If there’s one style of music that is filling Ottawa’s airwaves more and more over the last few years, it’s soul. Harea Band have been around for quite a while now, and they’re going to be taking over Babylon Nightclub on Friday night to serve up some soulful tracks, including their new single “Must Be a Dream” with support from local heavyweights Slack Bridges and Aspects & Jeff DeValk. DJ Breakthru will keep the party going on the turntables until late.
The new single finds itself at the crossroads of soul, funk, and modern pop music, which is a turn in a different direction for the band. They approach the song with a confidence that is audible from the first measure.
“This track was a bit of a leap for us,” explains Harea. “We flew up Mixerman from Asheville N.C. who’s a multi platinum award winning producer and worked it pretty much from the ground up. We did a lot of writing in the studio so the creative and recording process all kind of happened at the same time. I’m not sure if it’s a new step, but it’s definitely a step forward, and we hope people like the direction we are going.”
Harea Band is using the night at Babylon to do more than just release their new song. Chef Leroy from Detroit Soul Food will be serving up some delicious goodies for patrons, because what goes better with soul music than soul food? His recipes have appeared at a few parties at Babylon in the past, and needless to say—they are always a smash hit.
“We wanted to host an event that offered more than just a show, and we thought Slack Bridges were the perfect guys to team up with,” says Harea. “Garett (Slack Bridges’ bassist) is kind of known for putting on killer events in the region and our sound works well together. When Babylon asked if I’d be interested in hosting and promoting our own after party as well, we decided on making the whole evening as soulful as possible. Chef LeRoy from Detroit Soul Food cooks up some of the best comfort food in town and it just all fell together. Doesn’t get much more soulful than funky live music, fried chicken, and James Brown!”
Slack Bridges, who are renowned among the local music scene for getting the party going with their boisterous stage presence. Both bands will be partaking in Bangers & Mash Soul Festival happening on April 14th at House of Targ and Black Squirrel Books. There will be an after party with DJ Breakthru going late once the live music is finished, appropriately titled “James Brown Night.” The dance party will also double as a fundraiser for Bangers & Mash, which means there will be raffle prizes available from Ottawa Jazz Fest, Beau’s Oktoberfest, Noisy Kitchen Hot Sauce, Yuk Yuk’s, Happy Goat Coffee, Turning Point Records, Compact Music, and Burgers n’ Fries Forever. Attendees can buy raffle tickets for $2 each, or $5 for 3, or $10 for 7.
“We’re gonna dance for sure,” ensures Harea. “All the acts are gonna bring it so we can keep the dance floor hot all night and DJ Breakthru is keeping the party going late with an all-vinyl James Brown night. Fried chicken and waffles plus deep friend cookies will keep everyone fed! It’s really a one stop shop for a good time.”
Tickets are no longer available in advance, but plenty will be available at the door. Check out the video for “Must be a Dream” below.
Another year in the books for music in the nation’s capital and another year of countless great releases. This list is in no way a complete and exhaustive wrap up of all this city had to offer, but simply a listing of the 17 albums and EPs that stood out and really captured our attention over the calendar year of 2017. Check them out below, have a listen, get out and support local music. We can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store!
Top 17 Local Albums of 2017
Mushy Gushy – More Butter
Released: July 7, 2017
What is butt rock, you may ask. Well, Mushy Gushy’s sound can best be described as a good blend of experimental garage pop with the occasional hint of surf rock. It makes for good time rock that makes you smile, bob your head, and maybe even sway your hips. It’s perfect for those hot summer days on the way to the beach, but also excellent for those warm summer evenings on a patio or at a cottage. […] It is not always about complicated progressions and incredible prose—sometimes the best medicine is music you can just put on and sing along with while you relate to what the writer was feeling at the time. — Excerpt written byEric Scharf
Telecomo – For Sale
Released: June 6, 2017 (Record Centre Records)
I think the world could always use some more fun and punchy garage rock, and that is exactly what this band is offering us. The simple chord structures, unflashy vocals, and lo-fi aesthetic give Telecomo a genuine throwback feel. The Detroit garage rock gods of the 80’s would surely open their scuffed, wrought iron gates for Telecomo. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Slack Bridges – Joy of Joys
Released: November 11, 2017
[…] everything Slack Bridges has put out since their inception has met a seemingly self-imposed benchmark of production and musicianship. Their debut full-length “Joy of Joys” is no exception. The album was self-produced by the band at Swell Studios and received some esteemed TLC from Phil Bova at Bova Lab Studio, and Jason Jaknunas at Metropolitan Studio. It features a veritable roller coaster of soul (I’m not gonna say soul-er coaster), both lyrically exploring themes of struggle and searching for hope, but also exploring different aesthetics and dynamics musically. — Excerpt written by Anthony Cardozo
Heavy Medicine Band – ERSATZ ERA
Released on: April 22, 2017 (Record Centre Records)
Of all the bands making music in Ottawa—or even Canada, for that matter—the Heavy Medicine Band is pursuing a style and sound that is wholly their own. It’s phsyc-rock dipped in folk noir, driven by the profound lyricism and vocal prowess of Keturah Johnson. On their debut full-length ERSATZ ERA, the band weaves together texturized soundscapes that could be the soundtrack of a dream…or a really good trip. They build on and expand upon the foundation laid out on 2015’s Conduit EP, paving a path for listeners to get lost deep in their world. The intricate and reverb-laden instrumentation are a foundation of the album, often droning into the fringe of our imagination on tracks like “teeth” and “breath.” Johnson’s remarkable voice cannot be understated, however, and this band’s undeniable chemistry makes them one of the most exciting in town. — Matías Muñoz
Tapas – s/t
Released on: November 17, 2017
Tapas is the name of a new hip hop trio in Ottawa, but they’re anything but rookies. The group consists of two of Ottawa’s finest MC’s—G.Grand, and Hyf—along with locally-renowned producer Jeepz behind the beats. Together they are a force to be reckoned with. Their self-titled debut may very well be one of the best hip hop records to come out of the capital in the last five years. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Moonfruits – Ste-Quequepart
Released on: May 12, 2017
The husband and wife duo Moonfruits released their second full length album this year. Ste-Quequepart is a 10 song French-language folk concept album that plays like a short film soundtrack and really emphasizes the couple’s voices and lyrical content. Their beautiful and powerful voices which complement each other so well are on display from the get go in the title track. While the music and instrumentation of the album is rather simple, at times just a banjo or a guitar, you never feel like anything is missing. Much of the album is a little laid back, however my favourite song “Le Maire” picks up the pace and teleports you to a kitchen party or a campfire jam with charming clapping and great sing a long moments. Have a listen to the album Ste-Quequepart on a cold winter night, close your eyes and let Moonfruits take you away to a different place.
