Ottawa is buzzing once again in anticipation of this year’s Arboretum Festival happening August 17–21. Going into its fifth year, the festival has grown from a boutique music and arts festival held in a parking lot to a full-on institution in the capital. That includes incorporating and celebrating important aspects of Ottawa’s music, art, food, history, activism, and more. Not to mention that there’s an entire conference portion (called Assembly), where informative, interactive, and sometimes uncomfortable-but-necessary discussions can be had about challenges people in our community face. Each iteration of the festival has built on its previous self, adding one crucial piece after another to make it into something that can stand up to any festival of comparable size in North America. Ottawa is on the map.
We at Showbox have been lucky enough to witness Arboretum grow into an exemplary and multifaceted entity since 2012. Moreover, we are honoured to be part of the festival this year as a presentation partner with the Witching Hour Official Arboretum After Parties being held at Bar Robo every night of the festival.
This year’s festival can be broken down into two physical domains: the Concert Village and the Festival Village.
The venue portion – a.k.a. the Concert Village – includes venues and spaces around town that will host band showcases, conference panels, mixers, speed meetings and after parties. Folks with full-festival passes will have the ability to bounce around the map and have plenty of chances to catch intimate performances, schmooze, and really see what Ottawa has to offer under the surface. There is also another (albeit pricier) option: those who don’t want to get the full pass can pick and choose which venues they’d rather go to by paying cover at the door.
The centralized Festival Village site is located behind Ottawa City Hall on Lisgar Street, and brings together some of the best local food, drink, shops and more, in addition to the music. The village itself will have two stages: the Main Stage, which is the larger of the two and where larger acts like Sloan perform, as well as the Debaser stage, where some emerging and experimental acts will play. The Arb organizers promise no Jumbotrons.
Here’s a breakdown of each day’s activities during Arboretum Festival 2016:
Wednesday kicks things off at 11am with some crucial and informative discussions at Bar Robo, Discussions include topics surrounding the transforming role of record labels and the new realities of building and sustaining a home for recorded music, ageism and professional roadblocks and cultural biases experienced on either end of the age spectrum, followed by a round of speed meetings for participants to network with industry delegates.
The evening will begin at St. Alban’s Church with the keynote presentation featuring acclaimed writer and broadcaster Andrea Warner (author of “We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music”) which will explore the institutional and internalized sexism facing women in music. Attendees have the option of sticking around to catch Evening Hymns, Safia Nolin, Her Harbour play sets at the beautiful sounding church, or head back to Bar Robo for the Hand Drawn Dracula Showcase or over to House of Common for the You’ve Changed Records BBQ.
If you’re into some late night drinks and jams, don’t forget to hit up Bar Robo for the Witching Hour Official After Party featuring Hand Drawn Dracula DJs. Robo will have a special Arboretum cocktail called “Capo Melo” served all week long, which contains CAPO CAPO, grapefruit juice, vodka (it’s the perfect delicious summer drink). Great music and discussions all around on the first day.
The Must-See: Partner 9:00 @ You’ve Changed Records BBQ, House of Common
They’ve been called the “best new bands in Canada,” and that’s no bullshitting. They’re heavy, they’re punchy, and they’re relentless. And they will consume you whole with their blistering live performance.
The Hidden Gem: Andrea Warner 5:30pm @ St. Alban’s Church
In this keynote presentation, Warner will be discussing internalized and institutional sexism in the music industry, an issue that effects women from small clubs to the highest levels of pop stardom. Moderated by Vish Khanna.
This day is packed to the brim with goodies. No early mornings today, but be sure to get to Bar Robo by 12:30pm for a panel on publicity and media relations in today’s ever-evolving media climate – particularly helpful for new bands or artists that aren’t yet established and looking for some guidance on how to crack the code on getting your music out there. The second round of speed meetings also takes place at 2:30pm, so get your networking pants on!
In the evening, you might have to make some tough choices on the schedule. You could start off at the Babely Shades Block Party at House of Common around 6:15pm, and if you decide to stay all night you’ll catch stellar performances from Toronto’s Above Top Secret and Lido Pimienta. Or you could hit up our very own Telecomo showcase at Bar Robo, one of Ottawa’s hottest new tickets. Or do both, the venues aren’t far apart!
