“Where’s the jazz?” I heard someone comment recently about this year’s TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. I guess at first site it seems true—the festival this year boasts some larger scale acts such as Feist and Kenny Rogers who don’t bring jazz imagery to mind.
But look beyond the surface and you will see a festival that, year after year, really entertains the question: “what IS jazz?” And personally, I like the Jazz Fest because they understand me as a fan of jazz in 2017. They understand that my love of Herbie Hancock also makes me love soul music, such as the many times Jazz Fest brought the spectacular Sharon Jones to our city, and even the queen herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin.
They understand that my love of John Coltrane also makes me love funky, beautiful, free jazz music, such as Kamasi Washington’s incredible performance last year (read that story here). They understand that my love for New Orleans style jazz is not limited to the traditionals, but also extends to funky new artists like Trombone Shorty or the Dirty Dozen Brass, both of whom were hosted recently. And best of all, they understand that I love groups like Snarky Puppy who take all of the above and mash it together.
This year is no exception. This is undeniably the most diverse and beautiful lineup of any festival this year. Below I’ve created a list of my top 10 acts for fans of jazz, soul and funky vibes at the ’17 Ottawa Jazz Fest.
Ottawa Jazz Fest takes place at Confederation Park from June 22 to July 2nd, with artists performing on the grounds or at the nearby National Arts Centre. See the full venue and purchase your passes here.
Top 10 picks: Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre Theatre
Monday, June 26th at 7:00pm – Tickets here
Fans of classic soul and R&B know Mavis well- her voice that can go from honey-drip to wildfire in one phrase was a major part of The Staples Singers’ success. Chances are you’ve heard Mavis sing even if you’re not sure. Maybe you’ve heard Staples Singers’ classic tunes “I’ll Take You There” or “Respect Yourself” play on the jukebox somewhere. Or maybe you’ve heard her incredible vocals in The Band’s final performance of the classic “The Weight” shown in their Last Waltz documentary. Since her equally talented sister passed in 2013, which closed any potential for future Staples Singers performances, Mavis has seemed to come onto the scene even stronger as a solo artist. Her humble acoustic performances with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco took the internet by storm a few years ago, and the recent release of her 2016 album “Livin’ on a Highnote” has been well received by soul fans everywhere. The NAC theatre is a perfect spot for Mavis to take the city by the horns this year–we can’t wait!
CHARLES BRADLEY & HIS EXTRAORDINAIRES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Friday, June 30th at 7:00pm — Tickets here
In 2012, I went to see Daptones Record’s Charles Bradley perform one of his two shows at Bluesfest. I was a big fan of his debut album at the time, and thought I was on the cutting edge… so I arrived 45 minutes early to get a good spot. Unfortunately 45 minutes wasn’t early enough, as hundreds of fans stood around, many holding signs, shouting his name and amping one another up. It was an amazing sight to see so many people I’d never seen excited about soul music. But even as huge fans of the album, I don’t think any of us knew what we were in for. Charles’ energy was incredible, and his humbleness shone as he broke down crying before the encore, hugging fans at the front and exclaiming repeatedly how lucky he was to live his fantasy every night.
Any skeptics who went to that show were surely fans by the end. Unfortunately, last October those same fans, who have since grown with Charles over 2 more albums and a fantastic documentary, were horrified to find out that Charles had to cancel his Bronson Center show due to health issues. With the recent loss of our Sharon Jones, we’re still a bit touchy. For me, finding out that Charles was coming back was not only exciting, but a hopeful indication of good health. Charles–we’re ready if you are!
MACEO PARKER & THE RAY CHARLES ORCHESTRA FEATURING THE RAELETTES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Monday, June 26th at 8:30pm – Tickets here
For fans of funk music, the name “Maceo” is a staple. His work with James Brown and (every branch of) Parliament is considered some of the most important in funk history. He is not only an incredible sax player, but a pioneer of funky rhythms and harmonies that created the framework for all funk to come. However, it seems that he’s coming to Ottawa with a different vibe in mind, with his tribute to Ray Charles. For long term fans of Maceo’s work this may definitely seem like a departure. However, for any fan of Ray Charles and his orchestra-led work like “Modern Sounds in Country & Western,” this sounds like a match made in heaven, especially considering that Maceo has never put out an album without a Ray cover (so the affection is obvious). Truthfully, I have been searching desperately online to find out if his two partners for the show; the Ray Charles Orchestra or The Raelettes, contain any original members, but I guess I will have to go to the show to find out for sure!
ST. PAUL & THE BROKEN BONES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Thursday, June 22nd at 8:30pm – Tickets here
St. Paul & The Broken Bones shocked soul fans across the world a couple years ago when hundreds of videos began to appear on YouTube, showcasing a raw, minimalist, and tough-as-nails approach to soul music by a band that was NOT on the Daptones label. Even more, the lead singer loved to dance. For Ottawa, it was timely, because shortly after the hubbub the band appeared at CityFolk in 2015. For a new band, their performance there blew me away. They recently released a new record called “Sea Of Love” which shows a fuller and more mature sound, but it will be interesting to see if they can deliver it with the same raw intensity we saw before. Looking forward to finding out!
