Photo by Steve Gullick
Back in November, I made my way through the vast, smoky, U-shaped venue that is Babylon Nightclub. The floor was flooded with blue and purple lights, and concert-goers lounged in booths while others eyed the band merch near the front. I was surprised to see only a handful of people, but that was soon to change. This night’s bill was packed with some rockin’ Canadian bands that the folks at the country show next door definitely missed out on.
Ottawa’s own Warp Lines were the openers, and drew people in from every corner of the space. Maybe it was the sudden vibrancy of their sound, or maybe it was bassist Kurt Rafuse who was already leaping around, bright-eyed to the beat of the drums. The three-piece, with members and past members of The Yips, Big Dick and Million Dollar Marxists, were as energetic as ever. They added their own flare on what some might consider the unvaried pop-punk style, experimenting with tones and adding minute details with the guitar and drums.
During “Waited Long Enough,” Dave Sec drummed with intricate technique. There was a sweet contrast between the thickness of the toms and the hissing of the cymbals. His movements were punchy and rapid. Still, the multitasker managed to sing out the lyrics in his quivering yet emphatic voice. Rafuse’s energy was contagious, prompting smiles on the other guys faces as he played his bass smoothly and consistently. On top of the bass, O’s guitar brightened up the roughness of their sound. Even with the slight crunch to it, I found the guitar jumpy and vibrant.
The music they played was catchy and familiar, and though Warp Lines was a considerably smaller band than those that were to come, folks around me chanted the words along with them. I’d only seen Warp Lines a few times before, but each time I have I can see that same liveliness they put into their performance. This time was no different!
Dead Soft came on with a shock, their first song a short melodic instrumental blaring from the speakers. “How the hell are ya, Ottawa?” was the outfit’s frontman Nathaniel Epp’s first words. They jumped into their set, the venue engulfed with their fullness. Fans of acts like Big Bite or Woolworm would get a kick out of this Vancouver four-piece, who released their EP New Emotion back in October.
I remember thinking they sounded really beautiful and fresh, between the harmonizing of the vocals and the really interesting layering of sounds. I caught specks of The Strokes in the structure and sound of their music. They came together with the guitar, supported by the bass to make a heavy and synchronized blanket of sound. Epp and guitarist Kyle Schick shared distortion drenched power pop/math rock influenced riffs, often playing around with little reverb-washed licks and solos. Through all of it, Alex Smith’s bass drum powered through, and you could feel each strong thump in your chest.
Epp’s voice rang out, going from vulnerable to rough and angry. He let notes linger and draw out, giving an almost doom-like effect. It was backed up by bassist Keeley Rochon, who let her voice intertwine with those of Epp and Schick.
It was my first time hearing anything from Dead Soft—I’d seen the name float around, but never taken the time to give them a listen. That being said, it’s definitely worth it to check out these self-proclaimed “Grunge punk[s] for the people”.
“The Nil put on a great show” was among some of the chatting I overheard before the final set. Boy, that sure was right. Hamilton, Ontario’s superstars (AND 2017 Juno Award winners) The Dirty Nil appeared on stage, “bathed in light”. As drummer Kyle Fisher reminded us, The Nil hadn’t played Ottawa since House of Targ’s 2017 Juno Fest, and were ready to tear the place apart.
They kicked off with “That’s What Heaven Feels Like,” a hit off of their newest record Master Volume which was released with Dine Alone Records in early September. Right off the bat, you could tell these guys knew how to work a crowd. Luke Bentham, in his signature star-adorned shirt, moved with his guitar like a true rocker. He would hold it out in front of him and let those strong tones hang in the air, the sound crisp and metallic with the perfect tint of distortion. It fit perfectly with their style, which felt like a unique amalgamation of garage, punk, and good ol’ rock n’ roll. As if the catchy n’ slick classic rock inspired riffs he busted out weren’t badass enough, Bentham showed off his gymnastic skills with back-bends that made me question the laws of physics.
Ross Miller was the epitome of stage presence, grinning as he stepped across the stage and demonstrated his groovy moves. He danced along the frets with ease, giving character to each note he played. The bass was like glue—it tied the harmonic and melodic elements together. Miller belted out the chorus to “Fuckin’ Up Young” alongside bubblegum-chewing Bentham, whose throaty, gritty vocals sliced through the atmosphere. They were almost overwhelmed by the crowd, actually, who cried out each and every word of every single song. Meanwhile, bolts of noise broke out from Kyle “Starchild” Fisher’s hollow snare. I found they contrasted the round beats of the bass drum. Fisher thrashed the cymbals, the clanging mirroring the chaos of the moshing crowd below. It’s rare that I see an audience go as berserk as this one did, especially when the first booming chords of “Wrestle Yü to Hüsker Dü” were played.
The Nil are by far some of the most charismatic musicians you’ll ever see. They present as unhinged, carefree and fun with their banter and crowd interaction, but they’re also just flat out good at what they do. If you’re a fan of bands like The Menzingers or Dead To Me, these guys are for you. Really, if you’re a fan of having a good fucking time, all three bands made this show the place for you to be.
I wanted to toss in a big thank you to the staff at Babylon for being super great and helpful throughout the whole night, and for not tolerating any shitty behaviour from crowd members. If you plan on harassing people at shows, or anywhere for that matter, don’t expect to be welcomed. Have fun, but don’t ruin anyone else’s.