Seven Artists Tell Us Why Canadian Electronic Music Rules

This post appeared originally on THUMP Canada.

Being three hours north of the Canadian/American border, and three hours away from Alberta’s capital city, Calgary is a bit of an island. It’s too far from Vancouver for big touring acts to make it a part of their west coast routes, and pretty removed from the eastern half of the country, meaning it’s rare for Canada’s third-largest city to be a destination on musicians’ itineraries. But for the past 11 years, there’s one week where all of that changes.

During the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, the city hosts one of the best à la carte club-hopping experiences, drawing both international and homegrown headliners. Past editions have seen performances from the likes of De La Soul, Kaytranada, Kelela, Oneohtrix Point Never, and more, and thanks to guest curators including Peaches, Dan Deacon, and Tim Hecker, the programming has never been short of eclectic.

This year, the festival handed over the keys to Brainfeeder boss Flying Lotus and he didn’t disappoint, with DJ Quik, Dedekind Cut, Ash Koosha, Yves Tumor, and others answering his call. Given Sled Island’s commitment to showcasing diverse music from Vancouver to Halifax, we thought it was an opportune time to ask a handful of acts about what Canadian music, or Canadian electronic music, looks like to them. Unsurprisingly, the results were as varied as the lineup itself, and they present a picture of a young country with an abundance of talent, despite the distances.


Actress
Hometown: London, UK

The one that comes to mind is actually one of the first records that I bought when I started to study electronic music in a deeper context. I moved to London and started buying more electronic, IDM, and one of the first records that stood out to me was an artist who was known as Manitoba at the time, and obviously as Caribou now, Dan Snaith.

That was just a really great album, Start Breaking My Heart, and I listened to it on repeat for quite a long time. I remember the sleeve vividly as well, so I guess that was the first picture of Canada from an artist’s perspective that I’d seen. I actually came quite close to moving to Canada when I was really young, my dad got offered a job, but it never happened.

ANAMAI
Hometown: Toronto, ON

Anna Mayberry: I would say that I’m really into people who make stuff that’s raw and has the potential for failure. Anything that’s premade and clean I get bored of it.

David Psutka [not pictured]: To be honest, I don’t think my mind registers whether music might be classified as “electronic” or if it originates in Canada. It’s a big country with a plurality of artists/cities/sounds, so maybe the easy answer is “many, many things,” which is a totally weak answer. I think this question made me realize the extent to which my current experience with music is actually very genre-agnostic and post-regional—which are both beautiful things and in my opinion, honest reflections of how media consumption and human interaction work in 2017.

DIANA
Hometown: Toronto, ON

Joseph Shabason: I don’t know if I’m biased because Thom is in the band, but Bernice is one of the most special electronic Canadian bands that I’ve heard. They’re one of the most special bands in Canada, period, and they’re just tops in my book.

Kieran Adams: New Chance. Just really unique approach to making something that has familiar textures, but is also its own thing. It’s like vocal house music, but with a heavy, ambient approach. The thing that Victoria (Cheong) does that’s really unique is incorporating lyrics and phrasing in such a way that doesn’t sound out of place.

Thom Gill: Sergio SP, Sandro Petrillo’s project, now in Toronto but from Calgary originally. Or D. Tiffany from Vancouver. E-Saggila, from Toronto, who’s quite dark and ambient.

FOONYAP
Hometown: Calgary, AB

Null Command from Victoria, BC. They’re very simple, broken down, glitchy electronic music. An Ant And An Atom, who I’m touring with, a drone, post-rock, really meditative kind of act. Morning Coup, who I love, and is a really great friend of mine. It’s kind of otherworldly, experimental pop. Someone who’s highly electronic-influenced, as a loop artist like myself, would be Respectfulchild from Saskatoon. White Poppy, so dreamy. And of course, Loscil.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

I don’t really search where music is coming from, unless it’s an obvious thing, but usually I don’t search for the location. The kind of music I listen to changes all the time. I have a [NTS] radio show because I’m always listening to new music and finding new music, and I’ll go all over the place with it. Anything but blues and country, I can’t stand them. It makes me tired.

But the whole Canadian vibe really resonates. Whenever I’m in Canada or close to it I’m just like “ahhh, nice people.” There’s just like an authenticity, there’s an earnest vibe.

Lou Phelps
Hometown: Montréal, QC

My brother, Kaytanada. He’s a pioneer. The radio in Canada is so centered around the same type of genre and sounds, you can’t really explore much outside of that, but he’s changing that without really being on the radio. He has the opportunity to work with artists that are super major and is changing it from the inside.

