A Brief History of Ottawa Explosion Weekend
Photos by David Forcier
Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party
Let’s rewind to the mid-2000’s, a time when Ottawa was bursting at the seams with garage, rock, and punk bands that would play often and play hard. Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party wasn’t just a party where people would dance, drink, and see new bands—it was a meeting ground and an incubator for the music community.
Luke Martin, OXW co-founder and musician, and Brad M., aka DJ B-Rad, started the weekly pizza party in late 2006 at Babylon Nightclub. Soon after Emmanuel Sayer, OXW co-founder and DJ, also jumped on board in spring 2007.
The party then moved to Bytown Tavern in February of 2008 where it had its longest run until February 2009 and really caught its stride.
“Brad and I started it the last weekend of November 2006,” Martin recalled. “Brad was working at Babylon and they wanted a new Thursday weekly so we jumped on it. I came up with the name and idea of giving away free pizza every week from a band photo shoot that involved slices of pizza. It seemed like a perfect fit.”
Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party stuck to a simple formula: Doors at 9. Bands at 10. PWYC if there were bands, and free if there weren’t any bands. DJs all night, with a lot of guest DJs. Free pizza at midnight or later.
“This happened every single Thursday for years,” Sayer said. “The pizza literally came from 2 for 1. Literally out of our pockets. We didn’t really make any money at this and that tradition continues to this day!”
At one point in 2009, the pizza party was out of a spot and ended up at The Royal Oak for a few weeks.
“The manager went back on our deal to have us there,” Sayer said. “We immediately relocated, but the first week we were gone they hired some dude to play “rock” music CD’s and he was spotted in the empty bar eating pizza.”
Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party was a crucial first chapter in the story of OXW. It was a place where new bands could play, people could meet up and share stories or start bands, and where touring bands could come and play to a room full of energy on a regular basis. Although the party got moved around a lot, and eventually folded in 2010, it was a major chapter of the OXW story.
“I met Ian Manhire (of White Wires and Voicemail) for the first time at Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party,” Sayer said. “Shortly thereafter he released the first few Going Gaga zines then started releasing records and put on the first Gaga Weekend in 2008. RRPP was always the opening night for Gaga Weekend.”
Going Gaga: Gaga Weekend
If Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party was the ongoing heartbeat keeping the community’s blood pumping, Gaga Weekend was the adrenaline jolt making Ottawa’s heart race. The two events coincided like pepperoni and cheese.
Gaga Weekend was the brainchild of Ian Manhire, a devout participant in the garage/punk scene in Ottawa at the time who published a zine series called Going Gaga, and also ran Going Gaga Records. The first edition was held in 2008, and was molded out of some great festivals like Gonerfest (Memphis, TN) and Budget Rock (San Francisco, CA) which focused on inclusivity and everything being done as cheaply as possible.
“There were lots of great bands, lots of great parties, everything was done on the cheap, it was all about good times,” Manhire said via email. “I really liked the idea of a local celebration too. There was the feeling that we had our own world here in Ottawa, and it was (still is) special.”
“There were 3 Gaga Weekends, and a lot of traditions!” Manhire continued. “The opening night was always at the RRPP, usually with three or four bands playing, lots of late night drinking and then lots of free pizza! The Friday show was always a basement party, just a total shitshow in one of the many basements we used to party in. I loved those basement shows—59 Argyle, Cozzie’s place, A&A Speedshop.
Then on Saturday it would be an [all ages] matinee show with like 12 bands at Yogi’s Meatlocker. Fun in the sun! Really relaxed. Great bands inside, people hanging out in the parking lot outside. Then the Saturday night we’d go down to Babylon for a big blowout, usually three or four bands. I’d always get DJs to flip records at all the shows, that was a great part of it too. And then there would be an after party, which I remember 200+ people in Davey’s backyard!”
This yearly get together was yet another hotbed for people in the community to meet new friends, play with new bands, and have a great excuse to party for three or four days straight.
A treasured keepsake of the Gaga era is the Ottawa Gaga Compilation, Vol. 1, of which there were only 330 pressed on vinyl with a zine included. The compilation was recently posted on Bandcamp, and thankfully is still available for all to hear. The concept was to avoid going the standard compilation route and record all the songs live off the floor at the old Capital Rehearsal Studios on Bank Street, now located at City Centre, in order to maintain a cohesive feel.
