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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.