Sled Island Hangover
Well it’s over... another year is in the books for Sled Island. From a concert goers perspective, this year was a huge success. The shows all seemed to be well attended and the music on display was next level. My festival experience this year was quite different than years past due to the added responsibilities I put upon myself. This year was the first time Cups N Cakes had the honour of being a media partner for the festival which afforded me the opportunity to present a show. To my astonishment, I was offered Slow at Dickens Pub on Friday night so I wanted to be sure I didn’t let the good folks at Sled down. I also wanted to interview as many bands as possible for my “Inside The Artists Studio” podcast and deliver my Cups N Cakes Compilation cassettes to the bands in Calgary for the festival that had contributed songs to the project (7 in total). This meant that I would have some work to do in the morning before shows began or between sets. Another change for me this year was that I’ve met a lot of great new buds in the past 12 months and wanted to have some laughs with them. All these new things got me to change the way I did Sled. In the past, I had a strict route planned out that I would try to follow (unless otherwise convinced of course). Not this time, I needed to roll with the punches and hope to see some of the acts I had circled in my schedule.
This was my night without responsibilities so when I met up with PJ from Napalmpom to deliver his compilation tapes, I took him up on the offer of whiskey on his patio. After some great Calgary hospitality I met up for drinks with Kent and Dave who are some Edmonton buds. We slammed a few back before finally stumbling into the Palace Theatre for Thundercat. Perhaps the most hyped show at this years festival, Thundercat did not disappoint. Laying down a head bobbing groove over the course of an incredible set that showcased his funk laden jazz skills, it was hard to not appreciate the talent on stage. Although at times the tangents teetered on self indulgent he always brought you back in to recognizable material making the dance party fire back up. After Thundercat I caught Mary Timony as she ripped through Helium tracks. I was not cool enough to follow Helium when they were active but have been a fan of Mary Timony since learning who she was after Wild Flag released the amazing 2011 self tilted album. Although quite drunk at this point, I have a fuzzy memory of really enjoying this set. I took off for bed in a stupor but thankfully had Edmonton buds Chad & Dana with me to give me some food before I poured into a cab.
Thursday morning is always hard, it’s even harder when you need to wake up early enough to write questions hastily before meeting with the bands you intend to interview. I was also scrambling to find quiet spaces for these interviews after being told that a press room would be available which turned out to be a mixup. I managed to sweet talk the staff at Broken City to kill the house music while I interviewed Vancouver’s Dumb. Dumb are a great group of young people who are making exciting post-punk. Their brand new album Seeing Green was set to drop the following day on Mint Records so we made that a focus of the interview. After our chat I went to Sloth to see Expnada Fuzz and The Garrys. Both bands are extremely cool and should be household names for those who follow the Cups N Cakes Network. The sets were great but the chores were pilling up as I still had to deliver tapes to five different bands as well as Sloth Records and Blackbyrd Myoozik. I missed a good chunk of the music going on at The Palomino as I was busy lightening my cassette load but I got there in time for one of my favorite discoveries of Sled this year, Vancouver’s Passive. This noise-rock two piece was loud and abrasive and ripped through a lengthy instrumental first track that immediately peaked my interested. I was blown away when the front person’s Ian Curtis-esque voice was added to the cacophony of sound… Best two piece I’ve seen live in a long time. Hopping the C-Train down to Dickens, I caught the tail end of The Radiation Flowers set. This Saskatoon psychedelic band never disappoints but catching them was a bonus as I went for White Hills. This two piece blended elements of psych with metal and experimental. The front man wailed on the guitar in front of a Marshall stack that nearly touched the roof of Dickens while the drummer was set up beside him pounding her kit and adding extra texture with synthetic sounds. This band was so cool, a great discovery. The closer at Dickens was Ufomammut, a stoner metal band from Italy that I was told to stay and watch. I’m glad I did because they were just what the doctor ordered as the booze started to take over and create a foggy haze for the rest of the night. I don’t honestly remember a ton from Ufomammut but I can tell you that I woke up with their album on my phone. Leaving Dickens is a blur but I do remember ending the night at The Palomino for Bat Fangs. Let me say that when a rally is needed, Bat Fangs are your answer! The energetic all-out rock n' roll assault brought me back from the brink and kept me from “night-night” land for another hour. Betsy Wright (Ex Hex) slayed the guitar, moving all over the stage, busting out some of the best rock n' roll stances imaginable while Laura King (Flesh Wounds / Speed Stick) sabotaged her kit smiling while she did so because of the antics going on in front of her. After listening to the Bat Fangs album, I decided I might pass on checking them out but that would have been the mistake of the weekend. The buzz from their performance got me into a cab and into bed.
