#festivalseason - Rifflandia 11 rounds out the season in musically diverse style
Blake Morneau & Shawn McNicoll
Another year of Rifflandia and another year of a densely diverse musical memories to help get us through the cold winter months. Unbound by any genre allegiances, Rifflandia is free to mine any part of the modern musical map they deem worthy and to their credit, each year they dig hard to bring something unique to the city of Victoria. Something different than the swaths of other catch-all festivals that flood the market each and every festival season. And in their 11th year, Rifflandia did not disappoint. With 150+ acts over three days, four nights and 14 stages, there was more than ever to take in. We didn't stop for the duration of the weekend and in amongst the chaos, these were the acts that left the biggest imprints on our ears over the four relentless days.
Best Non-musical Thing We Saw At Riff - KARMIK
We're don't necessarily advocate drug use at Rags Music, but we damn sure as hell advocate safety and and taking care of each other. Thankfully the good people at KARMIK made their first appearance at Rifflandia. Breaking ground is nothing new to the team at Karmik, so it only made sense they were the first organization to bring a mass spectrometer to Vancouver Island, and establish a legitimate drug testing presence at Rifflandia. To give you how big of a deal that actually is, the legendary Shambhala Music Festival (Salmo, BC) took years of fundraising and donations to be able to provide attendees with the technology – at an event that arguably has more drug use than Riff. But, Victoria definitely has needed something like this for years, and even with local law enforcement pushing back, the lovely individuals of Karmik stood their ground and provided a much needed service in Victoria that has been long overdue. Hope to see them back next year!
One of the first acts of Rifflandia weekend, Gentle Mind took the stage at Phillips Front Yard Thursday night to show how to kick off a festival right. With a small crowd and a chill in the air, the Vancouver soul (Acid soul? Jazz soul? Soul pop?) group started with a small smattering of people – more photographers than festival-goers – and by the end of their set, the stage was packed and the people were eating out of the bands hands. The bands originals, including their standout “Nighttime in Crema”, popped and pulled in the listeners with their slickness, their depth and their soul. A couple of choice covers sprinkled in to their set helped give a new audience familiar touchstones: A lovely rendering of Haitus Kaiyote's sultry “Nakamarra” and a groovy as hell cover of The Weeknd's “I Can't Feel My Face,” the latter of which took me way too long to recognize. We singled out Gentle Mind as a band to watch at this year's Rifflandia and they didn't disappoint, setting the tone for another great weekend of music.
Def3 & Bryx
Both these cats have been longtime favourites of Rags Music so we were eagerly anticipating their set on the big-ass Phillips Backyard stage. The homies came out guns blazing, feeding off of each other perfectly and laying down a set that toed the line between serious hip-hop and serious bass music, the two genres blended perfectly with one side never outshining the other. There's always a fear with sets billed as “So-and-so with/featuring So-and-so” that one of those so-and-sos outshining the other, but there was nary a hint of that fear this night as Def3 and Bryx worked as a cohesive team, sharing the load equally. Bryx got to pull out some of the new stuff he's been working on and whoa, the world might be ready for this stuff to be unleashed proper. Heavy and groovy and everything I want in my bass music. Def3 was doing his dope Def3 MC shit, calling for Bryx's tracks and rocking his own tunes, like the phenomenal “El Fin De Mundo”, a track that I'm convinced will work at any party, on any dance floor, in any part of the world, at any time. Hip-hop was my entry into the world of DJ s and bass music as a whole, so to see two cats up there getting heavy with all that hip-hop I love so much warmed my heart more than should have been possible on a slightly chilly Thursday night.
While much of the festival was excited for Adventure Club Thursday night, our hearts were set on catching the homie Outsider, who provided Studio Robazzo with an hour long dose of his deep, grimy basslines that have been making waves around the west coast. Showcasing over half an hour of OG Outsider tunes, the PK bassbins echoed through the smoke pit like some sort of siren song, and it wasn’t long before the dance floor was packed. Unfortunately those that weren’t there from the start got caught waiting in line…and sorry not sorry, but none of us were leaving anytime soon.
