Category Archives: arts

NMC Review: Born Ruffians – ‘Birthmarks’

FTWL: The Dudes, Wolf Parade, Hidden Cameras, Fleet Foxes, Peter, Bjorn and John, Paul Simon

I was on a bus heading to Montreal from Ottawa. My train had been cancelled because of a rogue tree branch and it was nothing but grey skies and a mid-April snow to look at for the next three hours while we trundled down the highway. I was bummed. I slipped on headphones, and pressed play on Born Ruffians‘ Birthmarks while sliding into my seat – ready to fall asleep not looking forward to reaching my destination. Then, this Toronto foursome threw a little love in my direction.

Maximizing catchy, poppy hooks that roll around pleasantly and sunny synths that give off so much mellow, Birthmarks is Born Ruffians third album and this one has had fans on the hook for a good while. In a style that Born Ruffians is making very much their own, this record is all about slinky pop rhythms that encourage lazy, long drives and slow sways. Rife with indecision and forbidden loves, tracks like “Cold Pop” and “6-5000” are reminiscent of school dances – or at the very least, reminiscent of the school dances teenagers lived vicariously through while watching Degrassi Junior High alone on Saturday nights.

Since releasing their first EP on Warp Records in 2005, Born Ruffians have had no shortage of positive expectations. Embraced into the Canadian family of small record labels and just-scraping-by label mates, these four Toronto gents have moved their way into the Canadian indie pop scene with shimmery sounds, muted beats and the backdrop to day dreaming.

Birthmarks recalls a bit of the mid-2000s when new indie pop reigned supreme and each new act challenged what could constitute a catchy hook, or a danceable beat. “Rage Flows” and “With Her Shadow”borrow from influences like Paul Simon and Hidden Cameras. Like all good pop albums,Birthmarks isn’t without darkness and the lyrics of improbable love and sadness mellow on top of the blended instrumentation. It moves slowly and casually from one track to the next, without rush or care. A pretty perfect companion to walking home at 4:00 a.m. in the coolness of early summer mornings, or on a solo drive to somewhere or something promising – sometimes an album doesn’t need to stop you in its tracks to leave a mark on you. Born Ruffians achieve that slow release with Birthmarks. It catches you, and reminds you of gentler times but above all it provides that perfect moment when you can close your eyes and just let life wash over you.

With the album out today on Paper Bag Records, Born Ruffians are hitting the road for their pre-festival album release tour, and while there are no Canadian dates there are plenty of cities close enough to the border to make the drive. Luckily, this Saturday is Record Store Day so if you can wait a few more days you can purchase this new release AND support your local, independent record store. Everyone wins!

(Originally published April 16th, 2013 on the National Music Centre weekly feature, “New Release Tuesday”)

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NMC Review: Apparat Organ Quartet – ‘Pólýfónía’

FTWL: Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Shout Out Out Out Out

Organ quartets are few and far between in our modern age of synth boards and the many incredible things one can do with a laptop. But since 1999, Iceland-based Apparat Organ Quartet have created incredible, intense and ever shifting musical arrangements by pounding out on an organ. They brings the depth, richness and tonal sincerity that so many gear heads strive to reach in their endless looping and adjusting. The key lies in their not-so-secret weapon: honest to goodness analog keyboards. Drawing comparisons to Kraftwerk and Motörhead, they are once again dropping jaws with the complex arrangements, rich instrumentation and range presented in Pólýfónía. 

Incredibly, every note on Pólýfónía – as in their previous releases – is played by hand, no sequencers or computers. Self-described as “mechanical rock and roll”, Apparat Organ Quartet exclusively uses keyboards from their vast collection of analog musical equipment. While knowing what happens behind the music creates a stronger sense of awe for Pólýfónía, the range they manage to fit into one album is truly amazing.

