Monday, 26 August 2013

Osheaga Day 2

Day 2  |  Osheaga 2013

                       PHOTOS  |  HOT SOUPE

It’s Friday afternoon, on August 3rd. At this point, I have already bitterly decided that I am not going to Osheaga this year. My blog mates and I thought about it, and we chose to send other journalists to the festival if we are given the chance to cover it. Then, out of the blue, the blog’s co-editor-in-chief calls me and yells, in the midst of what sounds like a lot of overexcited young people: “Come to Osheaga!”


The reason behind this sudden shift of scenario is a fun one: the nice folks at Sennheiser worked out a deal with us, according to which we are to interview some of the artists performing at the Sennheiser Green Stage in exchange for an access to both the festival and their neat little white and blue lounge laid out under a series of pointy tents (which turns out to be great shelter for the schizophrenic weather’s sparse rain showers over the weekend). 

After we decide that Sylvana will cover the first day (read her review here!), and I, the other two, I go back to my freelancing work with a lot more energy than on most Fridays. That night, my dreams are filled with drunken hippies and sunburnt hipsters. I cannot wait.

I meet my co-bloggers in the Old Port and we head to the nearest metro station. In the metro car, we meet these two young dudes from Ottawa who honestly do not know who Beck is. It makes me realize than I might be getting old. I try very hard to enlighten them: “Novacane... E-Pro... Loser... Where It’s At... No? Doesn’t ring a bell? He’s a headliner, for Heaven’s sake!”

No dice.

We make it to the effervescent Parc Jean-Drapeau. After sorting out our media passes, my colleague and I sprint through Ste-Hélène Island to fill our end of the bargain with Sennheiser. Indeed, we must interview the band whose set is ending as we emerge in the area where the Green Stage is: Wild Nothing. We manage to make it just in time for their goodbye to the crowd. We rush backstage, meet with the Sennheiser crew, and about five minutes later, I am asking a few questions to Jack Tatum and his crew. 

It must be said that it is my first time being doing filmed interviews, let alone at such a massive event. Which is why, as I introduce myself to the camera just before asking my questions, I straight-up forget the name of the band I am presenting. Bra-freakin’-vo, Antoine. The five guys are cracking up behind me, understandably. 

Wild Nothing is truly Tatum’s project. He records every part of its studio albums by himself, playing every instrument. Thus, he finds being on the road very fun and very different, as he has the chance to witness how the songs are “fleshed out” by an entire band, in a live context. He mentions that he enjoys seeing how the parts that he composed are handled by other musicians who each have their own way of playing their instrument. He likes finding out what their take on these parts are. Hearing him say that makes me a little “ugh” about having been late, because I would have loved to hear how his floating, atmospheric indie-rock sounds like when it is rocked out by five people playing at once. 

Oh well.

On my way out of the backstage area, I see Southern U.S. rapper Yelawolf (who was recently signed by Eminem) getting ready to take the stage. Minutes later, I witness his blues-flavoured intro, dropped by DJ and producer Klever, who is at the back of the stage, standing behind the decks. It’s pretty damn badass. I stay for a song or two, but then I jog to the neighbouring stage (the Tree Stage) to catch local act Groenland’s show. I do not regret this.

If you are a folky indie-rock fan and you live in Montreal, chances are you have heard this band’s great oeuvre. They recently released their first LP, titled The Chase, a beautiful record that will please music geeks from any generation. Predictably, these very talented people deliver one hell of a live performance. Dynamic piano melodies dance around guitars, ukuleles and keys, and this swarm of harmonious notes sway on top of original drums patterns and steady bass lines. It is utterly catchy, gorgeously melodic. The cherry is the cello (say that phrase out loud, it’s ear candy!), whose long, warm notes add a generous dose of poetic depth to the whole. Sabrina Halde’s on-the-dot vocals flow in the midst of all this, with a remarkable fluidity. Throughout the set, the whole gang of them look like they’re having the time of the life: it’s all smiles and giggles.

I am very satisfied as I walk back towards the Green Stage. I am immediately told that I am set to interview Klever. He’s the beatmaker and DJ who’s been backing Yelawolf as of recently. We discuss for roughly three minutes about Dirty South beats, live shows, and grassroots followings. He’s got a slick-looking black rose tattoo on his neck.

