Soggy Island

Words: Jeremy Curry // Photos courtesy of Sled Island

The 'Chunk! (photo: David Coombe)

The ‘Chunk! (photo: David Coombe)

This year’s Sled Island was one of the most bizarre times in recent memory. Not only for the festival, but also for the city of Calgary. On the Thursday of the fest it was announced that there was a state of emergency in our city. Usually when these kinds of warnings happen, it seems premature. This time, it was serious. The Elbow and Bow rivers had flooded, spilling over into many areas around the city, including the downtown core and many central areas where the festival housed most of its events. It was announced later on the Thursday evening that many homes and business had to be evacuated, and a lot of the venues for the fest were being shut down. It was later announced on the Friday morning that the festival had been completely cancelled. The city was a complete mess, and we are still trying to rebuild and get everything back to its normal state. Who knows how long that could take? But with major events like the Calgary Stampede and the Folk Festival quickly approaching, the city needs to rush to get ready for these big tourist attractions.

Jay Arner (photo: Jesse Locke)

Jay Arner (photo: Jesse Locke)

It was very unfortunate for Sled Island to cancel the festival, but overall, it was for the best. Some of the venues didn’t even have power for days on end, and a lot of out-of-town bands had tours that needed to continue. People were stuck in different quadrants of the city, and many of them who were displaced were staying with friends, family, or just a generous host until it was safe to go home. But wherever you were, bands managed to find places that would host a show. Many of these were littered around the city after hearing about the festival cancellation, with donations going to the touring bands and/or flood relief funds. Despite all of the crummy water bringing everyone down, the spirit of camaraderie and DIY shows throughout the whole mess made everything a hell of a lot better. I managed to check out Jay Arner and the Ketamines at a house party six blocks from where I was staying on the Friday night, and my friends at Weird Canada managed to put together a last minute rager at Tubby Dog, which was one of the venues fortunate enough to stay open during the whole ordeal. They managed to keep live music going throughout the night, which is just one more reason to love that place.

Teledrome (photo: Arif Ansari)

Teledrome (photo: Arif Ansari)

The first couple of days before the storm were still a lot of fun, so I’d like to tell you about that. The opening show on the Tuesday was at the Commonwealth, which had two floors of bands playing, including Teledrome and Gold, who I’ve mentioned in previous articles as local favourites of mine. Teledrome have a nice mix of synth pop/punk that can become a huge earworm if you aren’t careful. The synth pop thing may be a bit on the goofin’ side, but having a guilty pleasure is always a-ok. Gold played a fantastic set of fuzzed-out pop jams oozing that sort of jangly guitar tone (think Johnny Marr) that makes you want to grab a jumbo Mr. Freeze.

Gold (photo: Arif Ansari)

Gold (photo: Arif Ansari)

Wednesday was a special treat. It started off again at the Commonwealth, where saxophone sorcerer Colin Stetson was headlining a fantastic show. The night started off with another great local band, New Friends. Heavy drones poured from a strange pyramid box on stage, with primitive haunted caveperson grooves. It was the perfect creepy chill before seeing Bitter Fictions, with a pedal-on-pedal solo guitar sandwich. I would stuff this one in the shoegaze category, considering I was watching his feet move around the whole time. A powerful sound from a single soul.

Bitter Fictions (photo: Arif Ansari)

Bitter Fictions (photo: Arif Ansari)

Astral Swans, the solo project of Matt Swann, was another nice surprise. It was a nice bit of folk, and often quite minimal. The whole show was beginning to feel like an eclectic mixtape. After these opening acts, the venue began to fill up. It was so packed, but once Colin Stetson came on, I forgot where I was. This set was an amazing thing to witness, and his repetitive honks and circular breathing techniques put me in a trance. If it weren’t so busy, I would have stretched out on the floor.

Colin Stetson (photo: Arif Ansari)

Colin Stetson (photo: Arif Ansari)

After that insane show, I wandered over to Tubby Dog, where Hex Ray was just about to play. This is another local favourite of mine. They’re like a prog/garage/jam combo with funny lyrics about saxophones. The jams are tight and, ultimately, it’s a positive experience all around. I can’t recommend this band enough. The act that followed, Catgut, were a pretty intense group of dudes who played high-energy slacker jams (does that make sense?) reminiscent of the sloppy rampager romps that Dinosaur Jr. used to kick out. A pretty loud ending to my evening.

Viet Cong (photo: Arif Ansari)

Viet Cong (photo: Arif Ansari)

Thursday was when all of the weirdness began. There was supposed to be a show on the patio of Broken City, but was moved inside due to the ominous weather. Viet Cong started off this afternoon show with a pretty bonkers set. They are definitely the champs of music, with dueling guitars blazing right out of the gate, tired guy vocals and a rip roarin’ overall groove. Feel Alright followed with some nice summer flavours to savor. Great classic pop hooks, and a song with some serious falsetto. There was another one that reminded me of Elton John. All in all, a good time to be alive!

