By Willow Grier, Michael Grondin, Sarah Kitteringham, Christine Leonard, Jamie McNamara, Liam Prost, Paul Rodgers and Aurora Sol
June 25, 2016
Shooting Guns, Chieftain, Wilt, Numenorean, Deafheaven – #1 Legion
Once again reunited with their keyboardist, Toby, who arrived mid-festival, Shooting Guns almost sounded like a completely different band on Saturday night. The heat and the humidity of the second-floor beer hall, giving off a wafting welcome akin to entering a Turkish bathhouse, did nothing to cool the ardor of the sprawling stoner-rock ensemble. Muscling through wide-shouldered grooves and melodies that unfurl like freshly-laid two-lane blacktop, the extended Shooting Guns soon reaffirmed they were the same boogiemen who raised hackles, and PBR tallboys, when they unleashed the beast within for the soundtrack to the movie Wolfcop. (CL)
Calgary sludge metal band Chieftain kicked off the evening at the Legion, howling hypnotic hymns to the ancient gods while awash in a fuzzy red light that gave the performance an unhinged atmosphere. With new songs in tow, the quintet was tight and ferocious, paving the way for Winnipeg black metallers Wilt.
Frontman Jordan Dorge paced the stage, growling and screaming into the void as the spacious then claustrophobic sonic backdrop ebbed and flowed around him.
Once recent Season of Mist signees Numenorean took the stage, the crowd surged forward, banging their heads and screaming along to the act’s ferocious black metal. Truly, Numenorean is ready for headlining status: their barbaric yet deliberate blend of instrumental rocks thunderous tendencies with black metal’s cruelty is impossible to resist. (SK)
It’s hard to put into words the visceral experience of seeing Deafheaven live. Until Saturday night, Calgarians had only words to try and understand what they were about to experience at the #1 Legion. For their debut show in Calgary, the band tore through their third album New Bermuda from cover to cover with a ferocious technicality and stage presence. Frontman George Clarke conducts the crowd like a dictator, constantly telling people to come up on stage, only to throw them back off only seconds later. Drummer Daniel Tracey is somehow more impressive in person, constantly locked into his blast beats with metronome-like precision. The rest of the band is just as impressive in their own right, fuelling the pure catharsis of every attendee that had waited years to see the band live. The band got called back on stage for a 2 a.m. encore, ripping through two tracks off of their sophomore instant classic Sunbather, including crowd favourite “Dream House.” As the crowd hobbled out of the legion after, most facial expressions resembled something like a Catholic grandma meeting the Pope in person. It was utterly revelatory, let’s hope it’s not the last Calgary sees of Deafheaven. (JM)
The Weir – Bamboo
Have you ever wanted an excuse to pull a plastic bag over your friend’s head? What better occasion than a mad dash between raindrops? A roomful of spongy hoodies fogged up the interior of Bamboo conjuring an appropriately winterish atmosphere for The Weir to rest the slow-hand of their weighty message upon the heads of the all-too familiars. Their heaving black mass, incredibly dense and anything but dumb, went down like a pint of Guinness. A fitting gateway into the second-half of the ‘Stoner Rock Guy Presents” showcase, which had hangover-cure seekers gathered to bask in the healing rays of The Switching Yard. One of the busiest musicians at Sled Island, The Switching Yard’s ambitious guitarist Chris Laramee also performed at this year’s festival with his bands Shooting Guns and Radiation Flowers (who had remarkably appeared at Olympic Plaza early that same afternoon)! Seeing any one of these Saskatchewan desert-rock entities is the mollifying equivalent of putting the ol’ motorhome on cruise control and watching the endless wheat fields fly by. (CL)
Peaches – Flames Central
Peaches was like the best of any Sled Island, indescribably strange and amazing. We are tempted to simply list the bizarre things things we witnessed at Flames Central during her headlining set.
There were dance moves, nudity, and costume changes; but mostly there was great grimy pop songs and an air of relentless empowerment.