ROBERT GLASPER EXPERIMENT
Tartan Homes Stage
Monday, June 26th – Tickets here
R&B keyboardist Robert Glasper has been slowly gaining steam through the 2000s, even beating the dreaded sophomore slump and signing a deal with Blue Note records. However, it wasn’t until Black Radio volumes 1 and 2 that maybe of us started to take notice. I like to think that this was because he and his band had matured into a slinky, stanky, post-R&B powerhouse, but let’s be honest: the cameos were a huge help! Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Common, Brandy, Anthony Hamilton, Musiq Soulchild–these were huge namedrops! These albums have definitely put Robert Glasper Experiment on the map, but However, I’m glad that despite Glaspers’ recent successes, Ottawa Jazz Fest are treating us right with a late night performance–always a must for a sweaty dance party.
Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
Jacob Collier is an anomaly. In fact, many of us are constantly trying to determine if he’s human at all. His ability to build entire songs out of funky, thick vocal parts is incredible, all done with a voice that can be as sweet and melodic as Rudolph Wainwright and as low and gritty as Isaac Hayes the next. Next comes his prowess as an instrumental jazz musician- he’s proven himself incredibly skilled at jazz piano, as well as very capable on the bass guitar, drums and assorted percussion. In fact, just last year he released a song with Jazz Fest favourites Snarky Puppy, showcasing that both his talents as a vocal looper and as an expressive piano player translate perfectly in real-time. For fans of weird, wacky, funky and beautiful, Collier is your man this year.
Tartan Homes Stage
Wednesday, June 28th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
True jazz or not, jazz-laced hip-hop is a love of mine, and from what I’ve experienced, a huge love of Ottawa’s. Nomadic Massive have shown their promise as a talented, hard-working group reminiscent of The Roots for years. What’s more to say? The last time they came through town they slammed Ritual (RIP), and it’s great to see them back. For fans of thoughtful and hypnotic hip-hop music with fast raps, organized chaos and funky instrumentals, this is the band to see!
Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 7:30pm – Tickets here
Hailing from São Paulo, Brazil, Bixiga 70 are a ruthless afro-latin powerhouse. With complex rhythms and horn lines that cut like a knife, these guys take instrumental afrobeat to a new pace and energy. For fans of brass dance bands like Hypnotic Jazz Ensemble, afrobeat trads like Fela Kuti, or afrobeat moderneers like Antibalas, these guys cannot be missed! This may be the sweatiest, craziest late night show this year- bring an extra t-shirt and your best dancing shoes.
SHABAKA & THE ANCESTORS
Tartan Homes Stage
Tuesday, June 27th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
Last year spiritual jazz fans rejoiced when Kamasi Washington was able to bring his The Epic through the festival. This year is no different- for fans of pulsing, rhythmic, spiritual jazz- Shabaka & The Ancestors may be your favourite act of the festival even if you’ve never heard of them. Shabaka Hutchings is an incredible saxophone player and arranger, and it’s obvious that he brings all the pioneers into these arrangements, from Coltrane and Miles to Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders- The Ancestors toy with it all. The great thing about this kind of jazz is that it’s free playing at its finest while being accessible even to the modest jazz listener- a great introduction to soul fans looking to dive further into the jazz canon.
HIROMI DUET: FEATURING EDMAR CASTANEDA
National Art Centre Studio
Tuesday, June 27th at 7pm – Tickets here
This is an interesting one for me, because I’ve sat in awe at online performances by both of these artists over the past few years, but never expected to see them combine forces. Pianist Hiromi Uehara is known for her blazing fast fingers and expressive passages, and has performed in recent years with many greats like Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Anthony Jackson. I always appreciate her ability to fuse genres together, and her synth work is definitely intriguing. On the other hand, Edmar Castaneda on the other hand, is an incredible harp player who has been rewriting public perception and understanding of what the harp can achieve. His work is experimental but always pretty. I’m really excited to see what these two will do together, and the NAC seems like a great choice of venue for these two instruments to shine.
THE PEPTIDES – Pop soul with nailed harmonies, political undertones and the most theatrical show in Ottawa Tartan Homes Stage
Tuesday, June 27th at 7:30pm
TROPIKOMBO– The sambafunk band to give “world music” its name back- blistering hornlines and rhythms from dance music around the globe Mercury Lounge
Thursday, June 22nd at 10pm
BANK STREET BONBONS – These guys are everything the “brass band” genre is good at, borrowing spirits from klezmer and latin music but always keeping that N’Orleans bounce Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 1pm
ED LISTER’S PRIME RIB BIG BAND – There’s not enough swing bands in Ottawa, let alone those that play original arrangements and keep the energy up. Check these guys out! Tartan Homes Stage
Sunday, July 2nd at 2pm
ROMMEL RIBIERO – A great player of guitar and cavaquinho, Rommel always delivers the groove with rhythms borrowed from Brazillian and reggae music Tartan Homes Stage
Wednesday, June 28th at 11am
SLACK BRIDGES – Soul music with greasy rhythms and pretty chords. Tartan Homes Stage
Thursday, June 29th at 11am
Garett Bass is an Ottawa musician and showgoer. Not stuck to one genre, he has played and enjoyed soul, jazz, reggae, folk, hip-hop and ska music since moving to Ottawa in 2005.
