Soggy Island

Words: Jeremy Curry // Photos courtesy of Sled Island

The 'Chunk! (photo: David Coombe)

The ‘Chunk! (photo: David Coombe)

This year’s Sled Island was one of the most bizarre times in recent memory. Not only for the festival, but also for the city of Calgary. On the Thursday of the fest it was announced that there was a state of emergency in our city. Usually when these kinds of warnings happen, it seems premature. This time, it was serious. The Elbow and Bow rivers had flooded, spilling over into many areas around the city, including the downtown core and many central areas where the festival housed most of its events. It was announced later on the Thursday evening that many homes and business had to be evacuated, and a lot of the venues for the fest were being shut down. It was later announced on the Friday morning that the festival had been completely cancelled. The city was a complete mess, and we are still trying to rebuild and get everything back to its normal state. Who knows how long that could take? But with major events like the Calgary Stampede and the Folk Festival quickly approaching, the city needs to rush to get ready for these big tourist attractions.

Jay Arner (photo: Jesse Locke)

Jay Arner (photo: Jesse Locke)

It was very unfortunate for Sled Island to cancel the festival, but overall, it was for the best. Some of the venues didn’t even have power for days on end, and a lot of out-of-town bands had tours that needed to continue. People were stuck in different quadrants of the city, and many of them who were displaced were staying with friends, family, or just a generous host until it was safe to go home. But wherever you were, bands managed to find places that would host a show. Many of these were littered around the city after hearing about the festival cancellation, with donations going to the touring bands and/or flood relief funds. Despite all of the crummy water bringing everyone down, the spirit of camaraderie and DIY shows throughout the whole mess made everything a hell of a lot better. I managed to check out Jay Arner and the Ketamines at a house party six blocks from where I was staying on the Friday night, and my friends at Weird Canada managed to put together a last minute rager at Tubby Dog, which was one of the venues fortunate enough to stay open during the whole ordeal. They managed to keep live music going throughout the night, which is just one more reason to love that place.

Teledrome (photo: Arif Ansari)

Teledrome (photo: Arif Ansari)

The first couple of days before the storm were still a lot of fun, so I’d like to tell you about that. The opening show on the Tuesday was at the Commonwealth, which had two floors of bands playing, including Teledrome and Gold, who I’ve mentioned in previous articles as local favourites of mine. Teledrome have a nice mix of synth pop/punk that can become a huge earworm if you aren’t careful. The synth pop thing may be a bit on the goofin’ side, but having a guilty pleasure is always a-ok. Gold played a fantastic set of fuzzed-out pop jams oozing that sort of jangly guitar tone (think Johnny Marr) that makes you want to grab a jumbo Mr. Freeze.

Gold (photo: Arif Ansari)

Gold (photo: Arif Ansari)

Wednesday was a special treat. It started off again at the Commonwealth, where saxophone sorcerer Colin Stetson was headlining a fantastic show. The night started off with another great local band, New Friends. Heavy drones poured from a strange pyramid box on stage, with primitive haunted caveperson grooves. It was the perfect creepy chill before seeing Bitter Fictions, with a pedal-on-pedal solo guitar sandwich. I would stuff this one in the shoegaze category, considering I was watching his feet move around the whole time. A powerful sound from a single soul.

Bitter Fictions (photo: Arif Ansari)

Bitter Fictions (photo: Arif Ansari)

Astral Swans, the solo project of Matt Swann, was another nice surprise. It was a nice bit of folk, and often quite minimal. The whole show was beginning to feel like an eclectic mixtape. After these opening acts, the venue began to fill up. It was so packed, but once Colin Stetson came on, I forgot where I was. This set was an amazing thing to witness, and his repetitive honks and circular breathing techniques put me in a trance. If it weren’t so busy, I would have stretched out on the floor.

Colin Stetson (photo: Arif Ansari)

Colin Stetson (photo: Arif Ansari)

After that insane show, I wandered over to Tubby Dog, where Hex Ray was just about to play. This is another local favourite of mine. They’re like a prog/garage/jam combo with funny lyrics about saxophones. The jams are tight and, ultimately, it’s a positive experience all around. I can’t recommend this band enough. The act that followed, Catgut, were a pretty intense group of dudes who played high-energy slacker jams (does that make sense?) reminiscent of the sloppy rampager romps that Dinosaur Jr. used to kick out. A pretty loud ending to my evening.

Viet Cong (photo: Arif Ansari)

Viet Cong (photo: Arif Ansari)

Thursday was when all of the weirdness began. There was supposed to be a show on the patio of Broken City, but was moved inside due to the ominous weather. Viet Cong started off this afternoon show with a pretty bonkers set. They are definitely the champs of music, with dueling guitars blazing right out of the gate, tired guy vocals and a rip roarin’ overall groove. Feel Alright followed with some nice summer flavours to savor. Great classic pop hooks, and a song with some serious falsetto. There was another one that reminded me of Elton John. All in all, a good time to be alive!