Ugh. Up early… Interview questions to write… I had a great conversation with Ora Cogan about the dreadful state of affairs on this planet followed by a chat with Expanda Fuzz on the steps of the Lougheed House. During the last question they answered, a thunder clap signaled the start of the storm. I was so happy I was in my car during the worst of it because the rain was coming down in sheets and there were little bits of hail falling from the sky. I was driving which meant it was not a big drinking day because I was afforded the opportunity to present Slow that night and had a car full of merchandise and banners to move around. Anyway, I parked and walked to the C-Train to catch Empath at Palomino. This was a band I was hearing buzz about over the past couple days but I wasn’t floored when I left to hit up Commonwealth for the Mint Records showcase. Faith Healer was the first act I saw and it was also my first time seeing the new lineup. It was also everyone’s first time seeing Jessica play bass for the band. She was nervous but great as they played most of the new album Try. Next up I caught Dumb who are one of the best acts in Canada right now. Their fast and punchy brand of post-punk was perfect for forgetting the rain outside. Finally, Lié destroyed ear drums with a blistering assault of noise/punk reminiscent of early White Lung… you know… before White Lung started to suck. After their set I bombed back to Dickens to set up my banners in a hurry so I could make it to Guerrilla Toss at the Palomino parking lot. One of my favorite discoveries at Sled, Guerrilla Toss play a strange blend of danceable tunes that are too difficult to do justice with words. Put punk, post-punk, jazz, experimental, funk, psych and electronic in a blender and then play a game of catch with a dolphin using the blender as the ball. You get it right? After being mind blown I had to get to Dickens as fast as possible to be there for doors.
Carey was unable to join me at Sled this year so I offered my second press pass to my brother-in-law who wanted to earn it by documenting his first Sled Island experience. This is fine by me because I’m sick of writing so I’ll turn things over to him.
Sled started on Friday for me after a long day of work, the drive down from Edmonton, some visiting and a swarma. With all necessities in order, I hit up my first show at Dickens pub. Jeff was in his element, chatting with the few patrons who had found there way in to the show early. We caught up and he filled me in on the nights line-up. The opening band for the event, Ex Boyfriends, got the trickling crowd off to a quick start with some heavy riffs and hard drumming. A new band for me, this eclectic collection of musicians captured my interests immediately. This is a band that plays a tight show with a frontman that keeps you guessing while instantly inspiring trips to the bar to facilitate a drunken, head-banging good night. With raw punk vocals, tipsy turvy dance moves (maybe due to some extremely tight leather pants), and a Motorhead inspired grit, Ex Boyfriends started the night off on a high note. The second band up for the evening, Wayst, was right up my alley. Three bad ass ladies rolling out a stream of psychedelic drone rock, a Witch Mountain meets Sleep meets Courtney Love punk grime. Repetitive, high-reverb riffs with rapid steady drum work. The lead singer/guitarist was no slouch, hammering out intermittent heavy strumming quips. High paced stoner tones excited the crowd and kicked the show into a new gear. These ladies captured the attention of the room and did not disappoint. After a beer and some visiting with friends who joined us for the night, we huddled to the front of the stage to see Deliluh. This was a love at first sight moment for me, as their experimental build-up led into a heavy rock sounds with talking style vocals, these guys made my long day worth while, unfortunately my long day also caught up me and left me feeling pretty burnt out. After a quick goodbye to Jeff mid show, it was time to call it a night. I left without the chance to see the headliner, Slow, but considering my 5am morning start and long work day plus drive I was feeling that I had put in a solid appearance.
Jeff here again… I must add that as great as it was to see Slow onstage ploughing through their seminal album “Against The Glass” and see the old dudes in the crowd revert back to their 20’s, Deliluh out shined everyone. Deliluh didn’t just outshine everyone at Dickens that night, they were easily the best show I saw over the course of the festival… heck, I’d say they were the best show I’ve seen in a long, long time. Seeing as many gigs as I have over the course of my life can make the routine of going to a concert less memorable. Having a band play a set that transports you back in time to a moment when a live show was new and exciting was a pure joy. Getting that high from a live performance becomes rarer and rarer with more incredible artists and bands that you scratch off the list.