From there, one option is checking out Jeremy Gara (of Arcade Fire), Ottawa’s youngest and brightest talents Trails, and the one and only Tim Hecker at St. Alban’s. I can’t think of a more appropriate venue for this lineup, and it’s sure to be a mind melting experience. Another louder option is the Buzz Records showcase at Babylon Nightclub. Dilly Dally are not to be missed, and their 2015 album Sore was an absolute tour-de-force. They will be supported by Fake Palms, Twist, and one of our Ottawa faves Bonnie Doon. Let’s just say Buzz Records can do no wrong.
Once again, Bar Robo will be hosting the after party and the Pony Girl DJs will be providing your soundtrack late into the night.
The Must-See: Dilly Dally 11:30pm at Buzz Records Showcase, Babylon Nightclub
A little bit of 90’s angst, a lot of full-throttle overdriven riffage that will make the sonically meek curl up into a ball in the corner. Full disclosure, Sore was my favourite album of the year in 2015 which I wrote about in Mixtape Magazine. Raw and unclean, Katie Monks takes this band into the stratosphere with her powerful vocals and energy on stage. Like, seriously, don’t miss them.
The Hidden Gem: Above Top Secret 9:15 @ Babely Shades Block Party, House of Common
Babely Shades aren’t just making a huge impact here in Ottawa with their activism. They’re bringing in acts that push boundaries and smash them. One example is Above Top Secret, a Toronto-based “experimental, rap – electro – dub hop mashup infused with feminist politics” who are making music to bounce to while fighting against systemic injustices at the same time. Read a great interview that Elsa did with them in a recent issue of Ottawa Beat.
The Festival Village opens. Before you go discover the wonders that lie there, at 5:30pm there is a discussion with city planners, venue owners and managers, cultural developers, employers, and music promoters regarding zoning and city planning for performance venues in Ottawa at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annex at City Hall. Make sure to get there early enough to see local pop punk three-piece BB Cream open up the village at 6:00 pm on the Debaser stage. Their self-titled debut has ten songs that reflect a band that came to age attending punk shows all over town. They are fun, awkward but mostly fun. Go check them out and dance with a friend or make some new friends.
Travel back to the 90s and see Sloan play at 8:30. They will be performing their gold-certified and Juno award winning album, One Chord To Another, from start to finish which kicks off with the Canadian smash hit “Good in Everyone.” Bar Robo will be going late into the night with DJs Lamb Rabbit and Pat Egan spinning gold all night.
The Must-See: Sloan 8:30pm @ Main Stage, Concert Village
Sloan hardly needs an introduction, let alone a reason why they are a must-see on Friday night. This rock/power-pop group has been kicking out the jams for 25 years and have shown no sign of slowing down. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see them play their seminal 1996 album One Chord To Another from start to finish.
The Hidden Gem: Moss Lime 7:00pm @ Debaser Stage, Convert Village
This minimalist post-punk trio have been bubbling under the surface in Canada’s independent music landscape for a few years now. While their music sounds like something between Joy Division (cliché, I know) and The Slits, Moss Lime have created a distinctive sound that includes 3-part vocal harmonies and simplistic yet irresistible riffs.
Shake off your Friday hangover at the Back Lot BBQ at Spaceman Music starting at 11am, because hair of the dog works… right? Or head back to the Village for the OPEN AIR BRUNCH CLUB at noon presented by Buchipop. Free brunch prepared by chef Mike Frank (ex- Mellos Restaurant / Bar Robo) dishes out Egg Snackwiches, Vegan and Vegetarian grub, taters and more. Wash it down with Buchipop Mimosas or caesars from Union Local 613’s cocktail bar. To top it all off, Brockville Lions Steel Drum Band plays at 2 pm which I am sure will be super cool.
Keep the drum theme going at 5 pm on the Main Stage with the Kina Nimiwag & Anishinabe Drum Group. They combine traditional Anishinabe drum-song, dancing and electronic dance music which will blow you away. Join them as they take you on an adventure through a contemporary and traditional performance.
