Saturday, 24 August 2013

Osheaga Day 1

Day 1  |  Osheaga 2013


Wake up. Coffee. Get dressed. Lock door. Get on metro. Get off metro. Osheaga.

I was about to experience my first Canadian festival. I decided the night before to go into the day without any expectations and without any preconceptions of what Osheaga is or has been. I mean, after all, how different could it be from other festivals?

As we walk through the doors of the ‘Jean Drapeau’ metro station, light and sound prevail. Accelerated, sweaty, strung out men pace the entrance of the festival with a sort of maddening fury yelling “ Buying and selling tickets ! Come get’ em !”

We walk with the herd of music lovers, eager to see what’s in store. We are surrounded by groups of impatient party people, planning their day of inebriation as if it were a military strategy, music connoisseurs in heavy discussion about which band was better, and people coming to brave the day out for the Cure. I share with you the following statement I overheard and absolutely had to remember from a group of really buff looking guys all wearing lime green tank-tops, “dude, if we start drinking during Capital Cities’s set and take a break during Ellie Goulding, we’ll be drunk by the time Phoenix goes on and hammered for the Cure.”

We make it to the festival grounds. We walk past the main stages, and head towards the Sennheiser stage, otherwise known simply as “the green stage”. Walking over almost felt mythical: music loving creatures in human form roamed the small wood dressed in colorful festival attire, smiling and spreading this overwhelming sense of joy and excitement to others. As we pass a small hill, my eyes feast upon the sight of the Sennheiser stage. Prior to seeing the stage, I was under the impression that they would all be of monstrous proportions. I thought it was going be impossible for me to photograph anything as I’d have to elbow my way through the crowd, that I was going to get people angry trying to get closer and that I wasn’t going to be able to fully enjoy the band because I would be too far away. It was small enough for featured bands to have more of a connection with their audience but also large enough to hold an eager and rambunctious crowd.

We enter the reserved Sennheiser tent. I am introduced to the lovely Sennheiser family that offered Osheagers the memories that they would be walking away with.

My upper lip is a bit wet from the sweat. I glance at the stage and decide to walk over. As I make my way to the front of the stage, I take a look around me: the people look mesmerized by the idea of spending a day enveloped in music’s embrace. This is Osheaga. Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ blares through the Sennheiser speakers. The sound is crisp almost as if Dusty had come back for Guards. Surprise and intrigue takes hold of me. Four men take the stage followed by a woman : all five incarnating the definition of ‘cool’. The homage to Dusty stops, and they begin to play their music. The lead singer, Richie Follin, holds his guitar as if he were holding a child and closes his eyes. They are aware of the incredible power that their instruments have over them and over the crowd. Clap Clap Clap. The crowd feels their energy. The keyboardist, Kaylie Church, wears a wide brim floppy hat and glasses, and sways effortlessly to the music. The drummer, Loren Humphrey, scrunches his face up as he beats away on the drums. The sound coming through the speaker sparks fragmented memories of the sun’s rays, waves crashing against the shore, a woman’s hair flowing in the wind, of running through the rain. Theatricality also comes into play. The guitarist walks back to the drummer and starts sliding his guitar back and forth. They exchange smiles. This fraternal atmosphere is key to understanding Guards. They treat the crowd like they treat each other: as friends. They let you into their intimate world with lyrics like, “Take the very best feeling that you ever had/ Yeah that's the one, that is what we have” and “Won't you tell me where you're going to/ Won't you tell me what you are going through”. They conclude their set with the electrifying track called ‘Nightmare’ off their album In Guards We Trust. Their lyrics “Oh it’s hot/ Yeah it’s hot there” almost becomes a chant or a mantra. The crowd sings along with them as the energy is turned up to eleven and becomes more palpable. They walk off the stage as they walked on: cool and nonchalant.

My cheeks hurt a bit. I had been smiling during the entire performance. When the band, the sound, the lighting come together in perfect harmony, you can see the outcome on people's faces.

D.I.I.V. walk on stage. I felt that I had seen the lead singer on an album cover before. Maybe he made me think of a grunge band from the 90s. Who knows. They begin to play. I notice hair. Tons of hair. Curly hair, wavy hair, short hair, hair. The hair is shaped and reshaped by the wind. The lead singer and the second guitarist walk towards each other, nod their heads to the beat and walk away. The second guitarist, Andrew Bailey, looks at the crowd, smiles, then looks up at the sky. This tiny and possibly trivial moment really emphasized how grateful musicians are about their gift. The crowd jumps to the music. The bassist, Devin Ruben Perez, stands still and strums away. Watching the bassist was kind of like watching an episode of Scooby-Doo: you keep waiting for the bad guy’s mask to be taken off but instead of the great reveal, he maintains the mystery. He reapplies the mask constantly. He makes sure that his face remains unseen.

If you listen closely, you can hear African influences in the guitar while the drums and the synth add a melancholic but dream pop vibe to the music. From time to time the lead singer, Zachary Cole Smith, lets out a cry into the microphone flipping the performance entirely. The band begins to play with a kind of savage intensity as they hurl their heads back and forth. It’s as if instead of diving into them and their music, as the name of the band might suggest, the word loses its meaning and you are thrown into this dark and intense abyss where the best form of expressing emotion is through a scream. I look around. The crowd seems to be enthralled by this shove from safe to unsafe.

After the performance I take a minute to regain composure. I realize that it’s almost 5:30pm and I hadn’t eaten anything since 7am but I wasn’t hungry. How strange. It’s as if Guards and DIIV were lunch, and I was about to be fed dinner. I realize that more girls had shown up to the Sennheiser stage. How strange. I realize that most of the girls who began to show up must’ve been between 15 and 50. How strange.

