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.
On Friday, there was a warm crowd filling Irene’s Pub in anticipation of some sweet jams. I was eager to see what Dear Blackwolf would bring to the table. I’d heard good things about the band, but had never had the pleasure of seeing them, and after missing The Heavy Medicine Band‘s Megaphono set, this was a no-brainer.
Brandon Allan at Irene’s (photo by Elizabeth Durnford/Ottawa Showbox)
Brandon Allan and his band opened the show with a smooth, low-key set of country/folk rock that was immediately palatable and engaging. The soft drums and pedal steel paired perfectly with Brandon’s own mellow, almost lazily charming voice. The band was largely comprised of musicians from other Ottawa bands: on drums was Brad from The Amalgamation, on keys was Brodie from Future States, and on acoustic guitar was Sean from Lost To The River. The band sounded great, and they even reminded me of Attack In Black at certain points, which I thought an apt comparison because former AIB drummer Ian Romano played on multiple recordings with Brandon and some of the musicians who joined him this evening.
The crowd swelled near the stage as The Heavy Medicine Band came out of the woodwork to get set up. Their slow-building, psychedelic sound was captivating and brought Brandon’s smooth precedent to the next level, subtly coaxing the energy of the room to a higher level. The atmospheric guitars create a broad landscape for singer Keturah Johnson’s voice to soar and peak with a strong presence and precision. The band’s Conduit EP has been released on vinyl by Record Centre Records, and features a B-side of vinyl-exclusive content so snatch that up while you can, and if you sleep on that, the band’s other recordings are also on Bandcamp. Get some.
Keturah Johnson of The Heavy Medicine Band photo by Elizabeth Durnford/Ottawa Showbox)
The evening’s headliners, Dear Blackwolf, the self-proclaimed ambassadors of rumble music, took the stage to a score of eager dancers. The crowd had thinned somewhat between sets, but those at the front now were there to dance and really make use of the space. I thought the whole “Rumble Music” thing was cool because at one point, they actually broke into a rendition of Link Wray’s classic jam “Rumble”. It’s one of those tunes that everyone knows, but not everyone knows they know. You know?
Honestly, I was hoping these guys would just let loose and kick the energy up a few more notches, but they opted to keep things tight and steady, which seemed to sit just fine with the crowd, who were hootin’ and hollerin’ at every break. In another classic instance of seeing live music in Ottawa, the drummer actually also plays in Lost To The River. Dear Blackwolf’s releases have respectively been mastered by Gavin Gardiner (The Wooden Sky) and local hero Dean Watson (of Gallery Studios), so yeah – they sound pretty great.
All these bands have great, refined sounds, with evident comfort and confidence in their chosen styles. All well worth a listen, and worth your dollar to see live.
Dear Blackwolf at Irene’s (photo by Elizabeth Durnford/Ottawa Showbox)
Day four of Megaphono wrapped up with a jam-packed lineup at Hull’s Axeneo7 art gallery. Online tickets for the show had already been sold out for a week and at 10 o’clock, an hour and a half before the first band was to go on, it was announced that tickets at the door were sold out as well. From 11:30 until 2:00 am the crowded gallery housed some of the best acts we had seen this week.
The night kicked off with a rousing set from Toronto artist, Michael Rault, accompanied by a three-piece band who’s infectious jams were a harmonious balance of psychedelic infused pop hooks quickly drew in the gathering crowd. They opened their set with “Real Love,” a comfortable bass-driven track punctuated with well-timed drum fills. As they played on, I couldn’t help but feel that their sound was a perfect combination of Tame Impala’s bass lines and Young Rival’s hooks, especially on their second last song, “Too Bad So Sad.” Michael wrapped up the set with a soulful bluesy guitar solo and the band finished with a coordinated bang.
Across the hall, Darlene Shrugg didn’t waste any time getting started, as the five member art-rock outfit quickly busted into raucous jam. The eclectic group, which included members of Ice Cream, U.S. Girls and Slim Twig, who would later close out the night with a DJ set, played their first track, “Inherit” with restrained intensity. It was clear that all of the members were personally invested in the music, and they finished with a coordinated flourish. This was mirrored by the crowd. Some die-hard fans were immediately dancing and signing along. Through the next few tracks the band played to their strengths, namely the contrast between the singing voices of each member, minus the drummer, who certainly made up for it with her intensity behind the kit. Each song was an interesting mix of discordant and familiar chord progressions and piercing vocals, finishing with “First World Blues.”
