5 Questions with Rags #58 - Steph Wisla (The New Groovement)

If you are around the Canadian west coast pay any attention to the music scene around you, you've seen or heard the New Groovement around. The funk/jazz/soul/hip-hop is established a go-to for good time, big-sound live music 'round these parts. As a person who sees these sorts of things, I had seen TNG many times and then I showed up to White Eagle Hall here in Victoria one night and there was a new lady singing! The fuck was going on? Any fears I had of this new person screwing up the chemistry of this band I dig were quickly assuaged when I heard this new voice and saw her quietly commanding stage presence. I also came to learn the person behind this powerhouse voice was Steph Wisla. Since then that stage presence has gone from quietly commanding to powerfully radiant.

Joining an already established band was easier than one might have expected and Wisla just dropped right into the role. “I didn't have to do any of the grunt work from the beginning. They already had an award-winning album and stuff. It was great. I had been such a fan of the band too so it wasn't a completely new band to me. It was like, 'I'm finally living my dream of being in an awesome band.' It was a natural progression,” says Wisla of her easy transition into her role. The partnership seems to have been almost immediately beneficial as both Wisla and TNG seem to have a hard groove in 2017, both as powerful as ever. I sat down with the magnetic Wisla for a chat about the paranormal, people sharing names and that corrupter of youth – Hillary Duff.

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1. What was the first album you bought with your own money?

I was kind of spoiled. I don't know when I really bought something with my own money. <laugh> My first go-to is Avril Lavigne Let Go. That shit was ace.

Was or is?

Is. Always is. The next one, Hillary Duff, Metamorphosis, I think it was called. My parents went through it and listened to it before we were allowed to listen to it so they could censor it. And I clearly remember we weren't allowed to listen to 7 or 11, because they talked about partying. Which, now, 'Sorry mom, do here what I sing about on stage now?! Hillary Duff ain't got nothing on me!”

How did they even enforce that?

I don't know. We were all just scarred shitless to do anything wrong. We all had very guilty consciences. I have an older sister and a younger brother. We were all kind of like, “I don't wanna do anything wrong because I'll feel bad about it forever.” I remember they used a sharpie to scratch out the titles of 7 and 11 so we couldn't even know the names of them.

2. When's the last time you did something for the first time?

Atmosphere Gathering. And I wanna leave the rest blank. Sorry, mom.

What a great festival.

It was insane. I only went up for a day and a half and I don't regret it.

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Forged in Fire - Fresh Memories of Shambhala's 20th Birthday

Hard to believe it's only been a few months since Shambhala's 20th Birthday. Like every year, it went by too quickly and like every year, it left far more than four days worth of memories. After the festival I wrote about how impressed I was with how everyone around me handled the nearby, threatening forest fires. And of all the stories I've been told since leaving the Farm, my favourites continue to be the stories of how people dealt with the entirely bizarre situation they found themselves in while simultaneously sucking every bit of joy and glory out of it. Over the last month a couple of acts who graced the Shambhala stages have been kind enough to share their time and stories of how they dealt with fire in their own way. Shambhala veteran and world-famous party rocker Z-TRIP used every trick he could think of on Saturday to get through to his second set on Sunday. While exploding-like-a-super-nova-right-now 'lean bass' duo CHUURCH had their Sunday set cancelled and rescheduled at the last minute to Saturday – a set that will go down as legendary for all those that were there to commune. As the cold begins to creep back in, it seems like a perfect time to take a look back at a couple magical summer moments from the Salmo River Ranch. 

Z-Trip

Photo courtesy Sound Flash Photography.

Photo courtesy Sound Flash Photography.