Glitchy (mechanically so), poppy vocoders, robot like vocals and complex instrumental melodies all lead into a head banging crescendo before fading into a moment of calm only to ramp back up faster and harder than before. It’s a smashed-together electronica dance party with a metal band playing over each track. It sounds like it couldn’t work in theory, but in practice, it is fast and fun. It gives meat to the thin sounds expected out of synths – no looping required.

“Cargo Frakt” employs funky robotic sounding vocals, simple melodies and pounding intervals of intensity – almost preparing the listener for something unexpected. Not only is it incredible to hear this dancy, electronic style being filled out with true organ tones and pounding hard-rock influenced drums, but each track goes to a different place, sometimes more than one. “Songur Geimunglingsins” channels Phillip Glass, Stereolab, David Bowie and Frank Zappa. It isn’t often that those artists all come to mind in a single track. Apparat Organ Quartet is an incredible gem and the creations that have emerged are strangely beautiful and quite certainly hypnotizing.

Apparat Organ Quartet will be bringing all their glory to Canadian Music Festival, playing three different showcases March 20, 22 and 23 in Toronto. Not a show to miss. Even if it is just to witness these artists play their way through a maze of Russian analog synths, semi-working Hammond organs and any number of altered Casios.

NMC Review: Nadja “Dagdrøm”

A perfect winter album, Dagdrøm is dark, ominous and fuzzy. Nadja releases a true to form ambient sludge-rock album as their first full length LP since the 2010  Autopergamene. Aidan Baker  and Leah Buckareff – originally from Toronto and now based in Berlin, combine talents with The Jesus Lizard’s Mac McNeilly. Dagdrøm features McNeilly to his full potential, easing away from the drum machine in favour of his well suited percussion styles.

Not unlike a long, cold walk in the late darkness of a January morning, Dagdrøm pushes the listener into the darkness – encouraging imagined dangers. The beauty of this fuzzy, drone esque sludge-rock album is the technicality and instrumentation, holding the listener spell bound. It moves through each track as if they are movements. The album itself is suspenseful. “One Sense Alone”is heavy, until those last few minutes when it softens and lulls you into a sense of security – the kind of security you imagine you might have after defeating some adrenaline causing spook . Only to know that it won’t be long before another one floats into your radar.

There is a lot of deep dark something-ness to Nadja usually, and the more structured nature of this release only amplifies that. You feel something is coming. It excites you as much as it concerns you. There is a somewhat dangerous feeling to Dagdrøm. Like when it is gets very cold and very dark all too early. The title track is a heavy mix of almost over bearing layers of noise and fuzz. “Space Time and Absence” finishes the album – a warm light after the long walk. Yellow and burning in a space not so distant.

Nadja makes sense for Berlin – or at least for the romanticized visuals of living in punk squats and writing drone-rock. Dagdrøm makes just as much sense for these dark Canadian winters. Where temperatures get equally unbearable and exhilarating. A really interesting album that rockets the listener away from those shiny summer tunes into a darkly beautiful reality.

Order it for yourself here.

NMC Review: Purity Ring “Shrines”

For Those Who Like: Stars, Bjork, Gobble Gobble, Flaming Lips, Lakeside Cottage Country, Braids, Beach House

Shrines, Purity Ring‘s first LP, carves out a strong sound and presence – a genuine summer release. Originally from Edmonton, where Megan James and Corin Roddick first began to play together as two of the four-piece Gobble Gobble, they relocated to Montreal and formed Purity Ring in 2010.  Label mates on 4AD with Blonde Redhead, Atlas Sound and St. Vincent, their release is in good company. Through their recent singles and splits, they have built up a following and this LP doesn’t fall short of expectations.

Shrines is shiny and bright electro pop – though it doesn’t fall entirely within that. With catchy synth hooks, hip-hop inspired beats and smooth breathy vocals, Shrines comes close to being just another catchy favourite, but there is something unique about James’ voice over slick arrangements where Roddick plays with everything he can. From the mellow and shimmery “Crawlersout”, to the darkly poppy “Obedear”, and the synth and auto-tune heavy “Amenamy”, the balance is maintained clear through the album. There are plenty of summer memories to create alongside this album and it fits handily in any number of backyard bonfires or warm nights.

