There were countless options for live music Friday night thanks to JUNOfest, and I chose to rock out with New Swears, NO BRO and Blve Hills at the Bourbon Room.
It was a tight fit in the Bourbon Room, but that didn’t slow the moshing, crowd surfing, confetti shooting, beer drinking and general chaos that is New Swears.
My night began with Blve Hills who took the crowd on a psychedelic journey. Most of the set kind of felt like a well organize psych jam session, and I mean that in the best way possible. They were a bunch of musicians having fun and not taking themselves too seriously, but still rocking out. At one point a large stuffed snake was tossed into the crowd and thrown around for a couple of songs. Just confirming my point that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Then, out of nowhere, the set shifted from psych to a stronger, more punk rock style tracks to finish off. This climax of the set really switched the mood and got everyone ready for what was to come next with NOBRO and New Swears.
Setting the stage for New Swears was the most excellent three-piece NOBRO from Montreal. The ladies were excited to be back in Ottawa and were ready to shred. “Nice to be here in the nation’s capital for the Junos where everyone is a winner,” they said with a smirk. Their set was high energy and ripping, especially when they played songs of their aptly called EP Stoke Level: High. My favourite was “Call the Doctor,” where guitarist Marianna Florczyk really shines and shows off her skills. I strongly urge everyone to see NOBRO next chance you can, you will not be disappointed.
I have seen New Swears more times than I have fingers, but they are still one of the most entertaining acts to ever come out of this city. The set was no exception, and was filled with all the tracks I love from over the years. They stirred the crowd into a frenzy and had great stage antics, such as a rock n’ roll pyramid and playing guitar with a bassist’s legs wrapped around your neck, as we have all learned to expect. But now I’ll do a mostly non-punk rock thing and give a big shout-out to security. The two bouncers that were working probably had no idea what they signed up for. The moshing was one thing, but the stage divers (a.k.a human projectiles) during “See You in Hull” was next-level for a venue that is not used to this stuff. The two gentlemen did a bang up job of keeping people safe but also letting us all have a riot. New Swears, never change.
New Swears being New Swears during JUNOfest in Ottawa.
NOBRO ripping it at Bourbon Room in Ottawa during JUNOfest.
Blve Hills getting all psychedelic on us at Bourbon Room in Ottawa during JUNOfest.
This is about a man enraptured by sound, someone who never stopped hitting on pots and pans once he grew up. Oshawa-born Jesse Stewart will be the focus of Ottawa Chamberfest’s Siskind Snapshot on Friday, Aug. 1 at 5:45 p.m. at the Dominion-Chalmers United Church showcasing his stellar performance later that evening at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts. “Sounds From Space” will be unlike anything you have ever seen or heard… Tickets are $30 and might run out soon. The full title of the show is “Sounds From Space: The Voyager Golden Record Remix Project.”
For six years, Jesse has taught a number of classes at Carleton University, including music composition, improvisation, and jazz history among others. Before Ottawa, he lived in Guelph where he formed the band Stretch Orchestra (formely Tallboys) with Matt Brubeck & Kevin Breit. Their debut self-titled album won them a JUNO Award in 2012 for Best Instrumental Album of the Year. We had the chance to chat with him last week.
Q & A with Jesse Stewart
You’ve done so much varied work in visual, audio & multimedia art that you have a long list of titles growing after your name. What describes you best: creator, percussionist, or educator?
I guess the two that stand out for me are creator and educator. A creator is an artist, and that doesn’t necessarily mean one idiom. Because I work in visual and sonic arts I do a range of different things in those areas. But I teach as well, for me those are both connected. My career as an educator is closely linked to the creation of art. I don’t think I’ve ever had a student that I haven’t learned from.
You’ve been teaching at Carleton University for six years now, but how has this year been different?
This past year I was not teaching because I received the Marston LaFrance Research Fellowship. There’s one per year. It buys a faculty member out of teaching for that year. I am fortunate enough to be able to focus on my own work — lots of recording, playing, writing — this year, and as you may know university faculty get a sabbatical every seventh year. So this is now my sabbatical where I’m not teaching, I’m free to focus on my own work again.
I look forward to going back because I love teaching but it’s been very nice to have an extended period of time to focus on my own research. I’m still doing a range of different things that have pedagogical aspects to them. In Newfoundland I taught for a couple weeks at a summer institute for graduate students. This fall I’m teaching at the Discovery University created by the Ottawa Mission. I’ve only taught a couple classes there but I’d be happy to have the chance to do more with them. More and more I’m doing community music initiatives, basically collaborations with a community organization. I was the artist-in-residence at the Regina Street Public School, and the whole school, about 160 kids, and I put on a show. That’s a very clear example of initiatives where my background as an artist and as an educator coincide.