I love Calgary, it’s always great for a quick weekend away, and my wife and I are sure that we could live there in a heartbeat. However, my ability to really enjoy the city on day two of Sled Island was considerably dampened. Waking up to a sheet of rain outside put me in the mood for a good book, so I cracked one open while I waited for Jeff to join the land of the living. Although my night ended fairly early, Jeff did not make his way back in until 3 am. Trooper that he is, he was up and moving around 9, getting ready for a couple of interviews that started at 11. His interview location brought us to the Pin Bar, where Jeff met his first scheduled interview and I enjoyed one of my favorite past times, brunch. After the interviews and an amazing breakfast sandwich, we headed to Broken City for Caesars and tunes. We walked in and caught the end of a performance by Dumb. The rain had caused some venue chaos, pushing all the roof top shows at Broken City into the main bar, this reduced set times in order to accommodate all the bands. Dumb was quickly followed by Feel Alright, and then quickly by an Edmonton favorite Screaming Targets. Two Caesars down we decided to hit up Tubby Dog for some lunch and a chance to catch Whoop-Szo. We made it just in time to see Chunder Buffet, from Saskatoon and downed a hot dog between bands. Whoop-Szo, a London, Ontario band was one of the shows that Jeff was excited for me to see. They had a fantastic, noisy show, Jeff was bang-on predicting that I would enjoy them. After Whoop-Szo I joined Jeff for an interview with members from the band Deliluh. He wrapped up the interview quickly and all of us jumped back into Tubby Dog to catch the end of Shearing Pinx. Full of hot dogs and interviews done for the weekend, we headed to the Palomino to see Vase. This eccentric duo was a entertaining break from the noise/punk shows we had been seeing all morning. With a couple of Margaritas in hand we enjoyed the spectacle of a show they put on while chilling to some of their fantastic songs. Seeing that the day was getting pretty late, we found some BBQ for dinner before heading to Studio Bell for some experimental jams. Eucademix was finishing up a set as we found our seats and waited for Tyondai Braxton. The show was an hour long adventure in sound and visual confusion. It has been my experience that some of the best experimental shows kind of sit heavy on your psyche afterwards and Tyondai Braxton did just that. We left Studio Bell and headed to the Palace Theatre, hoping to get a taste of The Dirty Projectors. We had a couple of whiskeys waiting for the show to get going, and realized two songs in that the sound was not for us. Downing the remains of our drinks we headed out the door and walked to the Legion. The Legion was a big change of pace, the packed venue had a high energy as we walked in, with fans excited for the steady hip hop line-up. We had a drink while watching the solo act November and then left early to catch the show upstairs, Cartel Madras. Cartel Madras was my unexpected highlight of the day, with two super bad-ass ladies laying out Run the Jewels style anthems. The crowded upstairs of the legion felt like it was barely able to sustain the weight and energy of the crowd, which, after the fairly short set headed downstairs to see the headliner for the venue, Shabazz Palaces. Finding it hard for anything to follow up the great show from Cartel Madras and realizing that only one member from Shabazz was at Sled, we left mid performance. That decision turned out to be the right one as we stumbled into the Palomino and caught a blistering set from some old noise-rock vets called Cherubs. Now that’s how you end a night! A cab ride home and off to bed happy with my first Sled Island Experience. Jeff was a great guide, and even better concert companion, hopefully next year will be an even bigger and better time!
That was Sled Island from the eyes of Jeff MacCallum and Chris Roth. This year was different for me as it involved a lot less music due to adding more work for Cups N Cakes and spending way more time hanging out with new buds. I didn’t mind my new path through Sled Island, having a bigger role at the festival meant so much to me and I’m grateful for the opportunity they gave me this year. As far as the shenanigans that ensued with my new pals... well who in their right mind would give that up to go back to stumbling from venue to venue solo. Hands down my favourite Sled Island so far.
- Cartel Madras
- Guerilla Toss
- Tyondai Braxton
- Calgary hospitality
- Best year ever for new discoveries
- C-Train from Dickens to The Palomino
- The ability to evolve
- Lethbridge bands!
- Dirty Projectors
- The food and service at The Palomino… What the hell happened?
- Only 1/2 of Shabazz Palaces
- Lack of 2am food trucks