“SonReal saved my life today.” There can't possibly be a better compliment for an artist than that? Right? Those were the exact words of my girlfriend who I shared SonReal's Friday afternoon set with. She had experienced the tragic loss of a best friend just a few days before and, as she explained to me, SonReal's music had been a huge part of powering through the darkness and the heavy days. It's music she's come back to time and time again and there at the Riff Top tent, there was a powerful musical catharsis through the hip-hop of SonReal. The set started off a little slower than past times I've seen SonReal but a few songs in, homie was his normal self jumping around, dancing and just generally being way affable while he rapped his positive, conscious raps. I've seen “Everywhere We Go” a few times live and I honestly can't believe how hard that song hits every single time. Seriously, shit makes me wanna triple-jump like Super Mario, grabbing at all them gold coins. At a time when I am constantly barraged with negativity about the current state of hip-hop, seeing a diverse crowd rocking hard with SonReal made me feel real good about not just hip-hop, but the music community around me as a whole.
Likely one of the best sets of the festival on most people’s lists, Bishop Briggs lived up to all the hype and more on Saturday evening at Royal Athletic Park. With one of the most powerful voices in music she won over an entire crowd as she showcased her talent with many different styles and genres, and surprisingly deep, soulful melodies. With many in the audience, including myself, having only been exposed to her radio play before that show, she no doubt won over many, many new fans in Victoria as a result. In 6 years of attending Rifflandia, that was up there with some of the best shows I’ve seen.
I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Jessie Reyez before Rifflandia, but after a recommendation from a friend who came to Riff from out of town, it was obvious we had to check her out. Someone who wears her heart on her sleeve and tells it like it is, Jessie Reyez ended Saturday night at the park with a fiery performance that would possibly offended some crowds. But she brought up important topics to an audience that needed to hear them and tackled them head on with an unapologetic attitude. The kind that is inspiring and infectious and you can’t help but listen to the message.
Murge & the Golden Era
After attempts to hit up some smaller venues went unsuccessful, as was the case much of the weekend due to bad planning on our part, we decided Capital Ballroom might be our best chances of getting in. With Murge on the decks to close out Saturday night we figured there would be a bit of a wait. But instead we walked straight in to a room filled with ear to ear smiles, dancing feet, and a local legend taking us on a journey through sound itself. Everything from funk to hip hop, and of course all the classics, Murge lay down one of the tightest sets of the weekend. As the dance floor started to fill with the late night stragglers, it just became more and more evident this is where we supposed to end up. Rifflandia is about visiting old friends and remembering why you love this city and there's not much that says “Victoria” like getting down to Murge on a Saturday night at Capital Ballroom.
Now it's my turn to admit something: Before the Zolas took the stage on Rifflandia's final day, I was pretty sure I had no more space in my heart for groups of white guys playing rock music. I was fairly certain all of those spaces had already been occupied. But I was pleasantly surprised by The Zolas power pop and I think they may have found previously undiscovered space in my musical heart. Sunday at Royal Athletic Park can always take some time to get going – the spirit is willing but the body is slow and sluggish. But the Zola's set gave me the shot of dancey rock energy that I needed to help propel me through until the mighty Beardyman took the stage...
There was no one on the Rifflandia bill that we were more excited to take in than Beardyman. A true creative force, Bearydman sets are wild rides that keep you off your toes, never able to predict what you're going to hear or, more importantly, feel. “Hello Victoria, how are you doing? Hello Victoria, what goals are you pursuing?” This is a pretty big, important question to just randomly throw in to the beginning of your set and while obviously this is a performance and no answer is/was expected, it's a jarring question that gets your brain moving differently than you'd expect and in effect, is almost a reset for your state of mind. As usual, Beardyman displayed a pretty ridiculous scope of musical knowledge, building songs of a variety of genres with equal deftness when approaching each form. With an improvised set (As is his way) full of twists and turns, this was another singular experience from a master creator, that eludes even my formidable talent with words. But I can say it was bass-y. Real fucking bass-y.