After watching all that dancing you will certainly want some dancing of your own. When the sun goes down and 8:15 rolls around, Jef E. Barbara’s Black Space will take to the Debaser stage and it will be nearly impossible not to dance to the sounds of sultry 70s love making beats. Think of smooth bilingual Roxy Music.
You will quickly want to rush back to the Main stage for 8:45 pm to see the incomparable Mykki Blanco. Mykki Blanco is the stage name American rapper, performance artist, poet and activist Michael Quattlebaum. Don’t miss your chance to see Mykki’s poetry and rap with unrelenting energy and emotion. Cap off the night with NYC’s Junglepussy, who will be sure to amaze, or head over to Bar Robo to experience DJ Memetic of TimeKode until the wee hours of the morning.
The Must-See: Junglepussy
7:45pm @ Main Stage, Concert Village
New York’s Junglepussy is an artist that has been exploding onto the scene after her first mixtape in 2014 went viral. Her music is heavy and the beats are deep, and her powerful vocals are reminiscent of her predecessors such as Lauryn Hill. Strap yourselves
The Hidden Gem: Jef Elise Barbara’s Black Space 8:15pm @ Debaser Stage, Convert Village
Get ready for one funky-ass party. Jeff Elise Barbara’s performance is centred around the idea “of blackness and the rejection of racialized tropes within white spaces.” Sounding like a blast from the past, this purveyor of glam would fit perfectly right next to Prince and Blood Orange and revel in the fact that they’ll make your sweat ooze from your pores.
The Comedown Day party will be kicking off across the river in Hull with drinks, games for kids, pedal displays by Fairfield Circuitry, and more. You’ll see sets by Montreal’s Dixtorchons and hometown gems Pony Girl, as well as a soundtrack provided by DJ Glory Hull, Mister Caffrey, and DJ Daisy. What better way to end the festival?
Arboretum Festival is going big on it’s fifth anniversary (has it already been five years?!) as the first wave of artist announcements has been revealed on Tuesday. Year by year the organizers have been expanding the size and quality of their lineup, and this year is no exception.
Taking place August 17–20 here in Ottawa, Arboretum Festival will mix outdoor stages and a central “village” downtown at City Hall, with venue showcases and events happening around town. This year’s programming demonstrates how ambitious the organizers are incorporating many aspects beyond music into the festival, including topical discussions and panels to raise cultural awareness, the transformation of historical and urban space, local gastronomy, vendors, and breweries, as well as community partnerships with Ottawa-based organizations (such as yours truly).
The lineup includes performances by noise rockers and Ottawa natives METZ, Sloan (who will be performing their hit record One Chord to Another), rising star from Brooklyn Junglepussy, California’s Mykki Blanco, as well as Dilly Dally, Nap Eyes, Doomsquad, Partner, Hooded Fang, the new solo project from Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara, Kina Miniwag, Above Top Secret, Shotgun Jimmie, Lido Pimienta, Beliefs, Twist, Scott Hardware, Fake Palms, Vallens, and Tenderness.
More artists will be announced in May, so be sure to keep an eye out for more lineup information. Have a look at some of the artists’ work below.
The Saturday of Ottawa Explosion Weekend is an annual marathon of amazing music. The music starts at 12:30 and goes past 2 a.m. I am no runner, but if all marathons were this awesome I would certain take it up.
By the time I made it down, the all-female trio Old and Weird from Halifax were setting up. They had a very interesting sound and what was really cool was how often they switched instruments. Each member played a few songs on the drums throughout the set, which I had never seen before. So they did in fact “Show Me Something” I had never seen before. They also performed a pretty cool song about Kurt Cobain (video above).
Next up was Ottawa’s Grime Kings. Fresh off their Stanley cup victory, ok sorry that is a very lame joke. If you were ever concerned about the future of music in the capital, look no further for hope than this band. They are making strange, progressive and experimental music and I am not sure if they are all even of legal drinking age yet. They are somewhat disorganized at times and have a hard time with tuning (self-proclaimed) but I really like what they are doing musically. Oh and boys, you don’t just tease a crowd and say you are going to play a John Mayer cover and not deliver, you owe us. Hahaha.
One of the many new discoveries of the festival for myself was the most excellent Idle Bloom from Nashville. They have a psych-pop sound with a female lead and two female backing vocals which all work tremendously well together. They opened with the very cute and heartfelt song “Day You Were Born,” and played a great set from there. I am very glad they made the long trip to Ottawa.