Back in the lobby, Hull’s very own Scattered Clouds drifted into their first brooding experimental number. The crowd was immediately drawn to their pulsing and, at times, pummeling synths, which effectively created an ominous psychedelic atmosphere. At this point, the venue was at full capacity with standing room only as the three-piece drove on in an impressive display of multi-instrumentalism, syncopation and controlled noise. Driving bass lines and interesting hypnotic rhythms from the percussionist succeed in creating a macabre soundscape of reverb that matched the red lighting as the band worked their way through most of the tracks from their latest record, The First Empire.
Even before Scattered Clouds had finished, people started filling into the larger room across the hall in preparation for local favourites and headliners, New Swears. You could see quite a few New Swears t-shirts in the crowd as they waited patiently in front of red and green backlit signs sporting the band’s name. Right away the band busted into a quick rendition of “Day Dreaming,” from their latest album Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever. Underneath a flurry of confetti a mosh pit was already underway, and by mid way into the second song there was already a broken mic stand and crowd surfing as the crowd sang along and danced with reckless, but friendly, abandon. This continued and amplified throughout the rest of the set as they played through favourites “Two Darts,” “Stay Gold,” and the requisite “See You In Hull.” The show climaxed with the family-friendly “No Fun,” which soon had the whole crowd singing “I’d rather be fucked than be myself” over and over again while the band formed an impressive human pyramid as they played their instruments. For a very accurate representation of the atmosphere at this show, check out the end of the video for “Stay Gold,” linked below.
With the walls sweating and the oxygen levels in the room severely depleted from all of the people occupying such a small space, people went in search of a much-needed breather. Many preceded outside to a welcome bonfire under the stars while others visited the bar as US Girls and Slim Twig started their DJ set to wind down the night. All in all, it was a fantastic way to end a sincerely enjoyable, but exhausting week.
Setting Wednesday’s Megaphono stage at St Alban’s, a relatively dark room with a single blue light filling the stage. A lighting arrangement that makes photos difficult for anyone, I was nervous I would spend the night consumed. I put my camera away. As the first artist started off the night, Simone Schmidt, also known as Fiver, brought with her detailed lyrics, telling stories as her voice reached all corners of the room. Well received by the filling house, the crowd listened intently to her set and the stories within her lyrics.
The stage was quickly turned over to Merganzer. Comprised of four musicians, instruments included a short keyboard and a violin giving way to many possibilities. Increased lighting made photographers hopeful, but I chose to leave my camera off for the most part and take in whatever Merganzer had to offer. Their continuous sound, as well as contrasting bass and harmonies left the audience in a trance. Having previously heard the headliner, the parallels between these artists were hard to miss. Carefully crafted lyrics, combined sounds made for an evening of core-shaking music.
Andy Shauf’s music holds an element of what I can best describe as a deep and poetic sadness. His carefully chosen lyrics paired with his soft-spoken demeanor give his music a cold radiance that vibrates deep into the audience. In addition to his haunting, yet hopeful stage presence, he brought with him a mixture of new songs that will be released on his upcoming album, and songs found on his The Bearers of Bad News album. For anyone who considers themselves to be avid Andy fans, they may have noticed connection between these new songs, and his earlier Darker Days album, or maybe that was just me.
He played to the now overflowing house, all there to see him, made clear when he played favourites and the large crowd was consumed by silence. He kept his conversations with the audience to a minimum, only giving hints to what his new work was inspired by, “here’s a song about dying and getting trapped in your body,” said Shauf. Slightly morbid, poetic, and beautiful, but Shauf brings it all together, leaving the audience longing with anticipation for his next album release.
At the beginning of the night I chose to keep my photography to a minimum. To take in what each of the artists had created without getting caught up in what minimal theatrics were taking place. It was clear that these particular artists were careful with their words, creating the theatrics within the stories and imagery given to the audience. Something not easily captured on camera.
Writer’s note: Despite efforts by many, it was not made clear if Andy Shauf was able to find a Burger King in Ottawa to enjoy a Whopper.