Peaches began the night wearing a cape and shoulder pads, and a few songs in began shedding clothes. There was a flesh-tone bodysuit with hands all over it, a one-piece with a strange monster face on it, and by the end of the night she was literally topless. Hers wasn’t the only body on display either, she was joined partway in by two backup dancers wearing giant vaginas, flapping open and closed and rubbing their stuffed clitorises. The dancers also shed clothes periodically throughout the set until they were chasing each other around the stage in g-strings.
The visual spectacle of it all was overwhelming, but it was still a music performance, and Peaches brought it. The set ran heavy on the latest release Rub with the particular highlight being “Dick in the Air,” which we lament that we are still finding ourselves singing along to even in public. She even busted out her most recognizable track “Fuck the Pain Away.” If you were one of the unfortunate few who didn’t make it into the packed Flames Central, you missed out. Sorry not sorry. (LP)
CRI, DJ EX – Hifi Club
Last year’s DJ EZ show was the first time many in Calgary had heard of the U.K. garage pioneer. After his lengthy set, he became engrained in the memory banks of all who were graced by his presence, so being there to see his return to Calgary last night at the Hifi was nonnegotiable.
Arriving at the club in time to catch the majority of CRI’s opening set, I recall wondering if it’s intimidating or exhilarating opening for a legend like DJ EZ. One of those double-edged sword type conundrums. Either way, the Montreal ambassador rose to the occasion in fine form, delivering his varied and sophisticated mix with tons of energy and enthusiasm. Hovering around the 124ish BPM range, CRI worked in elements of acid, tech and deep house and had the crowd hooked throughout.
As EZ took the stage, his signature opening vocal samples heralding his triumphant return, the crowd swelled and voiced their frenzied excitement. There was as far as could be determinedno mystery “special guest” as the Sled schedule (sledule?) had indicated, but perhaps the surprise was simply that the wise folks of the Hifi team just wanted to give this god of UKG a longer span with which to deliver the goods. He did recently play for 24 straight hours after all…
Wasting no time, EZ launched into a memorable DJ set, showcasing the best in modern and classic U.K. garage tracks, with more of an emphasis this time ‘round on integrating hip hop and trap. Demonstrating true prowess as a selector, the Tottenham native read the minds of the crowd and gave them what they wanted to hear. Highly danceable and invigoratingly entertaining throughout, EZ proved his world class status and was a perfect addition to this year’s unreal electronic lineup of Sled Island talent. (PR)
Verses vs. Homelessness (Sled Island Special Event) – John Dutton Theatre
One of the most powerful parts of Sled Island as a music festival is how inclusive it is, for all types of people and demographics. This year hosted queer and feminist showcases, a safer spaces workshop, plenty of free and all ages events, and a special event presented at the John Dutton Theatre in collaboration with the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre was Shelter From the Storm’s Versus Vs. Homelessness, a presentation that saw clients, employees and volunteers at the DI creating a collection of songs, spoken-word pieces, and stories to represent some of the struggles and experiences faced by marginalized groups and individuals in Calgary. The event saw two showings, attended by Sled Island patrons and laymen alike, and proved to be a stirring, emotional, and dialogue-stimulating event. The nights brought personal experience into the light of the general public where empathy and hope could be felt, and besides, was a presentation of some really strong local performance artists. The overall presentation served as a fitting example of how important the arts are in human expression and even healing. (WG)
Adam Strangler, Tisper – Local 510
The clang of an organ wafts onto the patio at Local 510, where BeatRoute editors are perched at our annual Hangover Breakfast, drowning sickovers and hangovers in multiple cups of coffee. These are the sounds of Adam Strangler, a jangly, bored psych ‘n’ roll band hailing from Montreal. With a drawling vocal style and jazzy drums, the initially sparse patio quickly is filled as attendees gently sway away the night before.
