It was another snowy day in Ottawa and another great day for a Megaphono showcase. This time it was an afternoon show at the Record Center with Ottawa’s Mushy Gushy, Area Resident, and Saint John, NB’s Little You Little Me.
Mushy Gushy blasted out of the starting block playing their first four songs with no breaks, and barely slowed at any point during the set fitting in as many songs as possible. The boys were on fire and so tight as they rocked songs from both their tapes and even treated us to a new track. They played “Summer Lusting” off their first tape Tight Snake. Not a much better way to remember that sunny days will in fact return than a song with the opening line of “Everyone wants to fuck in the summer time” while the snow was really coming down outside. The band played an assortment of fun and energetic tracks from Tight Snake and their more recent release, More Butter. The crammed in crowd at the Record Center was really digging the music with a lot of heads bobbing around. The new song they played was pretty smooth and I hope that means the band will have a new release for us this year.
Cory from Mushy Gushy laying down some riffs. Photo by Els Durnford.
Opening for Mushy Gushy was Area Resident, which is the musical project of CBC traffic man Doug Hempstead and friends. On an afternoon like this one, he was probably much happier behind his drum set singing his songs than talking about traffic in a snow storm. Doug is a story teller, whether it is the lyrics of his songs or between songs, the man has tales to share. I guess it pays off to spend your days working in a news room. With help from fellow CBC web and radio personality Kristy Nease, and Carleton University music instructor John Higney, Hempstead impressed the crowd and filled the room with warm vibes all around.
Kicking things off with the smooth and catchy song “Riverside,” they caught the crowd’s attention right away. Not only are the songs really good, but a lot of them actually have comical back stories. One of the funniest pieces was that while he was crowdfunding for one of his albums, a friend of his said he would donate but only if he wrote a song based off a bizarre OPP press release. The release was about some young kids who broke into a cottage in Lanark County and then drove away in a pickup truck, only to end up in the river. Then, of course, they refused to turn themselves over to the cop and just sat in the truck for 20 hours. Hempstead would have been remiss not to write a song about it, and “Lanark Double Soaker” ended up on the final cut of Area Resident’s latest album Delano. Another great track was “Warm It Up First” which is about the man who stole gold from the Canadian Mint by smuggling it out by putting it up his…well, you know. All in all, things really picked up as Area Resident played to the full house.
First up on the bill was Saint John, NB’s Little You Little Me. These guys have been around for quite a few years now, and their energy on stage showed no signs of slowing down. While I only caught the last few songs of their set, they set the mood for a snowy Saturday afternoon in Ottawa by playing some crunchy rock and roll for us to forget about the cold. Their brand of pop-laced garage rock is something that Canadian music fans are soaking up, and the guys took the stage with big smiles and set the tone. They played songs from deeper in their catalogue, and newer ones from their most recent EP entitled In Under Fourteen Highly Concentrated Minutes. These guys do a great job a sharing vocals and rocking their respective instruments. Each song got the crowd grooving along with them, and the band was clearly having a great time. Not to shabby for a bunch of guys who drove from Saint John to Ottawa the entire night before. But hey, that’s what bands do! Looking forward to these guys making their way back to Ottawa soon. All in all, it was another successful show at The Record Centre, and everyone left with smiles on their faces.
With the snow lightly descending on the nation’s capital, the NAC’s Fourth Stage was a perfect setting for a Friday night Megaphono showcase featuring Trails, Luka, and Keturah Johnson.
This was my first time at the Fourth Stage in a long while, and what a beautiful room it is. It really helps create a very intimate setting for a performance, especially when it is a sold out standing room only show like this one.
Trails performing on the Fourth Stage of the NAC during Megaphono 2018 in Ottawa.
Headlining the night was Ottawa’s Allie O’Manique, better known to most as Trails. In just a few years she has really gained a lot of momentum in Ottawa as one of the truly up and coming artists in town. Now you may find it hard to call someone up and coming when they have already opened for Andy Shauf in the UK, but Trails stills feels so new and fresh to me. She has so much potential, which in itself is pretty scary but mostly exciting.
O’Manique certainly knows how to turn on an eerie haunting edge to her vocals which melds perfectly with the instrumentation of the backing band on this night, Especially on songs like -“Mourning/moaning/morning/snowing ” from her debut full length album The Past Is Coming Fast. Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have local musician extraordinaires—Philippe Charbonneau, Pascal Oflaki, and Jamieson Mackay—as support on stage.