Its fuzzy, somewhat smoggy sounds rings of the wave of garage rock coming out of small record labels now, especially those crafted throughout the Canadian landscape. Still, Shrines distinguishes Purity Ring into a new class, something a little different. Purity Ring could just as easily channeled lighter shimmery electro-pop but there is something darker. You can hear the heavier sounds from Gobble Gobble coming through, though if anything it gives it a stronger edge. Changing it from usual to something unexpected.

There is something though that detracts from this album. It is short and sweet, but it is clear that Purity Ring works best in small batches: stellar 7” and 7” splits.  Fat Possum’s 7” split with Braids was a natural fit, for example. However, those sweet summertime moments eventually blend together and Shrines will likely not be immune from that. A solid album, hopefully one that shows even more potential growth for the next release from Purity Ring.

(Originally published on the National Music Centre weekly feature, “New Release Tuesday”)

NMC review: A Tribe Called Red

“After what happened in the last hundred years, the simple fact that we are here today is a political statement.

As First Nations People, everything we do is political.”

Nation II Nation – the personal is political.

My first experience with pow wow music was in a traditional setting – coming through the radio dial when tuned to Blood Tribe Radio on the Kainai reserve in southern Alberta and at ceremonies and drum circles. Pounding drums and incredible vocal prowess that called to a power much greater than you or I. Traditional drumming and signing is meant to make a body move, to evoke emotion and spiritual change – A Tribe Called Red’s latest release captures that spirit.

The trio of DJ NDN, Bear Witness and DJ Shub started crafting their unique brand of danceable mash-ups at their Electric Pow-Wows in 2008 – still going strong at Ottawa’s Babylon and have moved into recording and playing as A Tribe Called Red.

Nation II Nation is a powerful album and a complex but seamless mash up of electronic beats, house, dub-step, hip hop and pop wow drumming and vocals. Nation II Nation flows from one track to the next. It begs a body to move, to dance, and to really feel the surrounding environment.

The Canadian political landscape faces deep and vocal unrest with the state’s unwillingness to uphold “the duty to consult” and this releases title Nation II Nation more than hints at that. As quoted in the above – the liner notes for the album makes it clear that this album is as political as any other action A Tribe Called Red makes. The release features the track they recorded for the Idle No More movement, “The Road” – this is a group of artists unwilling to shy away from taking a stance. Down to the photo shown on their Soundcloud stream – a photo taken at an early Idle No More Rally in Kainai, Alberta; a powerful image that conveys the strength and the determination of the Idle No More movement.

Since their first self-titled release, A Tribe Called Red has only gained in popularity and an increasing number of dance music fans are tuning into their eclectic mixes. “Sisters”, featuring Northern Voices is a slower jam – beat build ups and vocals tinged with soul and nineties-esque R & B. “Red Riddim” featuring Eastern Eagle is chock full of little pops and sound art breaks, loops and timing changes. No track is alike and each guest artists brings a lot of their own brand into the sound.

I happen to agree with A Tribe Called Red, the personal is political. Three First Nation DJs mixing traditional pow wow with contemporary dub-step, dance hall and electronic dance into incredible catchy and moveable beats is political. Its very nature and statement is political. Nation II Nation is the kind of politics where ownership is reclaimed, and where true nature refuses to be masked. It celebrates culture, and art; mixing old and new to reflect a world where people are political and action is necessary. All that, and it can make a body move!

A Tribe Called Red will be touring with their new album throughout most of Canada and the US all summer. You can get Nation II Nation right now by visiting their website.

(Originally published on the National Music Centre weekly feature, “New Release Tuesday”)

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Calgary Artist in Residence collecting co-op stories

In honour of the United Nations International Year of the Co-op, and in partnership with Calgary 2012, Calgary based writer and musician Brian Brennan is the Artist in Residence (AiR) for the Southern Alberta Co-operative Housing Association.