Trails was the first band to play. Songwriter Allie O’Manique’s sweet melodic voice gently flowed through the air. As we watched Trails perform, we were absolutely entranced by the music. Soft, progressive and quite different from anything you’ve previously heard. The only instrument used was an electric guitar and other a gentle voice. A loop pedal was used in instances where there was a need to write a part of a song over the other.
It’s light, airy, but it’s nostalgic. For this reason it turns heads. It’s very psychedelic and lifts past memories as the performance progresses. It’s sound that makes you see colours, and swirls of them, blues of all sorts twirling around. As far as easy listening goes, this is it not only because there’s heart in the performance but because it’s so refreshing and ethereal. Trails produced harmonies with her voice and a loop pedal, singing over her own voice in different tones, creating something soothing. It’s beautifully haunting and will leave you wanting to hear more.
Next up was a band called Lake Urmia. Elsa’s vocals are smooth, high, and create a soft contrast with the sound of the band itself. They’re loud but at the same time they’re almost quiet and have a delay on the vocals so it gets distorted in the medley of music.
The sound is very refreshing and if you don’t like it at first, it’ll certainly grow on you. It’s a soft indie rock with its own flavour to it. The struggles they face are shown through the music, and although sounding happy, the lyrics represent something deeply rooted. They too allow the audience to see colours but more so violets and wine reds. They’re the perfect band to listen to as you sit by the window with a good book, and a cup of tea, listening to their sound intermingle with the rain.
The last band that I caught was a band from Bloomington, IN, by the name of Nice Try. The band is a pop rock band with vocals that strongly contrast the guitar. Their vocalist, Madelaine, has that sweet voice that you’d imagine wouldn’t work with a rock progression and a heavy drumline but the dynamic the band possesses makes everything fit together like puzzle pieces. The relationship they have with each other really adds to the fact that the music works so well. It’s something infectious that brings out the dancing shoes of the audience, and if they were sitting, they were swaying. The band is what should be classified as a feel good band, and the pure enthusiasm they have for what they do really draws the spectators in. Their live performances are a bit heavier than their recorded stuff but honestly, their sound is much more raw and untouched that it’s impossible not to love.
The last day of Ottawa Explosion really kicked it into high gear and didn’t let the impending tornado and storm warnings stop the party. They kicked it until the very end of it and all in all the day was sunny and warm much like the crowd of people there. So go down to Explosion next year and really get lost in the tunes. Trust me, once any band starts playing—even if your intention wasn’t to see them—you won’t want to leave.
Tiffanie Tri is almost a typical Ottawa bureaucrat—she studied Political Science at Carleton, lives downtown, and spends her days working 9-5. But on the weekend, she plays keyboard in shows as large as Bluesfest. She’s part of Scary Bear Soundtrack, a local band that’s grown exponentially in recent years. She’s also the Chair of Girls + Rock Ottawa, a non-profit organization that teaches music to self-identifying girls, and now women, in Ottawa.
The organization began in 2007 and introduced its main event, a weekend rock camp, a few years ago. Over three days, girls 13-17 learn a rock instrument of their choice and are grouped into bands. The finale is a showcase of what they have learned in a concert for family and friends. “The transformation by Sunday is amazing,” says Tri.
Since then, the project has expanded to jam sessions, workshops, and starting this month, a rock camp for women. This recent growth included a slight change in the organization’s persona, going from Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls to Girls+ Rock Ottawa. “With all this stuff going on, we didn’t feel like it was representative anymore,” says Tri.
“It’s also to signify and celebrate gender diversity. One of our biggest focuses is a safe space,” she says, explaining that all their programs are welcome to self-identifying girls and non-binary youth.
The organization has also increased their public presence, with organizers appearing at panels, events, and similar programs to promote their work. In the future, Girls+ hopes to partner with more local groups on their growing program. They’re also working on more programming outside of camp, with a goal to teach all areas of music production—a field that’s not always accessible to girls. “We’ve kicked off someone’s interest in music, how do we sustain it?” says Tri. “How do we keep engaging these youth?”
Girls+ does so with inviting programs that teach music in an encouraging way. Like myself, Tri learned classical piano as a child, and wanted a more flexible, accommodating way to learn music. Jam sessions and workshops teach music skills in a way that works with girls’ interests and needs.
The workshops also aim to teach real world skills—applicable lessons that teach youth all sides of music production from concert photography to planning gigs. Together, the projects work to break down barriers that keeps young adults from practicing music—whether it be venues, resources, or an accepting space.
This summer’s Rock Camp for Women+ is a pilot project, expanding on their flagship camp. “The same reason we do it for the girls—women want that safe space and community.” The aim is to teach women+ the rudimentary skills of music, without the intimidating nature of music lessons, which can be especially difficult later in life.
For the future, Girls+ are asking “How can we sustain someone’s music interest and potential career?” New workshops, jam sessions, and special events aim to bring campers back to learn new skills from songwriting to recording to self-promotion. “That whole journey—I’d love to support every step,” says Tri.