Galapagos – Potential Space EP
Released on: June 13, 2017
The final version of Potential Space was recorded on an afternoon in May, 2017, with Cameron Steacy (Organ Eyes) both playing drums and recording the EP.” You can hear some of their folk beginnings in the second song “What I Deserve,” but you can also hear Steacy’s influence throughout the EP, especially on “Again” combined with the band’s vision to really make it a fuller sound. Steacy has recorded, mixed, and mastered other Ottawa artists such as The Yips, Bonnie Doon and Fire Antlers.
Potential Space is a great starting point for a band that has already seen several members changes and has grown from two-piece to four. I really enjoy how much diversity of sound they fit into a four song release and see much potential in all the different avenues for the sound to continue to grow. — Excerpt written by Eric Scharf
Bonnie Doon – Dooner Nooner
Released on: May 21, 2017 (Record Centre Records)
Masks. Clouds of smoke. Decked-out pickup trucks. Skulls. These are all reasons to love Ottawa surf-punk queens Bonnie Doon. But there’s so much more to them than that. Their brand of fuzzed-out, bass-heavy sludge-rock is meant to captivate audiences and shock the senses. Their energy, weirdness, and overall “we do whatever the fuck we want” attitudes are what really define this group as something special.
Bonnie Doon’s latest album Dooner Nooner (released on Record Centre Records) is an acid trip through and through, and will take you from heavier face-punching tracks like the opener “Haunted Life,” to wild lo-fi experiments like the closer “B-Hole.” — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Dead Weights – Mountain Arresting
Released on: August 1, 2017
Mountain Arresting is a big step forward for Dead Weights, and clearly the product of a lot of work. The band strikes a balance of heavier guitar and bass parts with melodic flourishes, all woven together with rough and grumbling vocals of Jonathan Becker and Steve McCrimmon. Their signature sound comes through loud and clear on this record, as they tightened up their instrumentation even more and obviously had some chemistry in the studio. It doesn’t hurt that Dead Weights have been playing together for years, with lots of shows under their belts in recent memory. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Nightshades – s/t
Released on: November 15, 2017
Nightshades’ self-title release this year was their first full-length album. There has been some change in membership (Dean Morris joined them on bass) since their last release and also some slight change in sound. The band’s sound is a lot more mature and refined in all the best ways. They have kept true to their garage origins, but come at it a little cleaner and polished than past works. The track “Very Blue” sticks out in particular on the album as it appears to me to be the song that best encapsulates their transition from old to new Nightshades. “Very Blue” has many of the raw elements and darkness of older Nightshades while still very much being new and a step forward. Lead singer Mallory Giles’ vocals sound better than ever on this release and really shine on tracks “Wasting Time” and “Broken Bag.”
— Eric Scharf
New Swears – … and the Magic of Horses
Released on: June 23, 2017 (Dine Alone Records)
And the Magic of Horses is another fun-filled record featuring tons of sing along and clapping moments, with sprinkles of mosh-inducing build ups, group harmonies, and fun riffs to carry you through the summer. The opening track “Dance With the Devil” sets the stage for the whole album, as it has a little bit of everything mentioned above. It doesn’t take much to see how they could spice it up even more and have some fun with it live.