Feel Alright (photo: Arif Ansari)

Feel Alright (photo: Arif Ansari)

From here, I made it down to the Palomino where Jessica Jalbert was playing. She is a great singer/songwriter from Edmonton, who was one of the major surprises during the fest. I had only heard a single song from her bandcamp page, and thought, “this could be alright.” Every song was excellent, and I hope I get to see her play more in the future. After this show, the rain started to pour, and people started receiving messages about their areas being evacuated. A friend had told me that a large block party down in the East Village had to be shut down, and things started to sound a lot more serious.

Johnny Pemberton (photo: Alanna McCallion)

Johnny Pemberton (photo: Alanna McCallion)

Nonetheless, the comedy show still went on in a room at the Palliser hotel. It kind of looked like one of the rooms that could have been blasted by the Ghostbusters when it was haunted! Because of the storm, the power was pretty finicky, and the lights weren’t cooperating at their regular capacity. Most of the comedians made jokes about this, which helped shed some light on the situation (haha). All of the comedians were fantastic, but Johnny Pemberton and Brett Gelman stood out. Gelman yelled at an audience member at one point for looking at his phone in the front row, but was quickly told that the audience member was checking to see if he was evacuated. There were a few tense moments like this during the show, but it was extremely funny. Once again, Gelman ended up yelling at some idiotic audience members for a long time, which was so uncomfortable that it became one of the most surreal, hilarious moments of the evening.

Brett Gelman (photo: Alanna McCallion)

Brett Gelman (photo: Alanna McCallion)

Superchunk had moved from the Republik to Flames Central, where huge men give huge pat-downs upon your arrival. The ‘Chunk were in full-form, playing all of the hits, including classics like “The First Part” and a bunch of the poppy new jams from Majesty Shredding. I was expecting to see more pogoing, but I think most of the audience was too tired (or old). It was a really fun show, and I was happy to see one of my favourite bands.

On Friday, it was officially announced that Sled Island was cancelled, which was very sad. Yet those first few days were amazing and I had no complaints. I was looking forward to a lot more, which did happen regardless. A lot of bands were stuck in town or were still slated to play shows, so people hosted their own. Despite all of the craziness, there were still things to do. Venues like Commonwealth hosted major fundraisers that really helped out the city. The Ship and Anchor gave out food for volunteers and victims, and took donations for flood relief. A lot of people have been helping out and keeping things going, regardless of the situation. It’s nice to see. Hopefully Sled Island can continue next year, and the city can be recognized as one that keeps on chugging out the jams, no matter what happens.

Slummin’ in the Sled

Words: Jeremy Curry

sled island

It’s only a few weeks away! Sled Island, one of the biggest and most interesting music festivals in western Canada, is coming back at the tail end of June. There are over 200 bands this year, as well as comedians, visual art, and film. This can be a little overwhelming at times, and usually pretty hard to navigate. It’s tough to pick between multiple stellar acts playing in different venues at the same time. Sometimes, the one you want to see will have a massive line-up or be completely sold out. Sure, that’s a bummer, but there are always alternatives, and some of them can surprise you and become your favorite show of the whole damn festival. I have some recommendations, but you don’t have to listen to me! There are so many great acts playing, and this list doesn’t even scrape the surface.

Gold

Gold

Gold are a fantastic local band that come correct when it’s time to play some hazy, lazy, spaced-out pop gems. They’ll make you feel cozy and warm through all of the dark days. Remember when indie-rock bands were described as “tropical” a few years ago? Gold could have been thrown into that category, but they sound more like hot chocolate/warm blanket tunes to me. These jams are real head-nodders. Nod in approval, or just follow the grooves. You’ll get a decent neck exercise, and feel great afterwards! Positive musical therapy.

Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson has played sax in some popular bands like Bon Iver and Arcade Fire, but that’s far from what he honks out in his solo work. His circular breathing is truly a unique sound. Without any effects or pre-recorded loops, he blows insane grooves, drones and bizarre tones. His beautiful, wild compositions will have you scratching your head wondering how he created those sounds. His recent collaboration with fellow sax master Mats Gustafsson is one of the most brutal, insane, and amazing records of the year.

Superchunk

Superchunk

This is an easy pick because Superchunk is one of this year’s headliners, as well as one of the most popular acts. But if you don’t know about them, they’ve been kicking out the slacker jams for almost 25 years. Singer Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance even started Merge Records, which is a powerhouse of independent releases including albums by some band called Arcade Fire. The ‘Chunk have some of the catchiest, tightest, indie pop/rock jams around. Their songs will get stuck in your head, and you’ll want to keep them in there for a while.