“The idea was to record a small snapshot of some of the bands in the scene, at the time,” says Jordy Bell, one of the sound engineers of the compilation and member of Crusades,The Creeps, and Cheap Whine.
Ultimately, Gaga Weekend only lasted three years but its impact cannot be understated. Manhire decided it was too much to carry on Gaga Weekend on his own, and at the time he was collaborating a lot with Martin and Sayer on a lot of projects. They sat down and talked about Ian’s departure from Gaga and what it would mean going forward.
“I asked Emmanuel if he wanted to take over and do his own thing,” Manhire said. “He didn’t need my permission, but things like that are basic respect. Plus, our friends all looked forward to that weekend in mid-June when all of our bands would get together. He was doing a great blog at the time called Ottawa Explosion, and he and Luke were on fire booking bands. So I stepped completely out of the game and they started fresh and just rolled with it. And look at it now! The evolution of OXW was natural… and crazy impressive!”
OXW’s first edition took place in June of 2011, featuring over 40 bands from Ottawa and other cities. Each year the festival has grown in scope thanks to key personnel like Azarin Sohrabkhani, who manages the administration, business, and logistical elements of the event. As the Industry Director at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF), Sohrabkhani’s experience with festivals and events have provided much-needed expertise to the organization. From nurturing partnerships to co-ordinating volunteers, her collaboration with Martin and Sayer to achieve common goals has proven successful year-in and year-out.
Even more, OXW has become catalyst for inclusivity and representation of minorities in the music scene.
“I’m very proud that OXW is still around and has stayed true to its independent and DIY approach,” Sohrabkhani said. “I love looking around and not being the only PoC at a show, this feels like a big development. I think that has a lot to do with learning from our community and working on fostering inclusive spaces and programming—which is always a work in progress.”
“I’m also stoked that we have a new generation of emerging and young artists, fans, and volunteers at the event. For organizations like ours, growth is only compelling if it comes from engaging with those who will feed the future of arts and culture in this city. I believe we’re doing that and it’s pretty darn exciting.”
OXW continues to be one of Ottawa’s strongest community-based music festivals. Although the story has evolved a lot since the mid-2000’s, the event’s importance as an incubator for new music remains, and will continue to encourage a new generation of musicians and friendships.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2017 occurs Wednesday, June 14 – Sunday, June 18. Weekend bracelets available for $80, day passes also available. More info/purchase passes, click here. For full festival schedule, click here. This article appears in the May Edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
Spotlight Series: Ottawa beat music newsprint thrives
In 2012, Ottawa said goodbye to (x)press, its once-homey hub of alternative and independent arts journalism. Since then, a vibrant collection of music blogs, art collectives and start-up companies have scattered across the capital, but nothing truly filled the void of the weekly arts newspaper- until this past summer.
In June, Ottawa Beat, the monthly, independent, locally-created paper was born. Run by Luke Martin and edited by Adella Khan, the publication has since developed a circulation of 5000; reaching hands via indie cafes, record shops, clothing stores, and more. The paper’s articles and illustrations – all crafted by capital region artists – cover concerts, festivals, and arts events, provide commentary on music culture, and spotlight local bands. With each month that goes by, the paper develops a larger readership and covers a wider scope relating to local music; Beat’s latest issue (November 2016) featuring an interview with renowned Canadian artist Tanya Tagaq.
The paper’s beginnings are parallel to the recent changes in Ottawa’s music industry. While the past few years have seen a number of beloved venues close down, new and innovative spots have taken their place – a quite literal example is the closure of Raw Sugar and the opening of Bar Robo. While the city still struggles with accessibility, all-ages shows are on the rise thanks to inviting venues, outdoor festivals, and what seems to be a slow but prominent shift in the attitude of Ottawa’s music scene. Ottawa Beat is a near perfect embodiment of these changes – its eclectic writing spotlights underground music but is inviting to everyone. Supported by small advertisements, the paper is a thriving model of near-independent success, curated by a growing number of local artists who are bound by their appreciation of music and belief that (even within a stereotypically cold government city), local music is a gift, one that needs to be shared.
Creating a music publication was something that Luke Martin, the owner of Capital Rehearsal Studios and Gabba Hey, had thought about since the end of (x)press. A quiet but integral member of the Ottawa music scene for two decades, Martin saw the need for a new music publication, one that would better encompass the city’s young and growing industry.
