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Repetition is well a recurring theme in Calgary’s music scene. And while there’s nothing wrong with checking out a biannual appearance from Thee Oh Sees or watching your favourite local bands play your favourite local bar (for real it rules) there’s something to be said about the newbies that trek out to Sled Island each year. Hell the festival’s organizers even call their wristbands “Discovery Passes.”
In that spirit we’re happy to present you with some of the fest’s best and brightest new acts. Whether they’re newly formed projects or just acts playing Sled for the first time get to know some of the festival’s future stars.
ADVERTISEMENT (Lethbridge Alberta)
(Thursday June 19 Dickens 9:30 p.m.)
While Lethbridge may still be best known for its garage explosion Advertisement present a whole new look for the city: Its members — Ryan Grieve Adrian Sutherland and Nigel Derksen — bonded over a love of the Wipers and from there worked in some AmRep touches for good measure. The result? A pummelling brand of bowel-stirring rock that’s equal parts post-punk melody and hefty noise.
“We still don’t sound like the Wipers” says Sutherland but “the influence is still there.”
“We got together hoping to write some songs in that vein” adds Grieve. “It naturally came out heavier than intended.”
That’s an understatement. Their Bandcamp-released EP Advertising stomps its way through feedback squalls with Sutherland’s growling vocals setting the pace. Beneath that thick layer of noise are “abstraction social awareness issues and horror themes” all delivered with a dystopic cynical penchant. No surprise considering Bill Hicks and David Lynch are dropped as non-musical influences. “The unsettling feeling David Lynch captures is exactly what I like to aim for with the music” says Sutherland.
But through it all Lethbridge — and okay Jesus Lizard and Shellac — provides the thematic backbone to Advertisement who are planning a 10-song cassette with Victoria’s Shake! Records. “A lot of my inspiration comes from Lethbridge [and] the lovely people creating in town” says Grieve. “I’m going to throw 4th Wave Freaks zine a queer and feminist zine based in Lethbridge a shout out as they have become a pillar in making Lethbridge a safe and creative place.” Now there’s a worthy advertisement.
COACH LONGLEGS (St. John’s Newfoundland)
(Friday June 20 No. 1 Legion upstairs 9:30 p.m.)
(Saturday June 21 Local 510 parking pot 2:30 p.m.)
When we ask newfound DIY pop outfit Coach Longlegs about their origins the band gives us a wonderfully cryptic response riddled with proper nouns. “The story” the band writes via Facebook chat “involves the legendary Vancouver band the Greenbelt Collective ex-Maximum Rocknroll columnist Juls Generic Alden Penner’s 2004 birthday party a guy named Forehead the sound of snow falling on water and the fact that bands live and die in St. John’s with an incredible ease.”
We were sold at “a guy named Forehead.” But that’s saying nothing of their music: Through two releases xFragranceFreex and No Dogs At Shows the St. John’s outfit built a sound around gloriously messy melodies exuberant all-in gang vocals and ValVille keyboards. It’s a sound that Coach Longlegs admits shares plenty of similarities to New York art-punk outfit Japanther. “We have a singing drummer fuzzed-out bass and [live] keyboards and although we lack their anthemic quality I think it’d be fair to call us Japanther rip-offs.”
That’s not a bad thing though. And as silly as their song titles sound there’s a gleeful earnest positivity to tracks like “All You Have to Do is Try” “Everything is Okay” “Give a Shit” and “Everyone is in Charge of Themselves.”
They aren’t necessarily tongue-in-cheek. “‘No Dogs at Shows’ is a straightforward message based on the fact that dogs have extremely sensitive hearing” writes the band. “‘xFragranceFreex’ addresses the unnecessary dangers of scents and perfumes in as direct a manner as possible. ‘No More Gendered Bathrooms’ is a clear statement against institutionalized discrimination.
“Radical change is almost effortlessly within reach.” Indeed. And in Coach Longlegs’ words all you have to do is try.
HOLGANS (Calgary Alberta)
(Thursday June 19 Commonwealth 11 p.m.)
The multi-faceted Calgary-based project Holgans is as much an art project as a band — the group grew from a residency that Ryan Bourne and Kiarra Albina completed at 809 Gallery sharing respective visual art they’d been working on for years. From there they released The Night Garden an artbook and 10-song accompaniment.
“I really wanted to perform the material so my band started playing songs off the record with Albina on vocals and our vision for Holgans kind of crystalized with the End of the World Festival where we played our first full Holgans set with animations by Albina homemade projection screens and a five-piece band” says Bourne. “Since January 2012 we’ve had a solid lineup: Kiarra Albina Eddie Dalrymple Ivan Reese Mel McWilliams and myself.”