Jay Arner

Jay Arner

Some friends tipped me off about this cool dude from Vancouver. As soon as I heard a single song, I was hooked. I played that song over and over on my computer until I decided that if I didn’t stop, I’d get sick of it. I turned it off and waited a month to play it again. The Jay Arner addiction is a tough one to beat, but I doubt it has any terrible side effects. This man is a pop-song wizard, and everybody should go and see him cast spells of wicked hooks and fuzzed-out guitar jams. It’ll be worth it.

Pete Swanson

Pete Swanson

Tim Hecker curated some of the acts at this year’s festival, and one of the artists he decided to bring along is Pete Swanson. This is an amazing choice. Swanson makes some of the harshest electronic music in the world. The beats are heavy and industrial, and computer bleeping tones can wobble in and out without any notice. It sounds like the destruction of a factory building Robocops, or a dusty dub album playing at the wrong speed, with a messed up needle skipping over grooves. The tones can get pretty brutal, but that’s all part of the fun.

Shearing Pinx

Shearing Pinx

Shearing Pinx are a spastic, noisy rock and roll trio. They’ve played Calgary numerous times, sometimes at more noise-centric shows. They have more of a punk vibe, and the fact that they’re hard to pin down genre-wise makes them even more interesting. The vocals are reminiscent of a guy yelling at you to get something done, while the guitars are akin to scribbling on the wall of your parents’ freshly painted house. Feedback squeals are not uncommon. I’ve heard the term “face-melter” describe a lot of rock music, but I think this band truly deserves the title.

Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth

Going to see a DJ while a slew of bands with guitars and drums and stuff are playing doesn’t sound that appealing, but Ryan Hemsworth is a different breed. This kid mixes rap and R&B with old Super Nintendo music, and totally gets away with it. He does this Danny Brown x Donkey Kong remix that is better than most of the rap productions I’ve heard this year. He’s created a lot of great mixes for various music sites in the last couple of years, along with a recent free EP that sounds fantastic. This one’s going to make you exhausted from dancing like a complete maniac, so drink a lot of water.

Down the rabbit hole :: Jeers, cheers and sonic obsessions for 2011

Words: Jesse Locke

2011 was a year of riots, revolutions and people’s microphones, punctuated by heart-sinking stories with the occasional feel-good tale or extraordinary surprise. The speed of current events streaming through the tubes of the internet and spread like wheatpasted show posters made it hard not to become a full-blown news junkie in these 12 hectic months. Meanwhile, reading Chris Hedges’ column week in and week out delivered a rousing dose of real talk. Oh yeah, and this happened.

While the world continued going potty in all directions, I somehow managed to fulfill several musical goals of releasing an LP and joining the band of one of my favourite artists. Alongside dropping cassettes for some other current faves, I listened to more wig-peeling music from the fringes than ever before through daily operations as the editor of Weird Canada. In the end, this same rapid and unfiltered overload of media made it hard not to shut it all off and move into a treefort, but I soldiered on. Here are 10 sonic obsessions that defined my year.

Colin Stetson

This is the guy. My darkhorse pick for the Polaris Prize was seemingly everywhere in 2011, but the place he sounded best was within New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges. Jazzbo or otherwise, this monolithic LP is a jolting showcase of Gustafsson-style circular breathing blowouts and majestic Jurassic Park drones. Laurie Anderson’s narration adds gravity to be sure, but the real power comes from the fact that this is one man with bodybuilder lungs stacking polyrhythmic patterns on top of each other, tapping beats with his fingers and simultaneously singing into his horn without the help of an overdub, loop or effects pedal. I’ve seen him do it live twice now and still barely believe it’s real. Credit is due to the engineering geniuses at Hotel2Tango as well, who placed 20+ microphones on or around his sax to create a truly stereostropic soundworld. Interviewing Stetson proved him to be as much of a superhuman masterbrain as you’d imagine, but also just a talented guy who’s happy to get the chance to do what he does best.

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

I first had my mind blown by this supercharged pan-Asian performance troupe with their set at Cool Fest 9 several years back. 2011 was the year that Yamantaka // Sonic Titan saw fit to transmit the first glimpses of their self-described ‘Noh-Wave opera’ into a recorded form, and the resulting LP from Psychic Handshake is even more goggling than I could have imagined. From face-shredding guitar riffs (courtesy of Grand Trine’s Shub Roy) to medieval organ prog and dreamy moments of Blonde Redhead-style pixie-pop, YT//ST is a monster of an album. I predict nothing less than world domination in 2012.

Femminielli

2011 saw Bernardino Femminielli fully develop his smooth-talking Giallo disco lothario persona with a jaw-dropping string of releases. From the Chauffeur 7″ for Fixture Records to the Carte blanche aux désirs cassette for his equally amazing label, Los Discos Enfantasmes, this icy electronic labryinth was one I didn’t mind getting lost inside. Sabrina Ratté’s 10-minute head-trip of a video for his song “Atlantida” might be the best place to start, while the glitching computerized vocals of his brand new tape, Telenovelas Mentales, point the way into the future.

