Tag Archives: music

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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Generation Y: a casualty of rock and roll

“Rock and Roll is dead. But it’s our only culture”

– Richy Edwards

Where have all the rock writers gone? While once North America was graced with an abundant – clearly self-procreating – mass of hormonal and hyperactive twenty-somethings obsessed with emerging rock trends and culture; somewhere they were left along the trail along with smoking indoors and psychedelic drug use. It seemed every music/editorial writer from Spin, Creem, and early Rolling Stone was at one time a kid in a lost era just looking to get laid and earn the Buddy Holly glasses they already owned. Now, those kids are fleeing from mainstream media music rags and opting to stay in their bedrooms, smoking and listening to leaked EP’s of obscure lo fi pop bands, all before they even get to know what rock and roll really means.

In our present day and age, instead of rock writers we have bedroom label distributors who go to shows to complain about how no one cares about music anymore. I had the fortune to run into one of these rare rays of sunshine late one evening, outside Prohibition Pub in Edmonton, Alberta. The night air was warm and welcoming, beckoning the attendees of the show into its embrace. Taunting with promise of adventure, open fields, warm libations, a fat rolled tea, and the eventual sunrise. It was very much that kind of night. As I looked around me at these beautiful people, I suddenly felt all too jaded and soulless to be there. Too wary of my tired body and mind to be caught up in the magic of seeing an unsigned, independent band.

I bought a tape, I bopped to the tunes offered and I shared several flirtatious glances with a local music legend but as I slipped passed the Urban Outfitter adorned groups hovering at the side door and lit a cheap cigarette, I breathed a sigh of relief. Although I miss those days of nervous energy and wonder of the night, I feel pretty comfortable knowing that no matter what happens this night, this night will happen again. I was in it for the music. I was here to see the band, not to take pills, or drink triples. I wanted to shake hands with the drummer, buy some tunes and then go home and knit goddam it.

Chuck Klosterman and John Sellers killed rock and roll for me a little bit. They outed the nerds in all of us and made them seem cooler than we are. They gave awkwardness a look and a voice and it was too sexy for its own good. Rock and roll is sexy, but rock and roll writers are not. They are the lonely kids in high school who collected Muddy Waters and Fleetwood Mac LP’s while friends were getting threads for some “all ages” dance party. They are the ones who romanticized rock and roll culture and ripped their jeans so they could be a little ‘badder’.

Admittedly, low hanging fruit is being bashed here, but despite the bitterness that resonates through the generation moniker “Y”, I truly owe a debt of gratitude to these rock writers. They made rock and roll bigger than a tour van full of bros, they gave it a voice, a look, and most of all they gave it attitude. Playing an exclusive show in a one off basement, with laser lights and a smoke machine and knowing , just knowing, everyone is there to just BE there. That IS rock and roll, and those rock writers of the distant past made it a thing.

It’s the year two thousand and nine. Forty years since Creem was founded, forty-two years since Jann Wenner founded Rolling Stone Magazine, and forty seven years since The Yardbirds made it all really happen. While those slacker hippies were busy discovering free love in the sixties Page, Dylan, Beck, Smith, Young, Joplin, and Richards were pretty busy doing us all a giant favour.

They were doing it. Nothing less than giving it their all. This is probably why everyone says rock and roll is dead now. Because Kurt Cobain shot himself, Dylan has arthritis and Rolling Stone Magazine sucks. Nick Cave really got it when he said, “I love rock-n-roll… It’s revolutionary. Still revolutionary and it changed people. It changed their hearts.” So where is this revolution now? Can the music, the culture, and the leather mean anything to jaded hipsters any longer?

Lethbridge Alberta, five years come and gone and this town has exploded with garage rock bands scoring serious notice by North American recording companies, bands that started out merely from late night jams. Garages converted to practice spaces, bedroom recording equipment, second and even third venue spaces, open mic nights and sold out shows. Begging you, prove it to me that rock and roll is dead here.

I don’t care any longer that your tape distribution label isn’t selling out of the limited edition hand painted blah blah blah release. Rock and roll should never be about how much shit you owned. It was always about how much you partied, how late you stayed out, how many drum sticks you touched and which bands you took home with you to crash on your floor. Rock and roll culture is glorified by media because it is goddam glorious. There are few moments in life as good as busting out hurly burly with six other people in an inappropriately named band van, or driving five and half hours to play at a bowling alley and have someone start a fight because your set is just too raw, or knowing you will not be quitting this night, no matter what.

How can it all be dead? Lo fi is still lo-fi, garage punk is still heard through the suburban alleys in our cities, and polyester and leather still make up a significant portion of my wardrobes. Rock and roll isn’t dead, and people still care about music. Without it, where would those writers go? Whether it be a poorly laid out blog or a mainstream media rag, rock and roll culture is alive. Its just wears printed tee’s and pre-ripped jeans now.

Original published:September 24th, 2009. Features Editor, The Meliorist, University of Lethbridge. Volume 43, Issue 03.

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Watch out Radioactive Man, Fall Out Boy’s toxic!

I think I threw up in my mouth a little here:

 “ Pop-rock band Fall Out Boy gains some new groupies, as the Dabel Brothers team with the group to produce an as-yet-unnamed comic book project. “

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 Is this really necessary Fall Out Boy? I suppose it is rather fitting as their name comes from a second rate non-character (which oddly reflects their music well…) from a popular cartoon (c’mon, I don’t need to say it right?). But a comic book series? What will the main plot points be? Pete Wentz struggles to get his emo swipe perfect every morning! The clearly more talented lead guitar/singer guy will finally get noticed! They will save the world from other emo/punk/pop rockers one battle of the bands at a time!

 I hadn’t previously heard of The Dabel Brother’s so I am not really sure about this partnership from their end, but their most famous published comic, The Hedge Knight, was done with Mike Miller who is more than a little well known in the comic world (worked on series such as X-men, JLA, Adventured of Superman, Savage Dragon as well as heading several projects of his own…) which does intrigue me….I know that if this project does indeed go through, I will not be able to help myself from checking it out. Which is probably what they are hoping for from most people… Hopefully it is actually good enough to keep those people from relentlessly ridiculing it. I am aware of how pretentious I sound, and do not get me wrong, despite my distaste for Fall Out Boy’s particular musical output, I am actually interested in this pair up and give them slight props for exploiting a market previously left (mostly) untouched by other musicians.

(Now, I don’t want to spoil the article for you but my favourite line has got to be:”But for now, the Fall Out Boy announcement is enough to get fans to “Dance, Dance.” )

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no one riots in winter

“Some people feel the rain, others just get wet” – Bob Dylan

“I was waiting for that moment, that moment never came and all the billion other moments were just slipping away” – The Flaming Lips

“From the days that used to be” – Neil Young

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