While much of the music has a much more mellow and psyche feeling to it which can both serenade you to sleep or ease you into deep meditation, the band did switch things up a little on one song. The rowdier jam was maybe a little too much for them though, as guitarist Jamieson Mackay blew a string. Like a true champion he powered through. However, there was a moment of worry when he told the crowd he might not be able to play the “sweet lick” at the end of their powerful finale “Leave Her Be.” Luckily for us, he found a way and capped off the absolutely song which she wrote and arranged with Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns, and really shows the growth and immense potential for more.
Luka impressing the NAC crowd at Megaphono. Photo by Els Durnford.
Setting up Trails’ set was poet and crooner Luka Kuplowsky and a group of smooth rock n roller from Toronto who perform as Luka. Kuplowsky, rocking an acoustic guitar with no strap, reminds me of early Lou Reed in how he almost speaks over the music more than singing most of the time and delivers poetry with the upward intonation in his voice at the end of his lines. I was immediately hooked from the first song “City By My Window” to the amazing closing track “O My Heart Is Full” which is a near perfect song in my opinion, have a listen.
If the singer’s smooth stylings weren’t enough, he is surrounded by very talented musicians, including an extremely entertaining drummer and a dynamic flutist—yes, a flutist. I believe there were more flute solos in the performance than guitar solos, which is not something you see every day. One of my favourite songs from the night was “Quick Reflex” off his latest album What Kind of Animal, which tells the story of a hand-me-down baseball cap with a beautiful melody and finishing with a roaring crescendo in the live performance. This was just one of many very impressive moments of pure chaos with the soft vocals, off beat drumming, rapid guitar and bass strumming and racing the flute that really took the performance to the next level.
Keturah Johnson serendating the NAC crowd during Megaphono. Photo by Els Durnford.
Opening the night was another stellar local performer, Keturah Johnson, who on this night was flying solo and without her The Heavy Medicine Band companions. Johnson is absolutely masterful at looping her own guitar and incredible vocals, then playing and singing over those loops. It had my jaw dropping right away. Johnson’s vocals are so powerful and filled with passion and sometimes darkness that there are moments that make your spine tingle.
Her solo performances takes the time to fully craft the song, but the end result is beautifully layered beyond any a regular solo performance delivers, and the process is like watching someone play a bunch of smaller tracks that perfectly fit together. It is comparable to watching and old-school DJ craft a mix on vinyl from scratch, except this is being performed with very different instruments. And Johnson has no fear of the sounds of the classics even with the “modern” looping technology songs like her finisher “Conduit” shine on her influences like Pink Floyd in all the right ways.
Ottawa folk troubadour Claude Munson is almost ready to release his new album, titled The Silence Came After.’ Although it has been six years since his full-length debut and the Storm Outside came out, we’re more than excited to share the first video and single off the upcoming LP, which is the song “Saluted by the Light Outside.”
The video suits Munson’s sound and aesthetic to perfection—it’s earthy, intimate, harmonious, and invokes emotive imagery and textures. The video was directed, filmed, and edited by Alexis Zeville and filmed in Québec’s mystical Laurentians. It captures shots of light and smoke breaking trough the trees, nature, and walks in the wood. There is a simplicity to it, and the contemplative story effectively underlines the song’s narrative.
3 days, 13 venues, and 4147 pictures later, MEGAPHONO 2017 is done for another year. I was honoured to be a part of such an event and help capture moments throughout. The festival brings together individuals from all areas of the industry to appreciate the time and work that goes in to creating their art. I could talk for days about the performances and people I had the chance to experience, but I would much rather let the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy!
Night two of MEGAPHONO took me to Black Squirrel Books to see Bonnie Doon and Lonely Parade.
There is something very interesting about watching bands play surrounded by shelves stocked full with books. The intersection of serious songs and historical works with lighter and sillier tracks and the graphic novels is quite fascinating to me.
Lonely Parade playing at Black Squirrel books – Photo: Els Durnford
Unfortunately I arrived too late to catch Scary Bear Soundtrack, but heard they did a wonderful job as usual. Fortunately I did make it in time for Lonely Parade, the great three-piece from Peterborough. A lot of the songs they played were new songs and didn’t have names yet, they introduced two songs as “That was just New 3 and this next one is New 5.” It has been a lot of fun watching the band grow up in front of my eyes over the years and these new songs certainly show them tightening up musically. They have come a long way from when I discovered them and their song “My Mom Got Hit on at a Punk Show,” four years ago.
Lonely Parade also found time to squeeze in some of their “older” songs much to the joy of many there, including the tracks “Johnny Utah” and “Night Cruise.” They also dedicated a song to Bonnie Doon and mentioned how excited they were as “We are totally going to pizza shark later.”