Shortly after, the gentle strumming and fragile vocals of Tisper draw the inside crowd into an uneasy silence. Strings run askew out of the head of Tisper’s acoustic, while her finger picked chords and cascading notes lend to a coffee-house feel. (SK)
Dream Whip, Radiation Flowers, Moon King, Speedy Ortiz, SUUNS, Land of Talk, Built To Spill, Guided By Voices – Olympic Plaza
Scattered sunshowers did little to soften the resolve of the crowd or the stiff peaks of Calgary-based quartet Dream Whip on Saturday afternoon for a downtown daylight debutante ball to write home about. Cautiously optimistic, their nostalgic cocktail dress-chic was more couture than Coachella. The puffy clouds above were no match for a bomp-less early ‘60s sound coyly wrapped in a fuzz-toned angora sweater.
A highlight of the Olympic Plaza event is the opportunity to flip through “the big book of Sled posters” at the merch table; a rare chance to get your hands on some of the numbered prints from previous years, including artwork representing the likes of Lightning Bolt, King Tuff, Torche and more, all for a mere $30. (CL)
Without set plans, a quick jaunt was made over to Olympic Plaza, where fuzzy, poppy, psych-rock band Radiation Flowers were performing. The sky already appeared heavy with rain and as the Saskatoon act unleashed reverberating chords and sweet vocals, they conjured a massive torrential downpour, forcing numerous in the crowd to flee to dryer climes. (SK)
Well, it isn’t Sled without a little torrential downpour. The rain was coming down hard on attendees who made the trek down to Olympic Plaza early on Saturday, but Montreal duo Moon King delivered all the sunshine needed. The duo played a high-energy set that, despite the weather, had the crowd wading through the rain to dance and sing.
Having Northampton, MA quartet Speedy Ortiz starting their set at 4:20 Saturday afternoon might be the best timing of all of Sled 2016. The band known for their Pavement-esque stoner jams played a tight set indicative of their place as one of the new indie elite. It’s clear the band does this a lot, but their sophomore show in Calgary was anything but complacent. (JM)
An interesting choice for an outdoor set, SUUNS brought complex rhythms and discordant melodies to Olympic Plaza, emotionally ambivalent music that paired well with the on-and-off rain. On the records they are sparse and reserved, so we were surprised when the band came out with energy and presence. The soundscape was massive and strange, and left us totally entranced. Passersby were likely confused by the siren-like tones and breathy synthesized rhythms, which were likely mistaken for the crashing of emergency vehicles.
Land of Talk has basically been dark for five years, but judging by their electric mid-day set at Olympic Plaza, you’d never know they had taken a day off. Front-woman Elizabeth Powell is a tremendous guitar player, and a compelling figure to watch despite never ripping any showboating guitar solos. The five-piece format was full and sharp, but let Powell do the heavy lifting, leaving audible her beautifully canted lyrics sang lovingly in her warmly disaffected vocal style. We don’t know where you’ve been Land of Talk, but we hope you’re here to stay.
If you were standing at the back for Built to Spill, you probably won’t believe us when we tell you that the band performed as a three-piece. Doug Martsch brings the bravado and chops of a guitar army to the stage, shaking around as he plays and sings like the music is flowing straight from his pores. Martsch is such a guitar heavyweight that he plays with a amp cabinet right next to him, because monitors are for suckers. Hearing old favorites like “Carry the Zero” next to new songs like “Living Zoo” is a clear reminder that the band is still making some of the best music of their career, a palpable feat almost 25 years deep.