To celebrate Calgary’s designation of being the 2012 Canadian Cultural Centre, artists from around were paired with various organizations in the city. Brennan was been paired with SACHA to capture stories about the experience of living in housing co-ops.

“I’ve been interviewing and doing Q and As with them (residents of co-op housing in Calgary). These interviews will be compiled and SACHA will be using the material and experiences — presenting the stories to the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC) for the annual general meeting that will be hosted in Calgary in 2013.

Brennan notes they aim to present the stories as a way, “to indicate to the delegates just how housing may differ from the way that is done elsewhere.”

Brennan hadn’t lived in co-op housing himself, “I didn’t know the first thing about co-op housing before I was assigned to SACHA, so it has been quite an eye opener actually.”

There are 16 Housing Co-Ops in Calgary, Alberta, boasting 1294 units collectively. The Southern Alberta Co-operative Housing Association (SACHA) manages and collectively organizes the housing co-ops available in southern Alberta. Outside of Calgary there are 28 units in Rocky Mountain House, 30 units in Lethbridge, 44 in Canmore, 24 in Red Deer, 62 in High River, and 24 units in Red Deer. SACHA is a regional organization connected to the provincial Alberta Community and Co-Operative Association (ACCA).

The Co-Operative Housing Federation of Canada explains, “because co‑ops charge their members only enough to cover costs, repairs, and reserves, they can offer housing that is much more affordable than average private sector rental costs.” One of the benefits of co-op housing is that, “living in housing that will stay affordable because it’s run on a non-profit basis and is never resold.”

While co-op living has a clear financial benefit, long time participants identify with the idea of community living. Residents have been open with Brennan about their experience, and their reasons for choosing this particular living environment. “I liked the idea of doing things with your neighbours, knowing who your neighbours are, sharing goals and aspirations,” explained one resident.

“Even though we live in a winter climate here in Calgary, outdoor space and the social dynamics that come out of it are really important,” described another resident. “I like to encourage co-op residents to embellish that and make it easy for people to get together in family groups by providing picnic tables and shared spaces. The spin off of that is the social glue of the place, so in the middle of winter, the warmth of those summer encounters are still there.”

Throughout this experience, Brennan sees how deeply entrenched the residents are within the model of housing co-ops. “My sense is that these are people that are so committed to co-op housing and that the only change they might make in their circumstances is they might look for different types of units geared towards seniors, or more housing that is more accessible. For the most part, they have lived in co-op housing for a big part of adult lives. They have raised their children, and they have grand children that come over to visit. They won’t be moving out into the suburbs.”

This was echoed time and time again, and one of the participants recalled moments from raising their children in this community centred, consensus based environment. “When they were children, because of our involvement in co-ops, our kids didn’t play school or store they played co-op meetings. They would write the agenda, pack up bags, go to meetings…”

The financial model of a housing co-op means that the co-op as a whole mortgages and manages the building, and each tenant pays rent toward the mortgage of the building. Most housing co-ops are not-for-profit, so the cost of rent is determined by the cost of the mortgage. Typically, this cost is much lower than the usual renter market in any given community as the goal is cost recovery and not profit. Housing co-ops are entering into a transition period.

“For many of the co-op housing groups, they are coming at the end of their mortgages period. They got very long mortgages, way back when in the 1970s. They had very long mortgage periods — some 35 to 40 years. Now they are coming to the end of that time, the end of the operating agreement. They will no longer have the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Association overseeing the activities. Once the mortgages are up, they will be on their own.”

In speaking with a resident they noted that, “we’ve been like teenagers living in the basement of our parents house — paying a little rent to mom and dad. Now they’re moving out and the whole place is ours and we get to make all the decisions and pay all the bills and are we prepared to be responsible for this multi-billion dollar enterprise?”