Shambhala was fucking amazing. I did two sets. I did the Forest and the Village. It was fucked up because of all the fires there. The night I was playing in Forest they were like, “Yeah, it doesn't look like tomorrow is gonna happen.” Fuck. I had sort of crafted sets there that were based around spirit animals. My spirit animal was the Elephant in Fractal and in the Village was the Wolf – wolfpack, bass. As I was doing my Elephant set in the Forest, we got to the end of the set and I said, “We're gonna have a rain dance. We need rain, so tonight's the rain dance.” Basically we did the set and I had this song that I played, I had everyone sit down – which was maybe the first time anyone had done that – not have everyone jump up but just sit down and listen to a song. That was heavy. That was really incredible. We were bummed because I really wanted to that next set. We woke up the next morning and they said, “It rained last night! You brought the rain!” So we went and set up to do the next day. Maybe a quarter of the people had left. It kind of felt like the way-back Shambhala vibe, when there weren't as many people and you had room to dance, from maybe 10 years ago. It had that vibe – the diehards were there. I played my set and did my thing. At the end of my set I played a song called “Feel the Love.” I said, “Can you feel the love out there? We almost didn't have today! Where are my wolves at?” “Ooowwwwwooooo!” Everyone's fucking howling and the rain starts coming down! Right at the very end of the set. It rained so quickly and it was done. It was one of the best sets of all time for me. That place is so fucking magical. That was heavy. I love those guys, I love that place, I love PK Sound. The whole organization, I back it 100%.

Watching you up during the Fractal Jam reminds me of why I like music so much. I go into media areas and backstage areas sometimes as I writer and I get bummed because I see so many people in work mode forgetting how amazing it is to be so close to the music. I see DJs like that sometimes, all serious and shit, and you just look like you're having the most fun ever.

Oh man, thank you so much. That was the best. That was my first Fractal Jam. I've wanted to do it every single time but every time I've had to go somewhere and do some shit. It took me this long. I was so fucking excited, are you kidding me? I finally get to hang with the cool kids! <laugh>

It was awesome, it made me so happy. And the year before when you found your spirit animal, the elephant, I was there alone. I had lost my friends and I was just by myself rocking to your set.

The whole spirit animal thing came from the time before I was there. I played the Forest and somebody handed me this big crafted leather owl mask. I was with Gaff and he said, “Yo, that's your spirit animal, the owl.” I thought, “Uhhhhhh okay? I don't really connect with it at all.” The mask is amazing! It's incredible and I'm super grateful to have it. It sits in my house. That got me thinking about what would my spirit animal would be. That's how that whole thing started. My idea now is to play every stage and do a different animal on every stage.

Chuurch (As told by Makemdef)

Photo courtesy BEEDEE.

Photo courtesy BEEDEE.

I was sitting in a hammock somewhere when I got the news that our set [On Sunday] was cancelled. I immediately shot up out of the hammock, “Well, I'm going to reschedule this thing, right now.” It was really awesome because a lot of the artists...Lazy Syrup Orchestra, that's Dunks from the Funk Hunters and Soren, they cut their time in half on their set to give 45 minutes to someone else. There was a real vibe there. I shouldn't have freaked out so much because everyone there is the most professional in the industry and I should have known they were going to make it work in the face of crisis. It was our second year, this was a big year for us and I wanted to make sure we did it right, twice as good. I got the news about an hour before we actually performed, it was a long day.

So, our show is cancelled and I just wanted to try to make it happen with all my heart. I took all my food vouchers, like $45 worth of vouchers, and bought mini-donuts. And me and my girlfriend walked around handing out mini-donuts trying to raise the spirits. I handed out three buckets of donuts and got my set back. It was magic. People really like donuts. They make people super happy. When it was finally game-time, I went kind of cuckoo. There had been a lot riding on that whole Monday set. We were supposed to debut this new song we'd done with Rezz, right after her set. That would have been cool. But it was such a meant-to-be kind of thing. It was an amazing learning experience. It changed people. I learned a lot about myself through that performance.

The best part of that whole thing, is after that was all said and done, my girlfriend and I walked through Fractal Forest and the first song I hear after my set was Jazzy Jeff playing “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” It was a surreal moment. It was amazing. Definitely, looking back, Shambhala handled that situation pretty good. We brought the rain that night.

Lee 'Scratch' Perry & Subatomic Sound System, 04.11.17 - Capital Ballroom, Victoria, BC

For more than four decades Lee 'Scratch' Perry, the original Upsetter, has been pushing reggae into the cosmic depths, mining the mysteries in the veins of the heavy heart of dub. No amount of listening to the man's ridiculously vast catalogue can truly prepare the mind for witnessing the dark, colourful Upsetter dub live. Perry made his return to Victoria in top form, unbridled and confident as ever in the colourful, reckless weirdness that has has been the lifeblood of his career.