The growing organization also hopes to do more panels to discuss issues as women in the music industry. They’ve partnered with local businesses, groups, and artists, and plan to expand further. Throughout, creating a welcoming music scene for girls, women, and non-binary youth remains the organization’s main goal. “Mentorship and representation is a key part,” says Tri. As a woman of Asian heritage, she herself struggled with lack of representation and racial stereotypes in music. “When girls grow up and don’t see themselves in media or on album covers,” they miss out on opportunities to pursue music. Tri says that many girls have come to camp believing they just weren’t supposed to play rock instruments. Once they enter the male-dominated music genre, “they break down those stereotypes and myths without even realizing it, while they’re having fun.”
This year’s rock camp for Girls+ is in November, but the organization already has a number of events planned until then. The Women+ rock camp is this coming weekend, and will signify the start of a new chapter for the program. “I think it’s going to be so much fun,” says Tri. “We have no idea what it’s going to be like.”
All of Girls+ is run by volunteers, so proceeds of the Women+ camp will go towards future programs. “We’re trying to give that opportunity to people of a different age group,” says Tri. “Empower more people, reach more people as well as sustain our work.”
Organizing so much programming, marketing, and partnerships is evidently a lot of work for Tri and the Board of Governors, but it’s worth it. Doing Girls+ has allowed her to explore music and charity work in a new way, and balance her interests with her career and political background. “Knowing all that stuff helps me a better writer for music… that’s how you get a different perspective.”
Tri’s band comments on issues such as race, gender, and ethnicity, and their lyrics have been called controversial because of it. “It’s called political, and characterized as that,” she says. “We’re just writing the same song that everyone else has… it’s real experience. Political, to me, just means they don’t know what else to call it… it’s a synonym for different.”
She credits her open mindedness to her education and work background, saying “I don’t think I’d notice all those things if I didn’t have an understanding.”
Tri continues to make music about real life issues, unapologetically, and hopes to inspire girls and women+ to do the same. Especially in a small local scene, creating a welcoming learning environment for minorities in music is the first step to breaking down larger barriers in the industry. Girls+ programs teach girls, women, and those of non-traditional genders not only how to play music, but why their voices should be heard.
Rock Camp for Women+ runs from June 23-25, and for Girls+ November 3-5. Upcoming events and information can be found on their website here. Volunteers for future programs are always welcome.
I managed to get to Ottawa Explosion earlier than expected and in time to hear the very last bit of Preemptive Eulogy. I was greeted very kindly by Sacha of Sally Ride and we stood together as the previous band finished.
While local band Sally Ride began to set up, photographer Ming Wu and I sang to “Don’t Stop Believing” and got into the great ‘which movie is better’ debate. There wasn’t a moment that afternoon where I wasn’t smiling and enjoying myself.
As soon as Sally Ride began, I jumped to action. They’re quite the “go with the flow indie band” that seemed to hold fragments of a bohemian soul within their sound. It’s the perfect sound for long summer road trips. In fact, it’s probably what you’d play while rolling down your car window and driving through a deserted valley area somewhere warm. This was their first show, and despite how nervous they were, they hid it well. The music was infectious and it became impossible not to dance or sway to the beat of the songs.
The vocals were smooth but not in a perfect and polished way, which added character to the performance. There was a keyboard being played for the first little bit but that dropped off and got switched out for another guitar. To really set the tone of their performance and give off a taste f their personality, they played the theme tune of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and someone picked up the task of bubble blowing for them during their light and airy performance.
After Sally Ride came the Empty Nesters, another local band. They didn’t particularly move around too much but their music made a mark. It’s the sound of gritty rock attic demos recorded on a cassette tape. With these guys, no two EP’S or albums sound the same. This time, they were loud, garage rock with soft voices that resonated across the courtyard and down the street. The band has songs that get softer and quieter, reduced to vocals, only to pick up with a loud booming sound and jump right back into a fully energized performance.
They’re full of distorted fuzz but in the most lively way, and they manage to keep the energy contained. It’s the music that you sway to and give no shits about the fact that you’re holding your beer and might spill it. They take you into their own world and away from the one you’re currently in. A sound with much reverb, a boisterous drum beat, and the perfect amount of discord thrown in, it offers a refreshing the garage rock scene.
It’s noise but it’s the noise you want to hear. The noise that will leave old folks waving their fists in the air and saying “those darn kids!” and leave you wanting to hear more of their hypnotic tunes.
A band from Calgary, AB, by the name of The Shiverettes played promptly after. They’re an angry feminist punk band that’s out seeking justice for the misogyny faced day to day. They’re a band that get you on your toes, and jumping around. Their songs expel immense amounts of energy and anger that the audience feels down to the core.
The band consisting of three females and a male drummer conveys the struggles women face in life such as the things asked when a women reports sexual assault, the catcalling that they have to endure on the streets, and fundamental rights being taken away or not taken seriously. The anger and frustration in the screams of the lead singer really convey the emotions that women hold rooted deeply and it projects onto the crowd so well that despite the catchy and punk power chords there’s an impact left on every member of the crowd. They scream in favour of those who don’t have a voice or can’t speak up about the pressing issues in society.