Co-ops are primarily governed through the board, elected by the membership as whole. Individual co-ops are run by adopted bylaws and policies that are then implemented and regulated through the co-op members. In Canada, co-ops are regulated through three means: The co-op act for their province or territory, the human rights legislation for their province or territory, and the principles of natural justice. As well, all co-ops must be first incorporated and are subject to those regulations as well. They are clearly defined housing entities and are subject to various obligations.

For Brennan, this experience “has been an interesting journey for me. Mostly because I entered into it not knowing much about co-op housing or community living. It was good to get a sense of why people choose that kind of living as opposed to the more conventional where they buy a single family residence in the suburbs. It has been an interesting voyage of discovery for me.”

Each province has a different system of co-operative housing, and the Artist in Residence project will provide first hand experiences to showcase the various aspects of co-op housing in our region.

Article originally published in, November 2 2012. 

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Review of Efterklang’s ‘Piramida’

For Those Who Like: Bon Iver, Radiohead, Fleet Foxes, Jens Lekman, Sufjan Stevens

There are certain times that a music lover will stumble onto something – something that is inconceivable to how it wasn’t found before. For those discovering Efterklang now on the arrival of their fourth album, Piramida, it is an experience not unlike having a word on the tip of your tongue for so long and finally knowing what it is. There is something thrilling here – accessible with enough finesse and modesty to keep each song playing all the way through.

The three Danes, now residing in Berlin, don’t usually perform alone and listening to Piramida there is a full sound only imaginable through a symphony of players, each sending a unique appreciation of their role. Efterklang continue with a dark sensibility on this album, taking their inspiration from nine days recording field sounds in an abandoned Russian mining town – the album now a namesake of the mining settlement.

The second track, “Apples”, carries away with heavy synths matched by electronic horns and string section all coming together in an incredible full song. The full use of percussion in a few of the tracks, as well as disarming Gregorian-like melodies, such as in “Told to be Fine” and “Black Summer” pulls together the sometimes ambiguous lyrics into a genuinely interesting and captivating experience.

Although Piramida may be reminiscent of the leisurely paced ethereal folk/pop/electro music that captured artists throughout 2011, Efterklang’s conceptual creation defines itself with a sincerity that is unmistakable. They do clearly fit in with their 4AD label counterparts, but there is a richness and genuine quality that brings about similar feelings only because there is a true craft being represented here.

The merging of digital and classical instrumentation reflects Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen and Rasmus Stolberg’s approach to art in general. Using not only Efterklang as a venue for musical expression, they also create short films, and the live debut of Piramida came with a performance in partnership with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

This post was originally published on the New Music Canada blog for New Release Tuesday, September 24th 2012.

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Welcome to Queerberta: a review of “Queering the Way”.

Queering the Way: The Loud & Queer Anthology by Darrin Hagen

(Brindle & Glass, 2012; $19.95)

Queering the Way, an anthology of pieces performed as part of and written for the Edmonton-based Loud and Queer (L & Q) Cabaret, showcases Albertan artists that are varied and as controversial as the language used to cue identity. The anthology is edited and in a sense, curated, by Darrin Hagen — a founding member and long time of host L & Q, and knows of that which he speaks we it comes to queer theatre culture in Alberta. He is one of the first self-declared queer artists to debut in a major theatre festival, the Edmonton Fringe Festival, as well as an outspoken artist and activist in the Edmonton scene.

Hagen allows the pieces to not only reflect on the struggles LGBTTQ communities in Alberta have faced, but also the personal stories of those community members. The L & Q has been out in full force since 1991 and in this anthology’s introduction Hagen eloquently, without sparing feeling or impact, describes the genesis of this community driven theatrical outlet. From its humble beginnings of a one-night, eight-act show — giving a home to the many artists who were very much marginalized as “queer” artists, to its present day: a full two-night cabaret celebrating not just pride and equality activism, but also in the progression of artistic expression in Canada.

