Standing in the Westin picking up Juno Awards media passes, my phone buzzed. A screenshot from a friend of a tweet saying there was a pop-up Arkells show at a *secret* location, hosted by CBCq and Tom Power. What the hell is that, you ask? Pop-up show? Secret location? Challenge accepted. So, The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq began.
As we left the hotel we made a plan. It was 1:30pm, the show was at 4pm. Start the clock.
1:32PM – We narrowed down possible venues for such an event in Ottawa. The tweet said that the first 50 people who emailed CBCq would get access to the show. We knew it would be small.
1:37PM – We hauled ass to the car, snow flying down everywhere, and decided first stop would be at the source. Off to CBC we went. Once we parked and found our way around the the entrance that actually let us in (harder than you’d think, there’s like five doors to that place). The security guards were quick to stop us, we showed them the tweet and I’m pretty sure they thought we were off our rockers. Thankfully, one gentleman didn’t think we were completely loony and offered to help us out by introducing us to the CBC host he was waiting to meet. Amazingly enough, the host he was waiting for also happened to be the moderator from the morning’s panel discussion on Ottawa As A Music City. Though he also had no idea what we were talking about he was nice enough to wish us luck as we left on The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq
2:05PM – Next we tried to think logically. CBCq hosted an event at the Bronson Centre the day before. Perhaps they were holding all their gear there for the broadcast. So once again, off we went. We got inside only to have the person behind the desk look at us like we have eight heads. This was becoming a theme. We thought this was a logical choice, but failed to consider the size of the Bronson Centre, and how it could fit many more than 50 people.
2:30PM – Though we didn’t admit defeat, we decided that CBC probably knew a thing or two about keeping secrets. We carried on with our day.
3PM – Out for lunch where I ended up with a full pint of beer in my lap and ate perogies that would later nearly kill me (that’s a story for another time).
3:45PM – *Phone buzz.* What’s the line up outside LIVE on Elgin? We once again hauled ass to the car.
4:05PM – Late for the 4PM start time, we parked, j-walked and carefully knocked on the door of the venue. Security opens the door and quickly starts questioning. We got a quick no, and a door close.
4:07PM – Some parts of this story need to remain a mystery, right?
4:10PM – WE GOT IN! The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq was a success!!! We quickly stripped off coats, rigged up cameras with lens, and flew like the wind towards the stage. Arkells were going full tilt, we started shooting. Max flew everywhere through the crowd. He was dancing, throwing his mic stand around, finally just took the glasses straight off my face. Insanity. Private School, Drakes Dad, Happy Birthday, Jackson Five.
4:50PM – Post show CBC Host Tom Power striked up a conversation with us. We hesitantly told him details of The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq, unsure of the response we would receive. He got a laugh, seemed impressed, all was fine, the end.
4:55PM– Still losing our shit, we went on with our day. The rest of The Juno Awards awaited us, little did we know there was much more in store for the weekend. Check out the full photo gallery for more of what I got up to throughout Juno Weekend.
Join us next time as I tell the story about how I puke outside Petrocan before meeting another CBC radio host.
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.
JUNOfest kicked off Thursday with a few shows around town, and I decided to make my way to Zaphod’s to check out Operators along with supporting acts Charly Bliss and Potential Red.
Juno fever was in the air, and you could feel the excitement building in the city. The first act to hit the stage was a newer post-punk group in Ottawa called Potential Red. I’d heard about these guys through the grapevine but hadn’t seen them before, and they impressed everyone in attendance with a strong set. There aren’t a lot of Ottawa groups writing songs in the footsteps of late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s post-punk and new wave bands, and these guys do it right.
Right away Potential Red captured the audience’s attention and held on tight as they blasted out heavy bass-driven grooves layered with reverb-laden guitars and flutters of synth throughout their songs. Dare I say that lead singer David Sklubal’s moves on stage were reminiscent of Ian Curtis’, frantically exuding his energy into the crowd and getting the front riled up. I heard some of A Place to Bury Strangers in some of their songs, which I certainly connected with. Sklubal nearly broke the neck of his guitar as he jumped around on stage, just before launching himself into the crowd with reckless abandon. This is definitely a local band to keep an eye on, their live performance is not to be missed.
Next up was Brooklyn, NY grunge-pop band Charly Bliss. The four-piece churned out the kind of power-pop that we all know and love, channeling a sound that many of grew up with in the 90’s. Front-woman Eva Hendricks stole the show with her stage antics, having fun with the set and luring the crowd in with her energy. In all honesty, this is the kind of band I’m skeptical of going in. Having not heard their music before, I felt like they might toy with my emotions and try to pull some nostalgic strings without executing it properly. This happens sometimes. I was admittedly looking for something not to like about Charly Bliss, but one can’t help but fall in love with those catchy hooks, overzealous performance style, and honest songwriting delivered with a bow on top into our eardrums.