This album goes well beyond their usual focus on all-day partying and raucous—but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of that, it’s just not the focal point of every track. The band explores more existential subjects like life, death, friendship, screwing up, and legacy. It is great progress to witness, and what it is even better is how they have done it without losing their edge and fun which they have become synonymous with. — Excerpt written by Eric Scharf
Area Resident – Delano
Released on: October 13, 2017 (Record Centre Records)
Some may recognize Doug Hempstead’s voice as the dependable CBC radio traffic reporter here in Ottawa. But when he’s not on the airwaves talking about crashes and delays, he’s making music under the moniker Area Resident. The album is all Ottawa Valley, and a perfect mixture of the folk songwriting and crunchy alternative instrumentation that great artists from this area have pursued in the past. Hempstead himself is a talented multi-instrumentalist, and on stage he is the drummer lead vocalist. He is also supported by guitarists John Higney (The Flaps, Two Minute Miracles) and Paul Jensen, and bassist Kristy Nease (who also happens to be his CBC cohort). Delano draws on Hempstead’s experiences growing up in the valley outside of Pembroke and the things he’s encountered as a journalist. He expertly weaves together these anecdotes into poetic lyrics, imposing them into songs that aren’t tethered by a singular genre or stylistic direction. This album is full of life and demands to be listened to over and over again. — Matías Muñoz
Dark Plains – 00001
Released on: October 29, 2017
The Dark Plains is a band whose members have been making music for a long time, featuring ex-members of Okara and Shotmaker, who were relatively well-known acts in the 90s post-hardcore scene. While their experience extends beyond two decades, these guys are making fresh-sounds that contains elements of punk and hardcore, but the songs take their own trajectory all together. 00001 is an album that requires deep listening, and demands one’s total attention. — Matías Muñoz
Lake Urmia – Wine Time
Released on: June 16, 2017
Lake Urmia is a newer melancholic queer-pop band in town that is making serious waves, and their debut album Wine Time brings together warm tones and jangly riffs for us to grab and hold on to. The album was self-recorded by band member and vocalist Elsa Mirazei, and they also mastered it along with Chris Love of Pith and the Parenchymas. This DIY production gives the album a wonderfully imperfect quality, where the listener is given a raw and unrefined collection of beautiful (and sometimes sad) songs to ingest and mull over. The unrefined aspects of this album are what make it so easy to connect with, and Elsa’s soft vocal melodies are so naturally interwoven into the instrumental parts. Fans of Julien Baker and Frankie Cosmos will fall into the arms of Lake Urmia with ease, and we’re really excited to see what this band is going to get up to in 2018. — Matías Muñoz
Cody Coyote – Mamawi
Released on: November 1, 2017
Cody Coyote has exploded onto the hip hop scene over the last few years, and has garnered a lot of well-deserved praise for his recording and vivacious stage performances to date. The rapper is of Ojibwe/Irish decent with ancestry from Matachewan First Nation located in Northern Ontario, and has been writing music since the age of 16. Mamawi is Objiwe for “all together” in English, and the album combines extraordinary lyricism and storytelling with a range of modern hip hop and experimental beats. The album itself is centred around reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous people, togetherness, love and unity, and tackles some difficult issue involving the history of oppression and abuse of indigenous peoples that continues to this day. Not only is this album integral in today’s political conversation surrounding indigenous rights, but Cody Coyote is following the trail blazed by Ottawa’s A Tribe Called Red and his voice is one that we should all be listening to. — Matías Muñoz
Outside I’m a Giant – Point Comfort
Released on: October 7, 2017
The intricacy and scrupulous instrumentation that is woven throughout Point Comfort is made immediately apparent, and the cinematic qualities that each song contains evokes moving imagery draped over emotions. Caron’s deep, rumbling vocals compliment the storytelling and instrumentation beautifully, grasping the listener in a comforting way while guiding us through the tumultuous journey. In some ways it is reminiscent of The National’s Matt Berninger, and Caron similarly utilizes his vocal prowess in ways that indulges the eardrums without overpowering the gentle instrumental moments, or distracting from the tapestry created by the strings. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
PINE – Pillow Talk EP
Released on: June 9, 2017
PINE has released their first album through No Sleep Records, an emotional five-track effort that spans genres and bring the listener into a world free of sonic boundaries. Their songs are raw and untethered pieces that use intricate instrumentation and emotive lyricism to create a powerful experience for listeners. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
We’ve compiled a few albums that were either too short to meet our 4-track minimum, or didn’t quite fit into our top 17. Here are some honourable mentions worth listening to.
Her Harbour – Go Gently Into the Night
Gianna Lauren – Moving Parts (Forward/Record Centre Records)
The band may only be a couple years old, but Slack Bridges already feels like a well-seasoned veteran of the music scene here in Ottawa. Even though the band is fresh off the release of its debut full-length Joy of Joys, it has already sent shock waves throughout the capital.
This is what happens when musical masterminds from all corners of Ottawa’s music community come together to present something altogether original, breaking new ground by fusing hip hop, soul, and jazz fusion influences into tracks that burst at the seams with ear-pleasing tones. After only a few shows and the release of their first EP in 2016, Slack Bridges quickly caught the year of large-scale festival organizers as they got included on lineups at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, House of PainT, Ottawa Race Weekend. They also were the main attraction at last year’s independent festival called Bangers & Mash, a soul-focused weekend-long party co-organized by band member Garett Bass himself.
Slack Bridges performed at this year’s House of PainT Urban Art Fest this past August. Photo by Kelly Morrissey.
Joy of Joys is indeed a full album. It is a front-to-back trip that explores different soundscapes and textures, pleasing listeners with dance-inducing bangers like “In The Drought” as well as teasing us with down-tempo ballads such as “Smile.” Guitarist Chris Elms puts his dexterous guitar work on full display throughout the ten-track journey that is Joy of Joys, from providing grimy and emotive riffs that explode off the record in “Jungle” to sultry tones that seduce the listener deeper into tracks like “Apologies.”
Vocalist Matt Gilmour’s infectious deep vocal prowess is an undeniable x-factor in this band, and without detracting from the group’s talents, his voice and persona are front and centre on the record and the stage. You wouldn’t first think of him as a former member of bands in Ottawa’s punk and hardcore scenes, but his influences are many. His appreciation for R&B and hip hop rhythm come across immediately, and his unique vocal tones and style lend perfectly to the rest of the band’s impressive instrumental chemistry. Not to mention his subtle moves on stage give crowds even more to scream for (see video below—just wait for it).
All in all, Joy of Joys is the record Ottawa needs, wants, and will cherish. The band spent a lot of time and energy into crafting their identity, sound, and style—and it shows. It really feels as though they took a “why stop here?” approach to this record, and the seamless inclusion of brass parts from local visionaries Ed Lister and Julian Selody exemplifies the level of musicianship this band is operating at. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Be sure to pick up Joy of Joys on vinyl at local record shops around town now, which they recently released on November 11th at a sold-out show at The Rainbow. It is also available digitally here.
Watch their Shot in the Dark performance and stream Joy of Joys below.
House of PainT celebrated its 14th year this past week with another outstanding edition of the festival that highlights the five pillars of hip-hop: MCs, break dancers, graffiti artists, DJs, and culture.
House of PainT is kind of a hidden gem. It is one of the most innovative and interactive festivals in the capital region and most of it takes place under the Dunbar Bridge across from Carleton University, right next to Brewer Park. This year I took in the weekend portion of the festival, which was a fun-filled time to say the least.
