifestation of the FWYS manifest, a promotion of youth culture & loud music, and one bitching good time.
The 4th annual Finish What You Started Fest from Aug. 16th to 18th, 2013 in Ottawa
Wednesday was the pre-show, getting the masses ramped up for the commotion to come. Three-week-old band Bloodnail & the screaming banshees of Bonnie Doon welcomed Oakland, CA post-punk band The New Flesh to their first-ever Canadian tour. Everyone got their feet under them and swayed. A drummer spat on a chandelier, I saw him. Bonnie Doon covered Kitty by The Presidents of the United States of America. Oh yes. It woke us up.
Tonight continues things in a way Ottawa wants it, with three local bands who’ll welcome everyone in with a few raucous songs. Tropical Dripps, Moon Destroyer & Cryptids! will grace us with their mad bastardry starting at 8PM. The hub of the event is Luneta on Bronson, and we’re please reminded to smoke near the front of the building so the neighbours don’t complain. “We wanna keep this thing going for a long time,” as Jeff says.
Saturday won’t wait for evening to get under way. If you’re quick enough you’ll score some brunch at Robot House after the hour of noon. A small donation is required for grub but it’s also BYOB! No corking fee! Two guys from Ottawa, and three bands from Montreal, London & Pennsylvania will work off the Friday hangover and hustle us over to Luneta for another 8PM start with one my personal favourites Robots! Everywhere! There are five other bands playing that night… Do I have to list them all?!
Sunday (yes, another wonderful day) grindcore from Peterborough, Torontonian grinding black metal, PEI powerviolence, and local band Knives & Forks For Freedom will dot the tees and decapitate the liars to bring FWYS Fest to a wonderfully ringing silence. I can only imagine we’ll be aching for more so maybe next year will be five days of hardcore fun.