The group’s artist statement includes references to Hakim Bey and they add the likes of Tarkovsky Geneviève Castrée Gregory Corso and “European water-spirit legends” to their growing list of thematic touchstones.
Holgans have arrived fully formed in a city that’s ready to support them. “The scene is great for people starting out” says Albina. “It’s very positive and supportive — probably because of the political climate of the province and the values of the general population — people are just happy to have a scene it seems and it yields some interesting music.
“But it doesn’t do much to encourage artists to grow and develop” she continues. “At a certain point you have to leave or else live inside the Internet… or something… I don’t know.”
That restlessness has seen the group churning out new material including the artbook Elemental Trust I / Hiders and a handful of new songs recorded with Viet Cong’s Scott Munro.
“Calgary can be incredibly boring. We may be leaving very soon” Albina says adding “But we’ll be back.”
We’ll take that as a promise.
JAMES DEEN (Kelowna British Columbia)
(Thursday June 19 Hifi Club 10 p.m.)
It’s surprising that James Deen or Brennan Henderson to his mom produces laid-back stargazing synth-pop from his Okanagan Valley bedroom. Kelowna might be known for its wines but it certainly doesn’t seem like a chillwave hot spot. “The scene is pretty weird to put it bluntly. It seems like you either have to be a club DJ playing Top 40s and EDM stuff or an alt-folk band to get booked around here” he says. “I mean it is understandable Kelowna is only so big…. I like to do my own thing anyways.”
That thing is mellowed-out atmospheric fare that landed him a relationship with French label Cosmonostro which put out his Cashmere EP. Deen describes the three-song collection as a joke-rap beat writ large a moodier cut and one all-out smile-inducing slice of chillwave. “In the end the only thing I ever try to do with music is make people happy” he says. We blush.
His association with Cosmonostro he says has earned him fans in Europe — a place he’s yet to play. “Frankie [Patrinostro] from Rhythm Music who’s posted my music in the past and does visuals for Cosmonostro sometimes just showed the label head one of my tracks and he was stoked” he says. “It’s crazy how much that label has done for me.”
We’re still waiting for his LP but it might prove to be a transformation: He says James Deen’s style is evolving along with his no-limitations Bristold project which involves faster tempos more varied chords and “non-serious music you could groove to.”
“Now the lines are beginning to blur” he adds.
If Deen didn’t seem likable enough already he sent this parting shot to Sled Island-goers. “I would just like to say that if you ever listened to my music thank you that shirt looks very nice on you and have a great weekend because you deserve it.” Okay now we’re full-on blushing.
PHALEC BALDWIN (Saskatoon Saskatchewan)
(Thursday June 19 No. 1 Legion 10:30 p.m.)
“No regrets on the name — getting a cheap laugh takes priority over casting some kind of mystique.” So say the members of Saskatoon’s Phalec Baldwin via an email and they couldn’t be more right. While the penis-meets-Jack-Donaghy moniker is easily the dumbest on Sled’s marquee (and that’s really saying something what with Technical Kidman and all) it also serves its purpose well. Memorable and unique in a sea of bland band names it’s — to borrow from TV and movies once again — so dumb that it just might work.
The group came together in late 2013. “Phalec Baldwin was a mantra shouted into the night on the lawn of an xmas kegger — a battle cry against sexual injustice and mundanity” they write. And while their name might suggest some sort of mouth-breathing party punk Phalec Baldwin have actually filled their Bandcamp with lo-fi doom pop songs that are at once haunted and haunting. It’s still fun to be sure but also much more bleak than one might expect.
“Musically the target is a sound that is accessibly off-putting (we prefer the orthography ‘off-pudding’) subliminal subhuman refined catchy uncomfortable occult educational and comical” they say citing disparate reference points that include ’90s alternative krautrock Aldous Huxley 20th century poster art goth fashion and anarchism among others.
On their trip to Calgary Phalec Baldwin will bring a captivating collection of sounds some of which will be available on a four-song cassette via the newly minted Saskatoon concern Beaumont Records. We’ll certainly be paying attention as there’s something down-to-earth and downright funny about the always self-effacing group: “Our application to Sled Island was motivated by a friend saying ‘you should apply to Sled Island’ and one of us saying ‘I want to see Spiritualized and I want it to be free or subsidized.’”
PROJECT PABLO (Vancouver British Columbia)
(Thursday June 19 East Village Riverwalk Plaza 4:30 p.m.)
It’s no secret that Vancouver’s latest greatest musical export is its world-class electronic music scene with labels like Mood Hut Hybridity More Than Human and the ever-weird 1080p cranking out top-tier releases on a regular basis.
Patrick Holland is one of many kids making it all happen. One of three amigos behind the immaculate ASL Singles Club he’s mostly made house music under the barely-Googleable 8prn moniker. This year alone the SFU music student has participated in the Red Bull Music Academy’s Bass Camp changed his name to Project Pablo and released the first of two EPs for Hybridity.