They’re aggressive, but not in your face. Their points come across effectively, and loudly. If you think women don’t have voices, think twice because this band will blow you out of the water with how powerful theirs is.
Toxic Thoughts is loud, angry, in your face, and aggressive all with good reason. They voice the volatile thoughts that we have about ourselves, though it’s more so on a personal level with them. They get the crowd roaring and throwing themselves into a mosh pit at an alarming rate. The drums are well played and clearly a good part of the backbone of the song structure. The guitar seems to follow the bass line and the way the mass of noise comes together to form something so beautiful yet so full of frustration leaves you in mystery of how much anyone had to go through to be able to produce what’s essentially pain packed into music. The band toys with controlled feedback and they have managed to tame that beast. Not only is it difficult to produce it unless you have the right equipment, but it’s also very possible for it to get out of control. Their song “The Void” really showcases this, making the controlled feedback the spotlight of the song along with the bass lines.
The amount of talent that extends to minorities in music and the many different genres the festival showcases, there is something for everybody to come see. No stone should be left unturned when it comes to this festival as there is something for everybody.
During Ottawa Explosion’s fourth day, the outdoor stage at Club SAW was rocked by the Mint Records Showcase featuring The Smugglers, NEEDLES//PINS, Tough Age and Expanda Fuzz.
The iconic Canadian garage rock band The Smugglers headlined the wonderful evening. The band from Vancouver, BC existed from 1988 – 2004, and just recently reunited for select shows in 2017. Lead singer Grant Lawrence, who many know as a host on CBC Radio 3, is wildly energetic and engaging as a frontman. He kicked off the show by saying: “Ottawa, it is so good to be back in the city that birthed The White Wires, Stand GT, Resin Scrapers, The Creeps, Million Dollar Marxists, Tokyo Sex Whale and so many more!” That was quite the tribute to the locals here, and many of the aforementioned bands had members in the audience. He continued “Since the last time you saw us in Ottawa we have had nine children and one heart attack.
They call themselves a rock n’ roll band, which they most certainly are, with hints of surf and very danceable garage (maybe those terms weren’t cool back when they were). Their sound is amazing and infectious and had people dancing and singing along non-stop. I try to make a point to not comment on a band’s attire, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the full suit and rubber boots look sported by many of the members.
The band played a high energy 12-song set featuring “Vancouver BC,” which Lawrence mentioned “was almost a hit on Much Music,” the International Smuggler Dance Competition judged by the drummer of NEEDLES//PINS and “Booze” which was dedicated to the drummer of The Gruesomes, a band from Montreal that changed Lawrence’s life, who happened to be from Ottawa. They closed with “Rock n’ Roll Was Never This Fun” and thanked us all for attending what could be one of the last Smugglers shows ever. It is bittersweet that my first Smugglers show may be my last, but I’m ecstatic that I got to see them play my favourite festival.
NEEDLES//PINS took to the stage before The Smugglers and were full of apologies from the get go. After playing their opening song “Drop It” they said “Feels so good to be back, I can’t believe we missed an Explosion I’m sorry. We will never miss another.” I sure hope the Explosion team holds them to that as I love knowing I will see this band every year. Before launching into “Best Friend” they urged us all to high-five our best friend which was a really fun moment to watch happen all around them in the packed Club SAW courtyard.
They also played a bunch of music off their new record, Good Night, Tomorrow, which hadn’t been released yet but is now available. The new tracks sounded great and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the album. Their set featured one of the cutest and most heart-warming moments of the festival. Not everyone knows that even though the band is from BC, one of their members is from the Ottawa Valley. Emmanuel Sayer (OXW organizer) noticed some of the family members, mostly older, sitting by the stage during the set and ran them over some earplugs. What a gentleman. It is always awesome to see NEEDLES//PINS perform, they are incredibly talented but also just such nice and positive people.
Tough Age, formally from Vancouver and now based in Toronto, played Ottawa Explosion again and are becoming a festival mainstay. The new-ish, stripped down three-piece (formally a bigger band) have really embraced some post-punk influences and sound with their new music, such as the song “Not That Bad.” I, and a couple of people I was chatting with, really dig it. One of the things that blows me away about this band is how the guitarist and bass player just switch instruments back and forth throughout the set. I have massive respect and am in awe of bands that can do that, it’s just wild. Member Jarrett Samson said in closing, “I’m excited to see NEEDLES//PINS and if they don’t play “Drop It” I’m going to burn this tent to the ground.” Lucky for him and all of us, NEEDLES//PINS opened with “Drop It” as mentioned and we all avoided a catastrophe.
Opening the Mint Records Showcase was local duo Expanda Fuzz. I was unfortunately running late and missed some of their set, but as always what I did hear was most excellent. Their fuzzy and drone garage style sound has this perfect slow crawling build that leaves me wanting more. In a short time as a band, they have already released a bunch of great music, but I am constantly going back to the first song I heard them play “Flavour: Zombie.” Every time I see them perform that song I get a big smile on my face and have to bob my head. I’m glad that even arriving late, I managed to catch it.
This being my first time at Ottawa Explosion I didn’t know what to expect except for great tunes and a very kind group of punks. I didn’t exactly expect the chaos that ensued, then again, these were punks and a punk show is always chaotic either due to the time it starts or due to the go-with-the-flow-screw-time attitude.
