Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Day 3 Osheaga 2013

Day 3  |  Osheaga 2013

           PHOTOS  |  HOT SOUPE

I have breakfast in the Sennheiser lounge on this uncertain Sunday morning, which finally seems to be in the process of evacuating the grey clouds. My meal consists of a handful of cashews and a pair of cookies, and I consume it looking over my notes, while waiting for the opening show to start.

It is the Californian-born, New York-based singer of duo MNDR who is put in charge of kicking things off. The only other member of the band is producer Peter Wade, who handles the beatmaking, and who does not take part in live performances. Thus, Amanda Warner is by herself, she triggers the beats herself and mightily sings over them while running around the stage with utmost energy. In doing so, she is relentless, youthful, and very talkative; a very fun package. Her steady beats and floating synth melodies are layered with her ultra-reverby vocals, making the whole sound like a very tasty form of dreampop. She is one hell of a performer, and never does it feel like her sole presence is not sufficient. She fills the atmosphere solo, thanks to her mind-blowing charisma.

The second band to be scheduled on Green Stage on this final day of Osheaga is Bad Things, a fairly heavy indie rock project airing from California. One thing is particular about this unit: its guitarist is a superstar Olympic gold medalist. Indeed, American snowboard and skateboard sensation Shaun White is a founding member. Fortunately, this crew does not solely rely on its guitar player’s sports-related popularity to make its mark. Rather, they choose to make good music, good enough in fact to be offered a record deal by Warner Bros this year. They play a kind of punk-flavoured melodic rock, with a heavy edge, but with a distinct soft side too.

Punctuated by lead singer Davis LeDuke’s jokes in between songs, Bad Things’ set grows increasingly hard, and culminates with a Stooges’ cover. During that last piece, LeDuke fidgets quite a bit. He moves from the stage to the fence at ground level, and then from that fence to the top of the crowd, and finally from there to the mud at the audience’s feet. He ends up covered in dirt, his hair looking like a desert bush. White and Anthony Sanudo, the other guitarist, dive into tight crackling solos sporadically throughout the set, while the rhythm section is handled beautifully by drummer Lena Zawaideh and bassist Jared Palomar. I enjoy myself thoroughly, and I say it in as many words to the band members when I bump into the group of them backstage. I try not to sound like too much of a groupie when addressing White, because I’m sure he’s not here to talk about his snowboarding career.

I end up interviewing Davis LeDuke at the lounge. He speaks of the importance of remaining eclectic, of his very intense take on live performance, of his admiration for the Stooges, and on trying to write about feelings people can relate to, like having the impression to be “Caught Inside” (their first single). He spends the whole interview eating a bunch of tiny grapes.

Next on Green Stage is Dublin-based folky rock act Little Green Cars. How fitting. This band is a true stress reliever. Its music sounds a little bit like an Irish countryside might look, if that countryside were shaken up by some kind of poetically heavy wind. It is undeniably rock, especially in certain moments, but there is one crucial element that gives it a bit of a folk quality: its use of vocals. Lengthy sing-alongs involving soul-stirring harmonies make these musicians’ oeuvre sound like a form of folk with a gospel alter ego. They use vocals as a vehicle for the lyrics, of course, but also as an instrument with its own musical identity. In doing so, they offer the public a gorgeous moment of mellow rock and roll, and they are warmly thanked for it by that public. The audience lets out a giggle when lead singer Stevie Appleby apologizes for the sudden rain shower. “Sorry about the rain,” he says with a Dublin accent, “it just kind of follows us!”

After that beautiful performance, I seek refuge under the Sennheiser tent once more, and am told that local indiepop duo Les Soeurs Boulay are ready to be interviewed. Five minutes later, I am sitting down with them, and I invite them to let people know about how things are going in their lives since their triumph in last year’s Francouvertes. As per the tradition, their victory earned them both a record deal and a place among the lineup of the famed Grosse Boîte label (We Are Wolves, Avec pas d’casque, Coeur de pirate, le Husky). They speak of a great deal of touring, of fun experiences, and of lots of warmth on their public’s part. They also mention that the show they just played on Tree Stage was heaps of fun, despite Bad Things’ rock having a bit of a volume war against their acoustic guitar and ukulele. They’re very eager and talkative, seemingly grateful to now be making music for a living. I get a good vibe off them.