After switching studios and collecting some ’90s house records Holland started to draw inspiration from “all the distortion and swung grooves the producers were using.”
Further he felt it was time to simplify. “I felt these new works didn’t fit the 8prn moniker the original purpose of the name being the radio call sign of a sunken ship” he says. “I aim to keep things simple and stripped down as much as I can. With 8prn stuff I was adding layers on layers — too many ideas in my opinion — so I want to go against that and really siphon out the excess.”
Those pared-down productions formed the Basic EP. Far from the Urban Dictionary-favoured insult Holland’s latest EP revels in thoughtful simplicity.
Letting his studious side shine he offered an explanation for each of the EP’s tracks. “The track ‘Holdin’ On’ has the same drum loop throughout its entirety with some added variation and the same goes for the B-side ‘Boat.’ Both of them play off of a bass-line hook while different harmonies moved around them. So conceptually I was going for a simple/basic feel. Nothing too distracting from the main idea.”
Basic will be followed by a 12-inch EP called Utensils set to arrive in August via Hybridity. Towards the end of the summer Project Pablo plans to relocate to Montreal.
SARAH DAVACHI (Vancouver British Columbia)
(Thursday June 19 Central United Church 8 p.m.)
(Sunday June 22 CJSW on-air performance 8 p.m.)
For Calgarian-turned-Oaklander-turned-Vancouverite Sarah Davachi the obsession all began with a Sequential Circuits Prophets 5. While Davachi was classically trained in piano her first borrowed synthesizer immersed her in the world of electroacoustic music which led her to Oakland’s Mills College for a master’s in electronic music landed her in Vancouver and will see her music released by Cincinnati ambient label Students of Decay Berlin’s Make Noise Eurorack and California’s Constellation Tatsu. Colour us impressed.
“Studying at Mills was the most aesthetically liberating experience I’ve had to date” she says of her time in Oakland. “Being immersed in the Bay Area which has been associated with experimentalism for several decades also had a pretty profound impact on my approach to composition…. I also quickly discovered that compositionally it allows one to create textures and movements that would otherwise be more or less impossible.”
Davachi for her part also says she’s evolving her craft — she began manipulating acoustic instruments toying with digital recording and figuring out how to create music for a live context. Thus far her hypnotic lush compositions have unrolled over two releases The Untuning of the Sky and August Harp and she professes she’s particularly interested in synth sounds from the late 1960s through the ’80s. “I wouldn’t say that as a composer I do anything particularly unique but there are certainly materials that I often return to” she says. “I like featuring extended tones and textures especially ones that are very rich or lush and simple harmonic structures because they seem to me the most effective way to really encompass the listener in sound and force them to focus on its internal intricacies.”
Davachi — who worked at the National Music Centre as a gallery interpreter and talks happily about instruments like the EMS Synthi 100 and Ondes Martenot — plans on taking that music as far as she can and already she has Vancouver’s New Forms Festival Winnipeg’s Send + Receive and San Francisco Electronic Music Festival planned. “This year is shaping up to be pretty nuts” she adds. In the best possible way of course.
TIGERWING (Calgary Alberta)
(Thursday June 19 Broken City 10 p.m.)
Tigerwing exists where melodrama meets melody. The project of Sarah Kelly is as much indebted to electro-pop and industrial music as it is to pure performance art with live shows dabbling in both practices. After honing her skills as a pianist through Andrew Lloyd Webber sheet music her ultimate musical evolution came through the unlimited possibilities of Ableton Live.
Though she’s only been working as Tigerwing for a short period of time Kelly has populated Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages with plenty of digital releases. Which as she puts it “isn’t exactly the preferred method because the over-saturation of self-published work on the Internet seems to bury a lot of art in a vapid wasteland.”
That’s set to change soon however as she hopes to transition from web-based releases to something more tangible. Ultimately her goal is “to create the perfect hybrid of art and music — but I want to separate those as little as possible — and try and release it into the world in as many forms that aren’t just the Internet as I can.”
Playing Sled Island should be a good start for getting her work out in the open. It’ll also hopefully help her find her niche within the city’s music scene. Having only started performing last September she’s yet to figure out where she fits.
“Calgary is full of very talented artists and it is open to and supportive of experimental endeavours but sometimes I feel like the realm of ‘laptop music’ doesn’t really turn this city on” she says. “Though I’m really grateful for the love so far I’m still looking for a home in between the trippy experimental homies and bands that make great pop music.”
FAST FORWARD ALSO RECOMMENDS:
These three acts have made their way out to Sled Island in the past (though Technical Kidman were flooded out of their performance last year). Still we can’t help but feel they’re still flying under the radar just waiting to be discovered.
