Words: Jeremy Curry // Photos courtesy of Sled Island
Well, it’s been another insane week of music, art, comedy, friends, foes, party riots, pool parties, BBQs, and way too many beers to count. It’s been a wild ride at this year’s Sled Island. Things were looking a bit suspect at first, but the line-up was scheduled so that there weren’t too many conflicting artists. I’m sure people would argue that point, considering we all have different tastes, but in my opinion, I didn’t miss out on a lot.
Wednesday was when things started rolling along, although it wasn’t a very good idea for me to start rolling along at 10:00 pm. The Russian Circles were playing at the Dicken’s Pub, and Boris were headlining as the “secret” guest. It wasn’t much of a secret, though. The line-up outside was huge, and everybody seemed to be waiting in line to see Boris play. The place was at capacity, so it was a better idea to move on down to the Bamboo for Nü Sensae. They’re a three piece from Vancouver that play some pretty insane punk rock, but have some pretty jarring riffs, sort of in the Sonic Youth vein. The vocals squeal like a hawk being captured by a bear, and the guitar/bass combo was ferocious. This got the crowd into a wild mood, which was kind of distracting from such a powerful set.
After that, it was time to chill out and go to bed. The next three days were filled with so many shows it was hard to keep up.
Thursday started off with a pool party up on 14A Street. The place was filled with people yammering on about what shows they were “stoked” about. There were free hot dogs, beers and heaters for all until they ran out, which was pretty fast. Each Other, Sheer Agony and the Too High Crew kept the party chill while we kept it cool in the pool. That is, until some total asshole peed in it and ruined it for everyone. Thanks a lot, you pile of trash. Otherwise, it was a huge success! Like last year, the pool was filled with dry ice and ended up looking like a child’s cauldron.
After that, there was a show at the Hillhurst United Church by two Montreal titans. CFCF opened the show with a very soothing set featuring many tracks from his latest EP, Exercises. A lot of it sounded like Philip Glass incorporating drum samples into his music. The David Sylvian cover “September” may have been the highlight. The bass was so low, I thought about making a cocoon for myself and hanging out there for a while.
CFCF was followed by the slow building textures of Tim Hecker, who almost put the audience into “The Drone Zone”. The only illumination in the whole place was the natural light coming through the pane glass windows. It was getting darker, so the whole thing was a tiring, hallucination of sound. This was a good thing. It was a completely different experience from seeing any other band at the festival. I wasn’t sure if I was being encouraged to soak myself in the drones and take a vibrating nap or not.
Broken City was the next place to run to. Having a bike is necessary for the festival, and I broke mine last year. Sled Island did have some to rent, but apparently not enough. Walking is relaxing, but not when you have to get from one venue to the next, knowing the show could possibly be sold out. It was also an issue for Shabazz Palaces, because on this particular evening, the bar was at double the capacity.
Openers Rap X and Gold had a cozy audience. Gold was one of the more notable local bands playing this year. They had some pretty interesting guitar riffs, dreamlike vocals so tender they were falling off the bone, and just good times all around. A solid performance.
After this, the bar got pretty insane, filling up to the brim while Prince Rama performed. Luckily a lot of folks had elsewhere to go when Shabazz came on. Either that, or they left halfway through because they didn’t get it. Their loss I suppose, because it was one of the better rap shows to come to Calgary in a very long time. The grooves were slow and intriguing, with thumb pianos plink-plonking under a twisted lyrical adventure through space and time. It was blasphemy to leave this show.
Another hearty day full of cool shit. I started at Local 510 to see another fantastic new local band, New Friends. Their set began like a witches’ ceremony. I thought we may be letting spirits, specters and ghouls enter the bar to terrorize patrons, but that wasn’t the case. The rest of the set was more along the lines of post-rock, but without all of that nasty build-up we’re so used to. What a yawner that would be. Instead, it was a real slab of icing.
Electronic bleep-bloop tape hiss guru Nate Young followed with a really interesting set. He dawned his shades and blasted out pretty pulsating, murky electronics with warped tape loops. People walking by outside on the street had no fucking idea what was going on. Were we building an evil robot indoors? No, just seeing a master at work.
A few doors down, the Evaporators were starting up a legendary set! They started off with the classic tune “Mario Cuomo Works at Domo”. It just got more fun and exciting as the show progressed. Andrew WK ended up onstage to play with the band, and even to play his song “Party Hard”. Everyone in the audience was totally psyched and had a really fun time. There was a lot of audience participation, which can usually be annoying, but with Nardwuar the Human Serviette, it’s an honour. He is definitely a Canadian treasure, and always fun to see. You will never see anybody with that much energy in your life. Combined with Andrew WK? It just makes me tired thinking about it.
