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Dana at Sled Island in Calgary!

Journals from Sled Island by Dana Corrigan

Day One

Headed down to the Central United Church show to kick off Sled Island and get ready for Mount Eerie. Justin Wright (cellist) took to the stage with a violinist and announced the songs he was about to play were written a month after his father passed away. Long drawn out notes gave the sense of a soothing melancholy in honour of and yearning for the deceased. More intricate pre-recorded backing tracks eventually made their way into the songs as the melodies became more complex and impassioned. Wright exited the stage having enjoyed himself despite acknowledging that he does not play guitar and sing.


Sister Ray played next and I’m sure many in the crowd enjoyed her set. Her songs were played solo with her electric guitar. She sang impassioned rootsy songs mostly about heartache and loss.


Mount Eerie’s set will probably go down as the best of Sled Island. Driftwood and a monitor were all that accompanied Elvirum on stage with his guitar. The loss of Elvirum’s wife recently due to cancer has been well documented, especially by him on his last two albums. His songs deal with her loss in a straightforward philosophical way, which is to say that you start with the most basic conclusion you can be certain of and work your way from there. As the songs progressed we expected him to stop between songs and say a few words, but really the songs spoke for themselves. A highlight included telling us of how he scattered his wife’s ashes in the yard then was rolling around on the grass playing with his daughter and looked over to see a bone fragment. Could this bone be from the finger you used to caress me while you were dying? he wondered. But what really came through was how introverted and alone Elvirum has always felt, and how unfair this loss is after having finally “found each other in the universe”. Elvirum rushed on stage, played his songs, and then left just as quickly. I’m left with the sense he might be a genius.


Going to Thundercat after Mount Eerie could not have been more polar opposite. Whereas Mount Eerie required silence and concentration, Thundercat was in a huge nightclub playing for people ready to get down. For those unaware, Thundercat is a bass virtuoso that plays a unique brand of funk/soul songs. He played a six string bass with his equally as talented piano player and drummer. They would play a melody for awhile and then start tearing up their respective instruments, usually going on extended jams. Surprisingly, when he asked the crowd who liked Dragonball Z and video games, people really responded. I never realized there was something nerdy about Thundercat.


Finally I headed to the Ship and Anchor to catch Michael Rault. His sister is no longer part of the band and he seems to be going in a new direction, more of a 70s guitar pop/rock. The highlight for me, other than the catchy songs and Rault’s scratchy vocals, were the new dueling guitar section. Hearing two guitars come in and out of phase as they play the same melody and then start jamming on their own is great. Wonderful end to day one.


Day Two


I really had nothing to do today other than see Fountain play at 8:30pm so I decided to park myself at the Palomino parking lot. The show started an hour late because the venue was having trouble finding a power supply but once it did members of the audience started setting up their instruments and getting ready to play. First up was the predominantly female experimental rock band, Blue Odeur. There were some groovy rhythms and the women pushed their vocals into their deep register and alternated between singing and spoken word. An ambitious project.


Up next was an all girl punk rock band from Vancouver called Necking. These were some good tunes; I couldn’t help but get caught up in them. My favourite line from one of their songs was “stop singing about your ex! stop singing about the ocean!”. A very punk rock homage to the two favourite song topics of west coast folk everywhere. Leave it to punk rock to address that issue.


Experimental punk rock band Chiffres played next. Their music reminded me of the many experimental rock bands that came out in the wake of indie rock in the 90s. All the ethos of punk rock combined with the off kilter and dissonant aspects of indie rock. Not bad.

Victoria’s Fountain played next. This is a band moving in a new direction. I was always a fan of their off kilter, but fun, brand of post-punk. I’m always reminded that one of Evan’s favourite bands is Captain Beefheart. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you’re making music inspired by Captain Beefheart. But the band seems to be moving in more of a rock direction. They still have the catchy, unusual rhythms, but Evan’s abilities with guitar have markedly improved. What gets you from A post-punk groove to B post-punk groove in the old Fountain was a well rehearsed melody set to an unusual time signature. Now that Evan can really play guitar, what gets you there are some seriously rocking chops. No surprise Evan broke into a full on guitar solo at one point. But I love to rock and I  always love a band that can bring the rock n roll.


Next we took the C-Train up to MacEwan Hall to take in an infamous Flaming Lips show. If anything I’d say they’ve toned down their live show, and that’s saying something since the show featured: an intense light show, lasers, ropes draped from the ceiling, a giant disco ball, bouncey balls, Wayne on a fake horse riding through the crowd, Wayne in his bubble crowd surfing, a Bowie cover, two women inside giant inflatable eyeballs dancing, giant inflatable mushrooms, and a giant inflatable rainbow. The hippy post-punk rock optimism was on full display when Wayne told us—between saying fuck every second word of course—that if we bring our energy up to 110% you never know who you might be affected around you. When they played “Are You a Hypnotist?” I was definitely singing my lungs out.


Lastly we made our way downtown to catch a DJ, Synkro, playing at HIFI club. The set started off very Oneohtrix Point Never-esque but then dropped into beats and did some dance music stuff. That’s when I realized that Oneohtrix Point Never is electronic music but without beats. Very post-electronic music. It was good though.


Day Three


To give a sense of how the last couple of days had gone for me, I missed the 3pm set by Empath because I slept in too late. I heard a bit from the street, and in my defence I was only 20 mins late, but by the time I got into the Palomino’s parking lot they had finished 🙁

So I headed down to my first show at Commonwealth to check out Peach Kelli Pop. The band had recently been signed to Mint Records and had completed what sounded like a fairly long tour of the US and Canada. However, they seemed genuinely happy to be playing at Sled. Their sound fits perfectly on Mint Records: slow, grunge-y guitars at times but ultimately really catchy pop songs, like sugar. Their EP came through the station a little while ago, Which Witch, and it is well worth checking out.