The band’s stage chemistry was obvious, and it wasn’t difficult to tell how close they are. They have opened for Veruca Salt, Sleater-Kinney, Tokyo Police Club, PUP, and are currently touring with Operators. Needless to say, catch Charly Bliss at small venues while you can because I have a feeling they’ll be playing bigger clubs any day now.
The headlining act Operators hit the stage as the crowd packed in tight. I would be remiss to leave out that I am a huge fan of Dan Boeckner – he has the Midas touch and all of his projects rule. I’m one of those old Wolf Parade fans that fell in love with Handsome Furs, and then Divine Fits, and then Operators. I’m sure there are a few curmudgeony Wolf Parade die-hards that don’t like the direction he’s gone in, but I for one am excited to see him playing with new toys and collaborating with great musicians such as Devojka and Sam Brown. I had the chance to chat with Boeckner last year, an interesting piece which you can read here.
Analogue synths abound, Operators’ modern take on post-punk has really taken shape over the last few years. This was the best set I have seen them play yet, and the road has surely tightened up their live performance. Boeckner’s comfort in this role is evident, and the smile on his face suggests that he’s loving every second of it. The songs off of Operators’ debut LP Blue Wave translate extremely well live – it’s part 80’s new wave, part dream pop, part dark post-punk – but whatever you call it, it works.
A couple highlights of the set were their performances of “Cold Light” and “True,” each of which electrified the room and got the crowd into a frenzy. Some of their songs had the audience a little unsure of themselves with respect to their dance moves, but the bodies kept flailing nonetheless. Sam Brown’s dialed-in drum beats were mesmerizing – even I got lost in his incessant, fixated rhythms. Devojka’s electronic wizardry provided the high-voltage energy of the set, complimenting both Boeckner and Brown perfectly.
My favourite part of the night was when Operators were cheered back onto the stage for an encore, during which they played a Handsome Furs track “Damage” from 2011’s Polaris-nominated Sound Kapital. I left with a smile, as night one of JUNOfest set a pretty damn good tone for the rest of the festival.
Jade Bergeron, a.k.a. Flying Hórses, has done things that few artists in Ottawa/Montreal have done before. Her 2015 album Tölt was recorded in Iceland at Sundlaugin Studio with the help of producer Birgir (Biggi) Jón Birgisson of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. The album is, as far as we’re concerned, a masterpiece in its own right (read our piece on it here). The emotional, cinematic soundscapes crafted by Bergeron are moving instrumental pieces, and a few of the songs –”Tölt” and “Attic” – have recently been made into music videos.
We caught up with Bergeron and spoke with about her recent endeavours, and her new videos for “Tölt” and “Attic” can be seen below. Be sure to catch Flying Hórses’ JUNOfest performance on Saturday, April 1 starting at 8pm at St. Alban’s Church along with Her Harbour, Charles Spearin (Broken Social Scene), and Pugs and Crows and Tony Wilson.
What have you been up to since returning from Iceland? Can you talk a bit about your involvement with Banff Centre?
I’ve been pretty busy. I got back from Iceland just in time to perform my first two solo-piano concerts as part of the Festival de Jazz de Montreal. I spent the summer writing new material and collaborating with videographers.
I was invited to go work over at The Banff Centre in the fall. Waking up every morning to clean, fresh air, in the middle of the mountains, and to be surrounded by talented, inspiring artists was so amazing. I had my own studio, with a grand piano, harpsichord, vibraphone and a few percussive instruments. The other musicians in my residency we’re singer/songwriters and we’re working on two or three shorter songs, but I decided when I got there that I was going to compose one, longer instrumental, movement. I had written a small part of the new track over in Iceland but the entire rest of the movement happened really organically during my first week in Banff.
Being back in nature, really brought the song to life. I had heard about the residency through Charles actually, and being a fan of his post-rock band DO MAKE SAY THINK and of his work in general, I applied. I guess both himself and Brendan Canning thought I would be a good fit for the residency. I ended up meeting a classical guitarist and experimental cellist, Alex Mah out there, who was there working with Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) and after hearing him play, invited him to record cello on my new piece. Charles played horns and a few other musicians also contributed to the movement.