I made it to Warp Lines early and sat through the booming sound check. If you think sound check is loud enough, it’s nothing compared to how loud the band itself gets. Their voices resonate and bring a livelihood to their otherwise gritty rock sound, and let me tell you – this band does not fear noise in the slightest. There also isn’t as big a need to mic the drum kit itself, because even without it you feel the drumbeat in your heart and the bass rattles you.
The way the three guys work all together is astounding. They’re loud and proud, all while creating a very garage-like setting despite being situated in an artsy bar by the name of Avante Garde. They know how to capture your attention and though some may say it’s a more generic sound, there’s nothing remotely generic in their performances and how they capture the crowds attentions with their singing and screaming.
I’ve seen the band once before and had even reviewed them, but honestly, I was shocked when I got the email asking if I could photograph this time. I hadn’t received an offer like that beforehand and this was new. I knew Johnny was an incredibly nice guy (see House of TARG show review with Steve Adamyk and Bar Robo show review with Warp Lines) but this was beyond a pleasant surprise. Naturally, I complied and actually managed to get some decent shots despite the hardships with lighting. Curse it for being light out at 7:00 PM!
Next up was WLMRT, who I’d sprinted over to Club SAW to see. I thought I had made it just in time, but they were finishing. However, I managed to catch three of their songs. They’re loud, aggressive, sometimes shoeless, and overall astounding. The lead singer and bassist were both up front and centre, and they really set the tone. I’m always rooting for female fronted bands, and always looking out for them because there simply isn’t enough. Let’s be real – female fronted bands are badass and deserve far more attention than they get because they’re incredibly talented and full of fiery passion.
The bass lines really encompassed what punk music was supposed to be, with everyone else seeming to flawlessly (but with that sloppy punk character) build around it. Their music itself doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, and there are some underlying tones under it that let some seriousness peek out. Despite being there for a small amount of songs, the performance shook me and it carried an infectious need for you to move. Perfect to thrash to, mosh to, and just let out all stress and anger to. If you get the chance to see this band, they are truly worth seeing live.
After WLMRT I quickly ran outside to witness the very bizarre Cincinnati, OH, band Mardou. Their energy was so odd and their performance was so unique that it drew me in and kept me staring no matter how much I might have wanted to go to the band playing inside. The clown doll, the pink LED fairy lights, the exaggerated movements. Everything set the tone. It reminded me of post-punk and new wave music, but I honestly think it would be more of what Kim Gordon classified as No Wave.
Their sound was almost Joy Division-esque, but with such a different twist to it that it’s a band you’d have to go see to understand what they’re about. There is nothing generic about this band. It’s fresh and it’s new. The lead singer’s voice was monotonous but worked well for what they’re trying to do. It, as well as the entirety of the performance, almost puts you in a sort of trance.
Through all of Ottawa Explosion, you’ll see the bands smoking outside, or walking around downtown. You might catch some people just hanging out or jamming out to their friend’s songs. Everyone seems to be supportive of one another, or their friends and fellow musicians, and the beauty of it is that they’re people just like you, and just like me. You could probably strike up a conversation, no hesitation needed. Explosion, and all the bands that play during it, unite the people, the punks, the oddballs, the ones who have a deep affinity for music. Take a break from your high school work (we know exams are happening next week but come on!) and get down to Ottawa Explosion at Club SAW.
It is that wonderful time of year again when you know all that matters is going to the punk show with your friends. Yes, Ottawa Explosion is back for its 7th year and once again mostly situated at Club SAW.
On day 2 I took in eight bands and could not think of a much better way to spend the last day of my 20s, surrounded by great music and even better people.
Headlining the night was Ottawa’s very own Crusades, which happens to feature Emmanuel Sayer, one of Ottawa Explosion’s organizers. Emanuel opened by saying “RIP JS, it is weird not being pelted by beach balls right now,” referring to last years show where JS had ordered black beach balls and decorated them with friends, just for the Crusades set. It certainly is weird not having our lovable JS around for those types of funny moments. If you see people sporting Hawaiian shirts, they are most likely doing so as a tribute to our good friend who left us too soon. Crusades put on a ripping set as always, I just can’t get enough of their style of heavy punk rock featuring three very distinct vocals. The band was celebrating seven years just like the festival, and as they prepared to play their final song, they were stricken with technical difficulties. Emmanuel simply said “We have been a band for seven years…” hilarious way to cap off the night.
Setting the stage for Crusades in the dimly lit Club SAW was Edmonton’s post-punk act Rhythm of Cruelty. This band is like no other I have ever heard. Their blend of ambient with post-punk and synth is pretty wild, but then when they add in a trumpet and loop it, it blew my mind. It might have a been a little too drone-like for the masses, but I was very impressed and would love to see them again.
Also playing inside was Sudbury Ontario’s greatest export, Strange Attractor. I believe the band has played every Explosion and always fast and hard, like everything they do. They barely have any songs over two minutes long and cram as many as they can into every set with ferociousness. One of the great things about a festival like Explosion is the bands generally stick around and watch other bands. And nothing is better than seeing a band you just watched (Lonely Parade) front and centre jumping, singing and all around losing it to another band.