Saturday was dedicated to the dancers, the breakers, the b-boys and b-girls. The day included twelve hours of programming from 11 am to 11 pm and incorporated everything from introductory dance classes to break dance crews battling to live music. I arrived under the bridge mid-afternoon and the art was already covering the walls and the DJ had the crowd pumped up. One of the coolest parts of House of Paint truly is the paint. The festival paints all the walls underneath the bridge a neutral colour and then sets up scaffolding for the artists to do their thing.
Slack Bridges with Aspects getting soulful and funky at House of PainT.
After staring at the colourful walls and ceiling for a bit in amazement, it came time for some dancing. I watched crews battle it out in a round robin-style format while three judges had the tough challenge of picking who moved on. Once the prelims finished Ottawa’s funky soul band Slack Bridges took to the stage. The dance floor stayed full as dancers practiced future moves and stayed limber ahead of the semis and finals.
Slack Bridges set kept the party going and was tight as always, but it also featured a couple of new things. First of all, they had a new saxophonist Zac Sedlar playing his first show with the band since their previous saxman was recruited by The Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Secondly, they wove in snippets of hip-hop classics throughout the set, like Notorious B. I. G.’s “Big Poppa” which flowed out of their cover of “Between the Sheets” (which is the song B. I. G. sampled). And lastly, they invited local rapper Aspects on stage to join them for “Doin’ This Thing,” off their upcoming album, and he not only provided backing vocals but delivered some sweet free-styling as the band jammed out. It was magic.
Up next was a popping competition that took over the dance floor which was followed by the semi-finals crew battles featuring Canada’s very own DJ Skratch Bastid providing the beats. While the judges deliberated, Ottawa ex-pat rapper Dynamic hit the stage to entertain. He had some sweet flow and had another MC join him on a track and rap from the crowd. We were then treated to a pretty solid popping finals (you can check out a little taste of it here) which then set the stage for the finals.
The packed crowd around the Breakin Crew final with Souljazz Orchestra on stage at House of PainT.
Not only did the finals feature the two best crews battling it out, but they did so to the sounds of one of Ottawa’s best bands—Souljazz Orchestra—playing live on stage. No disrespect to the DJs, but there is something special about watching people competing to the sound of live music. And if you have never seen break dance crews battle, you’re truly missing it out. The flow, the back and forth, the team work, and collaboration really takes the dance to a whole other level.
This year’s champions Groundwork Sessions Crew hail from Whitehorse, Yukon, and blew me (and everyone in attendance) away with how synchronized they were with the live jams and athletic moves. And as if the night couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a full Souljazz Orchestra set to cap off the night.
Where Saturday focused more on the breakers and the DJs, Sunday was for the rappers and MCs. I was running late but was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the Knowledge Conference (think Ted Talks for Hip Hop Heads) where a panel discussed career development and the importance of the team you build and surround yourself with.
Cody Coyote joined on stage by a B-Boy and a traditional indigenous dancer at House of PainT.
As the panel wrapped up, the main stage got going once again. There were acts all day long, but unfortunately the crowd didn’t really show up in numbers until much later. This didn’t really seem to affect the artists who all still brought energy to the stage and did their thing.
Cody Coyote from Ottawa, with Ojibwe roots and ancestry from Matachewan First Nation located in Northern Ontario, performed a song where he was accompanied by a B-Boy and a traditional male indigenous dancer. Watching both dance so differently to the same track was a treat.
Cashtro Crosby, accompanied by DJ Mes, brought it to the stage as if he was performing to a packed house. He had one of my favourite flows of the day and showed off why he was a perfect pick for this festival, as well as the stage at Bluesfest.
Rita Carter was my favourite performance while the sun was still shining. I can’t believe she is an Ottawa artist that hadn’t been on my radar. The group began as a four-piece with Rita on guitar and vocals, accompanied by a bass player, drummer, and another singer. Her song “Shot Anotha Down” was a very powerful song about the ever growing gun violence in the city. As the set continued, she was joined on stage by Aspects sporting a guitar, and then they were joined by a violinist for another song. Check Rita Carter out as soon as you can, and don’t sleep on her talent.
As soon as The Sorority from Toronto hit the stage you knew it was going to be hype. With four MCs (Haviah Mighty, Keysha Freshh, Lex Leosis and pHoenix Pagliacci) who all sported some yellow and a DJ keeping the beats, the ladies delivered. What really makes them interesting is that each one of them brings such a different style and delivery that it is almost like watching four different acts all at once. It certainly takes the entertainment to another level.
With the day time acts all wrapped up and some tasty supper from the food truck consumed, the anticipation was killing me for Dubmatique. As a French-Canadian growing up in a mostly anglophone community, I wasn’t exposed to much French music. But Dubmatique were one of the exceptions—not only was I introduced to them through school, but I actually liked their music. And I wasn’t alone, the band has gone platinum with sales and has won countless awards. The band formed 25 years ago, so when I saw that they were playing House of PainT, I was ecstatic.
Dubmatique bringing some old school French Canadian hip-hop to House of PainT.
The two MCs, Disoul (Jérôme-Philippe Bélinga) and OTMC (Ousmane Traoré), were on fire. They certainly didn’t look slowed down by the passage of time, nor did they seem rusty having not released any new music for close to a decade. Dubmatique songs are really a full experience, as their rapping flows so well with the music it becomes an instrument. The beats don’t overpower, and it’s all topped-off by several vocal sections breaking up the verses and adding that extra element.
Watching them perform these songs live just made me feel like both MCs really think about the totality of the track and its delivery, not just their lines. It makes Dubmatique very special and that separates them from so many other acts. This was especially present in tracks like “Soul Pleurer,” “La force de comprendre” and “La vibe.” The only way their set could have been any better was if it was longer. Thank you to House of PainT for helping me check one of the list.
Back in May, we celebrated our five-year anniversary with a couple of shows at The Record Centre. That was a whole lot of fun, but we’re not quite done yet. Because why stop there?