You’ve worked with an organization called H’Art of Ottawa, which actively encourages creativity & self-expression for those with developmental disabilities. Could you tell us a little about the “multimedia opera” Turning the Page you put on with them in April of this year?
The organization facilitates art-making for all types of people with disabilities, and one time the executive director of H’art [Lin Rowsell] and I were speaking at the same event. She showed the images of artists’ paintings, and I thought they were amazing so I went up to her later to tell her I was taken with the images. She asked, would you ever want to collaborate with us? And I said I’d love to. So every week for the past six to eight months I’d be with a different group and bring in some percussion or electronic instruments and we’d make music together. The idea was to just sort of let this project emerge on its own. I wasn’t telling anyone what to play, I’d just bring stuff in and just see what would happen. Together we decided what parts we’d like to incorporate into this musical theatre. Images of the artists were projected during the whole performance, and we used a variety of found objects as instruments, percussion instruments, iPads with an Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI) software that transforms movement into sound, and the reactable.
Jesse Stewart plays his reactable. Photo by Brett Delmage
Can you describe the reactable instrument for us?
The reactable is digital sampler and synthesizer that takes the form of an illuminated table. Basically, the table is a kind of interface for controlling sound and sound synthesis on a laptop. By placing objects on the surface of the table I can trigger different sounds, add filters, oscillators, sub-oscillators, and wave forms. It allows me to create electronic music live so it’s not just pressing play and checking my email. I’m actually controlling every sound with a visual interface. It’s very intuitive — groups of people who don’t necessarily have musical training figure it out quite quickly. It has allowed me to realize an idea I’ve had in mind, probably over the last 10 years, to create an extended composition using the recordings that were sent into space in 1977 on the Voyager spacecraft. I’ve always wanted to use those pieces as source material to create something new.
On Friday Aug. 1 you’ll be showcasing that project you call “Sounds from Space,” a remix of the music and images on the two golden records sent into deep space on the Voyager shuttles. Please tell us more!
I started tracking down copies of the recordings much before you could just go online and find them. The idea was “what if an alien species finds these spacecraft?” That’s a big reason they were being sent to drift throughout space for all eternity. Carl Sagan said if you’re going to do that it’s an opportunity to have a message in a bottle, and the message took shape in these gold-plated copper records. Lots of different music, sounds of Earth, and greetings in 80-odd languages were encoded along with over 100 images. About 10 years ago I started to think if it was found and successfully decoded, what would they do with it? What if this alien race didn’t necessarily have any art or music or culture of its own? What if they took this music and images and used them to construct an art of their own? What would that look like? What would it sound like?
I really have to give props to Roman Borys, the artistic director of the Chamberfest, for this. We’ve been talking about much bigger projects for years now and he contacted me several months ago to tell me this was the year to realize one of those projects at the festival. I sent him 10 or 12 ideas of larger-scale projects and he suggested we do “Sounds from Space.” When I first conceived this project I thought I’d be using turntables but now I have the reactable. Technology has caught up to the idea so I felt like the time had come too. Roman is programming what people would expect out of a chamber music event but he’s also taking chances on a lot of things. He’s pushing boundaries of how we conceive chamber music and I’m honoured to be a part of it.
Essentially, I’m creating the performance specifically for Chamberfest, and I’m very happy to be able to perform it first in Ottawa. In addition to this musical remix there is also a visual component. I’ve been working with local filmmaker Colin Power to have a little video of the still images from the golden records animated. I do want the performance to be documented and I hope to tour this piece. I’m already booked to perform it in May 2015, so maybe I’ll have a chance to perform it again before then.
Jesse presenting at TEDxCarletonU in 2010
You create instruments and use unusual musical devices throughout your art. Where does this fascination for peculiar sounds come from?
I think a lot of it is fueled by curiosity, really. One of the things I love about music in general is the sense of wonder that can go along with a musical experience. A lot of what I do is based on that, what I think of as a quest of discovery. It extends in the way I approach the drum set, probably the instrument I’m most associated with. I’ve played drums in the conventional way but also in a range of unconventional or “extended” techniques, as a way of discovering new and unexpected sounds even from familiar instruments.
That process of experimentation goes into other things, and the way I interact with the world around me. I’m constantly tapping on everything, looking for sounds I’ve never heard before. How can I interact with this familiar object so it produces an unexpected sound? I’ve done a whole concert on a piece of cardboard before. I use rocks, sea shells, saw blades, bits of garbage I can find, and sometimes I even look for things backstage before the show.