The Offset: Spectacles

I have to admit here that my tastes in music have a pretty strong bias towards percussion. I’ll get into any song if I can air-drum along to it, and it’s why Electric Miles will always be my jam. I also find it strange, then, that a drumless, VU-inspired rock group with only cat-scratch guitars and gritty Cantonese vocals can be so damn captivating. Fuzz organ, electronics and screeching violin add texture, but The Offset: Spectacles remains as sparse as Dragnet-era Fall. This minimalist trio originally hails from Hong Kong, but relocated to Beijing to found the Rose Mansion Analog label (also home to cassettes from Canada’s Hot & Cold, Dirty Beaches and the oscillator duo Soviet Pop). The Offsets LP marks their first foray into vinyl, and it’s a stunner. Mail order must-grip.

Comedy podcasts

I live in Toronto but work in scenic Etobicoke, so hour-plus trips in transit are a daily occurrence. For my money, there’s nothing more enjoyable than waking up to something that makes you laugh so hard you start crying and blowing snot bubbles on a crowded bus while everyone around you thinks you’re a lunatic. The Best Show was my gateway drug, which soon led into The Pod F Tompkast and spiraled into an addiction. Everything on Earwolf Radio is quality, but especially How Did This Get Made?, Tig Notaro’s Professor Blastoff and the flagship podcast, Comedy Bang Bang. Host Scott “Hot Saucerman” Aukerman brings in a pair of comedian guests each week, one of whom plays a character like Charles Barkley, Jennifer Tilly (now in a relationship with Chucky) or Sappity Tappity the alcoholic Christmas tree. That probably doesn’t sound funny, but hey, it is. Deal with it. Marc Maron’s WTF is another go-to for his extended interviews with comedians that often result in candid and/or emotional revelations. Not always funny haha, and the show’s title is pretty apt. This year’s episode with Norm MacDonald going deep into his gambling addiction is especially great.

Lantern

Blitzkrieg proto-punk trio Lantern was originally formed by Zach Fairbrother and Emily Robb of Halifax’s longhair psych jammers Omon Ra II. After moving to Philly and picking up moxie-filled drummer Sophie White, they’ve since cemented their status as one of the best in the game. Breathing fire into the tradition laid down by Bo Diddley and his ilk with a twist of Hasil Adkins and some seriously shredding guitar moves, their 2011 cassette on Night People and 7″ from Mammoth Cave are both must-grips. Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well in these hands.

Wyrd Visions // Castlemusic

Five years after the hood classic Half-Eaten Guitar, double-neck shaman Wyrd Visions reemerged unexpectedly to share a 12″ split with Jennifer Castle. Toronto’s sweet and understated wisp-folk minstrel proved the perfect match on this two-song gem, with both artists delivering in spades. “My Boat” and “Voice of God” provided the soundtrack to my winter, starting off many mornings and lingering long into the frosty night.

Man Made Hill

Man Made Hill was my entry into Toronto’s musical subterrain after we booked the prince of darkness to play this summer’s first annual Wyrd Fest MTL. Randy has since become my personal avatar of awesomeness, representing all that is strange and beautiful about the city’s sonic happenings. Pumping out zonked electronics and intergalactic funk à la Mandre, he freaks the beat like an alternate dimension Andrew W.K. Look out for his latest alter-ego, Denim Reptile, and probably five more projects by the time you read these words.

Golden Retriever

These dogs were a late-year discovery, but have recently joined my regular rotation like a pair of favourite undies. The Portland duo of Matt Carlson (modular synth) and Jonathan Sielaff (bass clarinet) released three albums in 2011, all drifting through a dreamlike combination of Arp-style ambient nostalgia and heady cosmic jazz. The Arda Viraf cassette from Agents of Chaos is my go-to, highlighted by the gorgeous 15-minute title track. Yet unlike many of their overly prolific neo-kosmische peers, Golden Retriever match quantity with quality every step of the way.

Kris Ellestad

The fact that Kris Ellestad remains anything less than a household name is a baffler. This guy should be Groban famous, making grandmas swoon the world over. In all seriousness, Ellestad released his strongest collection of songs to date in 2011 with No Man is Land. And while the album received a few scattered pellets of praise, I still feel it’s a criminally underrated masterpiece. From the complex fingerpicked guitars to lush instrumental arrangements and Kris’s chamomile croon (not to mention his ridiculously clever lyrical wordplay), it can’t be recommended enough. For more fun, an ongoing YouTube channel of covers shows both his range and fantastic taste. Kris doing Michael Gira doing Dylan is essentially unimpeachable.