Playing after them was Vancouver punk rock/noise band Dumb. They seemed a little uncomfortable on stage but after a while started to find their groove. Their bursts of noise was what really impressed me, but punk rock seemed to be what anchored their sound. The cowboy boots worn by the lead guitarist was a highlight.


Guerrilla Toss. Wow. Next to Mount Eerie this is definitely the band of the festival, but that’s like comparing apples with oranges. The band was selected by Deerhoof and you could see why. They played weird, spastic experimental noise-y indie rock, but they had a killer rhythm section that made it possible to dance through the whole thing. The lead singer sang through a range of effects pedals to compliment her screeching vocals, but at times would sing along with the rhythms, highlighting their importance. The concentration on the face of the bass player was an indication he was the one holding the band’s sound together, and if I had to sound that funky while all this noise was going on around me I’d probably be hyper-focussed too.


After bumming around for awhile with a friend we finally made our way to the Legion to catch Deerhoof. The line-up was super long, but having been in this situation before, I knew we would get in if we just waited. Only the truly die hard fans will wait something like that out, so you just have to wait for people to leave the venue and to abandon the line in front of you. 8 minutes before Deerhoof were to start we got in!


Deerhoof is a classic indie rock band. It’s too bad indie rock doesn’t honour it’s past as much as hip hop does because Deerhoof would be one of the bands everyone would pay their respects to. Their musicianship is next to none and they walk the fine balance between fun, quirky and weird, but ultimately loud and punk rock. Anybody who has never seen Greg Saunier play drums live needs to do so; I don’t think anyone hits them as hard as he does. At times it sounded like the band was briefly playing reggae riffs, at times like they were going to break into a cover of a 70s power rock song, and at times head banging wasn’t in any way out of place. Satomi’s vocals matched her presence as she danced around the stage like a little kid at a dance rehearsal. The glee of a band making whatever kind of music they want at the intensity of punk rock. That’s Deerhoof.

As I watched Whoop-Szo perform I realized this is the first band I’d seen at Sled without a female member. The lead singer then informed us that their female bandmate was away taking care of her son. Last time I watched them play, also at Sled, I noted their sound was starting to get pretty heavy and this seems even more true now. It was nice to take the head banging from Deerhoof and continue that with Whoop-Szo. The heaviest band at Sled and a wonderful way to end the night.


Day Four


The reader will have to forgive me for gearing things down today. Sometimes the joints just start to get sore and creaky…

I did catch Glum however. I ran into James at Deerhoof and he told me when they were playing so that was reason enough. When I first arrived the band sounded, well, a little glum, but after a while the energy picked up. This is the first time I’ve seen James play guitar as he usually he plays bass. His tone was very reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, but his playing was much more power punk rock-y. Interspersed between his chord progressions were some pretty cool melodies. I was also struck by the skill of their drummer. She is a very good drummer and writes some very creative beats.


Another act I really wanted to catch was Tyondai Braxton, son of infamous jazz musician Tony Braxton and one-half of creative duo Battles. I still remember fondly the summer when Battles released Mirror and their catchy single Atlas. This was an entirely electronic set, however, and it was located at the absolutely beautiful new Studio Bell facilities. It’s too bad the room was only seating because this was a full-on, fully danceable, electronic set. Not the kind of beats you’re gonna get at a club, but the kind of beats for people who love Aphex Twin. Which isn’t to say the beats were crazy and all over the place, but that the sounds he was using were very esoteric. Braxton was accompanied by visuals that synced up with his music and at one point the video was of a flock of birds flying around the sky with a tracer-like effect on them. The noise accompanying the video at this time was fairly apocalyptic and needless to say the whole moment was somewhat terrifying. But it was a wonderful show and I’m very glad I made a point of attending.


Wrap-up and Finale


How much do I love Radiohead? Let me count the ways. I read about a Radiohead jam that was happening downtown where people could play Radiohead songs with others. Located in the basement of a library the class seemed like a drop-in centre but I was only too happy to play Radiohead with others. It didn’t matter that most people couldn’t play guitar because most people knew enough Radiohead to sing along. And when we broke into that part of Creep where Thom starts screaming you better believe we screamed our lungs out. Amazing.

Technically Sled Island finished yesterday but the Palomino was having a BBQ so I went to check out CFUV’s Psychic Pollution. It has been a while since I’ve heard what Jro is up to and it sounds like things are going in a much more dance-y beat-driven direction. The 2001 Space Odyssey organ melodies are still there, but now you have some pretty heavy beats keeping things churning along. And Jro has started singing. At one point with the chord changes and and the way he was singing, you could almost feel an emotional response coming on. After catching this set I will have to go back and check out his last few albums.


Despite being exhausted I pushed through to check out Empath’s set since I had missed them earlier in the week. Their music was very loud noise rock but you could sense some pretty catchy melodies in there. The band consisted of one guitarist and singer, two keyboardists, and a drummer. They played incredibly loud, and the drummer played furiously, and despite being exhausted I found their energy to be completely contagious. Had it not been day 5 the band’s energy alone would have made me stay longer.

But after their set I was done. Sled Island was amazing this year though. Mount Eerie’s intensity, Guerrilla Toss’s fun creativity, checking out new bands, it was all great. Even talking to people on day 5 it seemed like there was something special about this Sled. So a huge thank you to Sled Island for hosting us this year and I’m incredibly excited to check out this festival again in the future.

– Dana

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. David says: July 9, 2018

    Great blog post, I love like this music, thanks for sharing.

  2. Adrian says: July 16, 2019

    thanks very nice


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