Next on Green Stage is Swedish electropop duo Icona Pop. Most people have heard their mega hit I Love It, a driven pop anthem with a bit of a house flavour. In that particular piece, as well as in most of their oeuvre, these two ladies sing with tweaked-out voices on top of fast-paced beats that are layered with lots of shiny-sounding synths. In a live setting, they get very busy playing around with the rhythms, using digital interfaces and sound boards. All the while, they amp up the crowd non-stop with lots of exaggerated gestures. I am pleasantly surprised by the depth of their oeuvre, which gets resolutely groovy and fairly heavy in parts. There are moments during which I get the impression that I am at a hardcore electronic bass music event, one that would have been hijacked by two talented pop singers. Fun stuff.

It is then time for progressive electro rock act Holy Ghost! to take the stage. They do so in a forest of purple and pink projector beams, in front of a jumping crowd. You don’t see a band like that every day. While a drummer and a guitarist are busy rocking out, there are three guys whose back are facing the audience that are fiddling around with three massive boards full of knobs (which are set up vertically, for all to see), as well as several keyboards. They drive the melody and the overall aesthetic quality of the sound, while lead singer Nick Millhiser’s smooth vocals complete the formula in style. And I do mean “in style”. That guy looks like he just stood up from the center pages of a fashion magazine: dark shades, perfect tan, white dressed shirt stuck into his skinny jeans, shiny shoes... He’s got it all. He even lights a cigarette in the middle of the set.

Fashion considerations aside, I was pleased by this band’s inspired music. It could be described as a cocktail of techno and progressive rock, a highly danceable specimen of yet another synth-based animal. Sometimes, the lyrics are half sung and half rapped, revealing the hip hop background of founding members Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel (they used to have a hip hop project called Automato). Predictably, the crowd indulges in a spirited session of booty-shaking. I take part.

Moments later, I am back at the lounge to grab a brew. In the process of downing my beverage, I am chatting with local band First You Get the Sugar’s guitarist and vocalist Alex Silver about Hollerado’s performance at Tree Stage (which I missed, it was at the same time as Holy Ghost!’s). He is very enthusiastic about it, enough to make me wish I had been there. Oh well. That’s how it goes during festivals: missing an act you like is simply bound to happen.

Next on stage is Joshua Tillman, who recently adopted the stage name Father John Misty. This heavily bearded man (who drums for Fleet Foxes) is an arrogant bastard, with an irresistibly tongue-in-cheek sense of humour (check out his website, you’ll see), and a twofold musical talent, by which I mean he composes and plays a great form of amazing 70s-style rock, and writes good enough lyrics to do it justice.

“The worst part of having to live on a tour bus for weeks at a time is the beef jerky,” he confides, undeniably aiming to send a quick arrow at the Jack Link’s reps who are giving away free samples of jerky at passersby, a few hundred meters from the stage. Musically, Tillman lives up to the badass rocker reputation he is very busy giving himself with his rowdy pool-hall-dweller behaviour. He is astonishing. His warm, thick voice flows through the summer air effortlessly, while stout drums, groovy bass lines, and fuzzy guitar riffs (played by three guitars, thank you very much) are having a real party. The vocals are crystal clear, and the public is able to make out every word of his stirring fables and moving poems. Moreover, he dances beautifully, often using both the microphone stand and the mic itself as props: he spins the latter around like a lasso before catching it, he throws it in the air, and brings it back super quickly. With the mic stand held in one hand, he even does that utterly rock-star-esque dance move, you know the one, when the dancer keeps both feet set on the ground and bends his knees forward, while swinging his entire body backwards, so that the back of his shoulders ends up touching the ground. The man being quite the hottie, this prowess is incredibly sexy.

Of course, I cannot leave Tillman’s burst of honesty unmentioned. “Man, I love this place,” he confides. “It’s like a city in the States, but one that’s full of French-speaking babes. I would love for a U.S. state to be full of French-speaking babes. You guys should think about invading a state. How about Ohio? It’s useless anyway. You guys should invade Ohio.”

Quite the character.