Feel Alright (photo: Arif Ansari)

Feel Alright (photo: Arif Ansari)

From here, I made it down to the Palomino where Jessica Jalbert was playing. She is a great singer/songwriter from Edmonton, who was one of the major surprises during the fest. I had only heard a single song from her bandcamp page, and thought, “this could be alright.” Every song was excellent, and I hope I get to see her play more in the future. After this show, the rain started to pour, and people started receiving messages about their areas being evacuated. A friend had told me that a large block party down in the East Village had to be shut down, and things started to sound a lot more serious.

Johnny Pemberton (photo: Alanna McCallion)

Johnny Pemberton (photo: Alanna McCallion)

Nonetheless, the comedy show still went on in a room at the Palliser hotel. It kind of looked like one of the rooms that could have been blasted by the Ghostbusters when it was haunted! Because of the storm, the power was pretty finicky, and the lights weren’t cooperating at their regular capacity. Most of the comedians made jokes about this, which helped shed some light on the situation (haha). All of the comedians were fantastic, but Johnny Pemberton and Brett Gelman stood out. Gelman yelled at an audience member at one point for looking at his phone in the front row, but was quickly told that the audience member was checking to see if he was evacuated. There were a few tense moments like this during the show, but it was extremely funny. Once again, Gelman ended up yelling at some idiotic audience members for a long time, which was so uncomfortable that it became one of the most surreal, hilarious moments of the evening.

Brett Gelman (photo: Alanna McCallion)

Brett Gelman (photo: Alanna McCallion)

Superchunk had moved from the Republik to Flames Central, where huge men give huge pat-downs upon your arrival. The ‘Chunk were in full-form, playing all of the hits, including classics like “The First Part” and a bunch of the poppy new jams from Majesty Shredding. I was expecting to see more pogoing, but I think most of the audience was too tired (or old). It was a really fun show, and I was happy to see one of my favourite bands.

On Friday, it was officially announced that Sled Island was cancelled, which was very sad. Yet those first few days were amazing and I had no complaints. I was looking forward to a lot more, which did happen regardless. A lot of bands were stuck in town or were still slated to play shows, so people hosted their own. Despite all of the craziness, there were still things to do. Venues like Commonwealth hosted major fundraisers that really helped out the city. The Ship and Anchor gave out food for volunteers and victims, and took donations for flood relief. A lot of people have been helping out and keeping things going, regardless of the situation. It’s nice to see. Hopefully Sled Island can continue next year, and the city can be recognized as one that keeps on chugging out the jams, no matter what happens.

Slummin’ in the Sled

Words: Jeremy Curry

sled island

It’s only a few weeks away! Sled Island, one of the biggest and most interesting music festivals in western Canada, is coming back at the tail end of June. There are over 200 bands this year, as well as comedians, visual art, and film. This can be a little overwhelming at times, and usually pretty hard to navigate. It’s tough to pick between multiple stellar acts playing in different venues at the same time. Sometimes, the one you want to see will have a massive line-up or be completely sold out. Sure, that’s a bummer, but there are always alternatives, and some of them can surprise you and become your favorite show of the whole damn festival. I have some recommendations, but you don’t have to listen to me! There are so many great acts playing, and this list doesn’t even scrape the surface.



Gold are a fantastic local band that come correct when it’s time to play some hazy, lazy, spaced-out pop gems. They’ll make you feel cozy and warm through all of the dark days. Remember when indie-rock bands were described as “tropical” a few years ago? Gold could have been thrown into that category, but they sound more like hot chocolate/warm blanket tunes to me. These jams are real head-nodders. Nod in approval, or just follow the grooves. You’ll get a decent neck exercise, and feel great afterwards! Positive musical therapy.

Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson has played sax in some popular bands like Bon Iver and Arcade Fire, but that’s far from what he honks out in his solo work. His circular breathing is truly a unique sound. Without any effects or pre-recorded loops, he blows insane grooves, drones and bizarre tones. His beautiful, wild compositions will have you scratching your head wondering how he created those sounds. His recent collaboration with fellow sax master Mats Gustafsson is one of the most brutal, insane, and amazing records of the year.



This is an easy pick because Superchunk is one of this year’s headliners, as well as one of the most popular acts. But if you don’t know about them, they’ve been kicking out the slacker jams for almost 25 years. Singer Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance even started Merge Records, which is a powerhouse of independent releases including albums by some band called Arcade Fire. The ‘Chunk have some of the catchiest, tightest, indie pop/rock jams around. Their songs will get stuck in your head, and you’ll want to keep them in there for a while.

Jay Arner

Jay Arner

Some friends tipped me off about this cool dude from Vancouver. As soon as I heard a single song, I was hooked. I played that song over and over on my computer until I decided that if I didn’t stop, I’d get sick of it. I turned it off and waited a month to play it again. The Jay Arner addiction is a tough one to beat, but I doubt it has any terrible side effects. This man is a pop-song wizard, and everybody should go and see him cast spells of wicked hooks and fuzzed-out guitar jams. It’ll be worth it.