I then head to the Sennheiser lounge to have a couple of beers, before running to the main stage area to see a little bit of legendary punk act Flogging Molly. As I am jogging there, I ask myself if it is really worth going to main stage, knowing that I must be back at the Green Stage soon in case we get an interview with the next performer. My questioning, legitimate as it may be, is promptly met with an answer: I arrive just in time for the classic, "Drunken Lullabies".

Worth it. Definitely.

I smile when I see a girl in a lifeboat float on a sea of raised hands, I giggle at a dude whose puffy ballerina skirt matches the colours of both his plastic flamingo and the super long pole at the end of which it is taped, and I seriously crack up when a bodysurfer riding the audience on his belly falls face first from the top of the crowd to the dirt on the ground. It’s like Rockfest all over again. All the while, Dave King’s unique voice, at once cheery and shouty, is launched into a storm of fast-paced banjo, howling bagpipe, dirty electric guitars, and raunchy bass. I have always been a fan of blends of traditional music and punk rock, and the three songs I manage to catch from Flogging Molly’s set are enough for this encounter of aesthetics to throw funny images into my daydreaming. As I’m standing in the middle of the crowd, my brain is busy imagining Mohawks-bearing punks being warmly welcomed in an Irish kitchen jam that is already swarming with pints-drinking Dubliners. I laugh at this thought, just as a falling beer floods my sandaled left foot and cleans the dirt off it a little bit.

As I rush back to Green Stage, butterflies are having a ball in my stomach. Sheer disbelief is to blame for this, as I have a hard time coming to terms with the reality of what is about to happen: I am going to see Tricky perform live. As Brit Pop was reigning over the UK in the mid-90s, this former Massive Attack member released a gloomy, creepy trip hop record titled Maxinquaye. The LP dealt with themes that were largely unorthodox for the epoch, thus giving a voice to the urban youth of the UK. Vison-wise, this album is a giant of music history. Since then, Tricky has released countless records, some of which resemble his trip hop debut, some others infused with a garage rock quality. A Vice Magazine interviewer once said that he could not tell if Tricky was a hip-hopper doing post-rock, or a post-rocker doing hip hop.

Looking way too mellow to be sober, the UK heavyweight (that’s a metaphor, because physically, this man has the skinny, sexy-boy shape going for him) starts dancing on stage like a cobra coming out of a bucket in an Aladdin-like movie, slowly and sensually. All the while, he’s twisting a corner of his t-shirt and smiling with a cheeky expression. For his very first song, which begins slowly with just a bass line and drums, he gestures for the crowd to come join him. “Montreaaal... Don’t be scared!” he keeps repeating, with a reckless grin on his face. In the space of a minute, the stage is flooded with audience members, who get increasingly excited as they realize that the song for which they got on stage is a cover of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. What ensues is predictable: a long jam with all kinds of colourful folks jumping around the man of the hour.

This grand opening sets the tone for the rest of Tricky’s performance. His bassy and heavy songs are handled vigorously by his great band (including his back vocalist, who is in fact the lead vocalist for the entirety of the set) and are quick to morph into extensive sessions of dirty jamming that involve heaps and heaps of utterly badass grooves. By pointing at musicians in turn, Tricky directs the flow of the songs as a conductor would, taking numerous breaks to look at the crowd daringly and pound the microphone on his chest to emulate a heartbeat. For the very last song of his 45-minute slot, he reiterates his invitation to the crowd. This time, I do not miss my chance. I make my way to the stage, along with dozens and dozens of fans. When I get there, I look around and see an 8-year-old girl right next to me. She is looking at the crowd with astonishment, while dancing a little and posing for her mom who is taking a picture of her from the first row. When the song gets rowdy, the little girl begins jumping like crazy, which makes me smile. A future mosher, for sure.

Then, after another quick beer at the lounge, I go stand in front of Greet Stage to see (former Pixie) Kim Deal perform with her alternative rock project The Breeders. Recently, a 20th anniversary edition of the band’s hit record Last Splash was released, which is why the group is back on tour. Their set is grungy at times, appeasing at others, sometimes upbeat, sometimes quiet. You can tell these women have been playing together for a while, and their soulful set is warmly welcomed by a crowd composed of both nostalgic mourners of 90s alternative rock, and open-minded modern rock lovers. It’s tight, and just right.

