From last Tuesday till Saturday, Halifax hosted some of Canada’s scrappiest indie bands, cleanest pop acts, trillest DJs, and wackiest comics as part of the annual Halifax Pop Explosion. In those five days, I slept less than 20 hours, almost got YOLO tattooed on my face, dry-heaved outside of a church, and partied at a short-lived rave with Purity Ring and Eric Andre. It was a pretty great week.
Musically speaking, a number of the acts were Halifax bands or former Halifax bands; a showcase of local talent with national reach. These are a few highlights from another year at HPX.
Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs Showcase
Ryan Hemsworth, arguably the most famous producer and DJ to originate from Halifax, brought a Secret Songs Showcase to his hometown. With artists featured from his bi-monthly ‘friends-only’ release series, it was incredibly banging for a Wednesday night. Opened by Halifax’s Vogue Dots (pictured above), with their flighty atmospherics, invigorating vocals, and soothing synths, the show also featured two of Hemsworth’s favourite DJs, Louisiana’s Suicideyear, who almost terrorized the audience with pseudo-industrial chopped up hip-hop and R&B, and Long Island’s Skylar Spence (Ryan DeRobertis a.k.a. Saint Pepsi). Spence is the current king of pop-infused vaporwave; he blends retro-futurism with soft arpeggiated melodies and pure candy to create the most chill moods. Hemsworth’s set incorporated some of those same elements, as well as his tendency toward contemporary trap and hip-hop. With the of rainbow-rotation of lights and trippy projections, it felt like we were living in an underwater Rich Gang anime, what a privilege. (Vogue Dots photo by Kate Giffin)
The Mint Records Showcase
Vancouver indie label Mint Records nabbed and signed Halifax’s Monomyth last year to bring some east coast to a roster that includes Nardwuar, The Ketamines, and many amazing acts representing Mint since 1991. On Saturday afternoon, label dude Robert See hosted the Mint Records showcase with its quirkiest current signees: Jay Arner’s space-garage-inspired Energy Slime, blistering bubblegum foursome Tough Age, nu-wave duo Fake Tears, and the charming pop-rock of our boys in Monomyth. Energy Slime’s drunk-rock with electronic surprises was super sweet but scrappy, and included a slick Can cover. Monomyth’s set was largely new songs from their upcoming album, tunes that oscillate in style between the early-’60s pop of Seamus Dalton and the late-’60s rock of Josh Salter, in a way that feels so fresh.
Nova Scotia’s relationship to Montreal and the long-stranding tradition of our best artists moving there couldn’t have been more apparent than this year. There were a number of sets by Montreal bands with Halifax connections, which were my favourite. More than a handful: the soulful, asymmetrical jazz of Un Blonde, a project of the young Jean-Sebastien Audet, who was one of the most talented and unique voices at the festival; Each Other’s unpredictable, but ultimately composed harmonies and songs sealed so tightly yet tilted at varying degrees; the twisted darkness of Sheer Agony, totally disguised in classic chords and the sugary sweet vocals of Jackson MacIntosh; the grace of Heaven for Real; the energy of Pale Lips; the realization that I should probably move to Montreal next year. (Each Other photo by Kate Giffin)
Rich Aucoin and Symphony Nova Scotia
Halifax sweetheart (disclosure: my roommate) Rich Aucoin spent the last four months scoring his anthemic, feel-good philosophical epics for an even more epic performance with the 70-plus instrument orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia. It was an overwhelming look into a musical mastermind: the strings synths of his songs were given wealthier layers, the electronica was replaced with perfect instrumental arrangements and a choir of Halifax musicians filled in for the four different choirs on Ephemeral. There are few artists who command this studied grasp of musical theory and sonic placement, and Aucoin’s tangible joy of the experience, and the gratitude with which it was executed, was superb.
Eric Andre and Cheryl Hann
Eric Andre, the New York comic, actor and star of Adult Swim’s Eric Andre Show gave the best comedy set I’ve seen in my life. No exaggeration, it was hysterical. With two back-to-back sets, I caught the second one with direct support by Halifax’s Cheryl Hann (Picnicface), whose comedy is intelligent, progressive, and satirical in a totally original way. Her calculated aggression and physical humour was on the same wavelength as the truly outrageous Andre, who was drunk on Canadian Club whiskey and armed with inane factoids about Halifax. His set was a stream-of-consciousness assault on anything taboo. Topics ranged from COPS and Mormon abstinence to injecting his buddy Hannibal Buress with heroin, each step rushing toward the most climactic ending: Andre and a volunteer audience member getting naked and tucking their genitals between their legs. Absolutely nothing was off-limits. It’s obvious Andre is equal parts genius and insane.