Consider yourself warned – you’ve never heard a band like Downtown Boys before. Who knew so much noise and raw emotion could come out of Providence, Rhode Island? The band is set to play in town on Friday night at Zaphod’s, and the Byward Market should be battening down the hatches for this one.
When Rolling Stone deems you “America’s Most Exciting Punk Band,” people start to turn their heads. Earlier this month, Downtown Boys was featured in Rolling Stone again, this time in a list of “10 Great Modern Punk Bands.” They represent a generation of young, unapathetic people who have seen the injustices seemingly inherent within political institutions, experienced overt and systemic racism in day-to-day life, and unfair treatment of entire demographics of people in the US. Of particular concern are undocumented Latino Americans who are not only bearing the brunt of discriminatory immigration policies, but face further crackdowns and deportations with the surge of far-right immigration platforms from certain presidential candidates.
This band’s music is informed by their politics, and as we’ll hear later in this interview, the aforementioned issues hit close to home for some of the band members. Our friends Sofia (co-host of CHUO’s PRISM) and Anthony (host of CHUO’s Radio Active) had the opportunity to explore these topics and more with Victoria Ruiz and Mary Regalado of Downtown Boys ahead of their Friday show.
VR: I think it was a mix of me, Joey, and our former sax player Emmett, and I may have proposed ‘Born to Run’ but everyone else thought ‘Dancing in the Dark’ was a better fit for our band. I’m in another band with our guitar player Joey, and we cover a Springsteen song, and Joey has a solo band that covers a Springsteen song too. We’re just really big fans, and we have been very affected and influenced by him.
I actually just watched a video where Prince is interviewed on The View – a soccer mom daytime television show – and he mentioned Bruce Springsteen as this great musician. In winter we’ll cover his version of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ because we love that song.
What are your thoughts on Bruce’s boycott of North Carolina?
VR: I think him boycotting North Carolina is a powerful message to fans of his, but he also has the resources to boycott states. That’s not really an option that my band has. What’s interesting is that a day after he boycotted that show, we played a show there at Duke. I talked to the band about it and asked if it’s OK that we’re playing this show, and Joey said pointed out that ultimately, a formal boycott hasn’t been called in NC like it has been in Arizona. It was used as a tactic there to protest the racist anti-immigrant laws that were passed there. Right now there’s no formal boycott called, and Springsteen was flexing his economic power. That show could make hundreds of thousands of dollars, but most of Bruce’s fan base is mostly white and people that can afford tickets like that.
A band like Downtown Boys, we’re not making Springsteen bucks. Plus, at Duke there are probably people there that want us to be playing there in a time like this. So, that was interesting to think what a rock show means with respect to race, class, and power. So I really admire him and applaud him, but I also want to contextualize his decision based on the money his show would make and his audience.
What issues are you most concerned about right now?
VR: I think deportation is a really devastating and tragic thing right now. It’s really hard because the narrative of migration in the US is so connected to economics. It’s very difficult to build a movement and a movement and strong narrative about the power of undocumented people and families.
I’ve done a lot of organizing against police brutality and also with undocumented people in latino communities, and it’s like night and day. There is not the same populous line in the movement against the police right now that there is in the deportation movement and that’s really hard. What’s getting attention these days is this clean, “respectable” undocumented people who are in college and communicate in English perfectly, and live in nice communities. It feels like those are the stories we need in order to try and talk about undocumented people, but that’s not the real world.
“Respectability” in politics is really weighing down freedom and justice. When you have presidential candidates building walls or comprehensive immigration reform, and that’s not going to get us there. I’m nervous right now, friends and families are facing deportation. It’s pretty terrifying.
MR: Yeah, it really hits home. Maybe there isn’t momentum like with police brutality because undocumented people need to be subterranean and pushed underground. They have to try to be invisible to survive and avoid deportation.
VR: And that’s in all realms of life – not only in the workplace, but also reproductive health. If you want an abortion and you’re undocumented, you don’t even have the option of traveling to an abortion clinic. I’m third generation latina-American, and many people that have a similar history to me are very neoliberal. They want money and don’t realize that we’re in the same struggle as black people in the US against police brutality. There’s a lot of schism amongst the latino community is the community due to capitalism and patriarchy. That’s hard because we need to be building more like black and brown people, but a lot of Latinos feel the pressure to assimilate to whiteness. That schism is harming a lot of people right now.