Lesley Demon rocking out at Black Squirrel Books – Photo: Els Durnford
Bonnie Doon took the stage with a couple of members in cheerleader regalia and pompoms cheering for the Ottawa U Gee Gees. Bonnie Doon also played a lot of new songs and let us know that a new album is coming out this spring on Record Centre Records. Some of these new songs saw the band being joined by saxophone player Mara. It was a very unexpected and cool addition to their noisy garage sound. A lot of their stage banter revolved around their love for Buchipop culminating with the band playing a song they called “Buchipop Hole,” cementing their love for refreshing local kambucha beverage brand. They capped off their great set with words of advise “This one goes out to Lonely Parade… do not get the pepperoni…” and then they played fan favourite “Pizza Shark”
Year three is in the bag for MEGAPHONO and once again it brought me to very cool venues to discover bands that I had never heard before and see bands that I love. Well done to the entire MEGAPHONO team!
Photo of New Swears enjoying a guitar brew – Photo by Els Durnford
It is that wonderful time of year again. That time were we can escape the freezing cold of Ottawa in February by jumping into venues across the city to see some of Ottawa and Gatineau’s finest acts, as well some from out of town performers during MEGAPHONO.
My MEGAPHONO adventure for 2017 began by going to two venues for two completely different experiences. St. Albans Church for Bry Webb, Pony Girl and Trails was beautiful, thought provoking and allowed one to sit down in the dimly lit room, close their eyes and let the brain wander. Afterwards I headed to a crammed Barrymore’s for New Swears and Partner, which was a sweaty, chaotic night cap of a show.
Trails kicking things off at St. Albans Church
My night began with the dreamy psych sounds of Ottawa’s Trails. This was my first time seeing Trails and was I ever pleasantly surprised. The beautiful soundscape and imagery this solo performer creates was amplified by the setting, a 150 year old church. Songs like her opening track “Sun Go” set the stage for what was to come. She made great use of looping pedals to layer her own voice over itself which really blew me away and added so much depth to songs like “Mourning/moaning/morning/snowing.” And just for good measure, she threw in a cover of “Unfucktheworld” by Angel Olsen. Don’t sleep on Trails, I can only assume the sound will continue to grow and wonder.
Pony Girl lighting up our night at St. Albans Church.
The next act desn’t surprise me anymore because I have seen them so many times, but Pony Girl never ceases to amaze me. I have watched the band grow and mature into a very solid act that Ottawa should be proud of. They are wonderful musicians and their collective creativity has really started to take them to new heights. One thing about Pony Girl that can never be overstated, is that they have a clarinet player who is the focal point a few tracks and that is just really cool. The band’s ever growing maturity was on display during their introduction of their song “Dirty Picture.” Singer and guitarist Pascale Huot said of Dirty Picture, “this song is like my Facebook feed in a song and that’s a bad thing…be critical.” Speaking of all the terrible images and hateful text we come across every day on our screens. The band capped off their set with “Please Do.” I think I can count on one hand the amount of bands out there that can transition as smoothly as Pony Girl from rocking a high energy jam in the midst of the song right back into the track in unison without skipping a beat. Pure magic to see live.
Bry Webb capping off the night at St. Albans Church
Capping off my night at St. Albans Church was Bry Webb, known to many as the lead singer of Guelph’s Constantines. This was certainly not a Constantines set and I really appreciate that of lead singers who branch out as a solo act to do their own thing. The set began with Webb, acoustic guitar in hand, and Rich Burnett on lap steel guitar, which resulted in a mellow folky sound which was music to my ears. He treated us to some new songs including “What I do” which had some absolutely beautiful finger picking in it by Webb. A few songs in, they were joined on stage by drummer Nathan Moore (Minotaurs) to play “Rivers of Gold.” Moore then stayed with them for the rest of the set. The addition of drums certainly picked up the pace and made the set become a little more rocking, but still stayed rooted in folk.
Just before beginning to play his great song “Big Smoke,” Webb spoke of how needed this show was in times like this. “This is a good time to play music in a room of people who want to listen to music… it’s important to find opportunities to transcend fear,” he said. “May all your rooms be filled with people free of fear.” Very timely words. For the last song, Moore left his drums leaving Webb and Burnett to finish up covering Michael Hurley’s “O My Stars.” A beautiful track.