I’ve built instruments out of ice, stone, cardboard, newspaper, and other various types of paper. Again it’s all motivated by this sense of curiosity and exploration.
Do you have a catalog of the instruments you possess?
I don’t have a catalog but my website has some pictures of the various things that I play. Of course I play instruments that I haven’t built too. I went through a phase around 1996 or 1997 where I made all kinds of instruments out of glass. I made a glass marimba, an udu drum, a flute, and almost all of them have broken by now. It’s one of the dangers of making things out of glass.
What is your favourite instrument?
My favourite instrument is the one I have yet to discover. The drum is my first instrument, I’ve always banged around on pots and pans. When I really started to study drums I loved playing them in part because it combines many other instruments of different cultural traditions. In order to accommodate the growing rhythmic complexity of the music, early jazz and ragtime drummers had to have a variety of different toms, they combined the snare drum and the bass drum, cymbals from Turkey, and originally the tom-tom was a Chinese drum. I like that, the fact that it’s got these bits and pieces from all these different traditions.
And I really do like the fact that there are many universes of sound within the drum set. You can play them with sticks but I’ve dedicated myself for the last 15 years to try and explore other nuances to create a kind of expanded vocabulary for the instrument. What I’ve found is that this vocabulary is infinite.
What are your writing projects these days?
I’m currently writing a book about jazz history where each chapter is a look into the relation between jazz and another genre: so afro-cuban music and jazz, hip hop and jazz, western music and jazz, etc. That’s one book on the go, and the other I’m co-authoring with Ajay Heble on the pedagogy of musical improvisation.
Are you still making music with Matt Brubeck & Kevin Breit as Stretch Orchestra?
Yes we are, we have a show in September at the Guelph Jazz Festival. We have a few other things in the fall and winter. We’re hoping to make a new recording in 2015.
After 20 years of orchestral & classical concerts put on every July by the Ottawa Chamber Music Society, it’s this anniversary event that will be the Ottawa Chamberfest’s most ambitious line-up to date. While asking around about which locals acts to see, I was informed the international talent simply can’t be ignored at this year’s festival, which runs from July 24 to August 7. It might not be common knowledge that the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival is the largest festival of its kind in the world, but it is! Over 15 days without pause, most days will go from 10 a.m. to curfew, and span seven venues for almost 100 performances. Small ensemble music has never been so big!
We’d love to preview all performances but we can only offer you Showbox’s Top Picks for the 20th Ottawa Chamberfest :
The Don Byron Quintet & Divine Brown will wow us with new sound on Friday July 25, 2014 at Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts.
Don Byron is an amazing clarinetist with a legendary creativity for finding what is said to be “a sound above genre.” This New York musician and producer will play clarinet and saxophone alongside Divine Brown, R&B singer and JUNO Award winner from 2009. We also have it on good authority that the powerful Gryphon Trio (well-ingrained in the making of this Festival) will showcase their music on Aug. 6, absolutely essential viewing! And if you’re looking for something that you’ve never seen before, we highly suggest Luminico on Aug. 3.
JUNO Award winners The Gryphon Trio are the Festival’s Artistic Advisors James Parker on piano & Annalee Patipatanakoon on violin and Artistic Director Roman Borys on cello. They will play at the Dominion-Chalmers United Church on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014.
Amanda Forsythe will perform Il trionfo del tempo with three other soloists and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra on Aug. 5, 2014 at Dominion-Chalmers United Church.
Not a gala, but definitely the event of the whole festival — Chamberfest @20 will be a variety of all music that has played over the last 20 years at the Chamberfest. There will be approximately 13 different ensemble playing a wide range of styles and hosted by Eric Friesen, it will be at Dominion-Chalmers United Church at 7 p.m. on Wednesday July 30. We also have to mention incredible accordion player Manu Comté with his tango Nuevo ensemble Soledad will be performing at Dominion-Chalmers United Church on July 26, their first performance in the nation’s capital! And finally, from Aug. 6 to 7, Ensemble Caprice of Montréal will celebrate their 25th year as an ensemble by paying homage to the great German composer Johann Sebastian Bach during The Bach Summit. Sixteen works over four concerts, as well as the Brandenburg Concertos in just two days!
Last year, A Tribe Called Red put out one of 2013’s best electronic album Nation 2 Nation which has since won them a Juno for Best Breakthrough Group. They just dropped a new video for their track “Sisters,” featuring contemporary Powwow Drum group Northern Voice, where a group of girls from a (presumably) far off town hear about ATCR’s monthly Electric Pow Wow party happening in Ottawa and decide to make the trip. Why not make it fun? They have good times getting dressed up, dancing in a convenience store, and drive through a beautiful Canadian countryside celebrating the fact that they’re going to see the group live. The final portion of the video is the ladies actually in the club, which happens to be their home base of Babylon on Bank Street. ATCR is on stage with a packed house, and you can also see Robbie of Fall Down Gallery doing some live art. A great song deserves a great video!