Over the past five years we’ve had the opportunity to meet countless musicians in Ottawa, go to hundreds of shows, and really dig deep into the music landscape here. These artists continue to impress us, inspire us, and keep us doing what we do. It’s been our mission and raison d’être to support these musicians through coverage of new album releases, interviews, live reviews, and much more.
We’ve put together a compilation called Five Years – Ottawa 2012-2017 which contains music that has impacted us since Showbox started in 2012. This span of five years, in our mind, was a crucial period in the Ottawa music scene. More DIY musicians than ever before came out of the woodwork and made albums, and many were released independently without labels. Some music was underground, some wasn’t.
Different types of music pervaded throughout this period, demonstrating Ottawa’s potential hub in the Canadian landscape. Our hope is that this compilation will act as a snapshot of a strong and robust local music scene in Ottawa between 2012-2017, and allow folks to have a view into the music that came out during this period. It goes between garage, punk, hip hop, folk, and
While we could have double or tripled the size of this compilation with all the incredible artists out there, we kept it modest and capped it at 51. So while this list is encompassing, it’s certainly not meant to be comprehensive by any stretch. Please enjoy a free stream and download of the Five Years – Ottawa 2012-2017 compilation below.
A huge thank you to all the artists who contribute their music to this compilation, and to Pascale Arpin for designing such a good album cover. Enjoy!
The compilation is PWYC, and any proceeds will be donated to Girls+ Rock Ottawa in memory of Jean Sebastien Belleau. A special fund in his name has been established for the maintenance, repair and preservation of their growing instrument library, made in the spirit of honouring JS’ much deserved legacy as a passionate supporter of the Ottawa music scene.
Wednesday’s weather forecast was a perfect summary of summer in Ottawa thus far. Rapidly oscillating between heat and cool, dry and wet, festival goers were not quite sure what to expect from the skies. That same sense of curiosity was also applicable to what many deemed the best night of the Ottawa Bluesfest schedule. Highlighted by bands that were the soundtrack to many of our upbringings, I still vividly recall the scene in Garden State where Zach Braff leans over to Natalie Portman in Garden State and plays her “New Slang” or the first time I heard the crescendo from Dance Yrself Clean. The nostalgia factor for those two bands alone was off the charts, but how would they sound in 2017 following lengthy hiatus periods?
To start the evening, Slack Bridges burst onto the Bluesville stage with incredible energy. The six-piece soul-funk band was propelled forward by their instrumentation, particularly the expanded brass section (they were joined on stage by special guest, the Texas Horns).
The song “Beholden” had the crowd beneath the tent moving and they played many new songs from their upcoming album, which comes out in October. Following their other recent sets at Jazzfest and the Ottawa Race Weekend, many in town are eagerly awaiting their what comes next.
Phantogram was up next. With their recent shift towards rockier and more hip hop elements, many fans of their older indie electronic sound were likely wondering if their music got them high anymore. Luckily, it mostly did, with new tracks like “Same Old Blues” resonating with the crowd both figuratively and literally (there was a hell of a lot of bass).
Lead singer Sarah Barthel’s energy is infectious and when classics like “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “Don’t Move” come on, it’s impossible to not start moving. And the nostalgia was only just beginning.
It’s easy to forget just how many hit songs The Shins had during the early 2000’s. “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow” were monumental albums that defined many individual’s concepts of the sound of “Indie” and thankfully, the band did not shy away from playing what the crowd came to see.
Jumping right in with songs like “Phantom Limb”, “Turn On Me” and “Girl, Inform Me”, the older-crowd-seeking-nostalgia was responsive, while the band initially appeared slightly bored. Thankfully, that didn’t last long as they got into the swing of things. Recently released track “Name For You” and “Sleeping Lessons” (the incredible opener from Wincing the Night Away) were good enough to convert any new fans in the crowd (i.e. those who lived under a rock from the years 2001-2007).
As LCD Soundsystem took the stage, the Ottawa sky couldn’t quite decide whether it would let their set-up full of electronics remain fully functional. Hastily covered with tarps and cloth, the band defiantly pushed forward, starting the night with “Yr City’s a Sucker”, a dance-punk anthem for us self-deprecating citizens in the rain.
The band’s veteran presence was certainly felt, their tight instrumentation (shout outs to the cowbell) and focused energy made each swell of a crescendo hit with maximum impact. Their recently released tracks “Call The Police” and “American Dream” fit into their set perfectly and really highlighted how nice it is to have them making new music. That veteran presence was also felt when James Murphy shouted out foam rollers for those of us with back pain from all the standing.
As the rain eventually decided to fall, the crowd made the most of the circumstances, dancing themselves clean beneath a giant disco ball with all of their friends (old and new).
Music festivals don’t just grow on trees. Whether it’s a small-scale boutique festival like Sappyfest or a large-scale behemoth such as Osheaga, festivals are the end product of a whole lot of teamwork, labour hours logged, blood, sweat – and sometimes tears.
When Garett Bass decided to move forward with a new music festival called Bangers & Mash, he knew it wouldn’t be a simple undertaking. His first rodeo was 2015’s FOLK IT ALL Festival, a packed night-long event at The Rainbow which saw a number of heavier folk and country acts hit the stage, including headliners The Jerry Cans. But 2017 offered a new opportunity to bring together musicians that share a common funky thread – soul music.
“After seeing momentum build this past year, I feel like it’s a now-or-never moment to put these bands in the spotlight and help people realize the level of talent we have here,” explains Bass. “I felt like it was time to do something similar to FOLK IT ALL for the soul music scene here, which I’ve been in entrenched in for the better part of the last decade.”
The idea took form last year when Bass and his wife went to Blakdenim’s CD release at Mavericks, where a number of bands and DJs were showcased in a small amount of time. They did short and punchy sets, all acts shared the backline, there was an MC handing out prizes in between, and afterwards they reveled in how incredible and efficient it was.