Josée Caron of Partner rocking so hard it hurts. Photo by Els Durnford
I then made my way to the ghost of shows past, Barrymore’s Night Club for a very different experience. After the never ending mandatory coat-check line was passed, I got too watch the much hyped Partner. The excitement is certainly not unfounded as they sound great and are a lot of fun live. Their crowd engagement between songs almost always resulted in laughter and their song topics are far from being shy or boring. The band is fronted by two openly lesbian singer-guitarists, one even sporting a “Beers and Queers” t-shirt. They played songs about learning that Ellen Page came out, about eating chips in the other’s room without them and making a mess, as well “Everybody knows you’re high,” which is pretty self-explanatory. They then played a song about their love for passionate amateur lesbian porn that they said they only play for crowds they are having fun with, good job Ottawa. The crowd was certainly having fun as well. Great set by an up and coming Canadian band from Sackville, NB that will certainly be turning heads and pleasing eardrums.
Sammy Scorpion of New Swears covered in the bands mess. Photo by Els Durnford
Now for the last act. With an explosion of confetti and a showering of silly-string, we all became day dreamers in the wee hours of the morning with New Swears as they kicked off their set with “Day Dreaming.” Ottawa’s kings of party-punk certainly held nothing back as they headlined the night. I have seen New Swears countless time and it is always raucous, chaotic, fun and good for many laughs. When you see how hard the crowd goes during a New Swears set you would think they were a much heavier hitting punk band slamming power chords at lightning speed. But, anyone who has seen or heard New Swears knows that is not their shtick. They do however write really catchy songs about partying and romance.
They treated the crowd to a few new songs, which sounded full of potential to grow into favourites, that will appear on their upcoming album which they promised will be released in the spring. One highlight that must be mentioned was the weird moment when the band played “Two Darts” a love song about saving one of your last smokes for your sweetie and Belmont ads were playing on the screen to the left of the stage, which turns out they were playing all night…Can you even advertise cigarettes like that anymore? Well that’s beyond the point, back to the punk show.
The band finished super strong just laying down crowd favourites after crowd favourites like “Paradise” into “See You in Hull” into “No Fun” and capped with “Stay Gold.” Nothing like finishing off a set after 1 am with the line “don’t you wish your boyfriend was a punk like me.” Oh New Swears promise you’ll never change and we’ll promise to stay rowdy.
The 2017 Megaphono Festival has begun, and has already rung in a number of successful music panels, events, and shows, bringing in a collection of talent from across Canada, the US, and beyond. On Thursday, February 2 at Barrymore’s, Partner joins I.D.A.L.G. and New Swears for what is expected to be nothing less than the punk rock party dreams are made of.
Hailing from New Brunswick, Partner’s Josée Caron and Lucy Niles are a musical match made in heaven. Their songs, which mix the uplifting sound of indie pop with the rough energy of post-punk, perfectly encapsulate the feelings of young adulthood.
Previously bandmates in Killer Haze, Caron and Niles decided to create new music based on the fleeting events and ideas of everyday life. Their Bandcamp lists intimacy, friendship, sexuality, and drugs as some of the elements behind their song writing – in what they call “part-musical act, part-teenage diary, and 100% queer”.
A large part of the artists’ musical inspiration comes from their sexuality: both open lesbians, being gay is a central part of the band’s identity.“It’s not that we thought it was a radical thing to talk about,” says Niles. “We’re not the first gay people to make music. We just decided that we were tired of not talking about it, to not be known as a gay band. It’s way harder to not talk about your sexuality than it is to talk about it,” she says.
The pair’s honest and accepting attitude towards sexuality allows it to be an important but relaxed element of their sound – it’s there, they’re not hiding it, but they’re not pushing it either. “It permeates your life in funny and mundane ways,” says Caron. This lighthearted style resonates in the band’s humorous and authentic songs and music videos. One of their most popular singles is entitled “We’re Gay but Not for Each Other.” Other singles include “The Ellen Page” and “Hot Knives,” both punchy songs that use playful lyrics to depict controversial subjects with a modern and nonchalant attitude.
As a young band, Partner has established a steadily rising career. They’ve already had a successful start to 2017, touring throughout Canada and the United States. It’s the band’s first time at Megaphono, returning to Ottawa after playing at the Arboretum Festival last year.
“It’s been great to play all across Canada,” says Caron. “We’re really lucky to be welcomed by various fests.” Niles agrees, saying “it’s been really cool to see people who are into the same stuff all over the place, but don’t know each other necessarily… there’s a common kind of bond.”
For the future, expect an announcement from the pair in the next month with “an exciting development” on their upcoming record. “We’re always kind of working on songs,” says Niles. “We have a lot of ideas we’ve been working on over the course of years.”