It was now time for the Dirt cult records showcase. Kicking it off was Feral Trash from Moncton, New Brunswick. The lead singer/guitarist seemed to be fighting through an illness as he had to look away after almost every verse or chorus to cough, but it didn’t hold them back. They played fast catchy music with no big filler between songs. There is no better example of this than their great track “Dead Weight” (in video above). It is so good and such a sweet sing-a-long song.
As Monty Python would say, now for something completely different. Noisy Ottawa rock duo Big Dick followed up. Like or hate their name, the band plays a perfect mix of heavy music with catchy moments excellent for crowd participation. I am a sucker for their track “Medic.” Drummer, Dave Secretary, introduced a song by saying “This one is new so it’s going to be awful.” The song actually kicked ass and I am now anticipating another amazing release by the duo. Favourite moment of the set was when they hit the first chord of the very rocking “Colours” and Davey’s face lit up and he quickly joined them on vocals.
One of the things about Ottawa Explosion is you discover so many amazing bands which is awesome, but you also run the risk of falling in love with a band that may never return to Ottawa. Sometimes though you discover a band and they blow you away so much you make the effort to never miss them when they swing by. For me that is Needles//Pins, who absolutely killed it last year. They played a great mix of new and old, songs like “Best Friend,” “Pulse,” “I Don’t Mind” and “I Heart Your Drugs” which all blew me away. But it was also great to hear their new songs, which fit in great with their set. Trust me, see them, buy their stuff, just don’t miss out on Needles//Pins you will not be disappointed; they are one of Canada’s finest. Thank you Vancouver for giving us such a great talent.
Up next was the explosion of the festival. With the band running late and the crowd looking restless Emmanuel took the mic to announce the unfortunate news, “I am sorry to tell everyone New Swears won’t be playing as they were rushed to the hospital. They tried to repel down the building to the show and fell.” As the crowd laughed, he assured us “They are all dead it’s not funny.” But then thanks to a Ottawa Explosion Weekend miracle the boys covered in bandages, dirt and wearing hospital garbs crawled onto the stage. The always crazy, destructive, costumed, high energy local garage punk band really got the party going. As they began their set, organizers started throwing inflatable beach toys (including a shark, mats, beach balls, flamingos, etc) into the crowd. The place was whipped into a frenzy of dancing, singing, crowd surfing and moshing. New Swears gave us a taste of their new album set to be released later this summer, playing a couple of tracks off it. They also found time to play all the favourites including, “Two Darts,” “See You In Hull,” and “Paradise.” With time running out on their set and probably needing to be hooked back up to the IV, they closed with a rambunctious cover of Bob Segar’s classic “Old Time Rock N’ Roll.”
After New Swears it was time for the Dirtnap Records Showcase. My buddy Matias covered the hoyl cow knock my socks off showcase, which included Voicemail, Sonic Avenues, Steve Adamyk Band and The Marked Men, read it here. I then made my way to Avant-Garde for some more great bands. First up was locals Dead Weights. Their set was such a party. A smaller venue and so many of my friends packed in singing every word. We also got to see the first, and probably last, crowd surfer in the bar’s history during the line “I’ll pick you up” from their song “Fall Down,” thanks JS. The boys played a great set with many of my favourites from their new album Dead Ends and Closed Doors, such as “Barely Breath” and “Friends First.” It was also sweet to see the guys from Montreal’s Panic Attack join them for the last song.
Joining Dead Weights on stage was the perfect segue, as Panic Attack was up next. This was the case of another great band that I missed at Pouzza and got to see at explosion, it’s nice how that works out. They are freaking great and played a really solid set. Their 90’s era punk rock sound had me feeling nostalgic and it was a lot of fun.
Next was one of the bands that traveled the furthest for the festival, Latex Squad all the way from Hamburg,Germany. The lead singer/bassist was so very happy to be here. “I can’t believe I’m actually in Canada.” Funny enough they then played a song with the chorus “I hate everything about you.” They later joked that they were the “Ramstein of northern Germany.” They played really fun 70’s style garage punk. I really liked their track “Cyborg of Love.” It was also very cool to see the drummer sporting the new White Wires shirt.