“So I decided to do a soul festival where bands play their ‘bangers’ – I thought, ‘let’s get as many acts as we can into one night with the simple rule of playing only their best songs and then getting off stage as quickly as humanly possible.”
As a member of Ottawa’s own Slack Bridges, and a past member of bands such as Steamers, Tea For the Voyage, and Mackenzie Rhythm Section, Bass is no stranger to the stage. However, organizing is a different beast altogether, so he made sure to gather a team of dedicated organizers to help him from the start.
One crucial member of the team is Ed Lister, a musician himself and founder of London Gentleman Records. Lister is a member of Chocolate Hot Pockets, Thrust, Eru-Era and an impressive Chaka Khan tribute act, and has joined forces with existing bands such as The Hornettes and The Split.
“I chose Ed to run his own stage, because he’s been the number one instigator of action and collaboration in our soul scene,” Bass says. “Ed moved here from the UK a few years ago, he plays in more acts than I can count and has helped encourage collaboration between artists all over Ottawa.”
While there are some collaborations occurring in town, it’s difficult to define a particular soul music “community” in Ottawa. There are festivals such as Ottawa Explosion, Arboretum Festival, and Megaphono that act as a crucial hub for musicians to coalesce. However, there has been a gap between the soul music fans and the musicians themselves – a gap which Bass means to fill.
“Just look at The Souljazz Orchestra shows, which have been sold out and for years. People trust anything those guys put out. The Jazz Fest late night series has been a huge success for people who love to dance to live rhythms such as Snarky Puppy, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Tennyson. Sharon Jones played here over half a dozen times to crowds of intense fans. Our most successful local nights are generally funky DJ nights such as Double Barrel or Timekode where people can go dance to DJs spinning soul music in its most authentic form – the 45 record.”
“Places like Irene’s and Bar Robo have picked up and have started weekly/monthly nights of funk jazz, and Mike Mikkelsen has been using his connections to host lots of local live and mixed soul music at Kinki’s Kitchen. Yet, I find the weird thing is that some of these bands still don’t know one another, there’s little collaborating within a genre that is historically built on collaboration.” All that to say, it’s clear that there’s no shortage of love for soul music in the capital.
Bangers and Mash will take place on the evening of March 18, and have two stages at two adjacent venues – Black Squirrel Books & Coffee and House of TARG – that will operate simultaneously. Live music and DJ sets will be staggered between each, giving concert-goers the option for either.
The impressive local lineup includes Mackenzie Rhythm Section, The Hornettes, Slack Bridges, Tropikombo, DJ Magnificent and DJ Zattar at House of TARG, while Chocolate Hot Pockets, Mack & Ben, Blast From the Sun, DJ Jas Nasty and The Full Time Groove hold the fort at Black Squirrel Books & Coffee.
“Basically anytime there’s a DJ on at Black Squirrel, there’s a band playing at House of TARG, and then it flips,” Bass clarifies. “We’re going to recommend that people plan their night well, as there may be times when one of the two venues is at capacity. Fortunately, there’s lots of amazing stuff to see!”
Bangers & Mash will take place on March 18, ticketing and event information can be found at www.bangersmashfest.com. This article appears in the March Edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
Another year come and gone, and many of us are chomping at the bits while we anxiously wait for 2016 to finally come to a close. Yes, it’s been a rough year in the world of music. But it’s not all bad news, guys. 2016 heralded some brilliant albums, some of which were made right here in Ottawa. Below are our choices for top local albums of 2016.
Two Jar Grind – S.T.
From the very first second of the first track “Here’s To All I Never Had” you can’t help but draw parallels to early acoustic Against Me! thanks to shouting vocals bursting with simple honesty. I say this gushingly of a band I have fallen in love with where all three sing and features a guitarist, accordion player and percussionist rocking a washboard. Yes, a freaking washboard!As I listened to the songs on the six song debut, I really felt like I was sitting down with the band as they worked their way through figuring out their place in the world, their priorities and their ambitions. You instantly feel a friendship forming with them.
At first, I perceived it as merely a piece of cake, but as I cut into it I saw something else – something much more substantial. The Ottawa-based group’s EP Winter Sucks begins with a thin slice of melodically frosted pop punk guitar, which is joined at full force by the hurried, driving pound of the rhythm section. Immediately the head nods, the sun shines and we are in a place that we have been to before. But then, of course, comes the opening line, as vocalist Brittany Neron asks, “why don’t you smile?”. The album’s first cut, ‘”Cat Call”, should become a permanent installation on the streets of Ottawa, so next time when some seedy bastard passes unsolicited comment on a woman’s appearance, she can point towards one of the mounted speakers before telling him to fuck off. It is a frustrated and poignant reply to this kind of street harassment, told with wit and a sneer; a refreshing burst of personal commentary that carries with it great social significance. This is exactly the kind of voice we need to hear in punk today.
The album, for which the duo play all the instruments and do all the vocals, was inspired by an abandoned island in the Rideau Lakes… With the combination of mystery and ghost stories at its foundation, Goodnight Boy’s 15-song self-titled album is one to be listened to from start to finish. It is a work of grunge and lo-fi rock rooted in folk principals of story telling and spirited emotion. Having seen them play many of the songs live before to hearing the recording, I have had the amazing luxury to witness a band truly growing up.
Ottawa’s most prolific pop-punker Steve Adamyk has done it again with an excellent 13-song album with all the energy, “wo-ohs”, and power-pop perfection we have come to expect from Adamyk and his band. This certainly isn’t a Paul Simon album… Just like their live performances, this album doesn’t really ever slow or give you a moment to relax, with most songs coming in at under two minutes. And just because it is pop-punk, power-pop, or garage… or whatever you’d call it – don’t think all these songs are love songs or about partying. Songs like the angry “Die Dead Forever” and the dark “False Teeth” show Adamyk’s depth beyond the prototypical sound of the genre. Fret not though, there are still super catchy tracks like “Carry On” and great rocking tracks like “Swallow You Whole” that will win you over right away and make you want to sing a long.