Un Blonde
Hometown: Montréal, QC

It’s going to sound incredibly cliche, but when I think of Canadian music, I think of the community aspect. There are so many cities that are just these dense bubbles that bear so much fruit. That’s been my experience. I had a show on [Calgary radio station] CSJW and I only played Canadian music, and I would focus on a specific scene each show. There would always be a specific vibe to each town. And I see that when I tour too, hearing how I fit into each scene.

All photos by Kate Killet.

Michael Rancic is on Twitter.

The Peculiar Sadness Of Going To A Music Festival Alone: A Photo Essay

I’ve never been good at making commitments. I can hardly finish a novel, let alone agree to attend a five-day music festival in a foreign country. But after spending a non-refundable $619.22 for six nights at a hotel approximately 0.6 miles away from the entrance to Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival, I was fully committed.

I arrived in Barcelona directly after a ten-day solo-trip in London, riding high off of British nightclubs, love affairs, and countless meat pies. What kept me going was the prospect of seeing some amazing bands like Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and the freshly reunited Avalanches across three consecutive days in the fresh, Balearic air. I also should note that I’m at a point in my life where the stressful parts of the festival experience have begun to outweigh the exciting ones. Read: I’m more concerned with wearing comfortable shoes than making sure my outfit is photogenic, or that my hair is freshly washed. Still, it seemed like it would be well worth it to power through my post-UK bender exhaustion for another handful of daysor so I believed.

Primavera Sound, which ran June 1-5 this year, was one of the most well-planned and strictly organized festivals I’ve ever attendedso much so that I had to ditch those friends of mine who weren’t able to enter daily through the separate and mandatory press check-in area, and whom it would be hard to link up with anyway, because they didn’t have texting or data plans in Spain. I decided to do the festival in honor of myself, and to focus on seeing the music I wanted to see, rather than staying close to my incommunicado compadres in a sea of tens-of-thousands.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and in some ways it flew in the face of knowledge I already had, which is that being solo in a place that’s intended for social interaction can be extremely lonely and torturous. It’ll be a great experience, I thoughtI live by myself, have been voluntarily single for years, and party-hop solo in New York just about every weekend, so how would this be any different? Still, it was a way of putting whatever self-sufficiency I thought I had to the test.

I had hoped that LCD Soundsystem, who have been my favorite band since I saw them live during my freshman year of college, would provide sufficient companionship with their headlining set on Thursday night. Sadly, my experience during their set was lackluster. I once again bailed on my friends in order to enter the press pit to take what I hoped would be legendary photos, only to be told by security that I was on the wrong side of the pit and couldn’t enter. There was no way in hell was I about to spend the first half of LCD’s set clawing my way past thousands of Europeans and other tourists just to get into the press pit, so instead I stayed put and sang along, alone. I thought about how I wished the bass was turned up to the level I’d become accustomed to, thanks to nightclubs in NYC. They played “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” and I cried a little. My photos sucked.

The following day, I approached the correct side of the press pit to take some shots of Radiohead, and was told that my camera equipment was not professional enough to enter. I thought the security guard was kidding. “I am a professionalhave you heard of VICE?” was all I could think of saying. Despite my persuasive nature and charm, I was not granted access. So I spent another legendary musical performance distraught, singing alone to “Creep” while intermittently chatting with an adorable boy next to me who spoke in an accent I could hardly understand, aside from, “What a lovely track, yeah?” And a lovely track it was, but I felt so fucking alienated from it all.

Later that evening, Maceo Plex closed out the night with an outdoor set. People were dancing on each other’s shoulders and shuffling to strobe lights as Maceo spun intense techno underneath the sun rising from the east. This time, I took in the music surrounded by the friends I’d lost touch with earlier, and the feeling of being with them at a multi-stage festival in a foreign country was unmatched glory. I even had some company to walk my tired-ass up the stairs and out the festival exit once it ended, and watch me devour an entire personal pepperoni pizza on the sidewalk at 6:00AM. If I did that alone I would be a sad-sack, right?

The relief I experienced when reuniting with my drunken friends made me realize something: we live in an age where sharing experiences with your friends is something routine, be it in person or on social media. Going solo to Primavera Sound left me without a source of external validation, with no one to acknowledge that I’d really seen these acts I’d waited years to see, except for my Snapchat followers. Call me a product of my environment, but I’ve been molded, and so have you. I spent more time questioning why I couldn’t break that mold and enjoy my alone time at the festival than I did simply listening, observing, and reveling in it all.

Thatcompounded by a UK-related hangover, potential quarter-life millennial crisis, and missing some guycaused my photos of the festival to reflect something of a despondent mood, focusing on the shapes and colors found at Primavera Sound rather than the music and the crowd. They say good art raises your state of consciousness, so if you find yourself questioning your habits and overall existence after viewing this gallery, I’d consider it a win.

Sara Wass is a VICE staffer and NYC-based (actual) photographer and writer. Check out more of her work here.

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