Unfortunately for Feist fans it started to rain, and they had to watch the show at Olympic Plaza amongst the huge puddles. Oh well, my mom said it was good.
Over at the Grand Theatre, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan played a show that was visually fun and pretty goddamn loud. It was stepping into a psychedelic mountain of sound, dragons, hairy monster things, jingle bells, heavy jams, and one moment where I don’t think any of the band members even blinked for about 8 minutes during a song. For a band that also focuses on a visual component to their music, they were actually really fun to see. They opened the whole thing with “Queens”, one of the best build-ups to a furious jam I have heard in a while.
Thurston Moore followed with a pretty great set, filled with old numbers from the Psychic Hearts era, and a bunch of brand spankin’ new tracks from his forthcoming record with his new band, Chelsea Light Moving. The standout track from the new material was a song called “Burroughs”, which sounded like a classic Moore jam. The very best was when he played the title track from Psychic Hearts. Everyone’s head starting bobbing in unison. We were in a sit-down theatre, so we couldn’t really party down.
There were always so many choices after that show but because of missing Boris on Wednesday, I thought I’d make it up by seeing them at the Distillery after Thurston Moore. I have no idea why I thought this would be a good idea. If you have read any of my previous Sled Island articles, you would know that I think this is the most disgusting place in the city. This time it wasn’t totally horrible, aside from the dickhead bouncers and the bathroom that was literally covered in garbage. I don’t think I could see the floor at all in the bathroom, because it was covered in layers of trash! Besides that, it wasn’t so bad.
I arrived when a band called Black Mastiff started. They sounded like southern rock meets metal riffs. It would probably work well if I were rolling down a river with heavy rapids in hell. Ancients came on afterwards, starting off their set by yelling “tittays!!” into the mic. I don’t know about you, but I think this is really lame (but appropriate for the Distillery). I was expecting the worst from this band, but they weren’t that bad. They had some pretty crazy metal riffs going on, and made the crowd go pretty insane. Boris headlined the whole shindig with a pretty mixed bag of material, new and old. The new J-pop material isn’t all that fun, and I personally prefer the old heavy sludge jams, which were too few and far between. It was time to leave. I had heard they played the album Feedbacker in its entirety the previous night, so I was kicking myself for missing out.
BeatRoute was having an afterparty at their HQ, and it was a goddamn nightmare. It was so packed with people in some areas, and was a definite fire hazard. They ran out of alcohol very early into the party, which may have been a blessing in disguise, considering how incredibly wasted people were. I didn’t even know who or what was going on, because half of the time I was waiting for the bathroom, or waiting for somebody to move out of the way. Wait, wait, wait. It was time to hit the sack.
The last full day of the festival. Local 510 was having a free hangover breakfast with breakfast tacos! Ironically, I could not eat the tacos because I was too hungover. Way to go, old body. There were loads of good bands playing as well, but I was in such a bad state I couldn’t deal with loud sounds. I did eventually manage to catch the comedy at the Auburn Saloon, though. Why is it called the “Auburn Saloon”? It is hardly a saloon. Shit, I think I am actually trying to make a joke. I apologize.
Todd Barry was one of the funniest comedians to come to Calgary. He told a girl that came to the show with a personal fan that it was “pretentious”, and proceeded to make many fan jokes throughout his set. He was extremely sarcastic, worked the crowd so well, and never fell flat. Tim Heidecker followed with a set that was basically poking fun at shitty, unfunny, sexist comedians. Think of a comedian who tries to copy Andrew Dice Clay (who also sucks) and fails miserably and there you go. He dropped the mic many times, had to take cue cards out at every moment, and made fun of his wife, “the nag”. He was the perfect comedian to bring alongside Neil Hamburger.
I wasn’t too familiar with Natasha Leggero, but she was another incredible comic. Her observational humor was fantastic, and reminded me of all of the dumpy things I have encountered in America, including the revamped TLC channel. 19 kids and counting! Neil Hamburger closed the show with a lot of coughing, hacking, yelling at the audience, making fun of all of the “shitty” bands playing, and having a joke-tribute to the recently deceased Whitney Houston. It was possibly the best comedy show in Calgary in a very long time.