Pete Swanson

Pete Swanson

Tim Hecker curated some of the acts at this year’s festival, and one of the artists he decided to bring along is Pete Swanson. This is an amazing choice. Swanson makes some of the harshest electronic music in the world. The beats are heavy and industrial, and computer bleeping tones can wobble in and out without any notice. It sounds like the destruction of a factory building Robocops, or a dusty dub album playing at the wrong speed, with a messed up needle skipping over grooves. The tones can get pretty brutal, but that’s all part of the fun.

Shearing Pinx

Shearing Pinx

Shearing Pinx are a spastic, noisy rock and roll trio. They’ve played Calgary numerous times, sometimes at more noise-centric shows. They have more of a punk vibe, and the fact that they’re hard to pin down genre-wise makes them even more interesting. The vocals are reminiscent of a guy yelling at you to get something done, while the guitars are akin to scribbling on the wall of your parents’ freshly painted house. Feedback squeals are not uncommon. I’ve heard the term “face-melter” describe a lot of rock music, but I think this band truly deserves the title.

Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth

Going to see a DJ while a slew of bands with guitars and drums and stuff are playing doesn’t sound that appealing, but Ryan Hemsworth is a different breed. This kid mixes rap and R&B with old Super Nintendo music, and totally gets away with it. He does this Danny Brown x Donkey Kong remix that is better than most of the rap productions I’ve heard this year. He’s created a lot of great mixes for various music sites in the last couple of years, along with a recent free EP that sounds fantastic. This one’s going to make you exhausted from dancing like a complete maniac, so drink a lot of water.

Shedding My Skin Post-Sled

Words: Jeremy Curry // Photos courtesy of Sled Island

Well, it’s been another insane week of music, art, comedy, friends, foes, party riots, pool parties, BBQs, and way too many beers to count. It’s been a wild ride at this year’s Sled Island. Things were looking a bit suspect at first, but the line-up was scheduled so that there weren’t too many conflicting artists. I’m sure people would argue that point, considering we all have different tastes, but in my opinion, I didn’t miss out on a lot.


Nü Sensae (photo: Crystal Sujata)

Wednesday was when things started rolling along, although it wasn’t a very good idea for me to start rolling along at 10:00 pm. The Russian Circles were playing at the Dicken’s Pub, and Boris were headlining as the “secret” guest. It wasn’t much of a secret, though. The line-up outside was huge, and everybody seemed to be waiting in line to see Boris play. The place was at capacity, so it was a better idea to move on down to the Bamboo for Nü Sensae. They’re a three piece from Vancouver that play some pretty insane punk rock, but have some pretty jarring riffs, sort of in the Sonic Youth vein. The vocals squeal like a hawk being captured by a bear, and the guitar/bass combo was ferocious. This got the crowd into a wild mood, which was kind of distracting from such a powerful set.

After that, it was time to chill out and go to bed. The next three days were filled with so many shows it was hard to keep up.


Too High Crew (photo: Liz Collins)

Thursday started off with a pool party up on 14A Street. The place was filled with people yammering on about what shows they were “stoked” about. There were free hot dogs, beers and heaters for all until they ran out, which was pretty fast. Each Other, Sheer Agony and the Too High Crew kept the party chill while we kept it cool in the pool. That is, until some total asshole peed in it and ruined it for everyone. Thanks a lot, you pile of trash. Otherwise, it was a huge success! Like last year, the pool was filled with dry ice and ended up looking like a child’s cauldron.

After that, there was a show at the Hillhurst United Church by two Montreal titans. CFCF opened the show with a very soothing set featuring many tracks from his latest EP, Exercises. A lot of it sounded like Philip Glass incorporating drum samples into his music. The David Sylvian cover “September” may have been the highlight. The bass was so low, I thought about making a cocoon for myself and hanging out there for a while.

CFCF was followed by the slow building textures of Tim Hecker, who almost put the audience into “The Drone Zone”. The only illumination in the whole place was the natural light coming through the pane glass windows. It was getting darker, so the whole thing was a tiring, hallucination of sound. This was a good thing. It was a completely different experience from seeing any other band at the festival. I wasn’t sure if I was being encouraged to soak myself in the drones and take a vibrating nap or not.

Gold (photo: David Kenney)

Broken City was the next place to run to. Having a bike is necessary for the festival, and I broke mine last year. Sled Island did have some to rent, but apparently not enough. Walking is relaxing, but not when you have to get from one venue to the next, knowing the show could possibly be sold out. It was also an issue for Shabazz Palaces, because on this particular evening, the bar was at double the capacity.

Openers Rap X and Gold had a cozy audience. Gold was one of the more notable local bands playing this year. They had some pretty interesting guitar riffs, dreamlike vocals so tender they were falling off the bone, and just good times all around. A solid performance.