I ducked into Ritual next door to catch some of METZ and sadly missed Dagger Eyes, next time. Closing down Avant Guarde was Asile. Their set was heavy, fast, hard, thrashy and in French, not the regular end of night act for the bar. I loved it.
As the set ended I quickly hustled over back to SAW to catch the end of the Crusades set. The band is packed with heavy hitters in the Ottawa punk scene, including festival organizer Emmanuel on guitar and lead singer/guitarist of The Creeps, Skottie on bass. I only got to see a few songs, but funny enough the lead singer of Panic Attack joined them on stage for a song, making his third appearance of the night. Busy guy.
Well there you have it, a lot of words about an absolutely amazing day! Ottawa Explosion Weekend is just the best time of the year.
And the good times just kept on rolling. As the day that included unreal sets from New Swears, TV Freaks, The Abandos, Steve Adamyk Band, Voicemail, The Marked Men, and more left everyone at Ottawa Explosion ravaged and overcome with amazement, the night continued with OXW events all around the city… You can read about the earlier portion of day 4 here. With shows scattered around the city at places like House of Targ, Club SAW, Mugshots, and Cafe Deckuf, many of us made the decision to get the shit kicked out of us even further (in a good way) around the corner at Ritual Nightclub.
Projections during Boyhood at Ritual for OXW
First up was Ottawa’s Boyhood, an interesting addition to the lineup but one that ended up working really well. I was unsure if Boyhood was going to capture the audience’s attention – although I knew I’d be loving their set as per usual, it wasn’t clear whether the METZ fans would dig the lo-fi and experimental dreaminess of their songs, and the laxness lead singer Caylie Runciman on stage. My fears were quelled immediately as they began. They played some songs – new and old – and seduced the anxious and excited crowd within minutes. I guess that’s one of the many appealing qualities Boyhood has – the ability to negate any line that may be drawn between genres and play music that they wrote on their own terms. Music that even gets older punks dancing, which is a feat on its own. Having listened to their new record bits n’ bobs a few times, I can say that Boyhood is an enigmatic, unyielding, and tremendously talented group that evolves with each release they put out. There was also a really neat overhead projector (grade 3 style) show during their set, which involved food dye, a few glass bowls, and water. A definite must-see band here in Ottawa for anyone who hasn’t heard or seen them yet.
One of my favourite new bands I discovered at OXW was a Toronto noise-rock band called Odonis Odonis. They’ve been together since 2010 and are signed to Canadian label Buzz Records along with HSY, Weaves, and a few other really wicked bands. They were heavy, technical, and completely unorthodox. The way they used effects to supplement their really well-written songs is captivating, and I couldn’t help but just move erratically to what I was experiencing. I won’t say too much more other than that they kind of scared me in a really weird and good way. Just watch the video for “Order in the Court.”
Last up was probably the biggest addition to the Explosion lineup this year, Toronto’s METZ. Originally from Ottawa, the band made the move to Toronto in 2009/2010 and garnered an army of supporters and took off. They have since been signed by Sub Pop Records and released a critically-acclaimed s/t record. Not bad. I saw these guys last year at Babylon, and it was one of the best shows I saw last year. I guarantee my neighbour fucking hates me for buying this vinyl and blaring it all the time, because, really – how else are you going to listen to METZ?
Their live set was the critical mass we had all been waiting for at Ottawa Explosion. It was the actual explosion part of the festival. Not that the other bands weren’t incredible and intense, but METZ is on another level. I chatted with bassist Chris Slorach before the show, and he was an incredibly nice guy… but the minute they hit the stage it was utter chaos. The moshpit was insanity, crowdsurfers were flying everywhere, and the poor security guard didn’t stand a chance. Especially when lead singer Alex Edkins yelled “If you’re going to stage dive, now is the time!” They played songs like “Wasted” and “Headache” and really got the crowd in a frenzy. Emmanuel Sayer, the organizer of OXW, even joined them on stage to cover The Damned (video below), which was really cool. Apart from set itself, a memorable point was seeing Sammy J. Scorpian of New Swears crowdsurf onto the stage and literally get dragged off to the sidestage by his collar by security, who were quickly told that he was not to be dragged any further. Of course, Sammy got right back in there and kept the party going. METZ ended with “Wet Blanket” and it was pandemonium in there.