In the 22 pieces Hagen chose to be part of this anthology, there are representative of the diverse experiences and personalities of the many artists that have graced the L & Q stage. As with all artistic expression, these pieces not only represent a moment or a collection of moments for the artist — they also pull something out of the collective memories and experiences of their respective environments.

Many of the pieces — acutely so in acclaimed Canadian filmmaker and musician Trevor Anderson‘s “The Island,” deals not just with the sexual identity and finding a place in a community but also the collective conscience of the environment that the community exists in. “The Island” directly explores the oft muttered off-handed comment of sending “them” to an island. “A homo utopia,” as Anderson puts it. This theme is echoed in many of the pieces — the other’ing that takes places without thought or consideration by members inside and outside of any given space. In Susan Jeremy‘s “Touring and Scoring: Tales of a Stand-Up Comic” — this other’ing took place within her professional community, but also within herself. “Comics don’t get on TV shows unless they appear straight. That’s what I do on the road: let the guys flirt with me while I fantasize about the girls…”. The search for self-identity, for a reasonable idea of who and what is wanted.

Queering the Way reveals the depth to which queer artists have taken the art forms they have chosen to express and reflect their own reality. In T.L. Cowan‘s poetic monologue, “This is a picture of me,” a new literary exploration emerges. Pushing the boundaries of spoken word, Cowan explores the simple act of growing up. Not excluding the driving force of discovering sexual identity — but merging it and letting it unfold with each new moment of discovery. Another particularly striking inclusion is a written version of Beau Coleman‘s video installation “continental divide.” A difficult piece to translate to paper and ink, yet it unfolds with ease and allows the reader to view each page — in a similar fashion as a viewer would take in each component of an installation.

There are also pieces of great humour throughout this anthology. Rosemary Rowe‘s “Anne and Diana Were TOTALLY DOING IT” leads the reader to titter knowingly as they imagine the beloved hometown heroine’s engaged in passionate lesbian embraces. For anyone who grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series, this new insight into the “bosom friendship” of Anne and Diana leads the mind to wonder about other childhood hero and heroines. “STANDupHOMO,” Nathan Cuckow‘s fantastic semi-monologue explores what the public perception of what a “gay” man is with wit, grace, darkness but also a great deal of humour.

Throughout this anthology Hagen pulls together the disparate and diverse cultures, perceptions and experiences that have formed queer artistic expression in Alberta for decades. Sadly, there has been few decades where this artistic reflection has been publicly out. The works presented in Queering the Way represent a multitude of works from the past 20 years of the L & Q. As Hagen acknowledges — to narrow down such a body of work is a difficult task, however this anthology well represents the evolution of artistic expression as well as the diverse formats these expressions took.

You can order Queering the Way here.

First published online at, June 15th, 2012.

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The Sounds of Unification

Sled Island has developed into a full fledged cultural hot spot, drawing people from the farthest reaches of Alberta, across Canada and around the world. Acts such as Calgary/Toronto’s Feist and Japan’s the Boredoms on the same bill as Lethbridge’s Fist City, Vancouver’s Korean Gut and Edmonton’s Travis Bretzer shows the diversity of the program. This year, Sled Island is also featuring a full film lineup in the week leading up to the music festival and several visual art exhibitions that will run for the entirety of the festival.

Drew Marshall, the Marketing and Communications Director of the Sled Island administration, is also rather excited about the “green island” initiative that will see multiple bike racks placed at venue sites and a bike rental program.

Marshall initially become involved in 2007, Sled Island’s inaugural year. “Part of the reason I was attracted to it, it definitely was something that didn’t exist prior to Sled Island, ” he recalls. “There has always been a lot of great music out of Calgary and Alberta and overall in the region, but there wasn’t any big event that was bringing that whole community together.”

While Sled Island was initially the brain child of Zak Pashak who was inspired by the Pop Montreal festival and is still involved as the Creative Director; the festival now is organized with the help of over 400 volunteers and, in Marshall’s experience, “has always been a real collaborative effort to make this whole thing happen.”

