Every year in Victoria, Rifflandia is the highlight of the music calendar. Bringing hundreds of artists from different genres and aesthetics, Rifflandia has established itself as a celebration of music like nothing else in the area. This year's Rifflandia had me excited like past years haven't. I'm all about groove and this year the pool was deep, overflowing with hip-hop and electronic tastiness I'm constantly on the lookout for. Here are just a few of the highlights I was lucky enough to get into my ears this year.
Jurassic 5, De La Soul and the importance of world-class DJs.
Part of the delay on the release of this piece has been the need to let things lay fallow in my mind for a bit, to see how they stick with me when I’m no longer a prisoner of the moment. Since some of the Rifflandia smoke has cleared from my mind, I can still say that Jurassic 5’s Rifflandia set was one of the finest sets of music I’ve ever seen. I assume this is the standard festival set they’ve been playing since their reunion a couple of summers ago, and why would it be anything different? Everything the group did was so well-done, so on point. “Concrete Schoolyard” (Complete with kazoo interlude), “Freedom,” “Jurass Finish First,” “Quality Control,” the whole set was hit after hit. Their Four-MCs-As-One, synchronized rap thing was as fresh as ever – as lively and crisp as any of the songs’ recorded counterparts.
Even more impressive than the four MCs and their interchangeable raps were the beats, the music, delivered with the utmost imagination and dexterity by two of the great DJs in hip-hop, DJ Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist. DJ desk, turntable-guitar, vest of music (I don’t know a better way to describe this)...This wasn’t just two DJs laying beats for rappers. The show wouldn’t have worked the same without them.
A similar thing happened a couple of nights before when De La Soul took the stage at the Phillips Backyard stage. Pos and Dave could get an crowd amped on their own, for sure, but the amount of attention Maseo commands behind the decks while his cohorts are doing their thing out front is kind of staggering. Throughout the trio’s stellar set, Maseo proved once again that he’s a real director of the party, the man all the energy flows through. Dude can rap something nice too. I was more than thrilled when he stepped out from behind the wheels to take Redman’s place during “Oooh,” a personal favourite of mine. It’s just further proof as to how important the DJ is the landscape of hip-hop, even when you have world class MCs there rock the party.
Lee 'Scratch' Perry – Gaze upon me. Know everything and nothing.
All I knew was that whatever we saw at Lee 'Scratch' Perry on Rifflandia's Friday night, was going to be weird. Straight-up weird. And whoa nelly, the Prophecy of Weirdness was fulfilled. The set was meandering, directionless and wholly captivating. Perry came on stage, adorned with all manner of accoutrements, and began wandering back and forth across the stage, muttering mostly inaudible nonsense into his gigantic microphone, that had a dreamcatcher attached to it, and various keys and some kind of strange wrapping. “I smell everything!” Of course you do, Lee. He'd hold up a chalice of wine – no lie, it was the size of a novelty chalice that people get for bachorlette parties – then all of a sudden the wine was gone. Then the wine reappeared. Then it was a flower. What was even happening? I don't think he even knew or cared where he was. It's like the music gets going and he just can't help but do the stuff he's doing. It was impossible to look away. Helping the cause was his Upsetter Sound System being so strong. Even if Perry was mostly incoherent on the mic, the band was tight and clear. Deep dub reggae isn't for everyone but the sound was sharp, heavy and warm in a way that I haven't heard in a long time. I haven't had a day pass since that this set hasn't passed through my mind at least once or twice.
Rifflandia, surprise bastion of electronic music.
Some of the big names in electronic music were down at Electric Avenue (Phillips Backyard/Capital Iron/Anian stages), names like Prozzak - Yes, THAT Prozzak, Goldfish - whom I tragically missed due to an incomprehensible logjam at the stage entrance, and Keys & Krates – who played nothing but build-ups and interstitial beats. I didn't see any of those, though. I did manage to get a generous portion of top-notch electronic music, of all shades, elsewhere throughout my weekend.
Before I took in the hip-hop stylings of De La Soul on Thursday night, I started off at Lucky to catch DJ Wood, he of the west coast institution Wood 'n' Soo. I was treated to a delightful set of funky breaks with a jungly, extra gangster-y vibe. I don't know why I always expect a bit mellower groove from Wood ('n' Soo) but I was more than pleased with the way DJ Wood kicked me off into my weekend dancing extravaganza. My need to see De La Soul meant I couldn't get back into Lucky Bar for Moontricks, which was a damned shame (Luckily they played again...), but this meant I could go see the homie Bryx at the ultra-cool Wolf/Sheep Arthouse. I haven't seen Bryx in a minute and it was nice to see him again. Apart from an unfortunate foray into AC/DC land, Bryx was on point with his super-fun and aggressive productions and remixing of fan favourites.
Lucky Bar, curated by the Funk Hunters' Westwood Recordings, was really where the nighttime goods were. Applecat put on an incredible set, full of wholly original and unique production. I've been hearing lots about Applecat from other electronic enthusiasts and all those recommendations weren't wrong. Highly impressed with her tribal, atmospheric dubstep sounds.
Now, I've written extensively about the Gaff, because I'm a huge fan. His taste is impeccable, his DJ skills are sharp like samurai swords and when he's Djing, homie looks like he's having as much fun as a person can have. Shit is infectious, son. Every time I see him he's got something new and this might have been the best Gaff set I've ever seen. At one point, my notoriously skeptical music friend turned to me and said, “This is unreal. He's reaching Featurecast levels here.” I agreed, wholly and if you've heard me go on about Featurecast, you know that's saying a lot. Please go see the Gaff is he's around your spot. Your ears will be happy.
I don't think of the main stages at Royal Athletic Park as places to really get down to electronic music but both Moontricks and Tennyson provided festival dancing highlights. I maintain that Moontricks is making some of the best sex music around right now and wasn't sure how it would translate to the all-ages, daylight-ridden world of Royal Athletic Park, but I'm apparently dumb because they were awesome. The warm rhythms and engaging instrumentation the duo layed down had the whole crowd grooving, smiles plastered across every face in the place. It's been a huge year for Moontricks and it might the last chance any of us have to see them before they explode into the stratosphere. And then Tennyson...the darlings of this years' Rifflandia. I've lost count of the people raving about them in the week since the festival. The unnaturally adorable, genius brother and sister combo played some of the warmest, loveliest electronic music I've ever heard. I'm a sucker for electronic music with live instruments, especially drums, and Tess Pretty's drumming drives the music something fierce. (Even though “fierce” is one of the last words I'd use to describe Tennyson.) If you need something to make you move and feel, you should get Tennyson into your ear holes. I didn't even take any photos because I was so captivated by the lovely grooviness.
Shane Koyczan – That was a lot.
Speaking of being too captivated by a performance, this is the only picture I managed to take while Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long ripped away most of my inside scabs.
Late last year I had the pleasure of reviewing the group's album Debris and, due to the overwhelming amount of heart and emotion on the record, it was one of the hardest undertakings I've taken on a reviewer. But this was different. When I was listening to that record, there was a pause button. I could take a break when it all became too much. But here, in the flesh on the Rifflandia main stage, there was no such reprieve. Barely a song in - standing in the photo pit, trying desperately to hold back the tears – I lost the battle and all kinds of bottled up emotions came rushing out of my eyes. I don't know how he does it, but his poetry is simple and complex, hilarious and serious. It is a weapon against apathy and loneliness. It is powerful serious stuff and seeing it live, while it may have made me cry, it helped open me up in a way I haven't been opened up in awhile. Thank you Shane, I really needed that.