Shabazz Palaces (photo: David Kenney)

After this, the bar got pretty insane, filling up to the brim while Prince Rama performed. Luckily a lot of folks had elsewhere to go when Shabazz came on. Either that, or they left halfway through because they didn’t get it. Their loss I suppose, because it was one of the better rap shows to come to Calgary in a very long time. The grooves were slow and intriguing, with thumb pianos plink-plonking under a twisted lyrical adventure through space and time. It was blasphemy to leave this show.


The Evaporators and Andrew WK (photo: Arif Ansari)

Another hearty day full of cool shit. I started at Local 510 to see another fantastic new local band, New Friends. Their set began like a witches’ ceremony. I thought we may be letting spirits, specters and ghouls enter the bar to terrorize patrons, but that wasn’t the case. The rest of the set was more along the lines of post-rock, but without all of that nasty build-up we’re so used to. What a yawner that would be. Instead, it was a real slab of icing.

Electronic bleep-bloop tape hiss guru Nate Young followed with a really interesting set. He dawned his shades and blasted out pretty pulsating, murky electronics with warped tape loops. People walking by outside on the street had no fucking idea what was going on. Were we building an evil robot indoors? No, just seeing a master at work.

A few doors down, the Evaporators were starting up a legendary set! They started off with the classic tune “Mario Cuomo Works at Domo”. It just got more fun and exciting as the show progressed. Andrew WK ended up onstage to play with the band, and even to play his song “Party Hard”. Everyone in the audience was totally psyched and had a really fun time. There was a lot of audience participation, which can usually be annoying, but with Nardwuar the Human Serviette, it’s an honour. He is definitely a Canadian treasure, and always fun to see. You will never see anybody with that much energy in your life. Combined with Andrew WK? It just makes me tired thinking about it.

Unfortunately for Feist fans it started to rain, and they had to watch the show at Olympic Plaza amongst the huge puddles. Oh well, my mom said it was good.

Thurston Moore (photo: David Kenney)

Over at the Grand Theatre, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan played a show that was visually fun and pretty goddamn loud. It was stepping into a psychedelic mountain of sound, dragons, hairy monster things, jingle bells, heavy jams, and one moment where I don’t think any of the band members even blinked for about 8 minutes during a song. For a band that also focuses on a visual component to their music, they were actually really fun to see. They opened the whole thing with “Queens”, one of the best build-ups to a furious jam I have heard in a while.

Thurston Moore followed with a pretty great set, filled with old numbers from the Psychic Hearts era, and a bunch of brand spankin’ new tracks from his forthcoming record with his new band, Chelsea Light Moving. The standout track from the new material was a song called “Burroughs”, which sounded like a classic Moore jam. The very best was when he played the title track from Psychic Hearts. Everyone’s head starting bobbing in unison. We were in a sit-down theatre, so we couldn’t really party down.

There were always so many choices after that show but because of missing Boris on Wednesday, I thought I’d make it up by seeing them at the Distillery after Thurston Moore. I have no idea why I thought this would be a good idea. If you have read any of my previous Sled Island articles, you would know that I think this is the most disgusting place in the city. This time it wasn’t totally horrible, aside from the dickhead bouncers and the bathroom that was literally covered in garbage. I don’t think I could see the floor at all in the bathroom, because it was covered in layers of trash! Besides that, it wasn’t so bad.

I arrived when a band called Black Mastiff started. They sounded like southern rock meets metal riffs. It would probably work well if I were rolling down a river with heavy rapids in hell. Ancients came on afterwards, starting off their set by yelling “tittays!!” into the mic. I don’t know about you, but I think this is really lame (but appropriate for the Distillery). I was expecting the worst from this band, but they weren’t that bad. They had some pretty crazy metal riffs going on, and made the crowd go pretty insane. Boris headlined the whole shindig with a pretty mixed bag of material, new and old. The new J-pop material isn’t all that fun, and I personally prefer the old heavy sludge jams, which were too few and far between. It was time to leave. I had heard they played the album Feedbacker in its entirety the previous night, so I was kicking myself for missing out.

BeatRoute was having an afterparty at their HQ, and it was a goddamn nightmare. It was so packed with people in some areas, and was a definite fire hazard. They ran out of alcohol very early into the party, which may have been a blessing in disguise, considering how incredibly wasted people were. I didn’t even know who or what was going on, because half of the time I was waiting for the bathroom, or waiting for somebody to move out of the way. Wait, wait, wait. It was time to hit the sack.


Han Bennink (photo: Katie Hyde)

The last full day of the festival. Local 510 was having a free hangover breakfast with breakfast tacos! Ironically, I could not eat the tacos because I was too hungover. Way to go, old body. There were loads of good bands playing as well, but I was in such a bad state I couldn’t deal with loud sounds. I did eventually manage to catch the comedy at the Auburn Saloon, though. Why is it called the “Auburn Saloon”? It is hardly a saloon. Shit, I think I am actually trying to make a joke. I apologize.

