In the immortal words of Halifax’s OBEY Convention, the festival welcomes “weirdos, punks, jazzers, outcasts, music nerds, losers, new agers, burnouts, art geeks, and hermits.” The 2015 edition of the yearly event from Divorce Records founder Darcy Spidle blurred all notions of genre while flowing seamlessly like a jackpot spin of the radio dial. Ranking or rating performances seems inconsequential to the experiential thrills of free-jazz, eardrum-shattering techno, and freaked out punk crammed into a single night. All other fests should aspire to this kind of disparate programming and open-minded experimentation.
Bing & Ruth (Photo: Bill Thompson)
Sparing the details of a 20-hour drive from Toronto, Thursday began at the spacious Halifax Music Co-Op. Out-rock/jazz duo Not the Wind, Not the Flag kicked off the evening with a set of loose-limbed action and beauty. Up next was Brooklyn’s seven-piece drone ensemble Bing & Ruth, who filled the venue’s expanses with meditative and emotive slow motion tones. An early highlight and one of the year’s most moving performances.
Love Thy Will Be Done (Photo: Andrew Neville)
Petra Glynt (Photo: Bill Thompson)
Things ramped up on the colourfully kitsch dancefloors of LGBTQ bar Menz and Mollyz, playing host to the fest for the next three nights. Thomas Gill’s prog-R&B troupe Love Thy Will Be Done read from sheet music while swaying in sensual and futuristic fashion. The Toronto crew continued to throw down to a jolting solo set from Petra Glynt, with her gargantuan operatics sounding like Scott Walker reborn as a righteous raver. Absolutely Free closed it all off with their passionate vocals and propulsive pop-kraut.
Peter Brötzmann (Photo: Bill Thompson)
Friday was a banner night. First up at the Fort Massey Church was Last Lizard, the latest guise of Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zhang Hungtai. Expanding on the cinematic drift of his 2014 release Stateless, this set of saxophone loops conjured daydreams in soft focus. Of course, nothing could provide a fitting introduction for the masterclass performance from free-jazz legend Peter Brötzmann. The 75-year-old measured up to his nicknames “Machine Gun” and “The Living Ball of Fire” with fiercely powerful, mournful blow-outs on multiple horns, leaving countless minds expanded.
Container (Photo: Bill Thompson)
Bouncing back to Menz and Mollyz, the discotheque sound system kicked into overdrive for the head-tripped electronics of JFM. Phoebé Guillemot a.k.a. RAMZi sliced through the air with her glitched dancehall and jungle mutations, before Providence, Rhode Island’s Container obliterated the room (and smoked out the speakers) with pounding noise-techno. This flashed back to an equally unrelenting set from Pete Swanson at OBEY 2013 with dome-wrecking déjà vu.
Buck Gooter (Photo: Bill Thompson)
As if the night hadn’t offered enough already, Friday continued to careen with a late show at the Bus Stop Theatre. Montreal’s Gashrat formed a circle pit for their free-squealing blasts of punk damage, winning legions of new fans in the process. Up last were Virginia’s infamous Buck Gooter, who provided the biggest jaw-drop of the festival. Imagine a ramshackle industrial blues duo throwing down rage raps about sex with a hornet’s nest while karate kicking wind chimes and playing a theremin with a bubble gun, if that even sounds plausible. Bizarre, beautiful, harrowing, and real, The Goot must be experienced to be believed.
Moss Lime (Photo: Marie LeBlanc Flanagan)
Saturday started early at the CKDU Bus Stop brunch with sets from local favourites Vulva Culture and the double-bass shark attack of Ottawa’s Bonnie Doon. Montreal’s Moss Lime headlined with yet another new drummer in tow, fleshing out their minimalist post-punk with heart-stopping vocals from guitarist JLK. Bonus points for their adorable matching yellow raincoats.
You’ll Never Get To Heaven (Photo: Marie LeBlanc Flanagan)
Noveller (Photo: Bill Thomson)
Back at Fort Massey Church, a trio of sets revealed the machinations typically shrouded in a darkened club setting. Halifax/Paris duo Hey Mother Death sounded every bit as seductive and spooky as their recordings, veering into overwrought Lynchian territory while miraculously staying icy cool. You’ll Never Get To Heaven pulled off a similar feat of flawless reproduction, yet their sounds of shimmer and static lifted off from the silver screen into dreamland. Finally, Sarah Lipstate a.k.a. Noveller commanded the altar with another virtuoso instrumental performance, channeling sounds from her guitar that looped, swooped, and scorched up into the spires.
N.213’s Group Vision (Photo: Marie LeBlanc Flanagan)
Moon (Photo: Marie LeBlanc Flanagan)
Saturday night at Menz and Mollyz saw the most jam-packed crowd of the fest. Up first was N.213’s Group Vision, the spazzoid now wave punk project led by Nic Hughes of Shearing Pinx. The Vancouver band hit the stage dressed to kill, tearing through their songs with wig flipping energy. Halifax heroes Moon appeared in an expanded line-up featuring Allison Higgins of Old & Weird on violin. Their airy motorik pop sounded right at home in a room full of head-nodding smiles. Homeshake, the chiller than chill pop project of Mac Pack member Peter Sagar, was almost too laid back. Thankfully, the block rockin’ DJ set from Healing Power’s Wolfgang Nessel was enough to shake butts out of their slumber.
Could there be anything more? Across the street in the pitch-black confines of The Bus Stop, a crowd gathered around pummeling acid techno duo Parliament who were joined on stage by a muscle-popping bodybuilder. The fidgety electronics of JOYFULTALK and a spoken word set from local character actor/OBEY posterboy Tim Dunn ended the night on a surreal, unsettling note. In other words: perfect.
Tasseomancy (Photo: Bill Thomson)
Sunday began at the Halifax Music Co-Op with a dreamweaving set from Tasseomancy. Twin sisters Romy and Sari Lightman returned to their former Halifax home to beam out lush harmonies and intricate arrangements. Their cover of Robbie Basho’s “Blue Crystal Fire” (complete with steel drum) provided a moment of Zen.
Lubomyr Melnyk (Photo: Marie LeBlanc Flanagan)
OBEY’s final setting was the Maritime Conservatory of the Performing Arts, with the sun falling behind a wall of windows. Chuck Blazevik of YNGTH was up first with his softly scorched tone worship as Dreamsploitation. This set the stage for the highly anticipated appearance of classical pianist Lubomyr Melnyk and his astonishing “continuous music.” Throughout an hour and a half that felt far shorter, his fingers flew across the keys to create dizzying clusters of notes with waves of harmonies and overtones. Melnyk’s music was as emotionally charged as it was mesmerizing, and his open-armed messages of love spoken between songs left the crowd in tears. There couldn’t be a more fitting finale to this invigorating weekend transcending the typical concepts of a music fest.