Getting things started for the late-night indoor portion of the show was Black Tower. They brought us inside and delivered the metal as they summoned ghouls and ghastly creatures from Explosions past. Erin Ewing’s vocals sends shivers down your spine for all the right reasons when she unleashes the darkness within with a banshee-like flexing of her vocal cords. They are the perfect band for fans of punk, metal, and Tolkien-style fiction.
Partner from Sackville, New Brunswick (SAPPY FEST!) headlined the outdoor portion of the night. A lot of bands enjoy playing music live, but very few bands demonstrate that happiness and fun as clearly and openly as Partner. They are out there having at riot at every show and just loving life. It was raining pretty hard during their set but that did not deter them or the crowd, we simply huddle in tight under the tent, the band even giving up much of their space to make more people comfortable. They played a bunch of great new songs off their latest release Sounds of the Future, which is named so as the songs will eventually appear on the next full-length album. The highlight of the show for me was when they stopped during “Gross Secret” to ask the crowd if they had any secrets to share. The crowd was hesitant at first, but then Anthony Cardozo emerged from the side of the stage to happily admit he still picks his nose. The crowd cheered loudly and then more people started telling their secrets. Way to go Tony.
A post shared by Ottawa Explosion (@ottawaexplosion) on
Lonely Parade from Peterborough, Ontario also rocked the outdoor stage at Club SAW. They get better every single time I see them. It has been really awesome watching this band grow having seen them several times over the past few years. They played a lot of new songs, which they jokingly called “new song 1” then “new song 5.” These new tracks really show off the bands progression and evolution. Don’t get me wrong – I love their earlier songs, but the new ones are very tight, rocking and just have that little something extra.
Montreal’s Towanda also played. This sludgy three-piece from Montreal really rip it up. While many may focus on the guitarist, I was really impressed with their super solid drummer that really drives the music. That said, the lead singer and guitarist lives to shred and does it quite well. She also sports a scowl all set long making it just that much more intense. This band would pair perfectly with Ottawa’s Bonnie Doon.
The first band to play was one of Ottawa’s newest acts Ultralove. I was super impressed by the trio’s performance. I am always amazed when I see a drummer who has a very prominent vocal role. Some people struggle to walk and talk, so hammering the skins while singing just has that automatic wow factor. The band plays a melodic noisy punk rock with strong hardcore influences. One of their songs had one of my all time favourite song structures. A song with one verse that is repeated several times with the music and the vocals intensifying every time until it crescendos into an explosion of emotion. Local readers really need to checkout Ultralove next time they play live.
Wednesday night was a rowdy night where three excellent Dine Alone Records bands, The Flatliners, The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, rolled through Ottawa and rocked Babylon Nightclub.
Anyone who reads my articles enough knows the importance of The Flatliners to myself and to Ottawa Showbox. They are one of the reasons Matias brought me on board at Showbox and we have shared many great times listening and seeing them play live. This night was no exception, with the punk rock trio from Toronto reaching deep into their repertoire, but also rocking tracks from their new album Inviting Light. The diversity in their set is key when you realize that the band has been together for 15 years and could easily decide to ignore their earlier work from when they were teenagers. As a long time fan, I know I appreciated it immensely when they played songs like “July!August!Reno!” off their 2007 release The Great Awake.
While some fans screamed out for older tracks, or yelled requests for some ska, most of the crowd was just dialed into the true passion and energy that is a Flatliners set. Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with The Flatliners is Beau’s Brewing, which was flowing all night and whose reps and brewers were very present. If you’ve never sang along at the top of your lungs with a sweaty Tim Duncan, you haven’t lived. Be sure to read Matias’ in-depth interview with Chris Cresswell here.
Setting the stage for The Flatliners were The Dirty Nil, a headliner-caliber band in its own right and who most recently won a Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year. It’s not everyday you see a show where all three acts have headlined your town and tours across the country. When the band took to the stage, lead singer and guitarist Luke Bentham walked in with a big sign that read “HOTTAWA.” I think they were happy to be here. The Dirty Nil played their high energy grunge-inspired punk rock with conviction and style. With perfectly placed bubble gum bubbles for dramatic effect, Luke always looks likes he is having a blast. Bass player Ross Miller however often looks really intense during songs like he belongs in a metalcore band. That’s not a criticism at all, it’s just quite the contrast from the smiling, bubble-gum blowing going on on the other side of the stage. They played a new song “Avidazen” which was quite the rocking slow burner of a track. Dundas, Ontario must be so proud of these boys as they just keep getting bigger and better.
Opening the night was Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs from Toronto. Now here is a band out there having fun and taking names. The group all rock sleeveless jean jackets with their logo on the back and never stop smiling. They play up beat and lively rock n roll that will take you back a few generations and might even make you want to do the twist at times. They have a new album coming out soon and the new tracks sound great and are just as much fun. New songs like “Talk 2 Her” are definitely a step in the right direction.