MR: My mom is undocumented right now and it’s been a huge pain in the ass to get her papers in order. Her baptism certificate has a different name than she’s been using in the US so she had to go to court and get her name changed, pay lawyer fees, and she just doesn’t have the fucking resources for all that. When you’re undocumented, you’re getting paid way under minimum wage. White racists don’t understand the impact that these people have on the economy.
What is your favourite worst vice?
What is your favourite TV Show
VR: Grand Hotel
MR: Star Trek TNG and Masters of None
What is your favourite fruit?
Both: Pineapple across the board!
Your favourite band on Don Giovanni Records?
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
VR: Smoke weed
MR: Go back to sleep
Your favourite article of clothing?
MR: Big Sweater
What is the best swear word?
What impact do you hope to have as a band on an audience?
VR: I want people to think about systematic oppression and institutions, and leave with a feeling of energy and motivation, and an energy to resist.
Spectrasonic presents Downtown Boys at Zaphod’s this Friday, April 29, along with C.H.U.D.s and Doxx. Tickets are $12, available at Vertigo Records, or online here. Doors at 8pm, all ages & licensed 19+.
“You guys thought it was going to be exciting and it’s fucking depressing AGAIN!”
Sawbuck looks into the crowd with slight grin on his face. “That’s just how I roll,” he says, with a shrug as he launches into the final song of the evening, one which is, as promised, depressing in theme.
Sawbuck is one half of Buck n’ Nice, a local hip hop act that is standing out in a scene that is anything but dormant. Last summer, they played Bluesfest, an experience that seems to have galvanized their desire for glory.
Last night at Zaphod’s, Sawbuck and the other half of Buck n’ Nice, DJ So Nice, gave the crowd more than a peek at their new material, a sophomore album to be titled Emag. To mark the occasion, they brought a videographer and some of their hip hop friends along.
The night was a showcase of excellent Ottawa hip hop talent. Leading off the bill was rapper G.Grand, who originates from London, ON, and whose style is remarkably old school. His beats are groove-based, with a distinct jazz influence, with a bit of Kanye-esque soul sampling thrown in.
Last night, his lyrical prowess was apparent. He has lots of swagger on stage, and he knows how to feed the crowd. That made him an excellent opener.
CircaBeatz backed him up on the tables, but it appeared that the soundman had forgotten to turn up that line, because the sound backing G.Grand was a little on the weak side, which detracted from what was otherwise a great performance. While G.Grand has been around since 2012, he has the feel of a rapper who is just hitting his stride. It’s going to be nice to see more from him in the future.
Next up was wotts, a group that is just beginning to get more recognition for their unique style. The group has a rhythm section consisting of a blues guitar, provided by Ryan Farrell, and a beatboxer, MC Dimz. The ensemble creates a sound that can only be found in one place.
wotts is a band that doesn’t take the most serious of approaches to lyric writing. Their subject matter, compared to that of G.Grand and Buck n’ Nice, is of a much more jocular nature. But what they lack in intensity, they make up for in pure fun. They have a great time on stage, and the crowd feeds on that. The beatboxing from Dimz is really enjoyable to see live. The two MCs, Jayem and E, have a flow that is reminiscent of the Beastie Boys in their prime. To top it off, they were joined on stage by the Dynamite Motel and a keyboardist known only as Melinda, helping them recreate the sound of their most recent record, b.
Next to hit the stage were the headliners, Buck n’ Nice. They were backed by CircaBeatz on a live kit, which brought a level of intensity to the set that I have rarely seen in a hip hop show. They immediately brought the tone to a much darker place, as Sawbuck recited a poem he wrote when he was depressed over the summer.
It’s clear that much of Emag comes from that same vibe. The crowd last night was treated to nearly 45 minutes of material from the new album, which must be close to all of it, and it is what one might call “gritty.” With themes of genocide and despair, the record is sounding far more introspective and challenging than the group’s debut, Us Versus Them.
They put on a great show. Sawbuck was on top of his game. He owned the stage like a tiger would his cage. And So Nice’s beats were, as usual, loud and complex simultaneously. These guys are a couple of veterans and it shows.
They’re very clearly in a place where they feel comfortable with the music they’re making. Sawbuck recounted an anecdote of someone telling them that they were offended by one of the band’s songs.
“And you know what? We made it the single,” he said.
All in all, the evening was great. It ended at 11pm, which is early for hip hop, but just right for a work night. Maybe that sounds boring, but I’m too practical to care.