Todd Barry was one of the funniest comedians to come to Calgary. He told a girl that came to the show with a personal fan that it was “pretentious”, and proceeded to make many fan jokes throughout his set. He was extremely sarcastic, worked the crowd so well, and never fell flat. Tim Heidecker followed with a set that was basically poking fun at shitty, unfunny, sexist comedians. Think of a comedian who tries to copy Andrew Dice Clay (who also sucks) and fails miserably and there you go. He dropped the mic many times, had to take cue cards out at every moment, and made fun of his wife, “the nag”. He was the perfect comedian to bring alongside Neil Hamburger.

I wasn’t too familiar with Natasha Leggero, but she was another incredible comic. Her observational humor was fantastic, and reminded me of all of the dumpy things I have encountered in America, including the revamped TLC channel. 19 kids and counting! Neil Hamburger closed the show with a lot of coughing, hacking, yelling at the audience, making fun of all of the “shitty” bands playing, and having a joke-tribute to the recently deceased Whitney Houston. It was possibly the best comedy show in Calgary in a very long time.

Had a long walk over to the Ironwood to catch a wild set from Dutch jazz drummer Han Bennink, Toronto saxophonist Brodie West and Terrie Ex, from legendary punk band The Ex. Bennink was one of the most incredible drummers I have ever seen, playing with his foot bouncing on the snare at one point, while West sqounked out some squiggly sax blasts, and Ex gnarled with a coat hanger across his guitar. It was a spectacle that I cannot believe was even playing at the festival. Snailhouse capped the show off with their last show (I think?). It brought back so many memories from my high school days. The song “Twenty One Years” had all of the old high school memories flooding back. It was a great song to put on mix tapes for babes. It probably still is! Anyway, it was a really great nostalgic trip, and still holds up. Chris Vail, Chris Dadge and Aaron Booth all played in the band, which was even better. They are very important local musicians here in Calgary. Thanks a lot to Chris Dadge for putting on such a great show!

From here I walked on over to the Legion to finish off the night with Andrew WK. A dance duo by the name of SNAKATAK & Tessa G were gettin’ busy when I arrived. The beats were pretty cheeseball, but the party was bumpin’. People were going wild, and all the songs were about dancing and having fun. It was contagious, because within a few minutes, I was dancing pretty hard. They were actually a pretty wild duo to see! The beats may have been a bit silly, but leave your briefcase at the door and just have some fun!

Cherie Lily (photo: David Kenney)

Cherie Lily came on afterwards with her “Houserobics” music or whatever it is called, and that turned out to be another really fun time to dance. The party was flowing pretty nicely, and everybody was in great spirits until… Andrew WK came on.

Now, Andrew WK is a fun person, does a lot of cool things and is very positive when it comes to partying and having fun. He even did a motivational talk earlier in the week about partying and having a fun life. Unfortunately, before he came on I kind of had a feeling things weren’t going to be as fun as expected. When it was announced he was coming on stage, people started getting a little pushy to get close to the front. I moved back, because I am not in the mood for thrashing around like a maniac. He came on, and the audience went insane. People were flying all over the place, and a huge group of kids ended up dancing on stage.

From there, it was people jumping off stage every one second, and even massive asshole dudes behind me were elbowing my friend and I in the back. It was a very unsafe place to be. People were coming out of the pit, injured and looking almost dead in some cases. Andrew WK warned the audience that if they kept up the wild times, the party would get cancelled. Sure enough, after another song, the lights came on and the party was over. It was pretty sad to see a crowd turn into a bunch of goons in a few seconds flat. We were having such fun before! Anyway, the ambulance came and everybody had to go home.

Sometimes Calgary can’t have nice things. People forgot all about respecting each other and keeping cool, so everyone can have a nice time. I wasn’t even in the pit and I was being elbowed in the back. Calm it down you goddamn goons! It kind of made Calgarians look like a bunch of Neanderthals. I heard a guy from a band when I was leaving saying he wanted to “get the fuck out of here as fast as possible”. Now, that is not what I want to hear! It sucks that a few bad eggs can ruin everybody else’s day.


Duchess Says (photo: Doug Springer)

Sunday I woke up at the crack of 6 pm to catch the last show at the Republik. When I arrived, a great band called The Blind Shake was playing. They were a high-energy rock and roll band that just killed it on stage. Such intensity. I don’t think I blinked an eye during their set. I hear sometimes bands “kicked out the jams”, but I don’t usually see it in the literal sense. They did just that.

The band that closed the whole show was Duchess Says, a female-fronted group from Montreal. The girl had such a wonderful stage presence and such a cool vocal style that I told a friend of mine I wanted to marry her. A guy in front of me turned around and said “get in line”. She was so intense, yet really fun and got the audience involved. She let people come on stage, but instead of last night’s fiasco, everybody just danced harmlessly. I don’t know, is this band “dance-rock”? I don’t like that term, but I guess it suits them. Her vocal style was so wild and insane, like nothing I have heard before. The jams had everybody shaking their butts. It was so much fun.