“There is a community that exists in Calgary and surrounding the festival,” he explains. “It might be something where not everyone is connected, or not always represented. During Sled Island you have this flourish of activity with all these great bands, performing at all these venues—small, intimate unconventional venues, large outdoor ones—and it really becomes obvious that there is this incredibly vibrant music scene going on in Calgary, in Canada, in North America.”

In Marshall’s view, Sled Island changed things. “For the first time there were these big international acts that for the most part would never come to Calgary,” he says. “The first year we had the Boredoms from Japan play, and it was one of the most mind blowing shows for anyone that was in attendance. We had Cat Power in the first show she had played at in a church in Calgary—that was just a beautiful show. Sled Island represented all these things coming together.”

For people like Paul Lawton, a central member of the Lethbridge garage-rock scene and co-owner and founder of Mammoth Cave Records, Sled Island offers something different than SXSW or NXNE, which are “very industry centred.” Lawton believes Sled Island has created a new kind of multi-venue festival, that is very artist focused. The industry presence has been very small for the most part. It has engendered a very DIY spirit and community.”

For Lawton, Sled Island not only provides the opportunity to expose hundreds of people to the bands hosted on Mammoth Cave, the label he co-owns, but, as with many regional musicians, the impact of getting to meet promoters and booking agents and to play a showcase every night—especially being from a smaller city in Alberta—is worth a great deal.

“There was a long time where it was hard for Alberta bands to book outside of Alberta,” he explains. “It took a lot of time and work to get people from the bigger centres to care about music happening in other parts of the country. Sled Island I think is the key player in that.”

Aaron Levin, founder of Weird/Wyrd Canada and a former music director for Edmonton’s campus-community radio station CJSR, believes Sled Island’s success has everything to do with the way the festival was initially set up.

“Sled Island is a very interesting case of a festival with a very large mandate and goal,” says Levin. “It has both embraced the fringe DIY while managing to attract a huge massive audience. This is what separates from some of the festivals, say, I do, and some of the festivals where this doesn’t happen—like the Edmonton Folk Festival, for example.”

For Levin, what is truly special about Sled Island is how it embraced the DIY culture of the local music scenes in Alberta right away. “SXSW (a festival Sled Island is oft compared to), for example, has definitely embraced that, but they didn’t start embracing that. When all the showcases started there was actually a negative reaction from the leadership of SXSW. Being bold, and embracing the indie local music scene was very important for their success.”

Levin, like Lawton, recognizes the avenues Sled Island has created to connect bands to promoters to booking agents to bands. “The opportunity for having a large part of the west coast music community under one roof and talking to each other is something that doesn’t happen,” Levin points out. “Sled Island has really provided for that by embracing all this fringe DIY music.”

Levin’s own music site, Weird Canada—named by CBC Radio 3 as the “Best Indie Music Website in Canada” and his travelling Wyrd festival benefited from Sled Island simply because “they were so open armed when it came to working together. (They were) incredibly encouraging for any sort of creative idea I had. That helped Weird Canada get a larger voice out of the city I was working in.”

Lawton and Levin, as festival attendees and programmers, clearly see Sled Island’s biggest strength in its commitment to the local and regional acts. One thing they do very right in Lawton’s eyes is that “every year after they do Sled Island, they send out a questionnaire to all the bands and it is very clear they have listened to the local and regional musicians who have given input. Every year gets a little better.”

For Marshall, that community building is what Sled Island is all about: “Bring together all these people for these four days and really create all this momentum and placing spotlights on the incredible music community that exists here. Really, in Calgary and Edmonton we are removed from so many parts of the world or even North America that sometimes we are off the radar when it comes to live music and touring bands and that kind of thing.

“The resource of talent in Alberta is so vast and there is so much potential that Sled Island is essentially a small group of people that work in this office doing our best to connect these communities that already exist.”

Originally published in VUE Weekly, June 14th 2012, issue #869.

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