For those unfamiliar with Halifax, the timid Canadian city performs an annual Megatron-like transformation at the end of each October. Barrington Street goes from mildly intoxicated and raucous to Amy Winehouse on amphetamines with a megaphone. Venues crank subwoofers from comfortable thumping to post-tracheotomy Barry White levels. Mornings involve waking to find a group of five Icelandic men sleeping on inflatable mattresses in your living room. This metamorphosis has occurred for nearly the past seventeen years earning the title of Halifax Pop Explosion. Boasting over 125 acts through the five-day period, Jesse F. Keeler, Gregg Gillis, and Brian King sightings between classes become a commonplace occurrence. Donair pizza, glow sticks, countless layers of clothing, and failed midterms fuel the East Coasts celebration of music.
The festival took place in just over a dozen venues across the city, ranging from theatres and halls, to clubs, pubs, and even a couple of churches. Coincidentally, Halifax claims the highest rate of bars per capita in Canada and as such, there was no shortage of settings to get cozy and personal with the musicians – and Alexander Keith. With most locales within walking distance, reasonable taxi fares, and hospitable residents getting around was painless. This was of paramount importance as the headliners, MSTRKRFT, Final Fantasy, Japandroids and Girl Talk, each played sets within the last two days, driving even the most organized hipster to scheduling psychosis. The packed agenda caused certain acts to have up to five openers and sets running late into the night. Here are a few photos, tracks, and intimacies shared at Halifax Pop Explosion 2009.
Adorning the stage with strings of lights, skinny jeans, and dishevelled hair, a group of five indie rockers took the stage in the form of Dinosaur Bones. The fuzzy and stylistically haunting group based out of Toronto formed following an abandoned English degree and aided by a shifty four-track recorder. Ben Fox clasped the microphone, gazing into the crowd idealistically and without uttering a word, had the audience inquiring, “Is Julian Casablancas using a different guitar tonight?” The drowned out, immersive vocals coupled with nebulous guitars and synthesizer replied immediately with a resonating “Yes.” Filled with snares and infectious guitar riffs, ‘Royalty’ saw any remaining sceptics join the masses and shout along with the lively quintet. Dinosaur Bones find solace in an accessible and simultaneously, immaculately layered sound. The group is currently recording their full length to follow up their self-titled EP.
Amidst a haze of cherry stage lights, amplifiers propped up by milk crates, and dusty chandeliers, Crystal Antlers emerged inducing psychedelia upon an already bewildered audience. The astonishment continued throughout the evening as Crystal Antlers proved that you can play a guitar with a beer bottle, it is possible to shake every last jingle out of a tambourine while in the splits, and that mashing two heads into a keyboard can create beautiful melodies. The band played largely through their full length Tentacles, reaching a pinnacle as Jonny Bell started twisting around the stage to the deafening pulse of ‘Andrew’. The audience bounced in correlation to the antics of Damian Edwards, who started the evening in a winter jacket and by the encore was shirtless and drenched in sweat thanking the audience. The group of six Long Beach noise-rockers are continuing their tour throughout the States and will be stopping in Toronto and Montreal at the end of November.
Scientists of Sound
Scientists of Sound are composed of Aaron Collier, Craig Mercer, and a pair of masks, lab coats, and bunny ears. The duo produces looping madness, employing shredded vocals, infectious guitars, shrieking synthesizers, and enough pedals to outfit a small car dealership. In between adjusting levels all that could be seen of the pair were ominous silhouettes and intermittent drops of sweat. Scientist of Sound sustained their set as if possessed by electronic deities, the crowd cast as their exorcist, and the resulting noise – purification.
Jesse F. Keeler and AI-P set down their Crown Royal, stared out at the disco ball hanging above The Palace and commenced two hours worth of heavy drops, mixed brilliance, and communal madness. Like the aforementioned transformer, watching MSTRKRFT spin grew hypnotic rapidly, fingers moving independently of one another, the mesmerizing spin of turntables and the alternating pulse of levels sent even the hardiest party junkies into overstimulation. In accordance with their soaring baselines, much of the night melted into a broken film strip, rapidly cycling through mechanical imagery of crowd-surfing, head bangers, and an ecstasy that went up in smoke by way of a pack of Belmonts.
