By Maya-Roisin Slater
August 8-10, 2014
LOGGER SPORTS GROUNDS AND CENTENNIAL FIELDS — “Dude, I’m the perfect level of drunk right now, I wish I could always be this drunk, I wish there was a pill for that or something.” I overheard the fellow in front of me lining up for bag check at the Squamish Valley Music Festival explaining to his friend. Not far in front of these two was a group of five or so with their cellphones in the air chanting, “Team selfie! Team selfie! Team selfie!”
Feeling determined to not be the judgmental Gastown asshole I inherently am I tried to muster a positive attitude as I slipped into the throng of the day’s first act, the Zolas. The crowd was packed shoulder to shoulder with boys adorned in Corona cowboy hats and girls in plastic flower crowns. Frontman Zach Grey played all the hits and attempted to get the fans involved by leaving space in the songs for audience response. Few shouted out the lyrics in these moments of silence, leaving little unsettling gaps in the performance. The audience was not completely unresponsive, however: instead of yelling back lyrics they gravitated towards crowd surfing. How many teenage girls does it take to lift a 35-year-old Zolas fan who just drank a six-pack? All 10 of the audience members who tried to crowd surf were dropped pretty brutally, so perhaps the answer is an infinite amount. The set ended, the crowd surfers limped away, and the rest stumbled behind.
Up next at the same stage was the highest-ranking official in the municipal government of soul, Mayer Hawthorne himself. The audience shrunk after the Zolas set, but Mayer Hawthorne seemed unfazed and treated the group of a hundred or so like a stadium of thousands. His backing band wore a uniform of electric blue trousers below crisp white button-ups, he shuffled on stage behind them in a dark blue felt jacket looking quite royal. The crowd grew and shrill screams of girls swooning at his R&B crooning could be heard for miles around. Mayor Hawthorne commanded the stage like a true professional and showed us why he was signed to Stones Throw Records, a label with the likes of J Dilla and Guilty Simpson. Next to me I heard a girl shout to her boyfriend “I’m so glad you made me come to this!” I silently nodded in agreement and ventured on to the next act.
After Mayer Hawthorne I decided to explore the festival grounds a little bit to see what music I could discover. On this explorative journey I heard a most ghastly sound coming from a nearby stage. I asked around to find the band was called Walk Off the Earth, a group from Ontario who rose to fame on the back of popular YouTube cover videos. It was almost admirable how many genres they were able to span in the length of one song: screamo, reggae, singer-songwriter and a splash of indie power pop were just some of the styles sampled during their set. I realize it’s pretty gauche to be this rude to a band, seeing as musical taste is completely subjective. So on the bright side I will say this about Walk Off the Earth: whoever named them did a really excellent job, because their music made me want to do just that.
I went on to see Swedish manic pixie dream girl Lykke Li, who was just as charming as ever. To continue on with the day’s theme of uniformity, her backing band was dressed in entirely black formal wear among huge draping black curtains that fell to the stage. Lykke Li herself was in a black onesie and some sort of shiny vinyl kimono, she did a graceful job of embodying all aspects of ’70s goth swag. During her set she did all sorts of whimsical things such as ask the audience to pass a joint to her onstage and dedicate her entire set to Nas. During her hit “Dance, Dance, Dance” she even participated in some pretty charismatic grinding. All these antics did the trick, it was more than apparent that she had created a relationship with the audience and by the end it seemed like we were all on her side.
Nas was up next, all around me audience members were smoking blunts, and it felt like something big was about to happen. Nas entered, holding a large bottle of Hennessy, and performed all of Illmatic start to finish. Need I say more?
It was a long hot day. The festival grounds were absurdly big and annoying to walk across. The sun was setting and I was feeling about ready to blow this popsicle stand. Then there was Bruno Mars. As a general statement, I dislike music that’s written with the sole intention of getting laid. I can’t name one Bruno Mars song that doesn’t sound like he thought it would melt panties. But my god does this guy know how to put on a show. He used subtle theatrics, a live horns section, mild pyrotechnics, frequent thrusting, covers which transitioned into his own songs, and approximately four drum solos to put on the most engaging show I’ve ever seen in my young life. Using a book of tricks taken from the likes of James Brown and Michael Jackson, Mars never missed a note and spun around in his little loafers like it was nobody’s business.
The girl standing next to me in a “black out with your rack out” tank top asked me if I had a light “No, I’m sorry,” I told her. With that I stared up at the thick cloud of cigarette smoke above me, feeling more than ever like Dorothy, who was very obviously not in Kansas anymore.
