Every October, about two weeks after Thanksgiving, the city of Halifax transforms as 180 bands play in over 20 bars across five days for the Halifax Pop Explosion. You may wonder whether it’s practical for the city, as images of Coachella and Osheaga come to mind, but Halifax is home to the highest amount of bars per capita in Canada and the city is quite small, 262.65 square kilometres to be exact. Walking from bar to bar is an easy feat and there is even a free festival bus to get around the city. The Halifax Pop Explosion hosts a variety of events, including digital workshops and art markets during the day, and in the evenings the city is filled with music. Here is a first hand account of some shows with photos to entice you to visit Halifax next year.
The Zolas were a perfect start to the festival with their upbeat indie tunes. The Zolas epitomize the Canadian indie rock scene with sing-along melodies and some enthusiastic musicians, causing vivacious singing and dancing from the band and the crowd. They played in the intimate Gus’ Pub in the north end of Halifax, letting the crowd get within arms reach, and instigating Zachary Gray (vocals/guitar) to jump out into the crowd.
Bandcamp: The Zolas – Ancient Mars
BRAIDS were one of my most anticipated shows for the festival since their new album Flourish//Perish was released this past August, the first bite of new music since their debut album Native Speaker from 2011. Fun fact: I went to high school with these guys! I saw BRAIDS the last time they played at Halifax Pop Explosion a couple years ago at Reflections Cabaret. This year, the show was in St. Matthew’s Church and that setting combined with their self-proclaimed matured sound was particularly beautiful. BRAIDS’ ambient and instrumental beats made me want to both dance sporadically as well as just lay down and close my eyes, to soak it all in. All of the intricate layering of their sounds, Raphaelle’s pure voice, and Austin and Taylor’s catchy beats made the entire experience one of my favourites of the festival.
YouTube: BRAIDS – “Fruend”
Great Lake Swimmers (Tony Dekker solo show)
At first, I was unsure about seeing this act because I love the Great Lake Swimmers and did not know what to expect from the songs without the full band. But Tony Dekker did an absolutely beautiful job with the Great Lake Swimmers classics, and he swayed the crowd with an array of tunes from his newly released solo album, Prayer of the Woods. He told the audience about how he stumbled across a poem while hiking in Ontario and this poem became the inspiration for his solo album. His captivating melodies and harmonies reflect this enchanting experience and one song consists of the poem paired with an endearing acoustic tune. On stage with him was a very old record player, churning out slightly eerie but captivating sound clips. If you are a Great Lake Swimmers fan I definitely recommend checking out Tony Dekker’s solo album, as it incorporates the classic sound of the band with a peaceful and scenic atmosphere.
YouTube: Tony Dekker – “Prayer of the Woods”
Japandroids was another of my most anticipated shows as I have never seen them live and I knew it would be an incredible time. And boy did they deliver! The first couple of songs were termed a “warm-up” by Brian King (guitar/vocals), adding that by the end of the show things were going to be wild. After snapping some photos I made my way into the mosh pit and indeed things were heating up. When they played “Wet Hair” everyone was going nuts, and the moshing and crowd-surfing escalated. The end of their set left everyone sweaty and wanting more but getting out into the rainy Halifax weather was extremely refreshing.
When I turned the corner to a long line at Reflections Cabaret, I thought I wouldn’t even get to see Lunice. Luckily the bouncers were very kind and I walked into the humid bar full of anticipation for the dance party inside. Lunice was dripping with sweat, which could be a result of the humid Halifax night, or the fact that he was running around the stage and belting out every word to his mixes. And then the crowdsurfing began! It did not stop for the rest of the night, and rightfully so, as Lunice helped bring a fantastic wrap up to the 21st annual Halifax Pop Explosion.