They also played my favourite track “Gates of Hell” which just has every a great song needs from gang vocals, infectious sing a long moments, build-ups and claps. If you’ve never seen Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs play, you might not know that one of the guitarists plays a double neck guitar which usually leads to a great two man solo (can it still be called a solo if there are two?) – one on the 6 strings and the other on the 12 -neck. I also think this might be the only time I’ve seen the band play where Sam didn’t puke or roll around in the crowd… it was still great, but just saying.
Those who have been to shows in Ottawa long enough are probably familiar with the name Hard Science. However, chances are you didn’t know that the name associated was associated with music. Arturo Brisindi, a.k.a. Hard Science is an artist who has become known for his work with modular analog and video synthesizers over the years. His visual creations often take the form of projected video on walls, ceilings, and stages, and create breathtaking visual landscapes for us to bask in. While this is a world that I am admittedly not particularly familiar with, I have seen his work at events and can attest to its ability to transform a room. Those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s probably experience some nostalgia when watching his visualizations – I’m talking Windows ’95 era stuff. He has also created a video for a song on the soundtrack for the critically-acclaimed music documentary, I Dream of Wires featured on Netflix.
Hard Science has more up his sleeve. He is set to release his debut LP Dreaming in Stereo on Thursday, June 15, at Bar Robo. The album is a collection of tracks that have been produced from 2008-2016, a project that spans the better part of a decade. Dreaming in Stereo balances catchy synth pop with some experimentation, as Brisindi takes us on a sonic tour of his imagination. As we wander through the knobs and wiring in his brain, we find more than just drum machine loops and synthesizer effects. Hard Science draws us in through “pop,” but exposes the listener to a range of sounds produced from vintage equipment. These layers are also infused with interesting vocal samples and divergent arrangements, ultimately making it an album that is accessible enough for average listeners unfamiliar with this kind of production, but also complex enough for the hardcore gear and sound connoisseurs.
I had a chat with Hard Science about the new album, have a read and listen below.
Hard Science will be releasing the album at Bar Robo on June 15, doors at 8pm. Dreaming in Stereo will be available in vinyl at the event, as well as online through Analog Kitchun Records and streaming on Bandcamp.
Interview with Hard Science
Can you explain briefly how this album came to be?
The album really flowed from my vintage synth collection and all the exploring that I did as it grew (I guess you could call it gear-driven?). It all started back in early 2009 when I scored a Roland Juno 60 and a Roland Jupiter 4, along with 707, 909 and 808 drum machines. Throughout the years, I acquired more and more of these classic vintage synths, drum machines and tape echoes. With every acquisition came a new song. With every song came the urge to get more synths. Synths are sort of like chips; you can’t have just one.
Starting around 2012, I got into video and took a bit of a break from working on the album and music in general. Most of the groundwork for the album was done, with the exception of vocals and non-synth instruments. These parts came together between 2013 and 2015 with the help of Caleb Abbott and Olexandra Pruchnicky (vocals), along with Jason Redmond (bass), and Jose Palacios (guitar).
Unsure of what to do, and doubting that people would even like it (what would any self respecting artist be without crippling self doubt?), I put it on the back burner for a few more years. It wasn’t until this past winter that I decided to release the album, with a little push from my friends Grant Young, who released the vinyl edition on his label Analogkitchun Records, and Max Harwood, who offered to design my album cover out of the blue! I can honestly say that without Grant and Max, this album would still be sitting on my hard drive. So here we are, 9 years after recording the first song, and the album is finally out there.
What do the worlds of analog video and synth music have in common?
Quite a bit actually. Video synthesis uses some of the same fundamental building blocks as audio synthesis. It’s not uncommon, specifically in the modular video world, to see oscillators, mixers, modulation sources like LFOs and envelopes, VCAs, and filters. The main difference between audio and video is the frequency range. Audio is limited to 20Hz to 20,000Hz, whereas video signals can go up into the megahertz! Overall though, the methods used in modular video synthesis are almost identical to those of audio subtractive synthesis.
Can you talk about the synth scene in Ottawa?
The Ottawa synth scene is starting to hit its stride. With things like the Switched on Synths series and SOSFest at House of Targ this weekend, Possible Worlds’ Producer Meet-up Series, Not Normal, National Drone Day, synth meets, plus a bunch of other events popping up here and there, we’re starting to see a lot more engagement and comradery. With the Ottawa Synths Facebook group, people from all over Ottawa/Gatineau have a place to mingle, talk shop and sell their wares. I’m seeing collaborations between members and friendships forming. It’s a beautiful thing.
What can newcomers to this kind of music/performance expect from the album release?
I’m a fan of pop music, so I try to make music that’s catchy and accessible. But at the same time, I’m a stickler for tone and atmosphere, so I try my best to add a very specific character to my songs. A lot my songs have that eighties feel to them. Nostalgia is a huge factor for me. I’m a child of the eighties, and there’s just something about that wobbly, drenched-in-delay synth sound that grabs me like nothing else. That and a heavy dose of gated reverb on the snare.
For the album listening party at Bar Robo (June 15th), we’ll just be putting Dreaming In Stereo on the loudspeakers for all to enjoy. It’ll be pretty laid back. For my SOSFest set at Targ (June 16th), I’ll be performing a whole new set of songs that aren’t on Dreaming In Stereo, but are still a similar style.