Ottawa born and raised, Métis singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume released a wonderful album this year full of loss and grieving which she perfectly balanced with hope. The first single off Rheaume’s fourth album, Holding Patterns, is “Red Dress,” where Rheaume honours the over 1,180 murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada. The song was co-written by Jim Bryson and features Canadian great Chantal Kreviazuk on vocals. The album as a whole is a wonderful step forward for the very talented singer-songwriter and dare I say it a move to being a little more radio-friendly in all the right ways.
A Tribe Called Red – We Are The Halluci Nation
Indigenous DJ trio A Tribe Called Red returned with an immense 15-track masterpiece on We Are the Halluci Nation, taking traditional rhythms and beats of pow wow and transforming them into the powerful backbone of electronic- and dubstep-inspired anthems. This album is global; the Halluci Nation extends beyond political borders. It delves head-on into the ongoing impact of colonialism with poignant interludes by author Joseph Boyden. With appearances by acclaimed throat singer Tanya Tagaq, as well as Yassin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def), Lido Pimienta, and more, ATCR has created the most crucial album of the year, one that all Canadians need to hear.
Excerpt taken from Matias’ piece in Mixtape Magazine’s Best of 2016 issue, found here.
Telecomo – Promo Only EP
While this band is new, its members boast impressive resumes. Telecomo is a three-piece garage rock group consisting of lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Saikaley (Ceremony/Hilotrons), bassist Gary Franks (Roberta Bondar/Ceremony), and drummer Pat Johnson (The Acorn/Silkken Laumann). Their debut Promo Only EP is one that Ottawa was primed and ready for, and people ate it up – hook, line, and sinker. This punchy four-track EP is everything you’d want from a garage album – it is unpretentious, simple, and extremely fun and satisfying to listen to. Its lo-fi aesthetic induces nostalgic episodes in those who remember the sounds of rock and roll gone by. I stand beside what I said in my initial review – “The Detroit garage rock gods of the 80’s would surely open their scuffed, wrought iron gates for Telecomo”.
Saint Clare are a hidden gem here in Ottawa. No one sounds quite like them, and they’re only getting better. Matthew Saint Clare’s distinctive voice leads the charge as each song on the album builds on the last, and we’re left with a mountain. The band has come into their own on this record, and they exude confidence in their songwriting and execution. Whether it’s the explosive horns section, enchanting lyricism, or unmistakable chemistry and sound, one thing is for sure – Saint Clare isn’t going anywhere. Keep your ears open for these guys in 2017.
Full article found here.
Sleepy and the Noise – Altitudes EP
On their debut release, Sleepy & the Noise’s sound is full and raw, but not overdone or aggressive. Those partial to Pavement or Dinosaur Jr. will be able to sink into Sleepy and the Noise’s sound right away, as they take us on a fun ride that is not only short and punchy, but also contains several moments of cunning lyricism and undaunted instrumentals. […] My favourite track, if I had to choose, would be the song “Mountains & Valleys,” one that elucidates Pasiak’s word-smithing abilities and strong use of metaphors and imagery in his songwriting. Moreover, some irresistible guitar tones and backup vocals by Fitzpatrick makes it one that you won’t be able to resist having on repeat.
Slack Bridges is all about combining different visions, influences, and styles and turning them into a unique cohesive sound. EP1 is the product of countless meetings and band practices hashing out exactly what that sound would be. Barr describes the approach as “destroy to create” – someone brings a small song idea to the table, and the band jams and builds on that idea as a group. It normally gets taken in five or six directions before they settle on a final idea.
EP1 is a groove-laden, intricately layered onslaught of soulful jams that are clearly the product of time, effort, and a lot of chemistry. Each track off the 4-song EP offers a display of each member’s strengths, at times allowing Barr’s bass lines and Selody’s ardent sax to take the lead it tracks like “Lion City” or Ward’s irresistible keys to reel us in on “All For You.” Gilmour’s deep and dynamic vocals tie it all together, offering daring melodies and smooth, seamless transitions between notes in the same vein as Leon Bridges.
The Steamers went back to where it all began in Gatineau to play their final show as a band. Many of you may not know that the band was originally called the Gatineau Steamers.
In the intimate setting of the Propulsion Scène, an accessible, ecological and open space within an old market place, was a perfect venue for this anti-climactic show. Their set fittingly opened with guitarist Quin Gibson’s solo song “Take Nothing for Granted.” I am sure most in the crowd and at Steamers’ Bluesfest show earlier this year, took for granted that this local act would be around for much longer.
Steamers playing their final show at Propulsion Scène on Saturday October 1, 2016. Photo: Eric Scharf
The band quickly showed us all how much they had grown and improved over the years by playing their older songs in new ways or simply just sounding so darn tight as a six-piece. This was very evident in “Year” and “Blue Skies.” But the band also showed their fun and improvisational side as they changed up “Stay Here to Bleed” ending it in a ska version.
Quin showed a ton of resolve powering through even though he cut off the tip of left pointer finger earlier that week. It was all bandaged up, but you could tell that he was in a lot of pain on certain tracks where that finger played an important role in his chord progressions.
The band split the night into two sets, the first featured the above mentioned tracks as well as a shining light on bass player and vocalist Sara Fitzpatrick. Sara took lead vocals on The White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba,” which she delivered with some twang and then played “Destination” a song I always thought was about some dark times in her life. Sarah finally shed some light that the track was actually about being on the phone with administration at the University of Ottawa and how painful that can be. They closed out that first set with possibly one of the most fun songs ever written, the Robots! Everywhere!! song about dinosaurs drummer Phil Castiglione wrote for his partner’s little nephew.