It began as any stress-filled night of a student in finals week, in an exam room. As I anxiously scratched out my final exam of the semester, I anticipated what my night would bring. Deciding relatively last minute that my final night in Ottawa before heading home for the holidays should be spent bringing in the break with gusto, the annual Amos the Transparent Holiday Show seemed like my perfect solution. Although somewhat unfamiliar with the groups, I was excited to head out with friends and kick off the season with a bang!
Mere moments before arriving at Zaphod Beeblebrox, I ran into a friend who was quick to amp me up on Amos the Transparent. An Ottawa native, he was familiar with their sound and show’s energy and assured me I was in for a time.
When I did finally arrive, Mountain Eyes was ramping up. He was sporting a carefully selected mountain-themed sweater, which made it easy to confirm exactly which artist he was. Mountain Eyes brought his unique vibes through his original tracks. I snapped a couple pictures, grabbed a beer and got myself ready for what was now set to be a good night of music. After a quick turn around, The Stringers took to the stage. The crowd started to fill the floor and it was nice to see a mixed crowd all there for the same reason, good music and holiday cheer. The Stringers brought energy to the crowd with their own original tracks from their album, which features an alternative indie rock sound. They also treated us to what they explained to be their first song, which was an unexpected, yet well received, Amy Winehouse cover.
When it finally came time for Amos the Transparent, they took the stage with more energy than I could have expected. Bringing out a number of their original tracks, each musician plays to their own talent and strengths, putting power behind each song. Recently, the band has been covering influential songs of each of their personal music journeys, which has been dubbed the Undercover Sessions on YouTube. These songs included anything from Radiohead to the Beatles. They kicked off the evening with Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and also brought to the stage Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” and Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
Needless to say, as a Haligonian, my new life in the Ottawa music scene is still very much in its “toddler years.” The world is new and exciting, and I have the chance to experience anything and everything Ottawa has to offer for the first time. This Holiday Show put on by Amos the Transparent was no different, as once again I went in, blind to their music, aside from the few YouTube videos and rave reviews from friends, and I left far from disappointed.
Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Alexandra is releasing her debut full-length album Lucid Dreaming this weekend, an emotive 10-track opus she composed after pursuing her lifelong love of poetry and piano.
Diving into Lucid Dreaming without knowing what to expect, one might be surprised to learn that this is the first stab that Alexandra has taken at writing music. The first track “Anicca” exemplifies the imaginative lyrics, intricate compositional elements, and the gentle-yet-rubust character that the entire album exudes. There is an undeniable pop aesthetic and appeal to her music, as well as beautiful and delicate vocal and instrumental moments that pull back and offer restraint. The maturity she demonstrates as an artist on this album is one of the most impressive aspects of it – it is a great listen front to back and contains several tracks that feel like radio hits. Who knew she’s only been in the music game for a couple years?
“Music has been a constant in my life, but has multiplied in importance to me in recent years,” Alexandra explains.
“I’ve always loved music: I find comfort in relating to others’ lyrics, am easily moved by certain sounds and melodies, and have played the piano since I was a child. But when I began writing and singing my own songs two years ago, music became more. It helped me express my emotions, overcome struggles, and gain confidence. I now consider music a defining element of my personal growth and identity.”
Lucid Dreaming was recorded at Academy Records with Eric St-Cyr in Ottawa, and is officially released on May 15. “[Recording in-studio] unlocked new layers of my imagination and will absolutely influence my song-writing in a positive way. I’m very grateful for the experience.” Alexandra describes the leading single “Lullaby” as an irresistibly catchy song about finding comfort in the uncomfortable. This song, as well as others such as “3:33” contain an atmospheric, open hall sound that is reminiscent of Lykke Li or BANKS. Speaking of which, you can listen to Alexandra’s incredible cover of BANKS’s track “Waiting Game” on her Soundcloud here.
Songs such as “Tall Tree Lane” and “Blue Moonlight” are visceral, penetrating examples of her ability to create a story and translate it into an emotional experience that listeners feel, rather than just listen to. The title track and “September” bring us back to a lighter, more upbeat place on the album. Lucid Dreaming‘s flow allows the listener to stay with the whole album, never losing us or getting too comfortable in a specific type of sound.
Although Alexandra hasn’t been performing very long, there’s no doubt that she’s excited to play her album release at Zaphod’s on May 15.
“I’m shy by nature, so singing in public for the first time was a huge milestone for me,” she says. “The audience turned out to be very attentive and encouraging, and even started clapping along to one of my original songs. I was so happy. Immediately after leaving the stage, I wanted to go up and perform again. As cliché as it is, I felt like I had finally started pursuing something meaningful. I was inspired and driven to continue.”