It’s not a reunion. Don’t call it a comeback. Considering their vast discography, it’s easy to forget how many incredible songs Guided By Voices have written. Over the course of the headlining set at Olympic Plaza, GBV pulled out classic after classic that we had almost forgotten were all written by the same person. Robert Pollard is a songwriting treasure, and the set proved that he is also kind of a rock star. The band rocked the entire set with vivacity, even the folkier songs were turned up. Pollard himself bounced around the stage, spinning the microphone on its cord like a lasso, and broadly gesturing. Pollard was the preacher to the cult of introspection, rocking out to the lyrical weirdness of songs like “Tractor Rape Chain” without a second thought. (LP)
Jay Arner, BRASS, Chron Goblin, Bell Witch, Valient Thorr – Palomino
Apparently Jay Arner has it out for Vancouver, Washington. This is one of the many insightful personal tidbits that we learned from the intimate set upstairs at the Palomino. A safe, dry, respite from the rain and a comforting set from a pop songwriter that knows himself very well, and a backing band of suitably adorable people. (LP)
The show-stopping and jaw-dropping antics of Vancouver, BC’s BRASS had perambulators stuck in their tracks as they willfully transformed the upper-floor of The Palomino Smokehouse into a penthouse punk-art party. The walls wept Andy Warhol cream-of-tomato soup as BRASS’s big strings and skins whipped up trouble and brought the punk foam steaming to the surface. Blazing with all-caps fury, each headstrong missive was delivered like saucy knuckle sandwich, which just happened to pair perfectly with ibuprofen, ear plugs, and cold draught.
Going hungry is never an issue at The Palomino, but Calgary’s thirst for “Backwater” continued to be an issue. One of the more crowded basement shows of the week, Chron Goblin’s homecoming performance left no doubt regarding the quality of Calgary psych-metal they were dispensing while recently on tour in Europe. Well-equipped to shoot whiskey while rendering their anthemic psych-metal, the foursome had the other musicians in the room perking up their ears in appreciation of their challenging choices and powerfully gritty vocals.
Speaking of witch… Seattle’s Bell Witch opened a portal to deep listening on Saturday night. The expansive dark matter of their loathsome tolls and overarching themes flowed forth in a monosyllabic blast. Growling eloquence may sound like a contradiction in terms, but the wrathful drone tones and banshee shrieks emanating from the drum kit paint a scene that would give Francis Bacon nightmares. The curse interfered at least once, causing technical havoc that required a “one moment please” break early into their performance. Resurrected, Bell Witch redoubled their efforts to spin a web of suspense-filled moments.
“Is this the last show of the festival? And, we’re the last band playing here tonight? Well then, you’d better get your fuckin’ money’s worth!” And, with that, Valient Thorr launched into one of the most entertaining performances of the entire festival. Stripped to the waist, save for a ginger-flocked hair shirt, the wily lead-singer, Valient Himself, brought Chapel Hill, NC’s hot and heavy Southern Rock roadshow to Cowtown in earnest. Internationally infamous and self-proclaimed legends of the world, the multicultural outfit embraced their immortalized audience in a sweaty bearhug of righteous rhythms, metal-core meltdowns and Bad Brains-esque breakaways. Was the ceiling getting lower, or were we all levitating on a wave of hardcore happiness? Either way, it was good Sledding. (CL)
Circuit des Yeux, Dawn of Midi – Theatre Junction GRAND
The Saturday showcase at Theatre Junction GRAND, featuring Circuit des Yeux and Dawn of Midi, was enchanting.
The dimly lit theatre space made for a personal and intimate experience.
The harrowing yet warm nature of Circuit des Yeux’s experimental folk-fusion embraced
Her haunting voice was cradled by a dense atmosphere of distorted acoustic 12-string guitar, modulated violin and slow pounding drums.
Dawn of Midi’s meditational journey was supplied by repeating upright bass plucks, light bouncing piano chords and light drum hits, all building and building, adding a note here and there. And as the tension expands seeming to explode, Dawn of Midi just moves directly into their next guided musical tour through the mind. (MG)
Alan Cho, Emily Burden, Kaheer Fazel, Success 5000, James Hartnett, Cheryl Hann, Steph Tolev (Sled Island Comedy) – Theatre Junction GRAND
Up in the studio at Theatre Junction GRAND, a bit of a maze to find through the labyrinth-like corridors, was the Sled Island 2016 comedy lineup on Friday and Saturday evening. A diverse group of funny people who aren’t afraid to say exactly what’s on their minds made up the roster this year.
A staple of Calgary’s comedy scene, Alan Cho, didn’t fail to break the ice and perhaps make a few people uncomfortable with some jokes out of his own arsenal–picking at culturally sensitive topics like race and white-guilt.