So, besides a few bad eggs, it was a really great festival. There were a few new acts I want to get into, and a lot of older acts that were very impressive. Every year it is something for so many people to look forward to, for those who don’t like the Stampede that churns out a ton of assholes every year. It’s a great alternative for music, comedy, art and film lovers. Even if I moan and complain about the festival at the beginning because “the bands were better last year”, I’m usually wrong. There are so many new and upcoming acts to check out, and OK bands that end up putting on incredible shows. The best part is, Sled Island supports so many local artists, businesses, filmmakers, and bands. People come from all over to check out the festival, and it’s nice for people to come home and tell their friends about a cool local thing they saw. It was a pretty good show all around. Thanks a lot, Sled Island!

Sledding in the Summer

Words: Jeremy Curry

Since 2007, Sled Island has been a pretty fun summer time event for those of us who enjoy a variety of independent bands, a few major old-timers (The Melvins, Boredoms, etc.), the celebration of local artists, and some noteworthy comedians. Each year, the festival gets larger, hosts a wider variety of events and attracts more people. It supports a wide variety of local venues, and has managed to snag Olympic Plaza as its main venue. It’s become one of the larger festivals in North America, and has done so by getting such an interesting variety of acts every year. The major bands have been covered to death every year, including this disgusting review by a Calgary Herald “journalist” a few years ago, where he only went to Olympic Plaza for one afternoon to shit on the festival. I’d like to talk about some of the lesser known and new acts coming to the fest that you should check out. I will also mention my one major qualm about the festival, and that is that venue The Distillery. What a gross heap of shit. I don’t know why they keep getting shows there. The sound is so horrible, and the staff is very surly. Unless they hired completely new staff, I can see that place being just as disgusting as it has been in the past. Anyway, on with the list!


GreyScreen is local Calgarian gaming wizard Kevin Stebner. He’s been featured on Weird Canada and recently had a really insane show at MTT Fest. He makes some of the most incredible electronic 8-bit grooves out of a slew of Game Boys, and sometimes busts out the ol’ NES Power Glove. Making music out of Game Boys sounds like it may be as exciting as a minimal house laptop musician, but Stebner comes at his gaming consoles with an intense energy that will get you dancing your ass off. He works on many projects at once, so don’t expect to see Grey Screen every second week like a lot of bands in the city. He may even grace us with an 8-bit Black Flag cover. Here’s hoping SST doesn’t give him a cease and desist for that.

Role Mach

Garage rock is difficult to get into, unless you don’t care that every single band you like sounds exactly the same. Role Mach play the garage tunes, but with a horn section! I have to admit, adding horn sections to a lot of music makes me weak in the knees (except ska), and the vocalist for this band belts out these crazy jittery vocals, reminiscent of a few early ’80s New York post-punk acts. If you are nursing a hangover, you might want to check this band out. They will wake you up in no time.


Another local act, but this band plays every week at Tubby Dog so it’s cool if you miss them. I’m kidding, of course. Grown-Ups are a great band to listen to on your Walkman while you’re mowing the lawn, with an Old Milwaukee tall-can in one hand. You asked your son to mow the lawn, but he ran off to smoke pot with his dirtbag friend you can’t stand. It’s angry dad music. They do have a song about Tubby Dog, and Sara Hughes, drummer of Grown-Ups, has her Tubby Documentary playing at the fest as well. Highly recommended.

Nate Young

Nate Young is a master of noise, as witnessed in his bands Wolf Eyes and Stare Case. Wolf Eyes were probably the loudest, most confusing band to be signed onto Sub Pop. Stare Case is more of an avant-blues act, but with some pretty squawked out tones and horrifying squeals. Young may be a pretty out-there experience for the fest, but it would be well worth your time to see him, and take a break from all of the mid-range rock bands. This is sure to give you a big ear scrape.


Is this a popular band? If not, they should be. YT//ST is a collective of performance artists who weave through a heap of genres to make some of the most gnarly, hypnotizing jams possible. Sometimes reminiscent of the Boredoms, and sometimes it gets a little bit on the King Crimson side of things. They usually have wild stage make-up and put on a pretty interesting show. Stage antics can be a bit tiresome, but when you have professional performance artists busting out some chant wearing white face paint, that’s OK with me.

Lab Coast

More local jams to check out here. Lab Coast have been compared to Guided By Voices a lot, and it’s not that much of a stretch. They are a pretty solid pop/rock band, with short songs and incredibly catchy hooks. They are one of the best bands in the city right now. Despite their comparison to GBV, they do have their own distinct sound, and are a perfect companion to a nice summer’s day.