A perfect way to end the busiest day of the festival yet. Even though we all knew we’d wake up with bruises and maybe even a few wounds, we could enjoy the rest of the festival knowing that it was worth it.
Tomorrow marks Christmas in June for all the punk rockers in Ottawa. But unlike the Christmas (which is only one measly day), Ottawa Explosion starts Thursday, June 12, and goes until Sunday, June 15. You saw that correctly – four days of awesome rock, punk, garage, hardcore & metal music, great people, comedians, beers, and amazing times. It is almost unfair to Christmas to be compared to something this awesome.
With over 70 bands playing at seven different venues during the four-day whirlwind, Ottawa Explosion is the grassroots festival to beat in Ottawa. In its fourth year, it may not get the big bands like Bluesfest, but it draws in excellent must-see acts from around the world and strives to promote local acts (and by all the Ottawa bands listed below you can see it does exceptionally well). Oh, and did I mention the extremely reasonable price? There are free shows, some as low as $5, and the most expensive show is $15. You can also grab a five-day pass for $60 which grants you access to every show so you can venue hop.
Sick poster by Curtis Delaney (http://pizzatrip.tumblr.com)
Ottawa Explosion has announced its first round of bands for OXW happening on June 12-15 this year. The biggest news was that Spectrasonic and Explosion teamed up to book ex-Ottawa noise-rock, post-punk band METZ. No, METZ doesn’t give a shit about your eardrums, and neither does Explosion. It’s an ear-abusive relationship with this festival and that’s why we love them. Their show at Babylon in April of last year was one of my personal favourites, as each member takes their role to an extreme. Drummer Hayden Menzies attacks his drum set relentlessly throughout the entire set, while vocalist Alex Edkins busts arteries belting out words and Chris Slorach somehow makes noises come out of his bass that could easily get mixed up with a Boeing 747 jet engine. My mom went to Metz, France once. It has no semblance to the band. I will demonstrate this below:
It’s that time of year when summer festival announcements begin pouring out the yin yang, and today NXNE announced its second wave of artists for the June 13-22 festival in Toronto.
First Round: includes St. Vincent, Danny Brown, Run the Jewels, Juicy J, Mac DeMarco, Rhye, Omar Souleyman, Speedy Ortiz, Odonis Odonis, Courtney Barnett, Mas Ysa, the Golden Dogs, the Cliks, and Paradise Animals, and more.
Second Round: includes Spoon, Sleigh Bells, Spiritualized, Swans, A$AP Ferg, tUnE-yArDs, METZ, Ryan Hemsworth, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never, the Pizza Underground, Fuck Buttons, Low, Small Black, Eagulls, Perfect Pussy, the Barr Brothers, Le1f, Swearin’, Glasser, Alvvays, Saint Rich, Ratking, Mutual Benefit, Juan Wauters, Kelela, and more.
For more wristband and ticket information, see here. Before you know it June will be upon us, and we’ll be seeing you there!
2013 was quite an amazing year for shows in Ottawa and for Ottawa Showbox. Check out some of our favourite live experiences from the past 12 months. They are in no particular order, but they were all awesome. With this many amazing shows over the year, 2014 has its work cut out for it, and we will be there to cover it.
Fucked Up @ Ritual Nightclub (Jan. 12)
This was by far the most mental night of the year for me, and it is still burned in my brain from last January. Damian Abraham and co. played some of their greatest songs from Polaris-winning Chemistry of Common Life and widely-loved David Comes to Life, as well as a few oldies too. I also got to meet Damian Abraham and get one of his famously great sweaty man hugs. – Matias
I had the chance to join Ming Wu on his CHUO radio show Photogmusic Live (89.1 FM) on New Year’s Eve. In the hour-long segment, we discussed his Top 12 picks of 2012, playing a track from each of the albums he chose as this year’s best. It was lots of fun, and we also got to talk to Alaska of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan (who will be in Ottawa Jan.11 with Boyhood) as well as Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns. Take a listen to the different segments on the Photogmusic blog, hope you enjoy the show!