Here’s what ATCR said about the video’s inspiration:
For the “Sisters” video, we wanted to show that Native Americans are like everyone else, regular contemporary people who are connected, fashion conscious and going to the club on weekends. Starring Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, “Sisters” shows three aboriginal girlfriends going on a road trip to our monthly party Electric Pow Wow in Ottawa, one of the only all indigenous parties in North America. We wanted the simplicity of the story to enhance this message and shines a light on this all-Native crew. The song is taken from our latest album Nation II Nation and exclusively uses the female vocals of powwow group Northern Voice. This is also groundbreaking as female powwow backvocals haven’t been put at the forefront like this ever before.
The DJ trio from Ottawa are making some of the greatest electronic in the world right now, and we at Showbox are super proud of them. Check out the video for “Sisters” below.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Shadrach Kabango, better known as the Juno-winning Canadian hip-hop artist Shad, as he came through Ottawa while touring his new album Flying Colours. Here is the interview I conducted with him before his stellar show, which you can read about here.
I have been listening to the new album since it dropped and I really like it. Where does the album title, Flying Colours, come from?
The title comes from the phrase passing with flying colours. I knew I wanted to talk about success and failure, and knew that it would be a thread throughout everything. I just like the idea that we are all doing well, in some kind of grand scheme and ultimate sense. Particularly because it comes as a surprise to everyone, we are so self-critical and to our surprise we are all doing quite well.
What is your favourite colour?
I like grey because grey clothes are easy to wash, hahaha. I also like blue and maroon. I can’t just pick one.
Throughout your new album, and your previous albums, you make a lot of sport reference. What is your favourite sport?
What is your favourite sports team?
I don’t have a favourite sports team that I cheer for year in and year out. Some teams that have been close to my heart over the years are, the Fab Five Michigan, the Penguins of the Lemieux years, Vince Carter’s Raptors, the Golden State Warriors with Hardaway, the Knicks in the Ewing and Starks days and the Stockton and Malone Jazz. My loyalty shifts from team to team, but stays with core players.
Those are some great teams, when it comes down to it you clearly love good sport. What is your greatest sporting achievement?
My greatest… I’m going to have to take it down to two. Grade 9 high school city champs in basketball. I won a three-point contest at a charity tournament I defeated a lot of very good players.
Those are some pretty sweet memories to have. Now to get back to your music. The media and many others say that you are a positive and uplifting hip-hop artist. You do have a lot of positive lyrics, but you also deal with some very serious and troubling subjects. What leads you to be more positive in a style that often focuses on the negative?
At this point, one challenge that I like with lyrics is to try to find hope and name it. Really put a finger on it and put words to it. It is a creative challenge that I like, to try and do it without short cuts or over-simplifying. Confronting the reality of who we are and the reality of the world, but also finding some hope in it.
Sticking with that theme, mainstream hip-hop is seeing a little shift into popular and comedic lyrics like yours, with the likes of Macklemore tearing up the charts for example. How do you feel about that and why do you think it is happening?
It is great, it speaks to what resonates with people. People like to feel good, it just makes sense. People also don’t always feel good, so they don’t always want to hear happy music, and I can understand that. A little aside, in fact the whole musical tradition in America is essentially sad, comes from the blues and it is all sad music. Music elsewhere does not have a tradition like that, it is mostly happy. There is a place for positive. That is what people use music for to a great extent. It can be a release in terms of negative emotions, but also it is a place people go to for joy, to dance, have a good time and remember the world is a good place.
I really like the song ”Keep Shining” off of your 2010 album T.S.O.L. It focuses on the need to get more women involved in hip-hop. I was hoping you could talk a little about why you believe hip-hop needs more women?
It is a curious thing that hip-hop has grown since its inception in so many ways, sonically, creatively, globally but not in terms of female participation. I like to think of it in term of, every guy knows what it is like to be talking with 5 to 10 dudes. You share a brain and there are ways of talking you just wouldn’t do if females were part of that conversation. I see hip-hop to be the same way, if there were more females being a part of that conversation, things would change for the better. From the general tone of the conversation of the music would improve, people’s understanding and the kind of perspective that they share would grow. I like to think I went into it a little with the song. And I hope songs like that are an invitation and create space for women.
What is the biggest difference in Shad from last album to Flying Colours?
