If you believe the founders of 50 Days YYC, Calgary is a barren cultural hellscape with a music community that’s completely unacceptable. However, anyone living outside of their food truck, varsity jacket and backflip-to-crafty-chug bubble will tell you that the city is home to one of the most exciting music festivals in the world, with 2015 drawing in a hugely diverse line-up of artists from all corners of the globe along with locals at the top of their game. Sled Island kicks off in high gear this week, so we’ve assembled a quick list of acts that might have skirted under your scanners.
Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche
This Montreal band released their debut album on Constellation in late 2014 but have yet to capture the attention of most outside of la belle province. Kudos to this year’s Sled Island curators Godspeed You! Black Emperor for bringing them out. The largely instrumental troupe founded by Jean-Sebastien Truchy (previously seen with Fly Pan Am, Femminielli, and running the fantastic Los Discos Enfantasmes cassette label) dish out rubbery grooves that are equal parts krautrock, funk, and electronic mind massage.
Kim Gordon should require no introduction to fans of Sonic Youth or readers of her recently published memoir Girl In A Band. In the wake of the break-up of the pioneering New York noiseniks, she has emerged as the member with the most exploratory tendencies. This dual guitar duo with underground hero Bill Nace deals in gorgeously skin-peeling tone poems with Gordon’s unmistakable vocals as the dream logic narrator. It’s also her first appearance in Calgary since Sonic Youth opened for Neil Young in 1991.
Since 1979, this Amsterdam gang of anarcho post-punks have cemented their status as one of the best live bands in the world. While their decision to remain 100% self-booked and self-managed along with a long standing cultural exchange with artists from Ethiopia are hugely inspiring, it’s The Ex’s ferocious delivery, zig-zagging rhythms, and bouquets of barbed wire guitars that truly make them a must-see.
Packing their own Ex levels of intensity, Victoria’s Fountain are one of the most thrilling acts on this year’s line-up. The post-punk shambleband emerged from the same island crew as AUX faves Freak Heat Waves but their sound is even more tightly wound (while still delivering odd bod earworms). Make sure to mark this one down.
All the way from Oslo, Norway, this avant big band will flip the wigs of unwitting audiences with an unclassifiable mix of prog-zap, fusion-y nerdzones, and future-jazz. With an orchestra’s worth of instruments and songs stretching to stratospheric lengths, Jaga Jazzist deliver the soundtrack to an imaginary video game with Sonic the Hedgehog chasing James Bond through the catacombs of the Borg Cube.
These Sackville, New Brunswick shredders recently relocated to Toronto and delivered one of the most entertaining sets at the Ottawa Explosion festival. Their high energy rave-ups swipe a few moves from the classic thug-stomp of The Stooges and Flipper with the same levels of danger intact. Punk as fuck nonsense with a name inspired by Pootie Tang – what else do you need to know?
The heaviest duo this side of heaven are an absolute cannot-miss on par with Boredoms at the first Sled Island in 2007. For the uninitiated, Providence, Rhode Island’s Brian Chippendale (pictured at the top of this piece in his signature weirdo mask/microphone rig) and Brian Gibson crank out cartoonishly spastic noise-rock that will shred your eardrums and possess your body into a mosh pit warrior.
Gender bending hip-hop artist Mykki Blanco has busted all sorts of stigmas in the last few years, including a recent admission of being HIV positive since 2011. This comes hot on the heels of a retirement from rap, with Sled Island and Meaford, Ontario’s Electric Eclectics announced as some of Blanco’s final performances. Gettin’ wavvy has never been more imperative.
Halifax’s Nigel Chapman might be the greatest songwriter in Canada. Backed up by a wrecking crew featuring members of Monomyth (another must-see act this year), his heart-rending ramble jams will make you misty. Newer songs bring things down to near Prefab Sprout levels of wedding band softness while still sounding like Lou Reed backed up by Ira Kaplan/Robert Quine-esque crybaby guitar wrangling. You heard it here first.
Cleveland’s Lamont “Bim” Thomas is a one-man minefield blowing up the spot with fuzzed-out garage bombs, funk chops, and furious raps. The end results of those ingredients might sound unlikely on screen, but take our word that you don’t want to miss at least one of his three sets.
Former Calgarian turned Vancouverite Sarah Davachi has lifted off in recent years as an outernationally acclaimed electronaut. Armed with an arsenal of analog synths, she beams listeners out to deep zones, boldly going where few have drifted before. Catch her hometown return before she heads back to the astral plane.