Emily Burden took the stage next and delved right into a few curt and comedic tales of her life as a nurse in Edmonton when she isn’t making people laugh on the stage.
Calgary’s own Kaheer Fazel has a fast wit and talent for finding the most humorous aspects of politics, modern relationships and commercialism, both of which shone under the spotlight.
As hilarious and honest Edmonton-based musical duo Success 5000 slid onto the stage with guitars, the anticipation in the room was heavy. Their set ended with a room full of laughter and head nods, as they touched on themes such as the similarities and differences between Calgary and Edmonton.
CBC sketch comedy artist James Hartnett took the stage and said “I think it’s cool when people use the whole mic stand.” As he dove into his set, pacing the stage and dragging the mic stand behind him, laughter roared through the studio.
A duo of best friends hailing from Toronto, Crimson Wave went hilariously right into the touchy topics of gender and menstruation.
A true pioneer of her own comedic style, Halifax’s Cheryl Hann made a theatrical entrance before firing off a few feminist jokes she had under her belt, followed by some interpretive dance, and she even puked on the floor when she realized her dad was in the room watching with the rest of the audience.
The night was capped off with Just For Laughs alumni Steph Tolev of Toronto. Her routine was highlighted by a side-splitting collection of anecdotes and stories, both self-deprecating and empowering, told with confidence and the kind of friendly charm that would make even the most bashful individuals giggle. (AS)
Doppelgänger/Temple – Artist: Tasman Richardson (Visual Art at Sled Island) – Theatre Junction GRAND
With the intermittent downpour at Olympic Plaza, yesterday was a fine time to venture away from the main show of the day and take in some welcome coverage and visual art. Theatre Junction GRAND hosted Doppelgänger/Temple, a projection performance created by Tasman Richardson. To start the experience, viewers would walk through the blackened, almost too-quiet hallways hallways of TJG to reach the back theatre area. Here, screens illuminated with black and white imagery cast light in the crowd, many of whom were seated to better appreciate the full showing. Dual screens portrayed a mix of vintage movie shots, sometimes layered to create dreamlike dichotomies. Hands under running water juxtaposed with digital water droplet sounds, and some clips obscured beneath multiple layers created a searching, hypnotic feeling. The compilation of audio cuts created an evocative, consuming experience and as the video clips progressed, colour was slowly introduced. First in the form of spacey night driving, then in strips of colour and erratic noise. At one point the clips created a beat for the quasi-musical performance by splicing vocal snippets from a black and white film, reminiscent of some of the best sample DJs. Overall, the show was a welcome reprieve from the over-stimulus of weather, crowds, and bright lights, and allowed the audience to slip into something of a trance-like restorative state. (WG)
Fountain – Tubby Dog
Fountain blew minds again at Tubby Dog for the “Weird Canada Presents” show. Their avant-jangle-pop had Calgary’s beloved hot dog joint in a packed uproar. (MG)
View our full Sled Island live photo album on our Facebook page.#1 Legion, AB, Adam Strangler, Alan Cho, Alberta, Bamboo, Bell Witch, BRASS, Built to Spill, Calgary Drop-In Centre, Cheryl Hann, Chieftain, Chron Goblin, Circuit des Yeux, CRI, Dawn of Midi, Deafheaven, DJ EX, Doppelgänger/Temple, Dream Whip, Emily Burden, Flames Central, Fountain, Guided By Voices, HIFI Club, James Hartnett, Jay Arner, John Dutton Theatre, Kaheer Fazel, Land of Talk, Local 510, Moon King, Numenorean, Olympic Plaza, Palomino, Peaches, Radiation Flowers, Shelter From The Storm, Shooting Guns, Sled Island 2016, Sled Island 2016 Day Four, Sled Island Comedy, Speedy Ortiz, stand-up comedy, Steph Tolev, Success 5000, SUUNS, Tasman Richardson, The Weir, Theatre Junction GRAND, Tisper, Tubby Dog, Valient Thorr, Verses vs. Homelessness, Visual Art at Sled Island, Wilt