Words: Jeremy Curry
Since 2007, Sled Island has been a pretty fun summer time event for those of us who enjoy a variety of independent bands, a few major old-timers (The Melvins, Boredoms, etc.), the celebration of local artists, and some noteworthy comedians. Each year, the festival gets larger, hosts a wider variety of events and attracts more people. It supports a wide variety of local venues, and has managed to snag Olympic Plaza as its main venue. It’s become one of the larger festivals in North America, and has done so by getting such an interesting variety of acts every year. The major bands have been covered to death every year, including this disgusting review by a Calgary Herald “journalist” a few years ago, where he only went to Olympic Plaza for one afternoon to shit on the festival. I’d like to talk about some of the lesser known and new acts coming to the fest that you should check out. I will also mention my one major qualm about the festival, and that is that venue The Distillery. What a gross heap of shit. I don’t know why they keep getting shows there. The sound is so horrible, and the staff is very surly. Unless they hired completely new staff, I can see that place being just as disgusting as it has been in the past. Anyway, on with the list!
GreyScreen is local Calgarian gaming wizard Kevin Stebner. He’s been featured on Weird Canada and recently had a really insane show at MTT Fest. He makes some of the most incredible electronic 8-bit grooves out of a slew of Game Boys, and sometimes busts out the ol’ NES Power Glove. Making music out of Game Boys sounds like it may be as exciting as a minimal house laptop musician, but Stebner comes at his gaming consoles with an intense energy that will get you dancing your ass off. He works on many projects at once, so don’t expect to see Grey Screen every second week like a lot of bands in the city. He may even grace us with an 8-bit Black Flag cover. Here’s hoping SST doesn’t give him a cease and desist for that.
Garage rock is difficult to get into, unless you don’t care that every single band you like sounds exactly the same. Role Mach play the garage tunes, but with a horn section! I have to admit, adding horn sections to a lot of music makes me weak in the knees (except ska), and the vocalist for this band belts out these crazy jittery vocals, reminiscent of a few early ’80s New York post-punk acts. If you are nursing a hangover, you might want to check this band out. They will wake you up in no time.
Another local act, but this band plays every week at Tubby Dog so it’s cool if you miss them. I’m kidding, of course. Grown-Ups are a great band to listen to on your Walkman while you’re mowing the lawn, with an Old Milwaukee tall-can in one hand. You asked your son to mow the lawn, but he ran off to smoke pot with his dirtbag friend you can’t stand. It’s angry dad music. They do have a song about Tubby Dog, and Sara Hughes, drummer of Grown-Ups, has her Tubby Documentary playing at the fest as well. Highly recommended.
Nate Young is a master of noise, as witnessed in his bands Wolf Eyes and Stare Case. Wolf Eyes were probably the loudest, most confusing band to be signed onto Sub Pop. Stare Case is more of an avant-blues act, but with some pretty squawked out tones and horrifying squeals. Young may be a pretty out-there experience for the fest, but it would be well worth your time to see him, and take a break from all of the mid-range rock bands. This is sure to give you a big ear scrape.
YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN
Is this a popular band? If not, they should be. YT//ST is a collective of performance artists who weave through a heap of genres to make some of the most gnarly, hypnotizing jams possible. Sometimes reminiscent of the Boredoms, and sometimes it gets a little bit on the King Crimson side of things. They usually have wild stage make-up and put on a pretty interesting show. Stage antics can be a bit tiresome, but when you have professional performance artists busting out some chant wearing white face paint, that’s OK with me.
More local jams to check out here. Lab Coast have been compared to Guided By Voices a lot, and it’s not that much of a stretch. They are a pretty solid pop/rock band, with short songs and incredibly catchy hooks. They are one of the best bands in the city right now. Despite their comparison to GBV, they do have their own distinct sound, and are a perfect companion to a nice summer’s day.
The Bitterweed Draw
Keeping the local spirit alive, The Bitterweed Draw played an after party at MTT Fest recently, and got the mostly drunk and tired crowd to have a completely insane hoedown. The band would be great to listen to while rolling down the Mississippi, or just chugging back some brews by the campfire. It’s old-school Americana. Banjo pickin’, washboard scratchin’, hootin’ and hollerin’ jams at their finest. Made by Calgarians. Hold on to your suspenders, twirl your mustache and blow into a jug. It’ll be a good time.
Another exciting local band, Teledrome are hard to categorize. I don’t want to say “synth punk” or “synth pop”, but it is a bit of a mixed bag of the two, and a little bit goth-y. Ryan Sadler and friends create some pretty amazing hooks, and will definitely get your butt shaking. Unless you are goth, where I guess you’d rather be swooping back and forth slowly, like a spirit in the night. Anyway, they are pretty fun, and a band to look out for in the future.
One of the more popular acts to come to Sled Island, but I don’t actually know how well Shabazz Palaces are received in the city. As with most festivals, they like to squeak in one or two rap acts to mix things up. Good choice this year, as Shabazz Palaces bring the quality futuristic rap grooves to the festival. We’ve had some Wu-Tang giants in the past, which have had some pretty massive rap-alongs, but Shabazz Palaces is a more recent outfit from Seattle, with Digable Planets’ Ishmael Butler leading the collective. Black Up was one of the best rap albums of 2011, and their stage show is something special. The beats are murky and wonky, an outer-worldly feeling. The lyrics are poetic in nature, and blow most other rappers away in quality.
Well, with that in mind, I hope somebody actually reads this and takes my reviews in consideration. Do whatever you want, but these musicians are very interesting to say the least. Enjoy the festival.