The Bitterweed Draw

Keeping the local spirit alive, The Bitterweed Draw played an after party at MTT Fest recently, and got the mostly drunk and tired crowd to have a completely insane hoedown. The band would be great to listen to while rolling down the Mississippi, or just chugging back some brews by the campfire. It’s old-school Americana. Banjo pickin’, washboard scratchin’, hootin’ and hollerin’ jams at their finest. Made by Calgarians. Hold on to your suspenders, twirl your mustache and blow into a jug. It’ll be a good time.


Another exciting local band, Teledrome are hard to categorize. I don’t want to say “synth punk” or “synth pop”, but it is a bit of a mixed bag of the two, and a little bit goth-y. Ryan Sadler and friends create some pretty amazing hooks, and will definitely get your butt shaking. Unless you are goth, where I guess you’d rather be swooping back and forth slowly, like a spirit in the night. Anyway, they are pretty fun, and a band to look out for in the future.

Shabazz Palaces

One of the more popular acts to come to Sled Island, but I don’t actually know how well Shabazz Palaces are received in the city. As with most festivals, they like to squeak in one or two rap acts to mix things up. Good choice this year, as Shabazz Palaces bring the quality futuristic rap grooves to the festival. We’ve had some Wu-Tang giants in the past, which have had some pretty massive rap-alongs, but Shabazz Palaces is a more recent outfit from Seattle, with Digable Planets’ Ishmael Butler leading the collective. Black Up was one of the best rap albums of 2011, and their stage show is something special. The beats are murky and wonky, an outer-worldly feeling. The lyrics are poetic in nature, and blow most other rappers away in quality.

Well, with that in mind, I hope somebody actually reads this and takes my reviews in consideration. Do whatever you want, but these musicians are very interesting to say the least. Enjoy the festival.

The Grateful Sled

Celebrating five years with yet another jam-packed lineup, the Sled Island music fest continues its bender and buffet of wicked riffs. Words: Jeremy Curry

Wild Flag kick it out at the Royal Canadian #1 Legion (photo: Crystal Sujata)

Sled Island is a festival put on once a year in the dregs of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. For most of the year, the city is a big pile of garbage with tiny pockets of interesting and noteworthy things to do. It is a city I have lived in my whole life. It is the reason I love and have to drink. Sled Island not only opens up these pockets of the city to a larger crowd, but it manages to bring in some amazing musicians and comedians who would usually skip over this town. In past years it has brought bands like Yo La Tengo, the Boredoms, Les Savy Fav, Cave, Anti-Pop Consortium and so much more. It also showcases many local acts and artists. It is basically one big bender of great music.

With over 200 bands in four days, this year’s lineup proved a challenge for me to see as much as I possibly could without getting too sloppy and forgetting what had just happened. I consider my personal time only a minor success. There is only one of me, and covering a four-day festival by yourself is kind of hard. Especially when you’re as lazy as I am. I think about naps and snacks about 90% of the time, so wandering around the city on foot was pretty tiring. But who am I to complain? It was just an overload of cool junk I had to deal with. Boo hoo.

This year the set up was pretty similar to previous years. Many of the same venues were involved, and those disgusting Factory Parties that used to go on are no more, so that was nice. Show up late to the Legion and you won’t be able to get in. The Distillery is still a disgusting hellhole. Central United Church is still the greatest place to see a show. Tubby Dog always caters to the all-ages scene with free shows and great bands, not to mention amazing hot dogs. It was all so familiar, but for some reason, the whole thing was kind of off its axis.

Pat Jordache get jangly at Tubby Dog (photo: David Coombe)

I started the whole deal off on Wednesday, after a quick power nap. I managed to get to Tubby Dog in time for Sans AIDS and Pat Jordache. Sans AIDS reminded me of what I thought that Cameron Crowe movie Singles was going to be like: A bunch of slackers rocking out in the laziest way they possibly can. Unfortunately, Singles was a horrible movie with shitty music, and not like that at all. Well Sans AIDS, you made the version of that movie I wanted! Thanks! They were the perfect band to watch after a power nap. Pat Jordache followed with tight playing and some great “jangly pop” riffs. I put jangly pop in quotes because I hate when people use that term in music writing, but it was really the only way I could explain it. So jangly. Jangles all the way. One of Pat Jordache’s songs reminded me of a U2 song, but a song they would have wrote if they were a GOOD band. It was strange, but ultimately enjoyable.

Unfortunately I had to leave the show early to catch the Dum Dum Girls and Blonde Redhead at that excuse for a venue, The Distillery. The only good thing about this show was the doorman. He was friendly. That’s about it. The Dum Dum Girls were on stage as I arrived, and they sounded awful. I don’t blame them. The sound in that place is so terrible that the whole thing just sounded like the same sound in one big blob. Like one continuous power-pop song, distorted into a big pile of shit. The girls themselves were bobbing back and forth, rocking on their guitars. It was kind of cute, but cute can’t get you everywhere forever.