Photo: Eric Scharf.
With the first set done, the reality that there were only so many Steamers songs left to ever be heard live started to sink in. The band played an amazing second set full of their originals, a Shaky Graves cover and another Robots! Everywhere!! song. One thing that I think might have been overlooked in the Steamers was their bilingualism. They showed the crowd a sample of it during the first set with “Passer Une Nuite,” but really showcased during the second set as they opened with “Wolfpack Presley” and played “Bateau” about halfway through. Julien’s vocals and song writing brought a whole other dimension to the band.
As the show progressed and as we knew time was running the band announced that they had two songs left and invited everyone on stage. Phil started to play “All My Friends Are Here” a Robots! Everywhere!! song that the band has adopted, only to have the sound man rush and get all of us off the stage. At the time it was kind of a bummer, but as I looked at the stage, I don’t think it was structurally sound enough to support the lot of us. Instead we all took to the front or the side of the stage to sing at the top of our lungs. They then concluded with “Head North.” The band shared a big group hug and a private conversation on stage and that was it. A band I once saw four times in one month, are now no more.
The end of an era. Photo: Eric Scharf.
Now now, hold back your tears. You’ll be happy to know that many of the members are working on other very exciting projects. Garrett is in Slack Bridges – a local soul and R&B group, Sarah is in Sleepy and the Noise – a local alternative rock/power pop trio, Quin will focus more on his solo music and possibly get a few musicians together to back that and I hear rumours of Phil, Greg and Julien forming a punk band that I will surely love.
Raise your glass. Here is to you Steamers. Thank you for entertaining me and many others for countless shows with so many sing alongs, and more importantly for the opportunity to now call all of you my friends.
Yes, believe it or not – Ottawa’s got soul. On a chilly Friday in January, many of us braved the cold and trekked down to Rideau Street in order to congregate at the small, but tried-and-true Café Dekcuf. One thing about this place is that it isn’t a venue that most music patrons in the scene tend to visit often. Maybe it gets a bad rap for whatever reason, being somewhat awkwardly located directly above Mavericks. It’s also pretty chilly and drafty in the winter. However, since I started Showbox nearly four years ago, I can’t think of one bad show I’ve seen there. This night was no exception.
The lot of us were in for a night of funk, soul, and RnB jams. It was also a night of old and new, as soul music veterans Old Stereo and DJ Magnificent (Double Barrel) were also on the bill. Needless to say, the excitement was building. The drinks were flowing, and Magnificent was setting the tone by spinning his most excellent collection of funky 45s.
Slack Bridges is a brand new super group of sorts. Frontman Matt Gilmour (vocals), as with the other three guys in the band, have been involved in Ottawa’s music community for a long time. He has been involved in Ottawa’s punk and hardcore scene for over a decade in various capacities, playing in bands such as HAMILTON, I Refuse, We The Accused, and more recently, Heavy Bedroom.
Garett Barr (bass guitar) is a talented multi-instrumentalist, and previously lent his skills to bands Mackenzie Rhythm Section and Tea for the Voyage. Currently, Barr also plays guitar and ukelele in the rising folk group STEAMERS, and teaches music relentlessly through Big ARTS. Paul Ross (drums) has played in many bands, but more recently played in the long standing indie-rock act, The Gallop.
Marcus Ward (keys) is a seasoned piano player, who has played in The Ethics and currently plays in a ‘yacht-rock’ cover group called PleasureCraft alongside Dave Lauzon of Lauzon Music and Matt Corbiere of Winchester Warm. Chris Elms (guitar) is a master of his craft, and has played in numerous blues and soul acts over the years. In his younger days, he even lent his beat-making and production skills to a few tracks featuring the Tupac-era California rap group The Outlawz.
Needless to say, this band contains some experience.
As the band took their positions on stage, there was excitement and nervousness in there air – no one really knew what to expect. These are great musicians, but who knew where this new direction would take them and what it would sound like? The first measure of the opening track “Beholden” put our anxieties at ease and soothed our minds, bodies, and souls. James’ intricate guitar flares and Barr’s groovy, funk-laden bass lines immediately got the bodies moving on the floor in front of them.
Cue Gilmour’s vocals. Who knew that a guy who cut his teeth in the early 2000’s underground punk and hardcore scenes could belt out soulful, RnB-inspired vocal melodies? Those close to him know that he’s been experimenting with this kind of vocal style for a while now, particularly in his other project Gold Bonds. Slack Bridges is a clear progression for him musically, as he seemed to easily shake off his nerves and explode with vocal energy. His vocals are unique, and he displayed an incredible amount of control as the songs were played live for the first time. Not to mention the sound in Dekcuf was on-point.
Other notable tracks that stood out were “Lion City”, “Smile But It’s Been a While”, and the irresistibly catchy “On My Wings.” One special treat during the set was their cover of “Between the Sheets” by The Isley Brothers, a song which is sampled often but rarely done so well on stage. The night was a success, and Slack Bridges have given us a taste of things to come.
I spoke to Gilmour about his past, and what drove him to form Slack Bridges.
Ottawa’s music community has been my primary binding force through which I’ve met innumerable creative people and learned some great lessons about community building. I’ve been making weird music for a while. With that in mind, I have always thought of music composition in a rather cerebral sense. Studying my fellow artists is how I’ve been inspired to challenge myself, while imitating pop culture is how I learned to have fun.
Soul and R&B music has been no exception. As an adult I had sung R&B ballads at karaoke to get a laugh from my friends, but as a child I grew up singing along to the first two Stevie Wonder and Boyz II Men records I had bought long before I knew the punk tradition existed. After some of my bands dissipated, it made experimenting with soul and R&B music more seriously in Slack Bridges and Gold Bonds a natural frontier for further exploration. I’m enjoying the ride.