That’s a good question. I feel like I have learned a lot. I have grown a lot, learned a lot about myself. With this album my process was a lot more disciplined, I found that I was working harder, I felt more mature with the whole process and approach to it.
Well speaking of that new album, I absolutely love the track ”Stylin.” I think it is one of your most complete tracks so far, and was hoping I could ask you rapid fire questions inspired by the lyrics of the song?
Thank you. And of course.
What is white music?
Off the top of my head, Vampire Weekend, hahaha.
What is your favourite white music?
Simon and Garfunkel are at the top of the list.
You speak of haikus and highbrows, what is your favourite Shakespeare?
One of the silly comedies for sure, like Taming of the Shrew.
You’re out of my league you’re the MVP, you’re 23. So Lebron or Jordan?
Oooooooooooooooooooooooh! I wish I could say Jordan, but I am more of a Lebron personality.
Fair enough, but who is better?
You’re the best draft, MGD. What is your favourite beer on tap?
Mill Street Organic.
You are an MPP, what is your slogan?
It would be a play on the word party… let’s say I have a party affiliation, let’s say I’m part of the NDP like I reference in the song. My slogan would be ”turning the NDP into a real party.” Hahaha, something like that.
Ok last one for rapid fire, not from ”Stylin” but you have mentioned Star Trek and Star Wars on other tracks. So Star Trek vs Star Wars?
Star Trek, no Star Wars. I think I was most the into the first one, Episode IV: A New Hope.
You recently mentioned Bonnie Klein’s Order of Canada acceptance speech on your blog. Can you talk about why you liked it and what you thought about her view of Canada and the United States?
I thought it was cool it came out the same day as my ”Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” video, so I highlighted and shared it. It speaks to the feelings that a lot of people have had and have, and the conversations I’ve had. I think it is true of our country and our own selves, we can have values, we can have principals, and be proud of the things that we have done, but if you don’t make an effort to progress those values and principals… you lose them. Things don’t just stay in a steady state, you are either getting better or getting worse. I think that is something a lot of us feel about our country. A lot of things we take pride in, many of us feel they are disappearing.
Here in Ottawa we are making national headlines politically, and Toronto is making them internationally. As a politically-minded artist, how do you feel about the state of politics in Canada?
There is an old way of doing politics and a lot of people of my generation have grown so detached, if you know what I mean. I am sure Rob Ford is a talented person for doing work in the city, there is a reason he got elected, and I am sure he is a decent man. But the way that he does politics, there are a lot of us who really resent it. There is obviously a lot of lying, a lot of deceit, a lot of bullying and we are sick of it. Then there are the other political games that we see going on in Ottawa. It’s like I think our generation is hoping there is a better way. We are so disengaged, it just creates this gulf between the people and what goes on in these rooms through all the layers of deceit. Then it just becomes common practice and how is anyone suppose to get engaged.
So you were raised in London, Ontario. It is not exactly known for being the mecca of Canadian hip-hop. How was carving out your career there?
I didn’t really start my career there exactly. Growing up there and going to high school there, music was fun but nothing I took seriously. I think a big part of that was that it was London, and there was not a whole lot going on. You could freestyle with your friends, maybe hop up on some stage at a talent show. That being said, once I started, London has been super supportive and awesome. A lot of my first shows were there and that is great. London was super supportive, places like the Embassy, Call The Office and the whole music community there. I love London.
How was it to present at the Giller Prize ceremony a few weeks ago?
It was a cool opportunity to meet different people. How many people get the chance to talk to very talented thoughtful writers. It was a very cool night. The guy I was presenting, Dan Vyleta, wrote a very amazing novel and it was cool to get to talk to the guy. You don’t normally get to read the book and then talk to the guy who wrote it. I thought it was very cool of the CBC to include me, because there were probably some more likely people to put up on that stage.
Sticking with literature, what are some books you would recommend?
I would recommend ”Becoming Human” by Jean Vanier and ”All Rise” by Robert F. Fuller. Both are very cool and non-fiction.
Keeping with recommendations, who is the one of the best underground hip-hop acts in Canada no one is talking about and that you would recommend?
I would tell people to check out the group called Freedom Writers from Toronto. They are basically a super group of Toronto underground kings. Some of the most talented guys in the city from the last 10-15 years. Very intense, very political music.
Final questions. You have won a Juno, put out killer albums and proven yourself time after time. Why aren’t more people talking about Shad?
I don’t know man. I am happy I get to do what I do, and I get to work hard at this. I get to have awesome experiences, and get to contribute my little piece. It feels really nice to feel like you have something to offer and to get to contribute it. Everyone has that one little thing to give man, I am just glad I get to give mine.