In search of partners with a writing background, mutual friends led Martin to Adella Khan, a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program. “She’s a community builder,” he says of Khan, who was previously Editor-In-Chief of The Charlatan and a contributor for CanCulture. Her writing experience, logistical knowledge, and understanding of local arts culture were the set of skills needed to materialize Martin’s idea. Khan works with a growing number of contributors to create the monthly paper; an undoubtedly difficult project, one that she’s handled gracefully.
While Capital Rehearsal Studios has recently closed its doors as a venue (known in the community as Gabby Hey), Martin continues to offer an accessible place for local independent bands to get their footing. Not limited to Gabba Hey, his business endeavours in the Ottawa arts have provided the necessary support for young and self-sufficient artists to thrive.
Supporting young artists remains Martin’s main goal in his managerial position at Ottawa Beat. In Ottawa (unlike larger, more perceptibly “artistic” cities like Toronto), there remains an anxiety around promoting one’s music and seeking a following. Martin hopes to break that barrier down, not only through promoting artists’ work, but also by providing the resources needed to grow. Gabba Hey’s rehearsal space was arguably the best example of this, and it will be difficult to replace. But with the city’s growing number of intimate venues, community music events, and independent recording projects, the future looks bright.
While the paper stays true to its catchphrase, Ottawa’s Music News, it encompasses a wide scope of issues pertaining to the local arts, with essays written from a range of perspectives. Examples include articles providing insight into entertainment law (a monthly piece in the paper’s Music Industry section, written by Byran Pascoe), the struggles of making time for music (The Art of Balancing Family, Work and Music by Adriana Ciccione), and the difficulties of establishing a band (How You Can/Why You Should Start/Join a Band by Brittany Neron and Sofia Shutenko). The paper also features a Babely Shades column, bringing awareness to inequalities in the music scene and providing a much-needed platform for local minorities to reach a wide audience when voicing their experiences.
The paper’s categories (which include Photography, Food, Comics, and Radio, among others), maintain a broad artistic scope within the context of local music, providing a unique collection of stories each month. In this sense, Ottawa Beat should be confident in their future – specialty print can be repetitive, but the paper’s versatility and scope ensures a wide readership and room for growth and change.
Ottawa Beat has also quickly established itself as a means of interconnection and communication within the local arts community. The paper features a monthly itinerary of local shows, uses original artwork for each issue’s cover, and shines light on both the developments in the local music scene as well as its pitfalls and need for improvements. Its newfound prominence in the city provides an incredibly accessible platform for artists to meet, converse, share their opinions, and promote their work; regardless of age, background, genre, or experience. Beat prides itself on its safe-space mentality, arguing for more equal and inviting opportunities for minorities in Ottawa and ensuring the paper remains an engaging platform for artists of all kinds. Providing a communicative space was important to Khan, who says many artistic hubs in Ottawa may be exclusive to a certain group or genre. With Beat, she hopes to provide a place for “interconnectivity within these scenes”.
Ottawa Beat has only been around for a few months, but its rapid growth is obvious. As each month goes by, the paper seems more cohesive, while maintaining the individuality of a local, small-scale and specialty publication. Its articles are refined, even when the paper runs a few pages longer than before. It balances lengthy, almost academic essays and interviews with shorter, informal pieces such as concert reviews and original comics. It provides an alternative, realistic and unapologetic portrayal of Ottawa’s music industry, a young scene that still struggles with exclusivity and judgment.
For the future, both Luke and Adella look forward to growth, as do Beat’s readers. The paper recently hired a Social Media Coordinator, and Khan says that employing more writers is a critical goal going forward, as is inviting more original work from visual artists and photographers. While Beat’s first growing pains may be over, it will certainly continue to evolve along with its readership and context.
Ottawa Beat is not only an example of local success, but of community. Both Martin and Khan stress the importance of variety and support in the paper’s future, promoting the work of musicians but also highlighting the behind-the-scenes work of producers, technicians, and businesspeople through the paper, its affiliates, and local programs. Just as local musicians and venues have leaned on Ottawa Beat for promotion and awareness, the paper relies on activity within the music scene in order to flourish. As more independent venues, companies and coalitions come forward, the interdependent relationship between Beat and the city’s music scene will only get stronger, and the paper will undoubtedly continue to grow. Adella Khan says it best herself when asked about the future of Ottawa Beat – “It’s only getting better”.
Festival Preview: Ottawa Explosion Weekend June 17—22
It is June 15 which means there are only 2 days left in the punk rock advent calendar leading up to Ottawa Explosion Weekend.