CONSTRUCTION & DESTRUCTION (Port Greville Nova Scotia)
(Thursday June 19 Local 510 6:30 p.m.)
(Saturday June 21 Wine-Oh’s 8 p.m.)
When we say that no one in Canada — or the world — sounds like Nova Scotia duo Construction & Destruction it’s not an empty platitude: Through a fistful of releases they’ve spun a shape-shifting aesthetic based around howling folk spaced-out distortion and dreamy minimalism. And 2013’s Dark Lark allowed the duo of Colleen Collins and Dave Trenaman to push their wide-open aesthetic even further.
“As with all our albums the pursuit could be said to be communicating with and questioning the past and present and future” the band writes in an email on the road with fellow Nova Scotian Jon McKiel. “[We want] to create a lasting document of our experiences filtered and distilled that might endure and illuminate…. We want to locate ourselves in time and have agency in describing that time.
“And we feel that there’s a darkness in our time that needs to be articulated. Though we see larks and the act of making work as hopeful.”
Much of that work centres on the rural town of Port Greville N.S. where the band records at the Quarantine and the duo naps makes out then gets into “vigorous music-making.” So why isolate themselves when larger musical communities like the ones in Sackville and Halifax exist?
“The geography of the area is particularly provocative and evocative…. We have the privilege of observing the ever-changing sea and the littoral which broadens our perspective and locates us in the scope of a larger unfurling” they say. “The rural quiet has caused us to reckon with it as a presence and not an absence…. And the lack of a scene of an immediate music-commodifying machine means we feel less oppression and less need to justify our trajectory.”
Which isn’t to say they don’t love nearby scenes. When we ask them to recommend maritime bands at Sled they’re quick to recommend McKiel Quaker Parents Crosss Heaven For Real and Coach Longlegs. “And apologies to any we’ve overlooked.”
GHIBLI (Edmonton Alberta)
(Thursday June 19 Hifi Club 11 p.m.)
If there’s beef between hands-up EDM types and club music’s high-minded underground Edmonton techno wunderkind Ghibli wants no part of it. “The huge EDMonton thing is a blessing in disguise” he says of the city’s electronic scene. “Because I have a feeling that in a few years there’s going to be a lot of cross-pollination between big EDM stars and fans and underground tastemakers and cool kids. I’m excited!”
Ghibli — who also goes by Tom Mike — points to nights like Night Comfort and Drama Hands’ Rude Haus Raves as “integral” in building Edmonton’s scene but his own output reflects plenty well on the city too: His Chipped Nails project covers his every musical whim. His imprint Manicure Records compiles techno house and electro from the far-flung corners of the Internet. “It’s all about people who don’t normally produce music” he says of the label. “I don’t have an immediate vision apart from just putting out quality stuff and having great stuff to DJ with.”
But Ghibli a beat-making outlet focused on crisp production and blissful grooves is his major obsession. “It’s all about French house. My first true love is pretty much the only thing I’m going to be putting out under the Ghibli name.”
As for the obsession with manicures in his music? “[That’s about] embracing things that have been shunned by mostly straight white males like manicures nail polish lipstick makeup etc. There’s too much crazy bro energy in dance music today — I want to make a queerer more femme-friendly space in the Internet.” Amen to that.
TECHNICAL KIDMAN (Montreal Quebec)
(Friday June 20 No. 1 Legion 11:30 p.m.)
(Saturday June 21 CJSW on-air performance 1:30 p.m.)
Listening to Montreal’s Technical Kidman — the electronic outfit made up of Mathieu Arsenault Thomas B. Champagne and Pierre-Luc Simon — is a markedly intense experience. But that’s by design. “We’ve always had a tendency for extremes” says Arsenault. “People have used the words ‘wall of sound’ a lot to describe us and I think I like that. We aim at making something physical overwhelming even.”
Arsenault cites Montreal’s boundary-pushers as brethren — he mentions Suuns Doldrums and Femminielli Noir among others — that he calls “hybrids.” It’s a good way to think of their Jace Lasek-produced A Stranger Voice which replaced pedal-washed guitars for dialed-to-11 samplers and synthesizers. Lurking beneath the band’s ferocity are samples from TV commercials — far from being a rote critique of commercialism Arsenault says he was forced to evaluate the cultural impact of those advertisements.
“Since we were looking to use the sampler in a way that felt genuine to us we started looking for sounds we had a strong emotional response to” he says. “[TV ads are] a condensed exaggerated version of the culture they came from. They’re like an underlined summary of all the popular musical and visual trends of a time.
“And even though disposable I’ve seen them a lot more times than I’ve seen the shows or movies I was watching in between them…. They had a very strong impact on the wiring of my heart.” So does that mean there’s a Body Break sample hidden deep behind the noise? We’re not holding our breath.