While walking along the road to the festival gates I observed two kids with a lemonade stand trying to take advantage of thirsty festival goers. A group of guys passed the kids and one asked, “Does this lemonade come with vodka in it?” “No, but you can buy it and add your own,” the little girl of about 11 replied bravely, “You’re going to be trouble in a couple years!” the man yelled at her as she laughed uncomfortably. Quite obviously another day of trouble here at the Squamish Valley Music Festival was brewing, one cup of vodka lemonade at a time.
The first band I saw was local alt rockers the Oceanographers. All four of them looked like they’d been ripped from a Topshop ad, dressed in head to toe black with their jeans cuffed and eyebrows thick. The audience was the biggest I’d seen so far at the Meadow Stage, with roughly 500 packed around the little platform. As the audience grew so did the band’s confidence and less than two songs into their set the boys were going full throttle. Surprisingly the crowd seemed not the slightest bit hung over and did a fair bit of hollering and shimmying to the catchy yet dark tunes.
After the Oceanographers I headed over to main stage to see Black Joe Lewis. Armed with a bright red electric guitar and big dark shades Black Joe Lewis performed a rock show, the sound of which seemed to climb into your every orifice and fill you with a feeling of incredible coolness. His music resembled a blues influenced combination of Death, Jimi Hendrix and James Brown, and with the support of a live horns section he was able to take a classic sound to another level. He howled like the wind, if the wind was the coolest person you’d ever met in your whole life. I left Black Joe Lewis with a swagger in my step, and the uncontrollable desire to buy an electric guitar.
The biggest flaw in the organizational aspect of the Squamish Valley Music Festival was the overlap between the Broken Bells, the Roots and Arcade Fire. All three acts dug at least a half hour into each other’s sets; it called for some very difficult and emotionally draining decision making. I was determined to see all three, so I tied my running shoes extra tight, and put my game face on. The first on my list was the Broken Bells. Danger Mouse sauntered on stage in a full suit like he was on his way to another day at the office, James Mercer followed, equally blasé. They launched into their set with an eerie perfection, every song sounding exactly like the recording and they appeared to be performing with a minimal amount of difficulty. At one point a giant inflatable ball made to look like the pink lantern, which appears in the album artwork of both their releases was tossed into the audience. Although the music was infectious and I was on the verge of breaking into full fledge Saturday Night Fever-esque disco boogie, it was time to leave in order to catch the Roots.
The Roots really know how to tailor a show to an audience. I have a sneaking suspicion that they didn’t have a set list at all as it appeared like drummer ?uestlove was speaking into a mic the whole time which the rest of the band could hear and directing the show as it went along. They played some older songs to start off but as the show went along they incorporated more covers and mashups that the crowd was going crazy for. The covered “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns ‘N Roses as well as Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” did a little tribute to J Dilla, and payed homage to Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley. I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to hear much from their most recent albums. At the same time it was admirable to see old pros at work. They tested the waters a bit and got a pretty quick grip on what the majority of the audience was excited to see. The band danced around the stage, their live tuba player hyped up the crowd with jumps and spins, and rapper Black Thought kept his sunglasses on the whole show. All in all it proved that the Roots sure do know how to play to a festival audience and understanding this might not be the place to perform their heavier material certainly benefited them in the long run.
I was luckily able to catch the last 50 minutes of Arcade Fire’s set, which was truly a spectacle. Marimbas, horns, drums, synths, violins, guitars and odd-looking people in mismatching patterns cluttered the stage. Watching Arcade Fire is like watching a great big symphony of weirdos perform. It’s miraculous how each diverse style fits seamlessly into infectiously catchy song after infectiously catchy song. Towards the end of the set a platform was rolled down the barrier in the middle of the audience and a person dressed head to toe in a mirror suit danced dramatically as they played. This human disco ball slowly moving in the middle of the crowd was absolutely bizarre, but successfully endearing. After the disco man left, Regine Chassagne got up on the platform wearing a long cape and hot pink fringed gloves. Not long after a person in a skin tight skeleton suit joined her to dance as she sang “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”. The main portion of the show ended with Chassagne singing a gorgeous rendition of “Sprawl II,” strangers in the audience looked at each other lovingly and the moment felt meaningful.
The encore began with a group of people in giant human masks coming onstage. “Arcade Fire are leaving on their helicopter now, but we’re here to play for you. We’re called The Reflektors. This is a song we wrote three years before most of you were born,” said one of the masked musicians. Bryan Adam’s “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” began to play as the masked people on stage air-banded along. A minute into the song the entire cast of Arcade Fire ran back on stage bursting into an encore set. Confetti cannons went off and the crowd sang along as rainbow coloured pieces of paper fell upon us.
As the band exited the stage and the lights came back on I realized one of the strangers I had been singing and dancing with the whole show was wearing a T-shirt which read “hakuna ma-vodka (it means get wasted),” which just made me think how amazing it is that incredible live music can bring the most unlikely people together.