Ninety bands, six days, seven venues, including outdoor shows and secret shows in record shops—all for under $80. Yes, Ottawa Explosion Weekend is like Christmas in June for punk rock in the capital, and Emmanuel Sayer and Luke Martin are Santa Claus with a giant sack of bands to put under our tree.
This venue-based festival offers you non-stop mix of rock, punk, metal, hardcore and indie at at least three different shows a day in three separate venues and up to seven shows a day on the weekend. Ottawa Explosion Weekend brings together most of the best Ottawa has to offer with some great acts from across North America, and some from as far away as Germany. Another added bonus to this year’s OXW is that Beau’s is the beer partner.
It is very difficult to pick out the must-see acts, but here is a list of bands not to miss that we’ve broken down by date. Yes, I know there will be a lot of conflicts and travel bummers in my picks, but hey – I didn’t make the schedule!
Wednesday June 17:
Sailor Jupiter playing at Gabba Hey (Photo by Ming Wu)
Sailor Jupiter (Club SAW, 7 p.m.) – Three-piece all girl garage band, Sailor Jupiter are part of a new generation of the garage and noise rock bands coming out of Ottawa.
Kappa Chow (Club SAW, 10:45 p.m.) – Sackville, New Brunswick’s Kappa Chow are an explosion of bizarre punk rock energy. They have a very unorthodox approach and set up to punk rock and it is great. Don’t believe me? Let them tell you how punk they are below.
Nightshades (Mugshots, 8:30 p.m.) – Great local three-piece rock and garage rock band from Ottawa. Nightshades play up tempo garage songs with duelling female vocals that compliment each other really well. They have a new EP coming out soon, check out their new song “Wendy.”
Cross Dog (House of TARG, 10:45 p.m.) – Cross Dog is a three-piece ball of anger out of Peterborough, ON playing hardcore-inspired punk rock full of societal commentary.
The Jeanies (Avant-Garde, 12:15 a.m.) – Fun bubble gum punk from Brooklyn, NY. The Jeanies will be you want to boogie so don’t forget your dancing shoes.
Obliterations (Club SAW, 12:30 a.m.) – LA Hardcore of the very in your face variety. Anyone looking to thrash the night away with high-voltage energy and slamming riffs should not miss Obliterations.
The White Wires (Club SAW, 10 p.m.) – One of the shows of the year from OXW 2014 and they are back to do it again. These Ottawa gems rarely play live in town and it’s hard to justify missing them.
The Creeps (Club SAW, 12:15 a.m.) Another rarity, they pack the house and they deliver true creepy story-telling with ear-splitting goodness. Another one of Ottawa’s finest on the same day.
Durs Coeurs (The Dom, 10:45 p.m.) Ottawa French punk rock with an old-school flare. Kind of reminds me of The Misfits but with French lyrics not about zombies and ghouls.
Petra Glynt (Avant-Garde, 12:15 a.m.) Super strange, experimental and very cool atmospheric solo performer from Toronto. She might not be what first comes to mind when you think punk, but she will amaze and dazzle for sure.
New Swears at Arboretum Festival 2014 Photo by Ming Wu)
New Swears (Club SAW, 5:00 p.m.) Every year New Swears take their spectacle to new heights, usually involving inflatable pool toys, costumes, candy, silly string and more… can you really afford to miss what they might do this year?
The Ballentynes (House of TARG, 10:30 p.m.) Looking for something a little different? Check out these soulful gospel-like garage rockers from Vancouver. If they can’t get you dancing, not sure who can.
Needles//Pins (Club SAW, 11:30 p.m.) These guys deliver awesome sets every year. An amazing power-pop gem from the West Coast of Canada.
Teenanger (Avant-Garde, 11:45 p.m.) Modern punk-rock with strong old-school influences out of Toronto.
Blue Angel (Club SAW, 2:45 p.m.) This is the ultimate Ottawa “super-group” made up of members from Bondar, Organ Eyes and Boyhood. Need I say more?
The Famines (Club SAW, 4:15 p.m.) Excellent noisy garage rock due from Montreal, QC. Was really blown away by their last Ottawa show at House of TARG.
Freeplay arcade and DJ KJMaxx (House of TARG, 9 p.m.) – Free arcade games (with an OXW bracelet) and sweet sweet punk rock and garage being spun on vinyl.
Tenement (Black Squirrel Books) Lo-fi pop-punk from Appleton, WI playing a book store. Should be a great time.