October 09, 2014
Warning: there is strong language contained in this review.
Take the biggest break out acts from across Western Canada and put them in Winnipeg for three-days of non-stop music, and it goes without saying that there’s going to be a bit of magic.
The year 2014, officially dubbed the ‘Year of Music’ in Manitoba, has been a whirlwind year for mega-music industry events in the province. Winnipeg—a city known for its robust music scene—was the host city of the 2014 JUNO Awards back in March, and this past weekend, BreakOut West (BOW) also rolled through town.
There were tons of shows at iconic Winnipeg venues, and far too many decisions to make about which acts to take in—which is, really, not a bad problem to have.
I descended upon my first day of shows galore on Thursday at the West End Cultural Centre (WECC). The BreakOut West Kickoff Party, which was initially scheduled for Fort Gibraltar, was moved to the WECC due to weather concerns. It is Winnipeg, after all.
Entering the WECC, I spotted my childhood hero Fred Penner, who was to be inducted into the WCMA Hall of Fame that weekend, hanging out amongst the crowd. As I watched Winnipeg’s Yes We Mystic set the festival in bloom, my five-year-old self had a momentary freak out. This would be the first of several Fred Penner sightings throughout the weekend.
Yes We Mystic, fronted by the talented Adam Fuhr (also of Les Jupes), played majestic indie-folk gems from their debut Floods and Fires EP, along with gorgeous new songs, including “The Contest of Strength,” a melancholic, goose bump-inducing track with surges of soothing vocals and orchestral flourishes.
Yes We Mystic performing “The Contest of Strength” for Manitoba Music’s Loft Sessions.
Next up was Vancouver’s PinkBrown, consisting of guitarist Gord Grdina and drummer Kenton Loewen, delivering the most intense guitar-drum set I’ve seen in a long time. Both instrumentalists are virtuosic in their abilities, particularly Grdina, whose drunken-style of guitar work had him falling all over himself.
Returning to the stage as Dan Mangan + Blacksmith (FYI: Dan Mangan’s backing band, who were recently rechristened Blacksmith, also includes both members of PinkBrown) brought equal force and perspiration t0 their second set of the night.
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith turning things up to 11. Photo credit: Julijana Capone.
Alongside fast and furious strumming, Mangan sang a stunning new track, called “Mouthpiece,” along with older tunes, such as “How Darwinian” off his 2011 release Oh Fortune—an album that brought him three WCMA wins in 2012—and the sublimely beautiful “Basket.”
The trio moved from the stage to the floor for the final encore. With the audience circled around the band, the last few moments culminated into an intimate sing-along.
On Friday night, after meetings with delegates from across the West (who, BTW, were the loveliest people), I met up with my childhood friend, Iskwé, whose album was nominated for a WCMA for Electronic Album of the Year.
Iskwé filled me in on the inspiration behind some of her new material while we shopped for makeup for her gig later that night.
When she approached the stage at The Windsor hours later, she had transformed. Donning warrior-like face paint and beating at a hand drum, she channeled her indigenous roots while infusing her own left-field influences.
Iskwé combines tripped-out beats with elements of piano pop into a beautifully wound cross-cultural package. Photo credit: Julijana Capone.
With Toronto pianist Michael Shand on keys and Ryan Voth on drums, tracks such as the trip-hop-inflected “Slack Jaw” and downtempo pick-me-up “So Over You” were too perfect for words. Also a highlight was the ethereal pop jam “Will I See,” a haunting new single that will appear on her forthcoming album.
Over at the WECC, I caught a sit-down show featuring The Deep Dark Woods, arguably one of the biggest bands out of Saskatoon right now. Harkening the laid-back, psych-hued vibe of ‘70s Laurel Canyon, the peaceful croon of frontman Ryan Boldt and the band’s soul-soothing harmonies caressed like a warm summer breeze.
The Deep Dark Woods performing “Jubilee” on Seattle’s KEXP.
By the time I arrived at Ozzy’s, a crowd of diehards had gathered around the stage in anticipation for Vancouver’s Evil Ebenezer. Backed by DJ Factor, Evil rhymed through tracks from his 2014 WCMA-nominated album, Howl, including the head-bobbing anthem “Sunshine,” while converts near the front shouted back the words. It’s worth noting that of the five artists nominated in the WCMA rap category for 2014, all hail from Vancouver—a detail that should not be overlooked. Vancouver has been turning out a slew of notable hip hop acts since the ‘90s, and Evil is yet another name to add to the list.
Evil Ebenezer is among a stream of Vancouver hip hop acts making waves throughout the rest of Canada. Photo credit: Julijana Capone.
On Saturday, I made my way to The Zoo for another round of music and mayhem. When Vampires drummer Matthew Powers broke a drumstick after the first song, I knew I was in for an explosive set. With skuzzy riffage courtesy of guitarist/vocalist David Dobbs, Powers brought stamina ten-fold to his drum kit, which only seems natural for a drummer with the last name ‘Powers.’ If grungy noise-rock, blood-sucking guitar freakouts and next-level drumming is what moves you, then Vampires might be your new favourite band.
Grungy noise rock and next-level drumming are the hallmarks of Winnipeg’s Vampires. Photo credit: Julijana Capone.
It was wall-to-wall packed by the time I arrived at Times Change(d). One-man rock show Shotgun Jimmie (aka Jim Kilpatrick) was mid-set, exploding hearts with versions of “Impossible Popsicle” and “Everything, Everything.” Warm and fuzzy riffs atop a few ‘drum flourishes’ (Kilpatrick literally tapping cymbals and saying “flourishes, flourishes”), and some charmingly awkward in-between song banter highlighted what makes Kilpatrick the reigning king of adorable indie-rock.
Clad in marching band uniforms, Edmonton’s the Wet Secrets performed one of my favourite sets of the festival. Approaching dance music with a punk rock spirit, disco-inflected tracks, such as “Nightlife” and “Get Your Shit Together,” had the boozy crowd at The Pyramid blissfully bopping around.
From the bass thrashes of frontman Lyle Bell (of Shout Out Out Out Out and Whitey Houston) to the thunderous drum fills of Trevor Anderson and wild keyboard/conga playing of Paul Arnusch to that all-female horn section (trumpet player/vocalist Kim Rackel and trombonist/vocalist Emma Frazier) who do groovy choreographed dance moves, the Wet Secrets are a five-headed beast of a party band.
The Wet Secrets made themselves a few more fans during BreakOut West. Photo credit: Julijana Capone.
“Why haven’t I heard of this band before?” said one person in my vicinity. “They’re fucking incredible!” And that moment of musical discovery is precisely the point of festivals like BreakOut West.
Wanna talk music? Email me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @thejulijanaruin.