Partner’s easygoing attitude, loveable sound, and honest lyrical talent ensures a solid future for the band – their music is high-energy and high quality, appearing impressively professional while maintaining youth and authenticity. While you eagerly wait for their studio record, you can catch Partner at Barrymore’s tonight, February 2, at 10:30 pm. Ticketing and Megaphono wristband information can be found here.
The Steve Adamyk Band recently release a dark video for their ripping track “Swallow You Whole.”
The video kicks off with a girl waking up and making herself a hotdog for breakfast, topped with sauerkraut – like a champ! The video then follows the story of this girl who seems pretty low on life and goes around holding up corner stores and liquor stores, only to then end up in a cemetery gazing up at the sky singing “swallow you whole.”
I really like the work they put into the ending with the changing colours and the utter despair on the face. And this pull it all off in just over two minutes. Oh the beauty of punk rock and Steve Adamyk Band. Overall it is a pretty cool shot video for a great track.
While not video related, I do have to say that I love Mike Krol‘s voice! I have been saying how perfectly it fits on this track since the first time I heard it.
Check out the video below and then go see Steve Adamyk Band headline a MEGAPHONO show Thursday February 2nd at the Dominion Tavern, which feels very appropriate. Information here for the show.
Megaphono: verb. To amplify that which is heard locally, so it may reach a broader audience.
February 1-3, 2017 // Ottawa & Gatineau.
Jon Bartlett is the music industry veteran that started the Ottawa’s newest music festival, which is going into its third year. It’s a little bit weird, a little bit quirky, and very Ottawa. It’s still flying under the radar of many in the city. Yet Megaphono offers something totally different – it’s not just about bringing people to the show, it’s about who they are bringing to the city.
Megaphono is a showcase festival, which means they’re hosting music industry representatives to demonstrate regional talent. “There’s an appetite for Canadian music, and our city has way better than average music.” says Jon. Yet, we haven’t built a reputation much beyond our boundaries. That’s one of the goals of the festival, and one of the reasons why hosting industry scouts is a great investment for the city. Beyond showcasing the talent of local artists, it is part of building Ottawa’s creative brand. In this capacity, music, film, theatre and other creative industries are doing a lot of heavy lifting. “That’s what makes a good city,” says Bartlett, “I’m more optimistic than I was 5 years ago. There’s so much happening that I had no idea about. It’s made me want to dig a little bit, explore.”
Musicians from this region, Ottawa and Gatineau, can certainly represent. We have some success stories, but Bartlett admits “we don’t have a great reputation for being the mavens of championing our own artists before other people do.” Megaphono acts like an ear to the ground for hard-working artists, picking up sound bites and making sure they’re heard by the right people. It’s a well-curated festival, which is helpful to music industry reps, but equally so to normal people that don’t necessarily have time to follow the local scene.
The Ottawa Scene
Speaking about Ottawa’s music scene, Bartlett revealed some of the challenges of making it as a musician in Ottawa. It seems as though one of the biggest barriers for a musician committing to it. “People have cushy jobs. It’s harder to walk the plank and take that risk… Maybe that’s why those people move away. You need the friction of [pressure] to motivate yourself.” Geographically, we’re also quite spread out, so staying local can limit a musician’s growth.
Her Harbour performs at Megaphono’s 2016 secret warehouse tour. The festival uses unconventional venues to be more memorable.
Another challenge is Ottawa’s federal side. As Bartlett says, “We are bureaucratic Jedis. Everything is steeped in taking way too long and making decisions because two people wrote letters of complaint… You live downtown in a city.” Noise brings vibrancy, and we’ll have to embrace that as a city in order to grow.
There are opportunities of being based here – and one of the big ones is that we’re right between Montreal and Toronto, which are “the two main Canadian places you should be playing anyway”. There might be fewer resources, but part of the appeal of Megaphono is that it holds panels to share knowledge, and enables networking.
Building Cultural Capital
It’s not every day you speak to someone who is so upfront about the music industry being, well, a business. Those connections are happening more and more, and people are starting to buy into the economics of it. Jon spoke about one of the festivals sponsors this year, Lixar. “They really get it. Businesses are starting to understand that if you want to attract workers and you’re doing things that involve creativity – and a lot of those high tech industries do – people aren’t going to want to move here if there isn’t a vibrant music scene. That might actually be the most important thing to get people to move to a city.”
Megaphono, the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, and many other players are working hard to bring the city “to a place where the economic value of a good music scene is recognized, beyond filling hotel rooms during festivals, beyond being a handout to the arts – because investments in trying to build this industry are, dollar for dollar, a way better investment than most industries.”
Is Ottawa cooler than we think? We’re getting there. Let’s keep investing.