Following that great performance, I am informed that I must conduct another interview, this time with local celebrities: the guys from Misteur Valaire. Most of this province’s music fans know this project’s oeuvre, a high-quality blend of electro, jazz, pop, and hip hop. I am thrilled to sit down with these unbelievably down to earth fellows, who earnestly explain what the public can expect to hear on the band’s upcoming album, titled Bellevue Avenue. Apparently, the record is relying on healthy amounts of electro to set storm to the dance floor, but also contains its fair share of horns and otherwise jazzy elements. They also specify that, even if the studio album is likely to sound very static and electronic, the live performance will involve live drumming, lots of saxophone, and, of course, their signature multimedia show. “We set a standard with the last show, we definitely are aiming to take it up a notch, to raise the bar,” bassist France (a.k.a. François-Simon Déziel) explains.

However, they warn me that, for their set at Green Stage, they will test out their new songs without the crazy animations in the background, as they are apparently fine-tuning that part of their show. But hey, no one should be fooled: the absence of that portion does not render their live performance any less lively than what you’d expect. These youngsters just enjoy having fun with it. They sing, play percussions, drum, sing, rap, play saxophone, dance, scratch, go dance in the midst of the crowd. They do not shy away from the displaying the full extent of their unquenchable thirst for fun times, thanks to their jazzy progressive pieces. They even cover a Beastie Boys’ classic: Intergalactic.

Then, I realize that I have time to catch about 20 minutes of Pretty Lights’ set at the Piknic stage before Hot Chip arrives on the Green one. I do NOT regret this.

If electronic bass music is indubitably increasingly popular, it does not mean that everyone who produces it is talented. Several dubstep, drum’n’bass, or glitch hop artists are not so much artists as trend followers with a few technical aptitudes. Such is not the case for Pretty Lights. This man is capable of unbelievable things. First and foremost, he has an amazing sense of beat. In my own very humble opinion, the most interesting part of several genres of music is the interaction between the drums and the bass: that’s where “the beat” resides, that’s where the groove turns into funk, that’s what makes heads nod, that’s what induces the famous “screw face” of appreciation.

Well, let me put it simply: Pretty Lights has a mind-blowing talent to forge instrumental audio concoctions in which the drums and the bass sound like they’re having sex in a lightning-filled rainstorm. Often, the bass waits until the third verse to really take off, which, progression-wise, is a real treat. In brief, if you are tempted to put all electronic bass music in the same basket, Pretty Lights is a damn good proof that you would be very wrong to do so.

Furthermore, the visual aspect of this show is completely insane. Schizophrenic animations, with clear urban themes (tags, street signs, skylines) fly by in perfect sync with the bewildering beats. The audience is going nuts, in complete legitimacy if you ask me. I’m in disbelief, to tell the truth. I could never have suspected that a Pretty Lights’ live show could be this intense. I am smiling like a fool as I head to the Green Stage in a steady jog, while the bass shatters the atmosphere behind me.

When I get to my destination, Hot Chip is already at it. If you know these cheeky British guys, then you know that it is very hard to predict what direction they might take, as their oeuvre is truly a diverse one. Sure, they are known for their very catchy, very calculated pop rock, in which there is lots of dazzling synth melodies, lots of irresistible guitar riffs. But what hearing Hot Chip’s records will not reveal is that its members get into a very jammy vibe when they stand on a stage.

At several points during the never-ending pieces they offer the public, there are as many as three percussionists vigorously drumming in the same five square feet area, while guitars and keys are zigzagging into the starry night. Their jams take absolutely epic proportions in several moments, they become unreal instants of ridiculously upbeat sonic insanity. Time and time again, the crowd spontaneously reacts to a movement shift, a solid proof that these guys truly have a way with notes. Their set is a stellar way to end the festival.

Before leaving, I am dragged to the V.I.P. section by two friends. I am really nervous about it, not really knowing if the chip that my bracelet contains will allow me in there. In turns out it does.

I enter the section with butterflies in my stomach. I spend a moment chatting with the Misteur Valaire boys about how excited they are about their new show, I share a silly dance with POP Montreal’s head of programming Sarah Shoucri, and I talk with Alaclair Ensemble’s Maybe Watson about his band’s rainstormy performance at JFL’s event Mix des Chefs a week or so ago (he seems very drunk). All the while, I dance to Kaytranada’s funky soulful beats, while his mean-faced entourage is very busy doing nothing behind him. I come to realize that most of my time in that surreal environment is spent people-watching. There are prime specimens of stories-filled individuals up in here.

Without saying goodbye to anyone, I leave the area with a big grin, while exhaling a big puff. What a day.


MORE PHOTOS (coming soon)
Atlas Genius
Charles Bradley
Holy Ghost!
Misteur Valaire

Mumford & Sons
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