Speaking of nostalgia, my friend warmly recommends that I try to catch some of Bob Mould’s set, which I do. This old-timer is the founder and bassist of punk-flavoured rock bands Husker Dü and Sugar, which were respectively doing their thing in the 80s and 90s. With his classic bass-drums-guitar power trio, he proceeds to rock the place out nicely. Some songs are distortion-driven alternative rock pieces with a sort of slow, unhurried vibe, whereas others are clear punk rock tracks, with all the juvenile energy you’d expect. To spice up the whole deal, Mr. Mould shows time and time again that he can play a mean riff. Towards the end, his alternative rock turns into Californian-style street punk, which makes me utterly happy.

Then, knowing the next show I want to see is not for another half hour, I sit down in the hillfacing the Green Stage to catch a glimpse of Explosion in the Sky’s set. This band’s cinematic music soon fills the gray sky with jammy sequences of frantic drums, explosive guitar riffs, and thunderous bass lines. Meanwhile, purple rays of lights are sweeping the stage like UFO beam-me-up-Scotties.

After that quick break, I head to Tree Stage and arrive just in time for the sound check. I am febrile. I have been a fan of the next band to play for years, but never was I able to catch them live. Thus, you will all understand that, when We Are Wolves appear on stage from a cloud of thick white smoke, all of its members wearing dark masks and bearing a pole on top of which is tied a giant psychedelic-looking skull, I sort of freak out.

These guys are just in-sane. Thick bass lines, even thicker synths, accompanied by Alexander Ortiz’s raunchy vocals and punk-leaning guitar-playing are on the menu, and I’m devouring the meal. The set is incredibly badass, full of gravely and rugged sounds. Moreover, the band displays an amazing sense of momentum, often stopping on a dime, only to jump back into complete mayhem in the space of a nanosecond. The rest of the public is just as into it as I am, they dance and jump and shove and scream. We are having lots of fun, needless to say.

My favourite thing about We Are Wolves is their tendency to mix melodic rock and badass rock in one astoundingly unique sound. It’s refreshing to acknowledge that hardcore and melody do not have to be at odds with each other, and there is no better proof of that than the music of this great local act. 

Then, comes the hard decision: should I go see Beck or C2C. 

Because I know that C2C are likely to put on one hell of a live show, I choose them, with a slight amount of regret at missing my chance to see the Beck for the first time. However, even if I subsequently hear that Beck delivered a great performance, I do not regret my decision, not even for a second.

Allow me to get real: I missed the first day of Osheaga, and I can still say confidently that C2C’s show is one of the best of the entire weekend. Maybe THE best. Their performance leaves me speechless.

C2C (which stands for “coup 2 (de) crosse”, or ‘cross fader hit’) is composed of four world-renowned French turntablists. They are a band of DJs, if you wish. Each of its members plays samples on their own turntable, and tickles the records musically in order to put together an eclectic brand of frenetic music. The samples come from an array of sources: blues, hip hop, jazz, gospel, rock. When these four guys play with them, they come to life and make the turntable seem way more like a live instrument than a playback device.

That’s it for the technical aspect. Let us now talk of the show these guys put on. First and foremost, it should be mentioned that each of the tables on which rests the record player of every member has a giant screen for a facade. To each of the band members, a geometric shape is associated (a bit like PlayStation buttons), and that shape is displayed on the screen, in colours, aesthetics, and size that vary throughout the show. The best part is this: every time any member is scratching, the shape moves (differently from one piece to the next: it turns, changes size, collapses, spins, glows) in sync with the scratching sound. It’s unbelievable, for many reasons.

First of all, it constitutes an amazing visual element, one that renders the show dazzling. Second of all, it gives the public a great idea of what is happening on stage, which, in the electronic and DJ realm of music, is fairly rare. The animations are increasingly mind-blowing and always follow that concept based on the four shapes.

You think that’s it? Think again. These four guys are restless and, on numerous occasions, they switch places, take turn on one single turntable, enter into 2-vs-2 battles, solo one after the other. They ask the crowd to “scratch with their voice”, they constantly speak to the public. These four Frenchmen’s sense of showmanship stuns me. I’m completely bewildered.

When I head home that day, I smile at everyone. What a day, and what a way to end it.

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