Had a long walk over to the Ironwood to catch a wild set from Dutch jazz drummer Han Bennink, Toronto saxophonist Brodie West and Terrie Ex, from legendary punk band The Ex. Bennink was one of the most incredible drummers I have ever seen, playing with his foot bouncing on the snare at one point, while West sqounked out some squiggly sax blasts, and Ex gnarled with a coat hanger across his guitar. It was a spectacle that I cannot believe was even playing at the festival. Snailhouse capped the show off with their last show (I think?). It brought back so many memories from my high school days. The song “Twenty One Years” had all of the old high school memories flooding back. It was a great song to put on mix tapes for babes. It probably still is! Anyway, it was a really great nostalgic trip, and still holds up. Chris Vail, Chris Dadge and Aaron Booth all played in the band, which was even better. They are very important local musicians here in Calgary. Thanks a lot to Chris Dadge for putting on such a great show!
From here I walked on over to the Legion to finish off the night with Andrew WK. A dance duo by the name of SNAKATAK & Tessa G were gettin’ busy when I arrived. The beats were pretty cheeseball, but the party was bumpin’. People were going wild, and all the songs were about dancing and having fun. It was contagious, because within a few minutes, I was dancing pretty hard. They were actually a pretty wild duo to see! The beats may have been a bit silly, but leave your briefcase at the door and just have some fun!
Cherie Lily came on afterwards with her “Houserobics” music or whatever it is called, and that turned out to be another really fun time to dance. The party was flowing pretty nicely, and everybody was in great spirits until… Andrew WK came on.
Now, Andrew WK is a fun person, does a lot of cool things and is very positive when it comes to partying and having fun. He even did a motivational talk earlier in the week about partying and having a fun life. Unfortunately, before he came on I kind of had a feeling things weren’t going to be as fun as expected. When it was announced he was coming on stage, people started getting a little pushy to get close to the front. I moved back, because I am not in the mood for thrashing around like a maniac. He came on, and the audience went insane. People were flying all over the place, and a huge group of kids ended up dancing on stage.
From there, it was people jumping off stage every one second, and even massive asshole dudes behind me were elbowing my friend and I in the back. It was a very unsafe place to be. People were coming out of the pit, injured and looking almost dead in some cases. Andrew WK warned the audience that if they kept up the wild times, the party would get cancelled. Sure enough, after another song, the lights came on and the party was over. It was pretty sad to see a crowd turn into a bunch of goons in a few seconds flat. We were having such fun before! Anyway, the ambulance came and everybody had to go home.
Sometimes Calgary can’t have nice things. People forgot all about respecting each other and keeping cool, so everyone can have a nice time. I wasn’t even in the pit and I was being elbowed in the back. Calm it down you goddamn goons! It kind of made Calgarians look like a bunch of Neanderthals. I heard a guy from a band when I was leaving saying he wanted to “get the fuck out of here as fast as possible”. Now, that is not what I want to hear! It sucks that a few bad eggs can ruin everybody else’s day.
Sunday I woke up at the crack of 6 pm to catch the last show at the Republik. When I arrived, a great band called The Blind Shake was playing. They were a high-energy rock and roll band that just killed it on stage. Such intensity. I don’t think I blinked an eye during their set. I hear sometimes bands “kicked out the jams”, but I don’t usually see it in the literal sense. They did just that.
The band that closed the whole show was Duchess Says, a female-fronted group from Montreal. The girl had such a wonderful stage presence and such a cool vocal style that I told a friend of mine I wanted to marry her. A guy in front of me turned around and said “get in line”. She was so intense, yet really fun and got the audience involved. She let people come on stage, but instead of last night’s fiasco, everybody just danced harmlessly. I don’t know, is this band “dance-rock”? I don’t like that term, but I guess it suits them. Her vocal style was so wild and insane, like nothing I have heard before. The jams had everybody shaking their butts. It was so much fun.
So, besides a few bad eggs, it was a really great festival. There were a few new acts I want to get into, and a lot of older acts that were very impressive. Every year it is something for so many people to look forward to, for those who don’t like the Stampede that churns out a ton of assholes every year. It’s a great alternative for music, comedy, art and film lovers. Even if I moan and complain about the festival at the beginning because “the bands were better last year”, I’m usually wrong. There are so many new and upcoming acts to check out, and OK bands that end up putting on incredible shows. The best part is, Sled Island supports so many local artists, businesses, filmmakers, and bands. People come from all over to check out the festival, and it’s nice for people to come home and tell their friends about a cool local thing they saw. It was a pretty good show all around. Thanks a lot, Sled Island!