Touring in support of the recently released Super Age Returns to Conquer – a rerecording of the seminal Super Ape with his longtime touring band Subatomic Sound System – Perry led the audience on a spiralling journey of creative energy. I have a hard time with accents and often don't understand Perry on my headphones let alone in a live setting, but it doesn't really matter. His whole presence is so huge and mystical and immediate that you couldn't help but be sucked in, even if you only picked up one out of every two or three words he says. The sound of his voice, whatever it was doing, was almost hypnotic. When the more familiar refrains like “This is the Ape Man...” broke through out of the haze, the feeling was straight-up sublime.

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While Perry is the centre of everything, the colour, the driving engine of the whole thing is the deeply hypnotic bass of the powerful Subatomic Sound System. The bass of dub is heartbeat bass, seemingly moving at the pace of blood, and there aren't many people I've heard lately harnessing that dub like SSS. When the show started with dropping the bass to deep, air-shaking frequencies and had the crowd hold their hands in the air to confirm that those bass vibes were indeed now in the air, I got real excited and there was no disappointment. For nearly two hours I couldn't stop moving even if I tried. Subatomic had control of my motor functions.

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Helping the hypnotizing process along was the incredible saxophone work of Troy Shaka Simms. Weaving and supple, his sound floated around and above the heavy, earthy bass and complimented Perry perfectly. And within all of this relentless musical glory was the percussion of Jamaican legend Larry McDonald. Punctuating the wall of sound that Perry and Subatomic had built was McDonald's nimble and guttural riddims, splashing the space-out dub with the unmistakable rhythm of human life. Hands on drums is the most basic musical sound we know. It is embedded in our shared collective knowledge and way out there in the vast unknown of cosmos McDonald relayed that knowledge in a way that reminded me of a feeling I didn't I think I'd find all the way out there.

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That was a fucking great show. I love dub reggae. Few sounds sooth my soul the way Lee Perry & Subatomic Sound System did last night.

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5 Questions (And more!) with Rags #57 - AppleCat

I first saw AppleCat at Rifflandia in 2016, almost completely by accident – a beautiful, cosmically tremendous accident – and was taken in right away. Her mesmerizing, supple bass was more warming than anything else I'd ever heard that could be called “dubstep.” It made me groove and dance, but there was something else that I hadn't heard in my electronic music up until that point. It was soothing in a way that I hadn't experienced the genre before, oozing with new ideas and an energy that I hadn't felt in that setting. That night in the red-brick-embrace of Lucky Bar, I realized how few female/feminine Djs I had in my diet. I had got lazy and hadn't dug much. In such a male-dominated landscape, feminine voices often get drowned or pushed to the side. It takes sometimes takes energy to find this stuff on your own. So I started putting energy there. I started looking at festival rosters differently, started seeking out new voices in my bass adventures. AppleCat set that off inside of me. To top off my own journey with her music, she won over a whole new set of friends at this years Rifflandia. I was lucky enough to get some of her time in between her seemingly endless musical output, shows and her involvement with the incredible multi-platform media project Amplify Her, which you should 100% check out and support. (You'll notice a couple of extra questions on the docket today and that's because she answered my stuff so eloquently, it felt a shame to cut up her words.)

How did you get involved with Amplify Her? How has that process been? What's been the most surprising part of the experience for you?
I was the initial inspiration to the Documentary Amplify Her. I met the film's co-director Ian Mackenzie at Burning Man in 2012. He experienced me perform live for the first time and was apparently struck. What he experienced was a weaving, a tapestry of sound set to bring the audience on a journey from start to finish. He mentioned to me something about a film he wanted to make and the Dark Feminine's Unique offering to the world of music; and honestly I kind of shrugged it off. Clearly he was serious. Five years later the film, the graphic novel and the animation are being released and I am kind of awash in bewilderment - So where will this take me and the other Women involved in the film? I have absolutely no idea. With such vulnerable parts of my personal life exposed, I cannot help but feel bashful - yet more empowered than I have ever been. What would it mean to be transparent with our stories? and thus have our greatest wounds be transmuted to our greatest gifts. As David Bowie said, "I don't know where I'm going from here, but i promise it won't be boring"

How long have been creating music? What has creating music taught you about yourself?
I have been writing songs and performing music since I was 17 and sneaking into bars to perform. Music is something that has always been with me, kept me grounded and never abandoned me even in times where it felt like everything else did. That said pre AppleCat it was a pretty solo venture, and for the most part I sang with my eyes closed, too scared to let anyone in. I have been performing as an electronic artist since early 2011. Stepping into my AppleCat project has allowed me the space to tell the deep primal sensual stories that live inside of all of us. It has taught me about the intimacy of tending to a crowd, the connection to the fans and loved ones that arises as I guide their experience (and they mine). It is absolutely integral to the person I have become. I would not be so attentive, inspired, creative, empathic and unabashedly myself should I have not taken this route.

1. Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money? Yes and I am inclined to lie, but wont. I remember it could be one of three CDs: the Sailor Moon soundtrack, Aqua - Aquarium, or The Crow soundtrack. That said, I am pretty sure it was the Sailor Moon Soundtrack, and yes I can still recall a fair amount of the song lyrics. (♪ fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight ♪......)

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5 Questions with Rags #56 - Makemdef (of Chuurch)

Justin 'Makemdef' MacLean came onto my radar as one half of the mighty CHUURCH. Their groovy, weird and driving 'Lean Bass' sank its hooks deep into my eardrums right away. My Shambhala crew came together and re-energized to their music when Chuurch had their Sunday 4am set moved up to Saturday at 8pm in the face of the threatening forest fires nearby. Watching Makemdef on stage pantomiming around like some kind of possessed bass priest, may be the greatest spectacle I've ever seen behind a set of decks. Turns out homie is a hella great hip-hop producer as well, working with some of Canada's finest like Snak the Ripper, Moka Only and Emotionz. Which really, considering the obvious and deep hip-hop influence in Chuurch's ysht, shouldn't come as a surprise. Last week Makemdef unleashed a pretty amazing beat-tape that any head should be putting in their ears. I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes of his valuable time where we definitely talked Chuurch, but managed to squeeze in a quick 5 Questions in which we cover breakfast sandwiches, his greatest fear and the glory that is Nas.

1. Do you remember the first album you bought with your own body?

It was Nas God's Son. It blew my mind, I'd never heard anything like that before. My identity changed after hearing Nas, it was crazy.

2. I think that's the proper human response to really listening to Nas for the first time. <laugh> When is the last time you did something for the first time? (I don't normally comment on how people answer these things, but the enthusiasm in homie's voice for new experiences and new art and the quickness with which he answered this really made me smile and was frankly, just a tad inspiring.)

Oh man, every day. When I'm traveling I see and experience new things all of the time. I think the last time I saw something new, I saw the biggest metal sculpture that emits flame. That's a crazy thing to see. Different scenes everywhere. It's crazy how you can experience something for the first time, but also for the thousandth time. Every day I try to do something like that. There are some pretty significant ones - I wish I knew the very last new thing like that I experienced. Even just new scenes, like when you walk into a carnival or something. Oh! I saw a big bass carnival, this is cool. I was camped next to this giant carnival. There was something like 17 dancers wearing different masks, it felt like a huge circus. I was sitting there while they're getting geared up. It felt like I was going to fight alongside all these dance warriors. It was really neat, they were training around the campsite area. It felt very warrior-style. I'd never sat around a circus while people practiced. That was new and cool.

3. What's the last thing that made you seriously belly-laugh?

Probably some joke my girlfriend told me. She makes me laugh a lot. My girlfriend, final answer.

Photo by BEEDEE. 

Photo by BEEDEE

4. What's your best memory of a teacher growing up?

<laughs> I had a grade 7 art teacher who used to have a little something extra in her thermos of orange juice. Thinking about that always makes me laugh. I went to this prototype high school in Nova Scotia for kids with attention deficit and stuff like that. There was only like 60 kids in the whole school. Kids from the ghetto and rich kids. Kids had ADD, ADHD, Tourette's or sometimes all three. Gym class would get a little crazy. It was cool.

5. You get two guest questions today. The first one comes from the legendary Z-Trip...What is your greatest fear?

Getting comfortable. For sure. That's a silent killer, that one.

6. The other question comes from the homie Flamingosis...If you could only eat one type of breakfast sandwich for every meal the rest of your life, what kind of breakfast sandwich would you eat?

That's deadly, I like that question. I don't eat pork, so I like just a straight-up regular breakfast sandwich. A little cheese and an English muffin and some egg. Totally down with that. I could live off that. In the morning, just basic like that.

You put any butter or mayo or ketchup or anything on that bad boy?

Nah. Just me and grease. Well, I'd go with some monterey jack cheese instead of regular cheese. A nice organic egg just taken out of the chicken coup.