I wanted the entire recording experience to feel organic, and stress-free. The new movement was mixed by Efrim (Godspeed You! Black Emperor over at Hotel 2 Tango in Montreal and I just got the master back from Biggi (Sigur Ros) in Iceland. It’s a pretty heavy listen, but it’s colourful and it represents a really important recent time in my life. We are shooting a short film/video for the single right now in Iceland. I’m very excited about the whole thing. It’s going to feature a very well-known actor/model in the Icelandic community, so I’m really glad to be working with this team, overseas. The new movement and video should hopefully be out in the spring.
The video for Tölt is a beautifully crafted, yet tragic story of two young people alienated from the world in different ways. Why were children the subjects? Can you expand on the concept?
I wrote ‘Tölt’ during a time of reflection on my own childhood. The entire record ended up feeling/sounding like a soundtrack to the past. I used a lot of instrumentation that represented the innocence of being young and wide-eyed. When Alex approached me with the idea of making a video/short film for that particular track, he already had a lot of great conceptual ideas, and before even bringing up what the track represented to me, he was already story boarding about a childhood trauma. We connected on the video, immediately.
My contribution to the video was limited. Once Alex and I went over the storyboard together, he began casting calls for the actors, and it wasn’t long before they them. Production spent some time in the fall working on production and the post-production happened in the winter. The whole process was really amazing. Both young actors really did a great job, and I’m so grateful for the level of professionalism the entire team demonstrated throughout. It’s been an honour working with all of them.
What does the piano mean to you? How has music helped you through past struggles and traumas?
My relationship with the piano has been a roller coaster since I was a kid. I’ve tried my hand at a few different instruments over the years, but my heart has always lead me back to the piano. It feels the most organic. I enjoy having the keys right there in front of me, I’m a very visual person. I really have no idea what I was doing with my life, before writing and composing music, and I don’t know what I would do without it.
Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming video for attic? Will it be related to the story in Tölt?
Attic was produced by Antoine S. Legault from Lonely Fire Productions. The song is one of the last tracks on the record. I never really intended for it to end up there, actually. It’s quite dark, heavy and creepy and I think is a transition between the really optimist, innocent, lullaby songs that start off the album, and the new single I’ll be releasing sometime in the spring. I wrote it while I was reflecting on memories (much like Tolt). The video opportunity came about organically, this past winter. I sat down with Antoine back in December and we talked about making this short film/video that was kind of dark, creepy and mysterious. Coming out of a bit of heaviness myself, I decided to focus the story on loss and melancholy. Antoine came up with the storyboard and we shot the video in one afternoon in an abandoned house. It was freezing cold and creepy, but it was a really awesome experience.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Juno festivities taking place in Ottawa?
I don’t perform very often. In fact I pretty much only played festivals last year. My focus has mostly been on writing new material, and catching up on the release of the record. Junofest asked me to perform as part of the only ‘instrumental/experimental’ showcase for the festival. It will be fun to share the stage with Charles Spearin again, and a good friend of mine Her Harbour is playing too. It’ll be nice to see so many great musicians roaming around Ottawa for The Juno’s.
Ottawa’s droney post-punk outfit Expanda Fuzz has released a new video for their single “Sonic Halo.” The track appears on bandcamp along with a cover of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September” in the wake of founding member Maurice White’s death last year.
The track is a minimalist psychedelic trip, with rolling percussion, a fuzzy lead guitar part, and mesmerizing vocals by Niki. The video’s aesthetic is dark and ominous, taking place in a remote field at dusk and featuring characters with strange masks and costumes. The video is not as dark and creepy as their video for “Flavour: Zombie” released last year, and it also contains beautiful colours of the sunset. However, the smoke-breathing Grim Reaper-type character also leaves the viewer with chills down the spine, and it’s not the kind of figure you’d want to run into on a dark, empty farm.
Although the song is just over two minutes long, it’s great to see a video being made that perfectly suits the sound of Expanda Fuzz. This song could have easily been incorporated into season one of True Detective, or even Apocalypse Now. The video accurately reflects that kind of imaginary trip into the darkness.
Expanda Fuzz is playing JUNOfest March 31st with Dilly Dally, No Fuss, and The Dirty Nil at House of TARG. Ticket and wristband information can be found here.
We’re getting excited to present Sight & Sound: An Audiovisual Experience on March 4 featuring the music of Ottawa veterans Amos The Transparent and the prodigy known as Trails. This will all be going down at The Record Centre in Hintonburg (1099 Wellington St.) and LES666 will be providing a visual art installation that is sure to create the a fully immersive experience for audience members. Needless to say, we’re pretty honoured to be working with the JUNO host committee and OMIC for this special night.
We’re giving away a couple passes for this event, so be sure to enter today!