The last day of the Squamish Valley Music Festival was the busiest by far. The lineup at the gate was packed with Slim Shady shirts and girls covered in bold body paint expressing their various levels of devotion to Marshall Mathers. Once they were let through the gates these soldiers of the Eminem army would bolt to the main stage to begin an all day waiting game. With approximately seven hours until Mr. Mathers was set to grace the stage his fans were already fighting for a front row spot. The air smelled like Coors Light and Axe body spray. For Eminem’s followers the 8-Mile marathon was just beginning, and they were all off to the races.
My first show of the day was slightly frightening Internet sensation Danny Brown. I don’t know Danny Brown personally, so I can’t speak to his true emotional state. But during live shows he certainly projects himself as one unstable motherfucker. He performed like a pentecostal preacher who had been possessed by a rap god. Darting about the stage like he’s dodging bullets, his lopsided hair cut bobbed in the breeze, and he stuck his tongue out at us Miley-style so we could see his two front teeth are missing. All this only added to the insanity effect. As he smiled at the audience, spitting continuous flow on subjects such as “pussy popping” and “income tax swag,” he looked like he could either be on the verge of hysterical laughter or manslaughter. Needless to say he’s a hard fellow to read. Standing up there among the air horns and glitch beats in his black Lou Reed shirt, putting more energy into a show than I’ve ever seen before, you have to admire the guy for having the balls to really commit. That’s why the crowd was going crazy — not because of his funny teeth, ridiculously hyphy DJ, or absurd lyrics, but because they were witnessing a man who is confident enough to do everything the cool kids ever told him not to.
After Danny Brown I bought a pretty amazing burrito to fuel me for the next five hours of standing at one stage to see the Temper Trap, Arctic Monkeys and Eminem. With my stomach full of rice and beans I pushed my way to the middle of the crowd just as the first few chords of the Temper Trap set began to sound. The band seemed relaxed on stage and banged out pop anthem after pop anthem with a very comfortable stage presence. However focusing on the Temper Trap’s performance by about three songs in became nearly impossible. The crowd was growing rapidly, people desperately and aggressively started pushing to the front in hopes of a better view for Eminem. Most of the audience was paying absolutely no attention to the band, the crowd yelling and talking to each other quickly drowned out the sound of the music.
As we transitioned into the Arctic Monkeys show the crowd seemed to be growing increasingly irate. Lots of people were trying to get out because the incessant pushing was becoming a little violent and the thickness of the crowd made it difficult to breath. There was no space to leave the crowd really, so the people trying to exit were yelling and pushing, those that were entering were doing the same, and the rest of us were just trying not to fall over. Arctic Monkeys entered with frontman Alex Turner in motorcycle boots and a printed blazer. A wave of teenage girls cried and screamed. The show was tight and energetic; drummer Matt Helders paid homage to their hometown by taping the Sheffield area code to his kit and frontman Alex Turner played into his sexuality to the umpteenth degree. At one point he took off his shirt, and combed his greasy hair on stage, you could hear the clicks from iPhone cameras as teen girls documented the moment to keep in their spank bank for later. Over all, Arctic Monkeys delivered and beautiful and classic rock show.
Both the Temper Trap and the Arctic Monkeys should really be congratulated for performing so well for an audience that largely didn’t come to see them. As soon as the Arctic Monkeys exited the stage things in the audience became a lot more hectic. The pushing was more violent than ever, with huge sections of the audience nearly falling to the ground. I kept overhearing strangers shouting to each other “This is insane!” “Why is this happening!” “This is Kid Cudi all over again.” I attempted to move backwards hoping that the farther from the core of audience I went the less aggressive things would be, but the conditions seemed the same all the way back. Eminem’s performance started with a video projected onstage. It was a crime-story style tape explaining the murderous actions of Stan, a man who drove himself and his pregnant girlfriend off a cliff to their demise. The video ended, Marshall Mathers entered, and the audience went crazy. Pushing, shoving, screaming, and yelling the crowd jubilated at the sight of Slim Shady himself. It was kind of beautiful to see a group of so many people filled with that much excitement over one person, but it was also kind of scary. Eminem talked to us about how we make him feel like he’s at home, he called us Vancouver, and he asked us if we were ready to get stupid tonight. I got elbowed in the nose that evening more times than I can remember, I couldn’t breathe and I felt more like getting safe tonight more than getting stupid. So I tore my way out of the crowd and stood on the outskirts for a little while before deciding it was time to go home. In many ways leaving Eminem early made me feel like a terrible person, my fear-of-missing-out levels were at all time high. But I also had somebody else’s cigarette ashes in my hair and some new cuts and bruises, so I emptied the gravel out of my sneakers and said a fond farewell to the Squamish Valley Music Festival and all of its antics.