An electronic dream pop duo from Ottawa called Willows just released their debut EP this week titled An Empty Room Filled With People. A subdued “Part 1” on their Bandcamp beneath the five tracks is all we have to hint at the possibility of an LP in the works.
Fans of Ottawa’s The Adding Machine will recognize the face of energetic rapper Defckon but maybe not his voice. Here Johnny McArthur takes his vocals to a level that he can’t in rap, taking it higher and lower than humanly possible with synthetic effects. The technological tricks don’t cover up a lack of pitch however, as Johnny is spot on with his harmonics. His partner Eric Moore also adds his voice to the track “Said It’s Over,” and both provide all the bass, guitar & keys on each song.
While this EP and project are brand new, the two have been making music independently and as a duo for a few years running. Willows is the latest manifestation of their work together, however in the past they have experimented in everything from hip hop to down-tempo electro, and even metal.
These are sad songs, hybrids of shoegaze and electro pop. There’s something catchy about all this heartbreak particularly in the track “Destitute” and “True.” What stands out about this record is that the myriad of influences can be heard, even if only briefly. It is pop at its core, but don’t be mistaken – there are layers to the album that can slowly be peeled off with each song and each listen. This kind of music isn’t as prevalent in Ottawa, and it’s refreshing to see artists experimenting with different sounds and styles. Willows pushes the envelope to deliver five songs that truly stand on their own.
Willows played their first show as a unit at Zaphod’s on December 17, which Eric covered. We hope to see them out there again soon, one gets the feeling as though these guys are just getting started. Cop a feel below!
Breakdown Wednesday’s Christmas Edition at Zaphod’s was the most eclectic show I have attended all year. The night saw electro, pop-punk, hip-hop and progressive metal bands grace the stage.
Kicking off this night was Willows, a very interesting band to say the least. Playing only their second show, this electro duo was really impressive. What really stuck out was the vocal range of the singer. No song really sounded the same on his end as he displayed great variety over some pretty captivating beats. Definitely looking forward to seeing and hearing more from these guys, in the mean time I strongly recommend you check out their song “True.”
Rydell live at Zaphod’s in Ottawa, Ontario.
“Come have fun with us, most of these songs aren’t even Rydell songs,” is how Rydell lead-singer opened up their set. He wasn’t kidding as the band opened with “Sex” by The 1975, “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, and “You’re So Last Summer” by Taking Back Sunday. “It’s like karaoke without the screen and I know the words,” said the singer. Rydell was playing a bunch of covers because they have been writing so much new material and figured it would be fun to play others’ music. It started off okay but then took a little turn down a rocky road as they jumped into Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue.” They struggled with the lyrics pretty bad after getting through the first verse and chorus. They did recover, however, by performing possibly the first ever hardcore breakdown during a Yellowcard song… After that they decided to play songs they knew better, like their own, playing a new song off their upcoming album and then “Lost Boys.” They left us with a great image, “We are the drunk uncle that shows up at Christmas and kisses you on the cheek. Merry Christmas!” The bass player also happens to be one of the most animated musicians in town.
Up next was local rap trio The Adding Machine. They were super in-your-face heavy aggressive rap, which is not 100 per cent my preference in the hip-hop world, but it was still an enjoyable set. I must compliment them on how fast they spit it sometimes though, it blew my mind. They also had pretty good energy and really moved around on stage using all the space. What was really interesting was that the vocalist from Willows is part of the group and had I not seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. With Willows he appeared a little shy, awkward and sang some love songs, but with The Adding Machine he sported a completely different personality.
We Were the Fires of Rome slaying it at Zaphod’s in Ottawa, Ontario.
Headlining the show was a band called We Were The Fires of Rome. The local prog-metal group impressed me right away, starting their opening track with violin and some keys – not what you see everyday. We Were The Fires of Rome are a pretty perfect match for fans of Protest the Hero, but what is great is they navigate the genre perfectly avoiding most clichés. They don’t fear or shy away from off beats and integrate pretty technical guitar playing seamlessly. It was super entertaining to watch the singer/screamer bounce back and forth from his mic at the front of the stage to playing the keys and singing at the same time. And when he was tired of the stage, he got down with the fans, leaving the stage to sing during “Dreams.” I am always impressed when a singer can also be the screamer and do it as well as they do and nailing the transition so smoothly. The track “Kissing Knives” is a really solid track, probably my favourite of their set. The band was tight and also put on a very entertaining show – two things that do not always go hand in hand, but are much appreciated as a fan in the crowd.