“Who’s playing next?”, I ask.

“Jake Bugg”.

I make my way to the media pit in a hurry. The dreary lighting of the late afternoon had set in, creating the perfect atmosphere for the brooding poet type. The insects that flew into the purple lighting of the Sennheiser stage added much more mysticism to this Jake Bugg persona I had heard of. The band does a sound check. I look around the stage impatiently to see his face. I had heard before that he was rather young looking and to be honest, I had heard of his music but never truly listened. I knew his music had an old time feel to it but I didn’t really understand what that meant. Was it the way he told a story that evoked this quality? The musical arrangement? His presentation on stage?

The girls in the crowd begin to scream and shriek. A young man in a blue shirt takes the stage. Jake Bugg. To my surprise, once he began to sing, everyone and I mean everyone sang along with him. He opens with the opening track off his album Jake Bugg called “Lighting Bolt”. What struck me was the uncanny resemblance to Johnny Cash when he strummed his guitar. His lips pierce a bit, the guitar is slightly held upwards, and he nods to the beat. He is concentrated and focused. The spectator loses himself in this dedication to the music but also in the simplicity of his lyrics. His lyrics evoke an old poetic quality that had been lost over the years as music changed. It’s almost as if the work that Jake Bugg does is a call to arms for more up and coming artists to stay true to the power of the message rather than to the fame.

What is truly remarkable about this particular artist is that he appeals to every demographic. Young girls of fifteen seem to be able to connect with his lyrics and with a style that is reminiscent of Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and even of Neil Young’s early songwriting. In a world where mindless pop music dominates, people still have the need to actually listen to music rather than hear it. They prefer to listen to an artist who puts thought into the words and into the music rather than the image.

The lighting from the Sennheiser stage illuminates Bugg like a prophet. He stands tall and handsome but also emits a certain youthful wisdom. “I've seen it all/ I've seen it all now/ I swear to god I've seen it all/ Nothing shocks me anymore after tonight.” The purple lighting and smoke create an atmosphere that allow the spectator to be serenaded by Jake personally. He incarnates the brooding English poetic atmosphere all while keeping a sort of nostalgic Americana vibe when he performs. He sings to all of the women in the crowd. Floral head-banded girls reach their hands out at him as if grabbing him was the only thing they could do before being melted by his music and words. He thanks the crowd humbly and walks off stage. We are all mesmerized by what occurred on stage. The many girls that stood in the crowd walk away whispering and talking to each other in excitement: “I can’t believe it we just saw Jake Bugg.”

I had two more acts to cover before the Cure: ALT-J and Gaslight Anthem. I walk towards the Molson stage taking in the wondrous atmosphere around me. People in what seemed to be inebriated joy laughed as they walked towards the stages that would be showcasing bands that they loved fervently. They seemed to have only one notion of time: the present. As I arrive to the stage, I notice the immense crowd. Young men and women covered in paint, glitter, flowers, feathers and such, swayed from side to side as Alt-J plays tracks like “Tesselate” and “Something Good”. Camera in hand, I elbow through the crowd to try to get a good position to shoot from. People were like unmovable towers so I retreat to the wings of the stage. I watch them in amazement. The lead singer, Joe Newman, sings into the microphone and something in my stomach begins to stir. His voice seems like a whisper but the sound resonates within me. The crowd is captivated by the sensuality and mysticism that Alt J’s music exudes. The lens of my camera rests on the shoulder of a guy who bumps and grinds to the music behind a young woman. The crowd has been transported to the universe that Alt-J has created in such a short time.

I run back to the Sennheiser stage to catch Gaslight Anthem. Tons of women command the front row of the crowd. They throw their hands up when the band comes stage. If you’ve watched videos of the Beatles and have seen footage of thousands of girls crying, this was not far from that. They begin to play and a choir of girls begins to form. They sing devotedly with them, knowing every single lyric. The lead singer smiles, looks at the bassist, and continues to play. I am blown away by the strength of the lead singer’s voice. His voice reminds me of a young Bruce Springsteen. The bassist plays with a certain machismo aware that the women are watching him. The sun begins to set as they finish their set.

I wander away from the Sennheiser stage just in time for the Cure. The Cure is a band who needs no introduction. Their eerie, theatrical and melancholic new wave sound is recognizable to even the most basic listener. It amazes me how timeless their music is as young and older people eagerly await for the show to begin. The lights of the Virgin Mobile stage go dim. Green  and purple lighting flood the stage as the smoke machines let out their mystical fumes. Robert Smith comes on stage wearing his iconic makeup and rocking his signature hairstyle. He begins to sing and the crowd goes wild. People in the crowd seem to be taken captive by memories of lost youth as they watch the Cure play. The lead singer has not lost his touch. He maintains his unique style of dark glamour all while singing the songs that have become anthems to many people. It’s 11pm. How did the time pass so fast? The Cure come back for an encore. As I look around, everyone is either laughing or smiling as they all danced with each other. Even a little boy of not more than five years old was shaking it. All of a sudden, I hear guitar strumming from what seemed to be miles away. I can no longer hear the drums. Smith’s voice is inaudible. They shut the Cure off. A legendary band like the Cure was shut off because they played a little past eleven. Robert Smith continues to sing their hit track “Boys Don’t Cry”. To my surprise, the crowd all join in and show their love for the band by finishing the song with them. The people were so enraptured by what they had seen that day, that there was no way they were going to get shut off so brutally. This is the beauty of this festival: people want to listen to music no matter what it takes. They want to make memories with their favorite bands and show their appreciation to them. Thanking them for the memories that every song has provided, they relive those moments a little by going to a festival like Osheaga.


Crowd Shots


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