Little Girls played an eclectic set to a modest crowd, what was lacking in numbers was made up by Josh McIntyre’s on stage performance. Bouncing from side to side, the anything-but-gracious post-punk rocker, tangled up in wires threw benders that had keyboards and electronics flying in every direction. The head-over-heels antics condensed the energy of recently released Concepts on Paper Bag Records. A whirlwind of devastation was met with sincere appreciation as the Torontonian showed genuine pleasure for all things musical. The defining vocals were the highlight of the set as Josh described them earlier, “The whole idea behind the vocals was to try not to make it sound like a guy just singing on top of a band. I wanted texture, layers of sound. So the vocals are more of a harmony than a normal track.” For more Little Girls check our interview with Josh McIntyre, or catch them live in Toronto on November 20.
Mike O’Brien and Carlin Nicholson, two former members of Jason Collett’s touring band along with Rob Drake and Neil Quin formed a mythical folk-rock beast known as Zeus. The band now signed with Arts&Crafts played through their debut release Sounds Like Zeus and immediately persuaded the audience to join the festivities. Drawing on clever arrangements and influences of experimental cabaret sounds, the group dismantled any preconceived notions of classic rock and simply invited everyone to find harmony in their fabled rhythms and grooves.
You Say Party! We Say Die!
You Say Party! We Say Die! came out for Halifax Pop Explosion from their hometown of Vancouver. Despite the long trip, the Canadian five-piece shone with Becky Ninkovic putting on an act to be remembered. The charismatic singer spent the night tiptoeing across speakers, sharing the microphone with the audience, crowd-surfing, and making a point of welcoming the entire bar. Keeping in mind that the band was opening for Japandroids, they were called back for an encore, and the enthusiastic bunch extended the interactive affair, ending their set with Becky amidst the crowd yelling the “You Say Party! We Say Die!” with elated listeners. The band played a mix of old and new tracks as they had just released their third full length XXXX on Paper Bag Records. You Say Party! We Say Die! will continue throughout the rest of Canada promoting their album throughout November.
Last time I had a chance to see Japandroids play was July. The day of the concert I had an awful fever and spent much of the day lying in bed, however, in the evening I decided I could not pass up their show after what Post-Nothing provoked. I spent the night feeling drowsy and whimsical, riding a high that only exceeding the daily recommendation of painkillers could bestow. Between feebly rocking, sweating profusely, and teeth-chattering shivers the frenzy was lost on me. This was redemption. Brian King setup his pedals, guitars, and adjusted the bands essential component – an industrial fan aimed directly at the singers head. Moments before the set he ran backstage, opened a new bottle of cough syrup, downed a mouthful, and gargled; Brian explained, “We’ve been on tour for a few months now, and my voice is shot, if you guys know the words, please sing along.” We did know the words, and we sang. Japandroids are a fairly loud band, there is a consistent lingering distort as chords are ripped through amplifiers and both Brian and David do their best to test the limits of human lung capacity. However, on that night, the first notes of ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’ prompted the crowd to roar back each lyric at twice the volume. With their set running late, the pair was cut short as the venue was forced to close. I will look back upon this night fondly as a senior with hearing problems.
Thank you to all the staff, volunteers, and performers that helped make Halifax Pop Explosion a blast. Thanks to Matt Charlton at Pigeon Row and Sari Delmar at Audio Blood for keeping me informed, organized, and entertained. To the friends that spent the late nights at show, listened to my ravings, and danced shamelessly throughout the week – you rock. Finally, a thank you to the city of Halifax and all it’s countless music fans – you have made crowd surfing possible. For more photography from Halifax Pop Explosion 2009, you can check my Flickr.