Blonde Redhead were up next with one of the most boring sets I have ever witnessed in my life. They sounded like a terrible Phil Collins cover band. If anybody knows me, you would know this hurt my feelings. I love Phil Collins! It was all synthesizers and “cooing” vocals that put me in a daze. I left early and went to bed. What a disgrace! To be fair, I heard that the last five songs they played were more exciting, and more focused on their back catalogue. I didn’t see it, so I won’t believe it.

Thursday started off right with a fun house/pool party in Bankview. Their were a bunch of great bands playing but the basement was tiny, so I only managed to catch Feel Alright. Great summer slob-pop from these guys! I needed a popsicle and a pool noodle for full effect. Kind of skuzzy sounding, with a shitty cassette vibe. In a good way! The highlight was when a bunch of dry ice was thrown into the pool, and it turned into the largest witches’ brew I have ever seen! Everyone jumped in afterward. Good times.

Zola Jesus: half mummy, half witch (photo: David Kenney)

After that gong show, it was time to head over for Lee Renaldo, Zola Jesus and Pierre Laporte at the Central United Church. The first band, Pierre Laporte, were a band consisting of a bunch of high school kids. I am already being unfair in writing about them, because they are just a bunch of kids, but their music was kind of a blend of swashbuckling sea shanties, hardcore, and prog rock. I can’t say I liked the vibe of any of that.

Zola Jesus put on an interesting and surprisingly energetic show, considering it was just her and her pal on synthesizers/electronics. She was dressed like some sort of half mummy, half witch and hopped around the church while belting out heavy gothic tunes. The electronics were a mix of industrial and new wave beats. That description does not sound very fun but I assure you, it was excellent.

Lee Renaldo came out wandering around the church holding up his jazzmaster guitar, while he droned on and on, picking up different frequencies and tones from around the church. Wild samples of chants, drumming and spoken word played in the background while Renaldo hooked his guitar to a rope hanging from the roof and swung it around. He hardly touched the strings without a bow, a recorder or bells. In the background, a video played on a large screen of what appeared to be some primitive cavemen. Needless to say, it was a memorable performance.

Next, I walked on down to the Broken City social club to see the Weird Canada showcase. Made it for Vancouver’s Role Mach, who are a very excellent band I hope to see again. Sort of a post-punk scene with swami horns and insane, jittery vocal squelps and rippin’ riffs. I am glad the alternative use of horns is not just for ska bands anymore. Extra Happy Ghost came on afterwards with some slower night time tunes that were at points reminiscent of Songs: Ohia. A slow burner, but a nice burner for sure. I had to drop out after that.

Friday! A long day ahead. First up was a rad show at local 510. The Spreads opened the show with some pretty angry punk jams. Two girls yelling, “fuck you!” at the same time. I don’t know why, but that is the best! It was pretty fast paced, primitive stuff. Crow Eater played next. They were having a lot of problems, but they are a pretty exciting band that I look forward to hearing more of. Two Calgary hardcore titans on vocals with some of the better musicians in Calgary, shredding the shit out of life. A truly devastating combo. Dead Meadow was the band most people packed the bar to come see. Their only other show in the city was at an after party at 3am, so this was prime time. They played some pretty sludgy jams, but an hour of that can get kind of tiring. Especially when their last song was a 20-minute jam with about a trillion solos. It was alright, but I have no idea how anybody could survive that at 3 in the morning.

Times New Viking blare out the blasé (photo: Arif Ansari)

Made it to Broken City for another daytime extravaganza. When I arrived, Bare Wires were just finishing up their set. They’re another power-pop band, but these bands are hard to describe because they all sound the same! This year at Sled Island was the year of power-pop. I don’t understand because there is nothing new and innovative about this genre. It reminds me of a lot of local bands I would see at high school punk shows. I can understand these bands are fun to listen to, but booking a festival with most of these bands and the skyrocketing popularity of such a blasé genre? Gimmie a break! ANYWAY, Bare Wires were alright, but Times New Viking were who I came to see, and they killed it. The trio pumped out blaringly loud, fuzzed-out quirky pop tunes. They could go on forever and I would be okay with that.

When that was all over and done with, it was time to mosey on over to the main stage at Olympic Plaza. The main stage has always been hard to get into, as outdoor concert sound usually sound kind of junky. When I arrived, Bison B.C. were playing some heavy metal stuff… beards and hair flying all over the place and the word “fuck” littered throughout stage banter. Wasn’t really into these dudes, but I am not really into that genre at all. They seemed like good enough musicians.

The Buzzcocks came on after and I was very excited to see them, considering I missed them the last time they played in Calgary and everybody said it was a good show. Sadly, this set was nothing special. They played all the hits, but it was kind of boring and kitschy. The Sword came on after and sludged it up, C.H.U.D. style. It was alright, but still so hard to enjoy in an outdoor setting. I wanted to see Sleep, but had to mostly miss them in order to catch Wild Flag at Twisted Element.

The Intelligence: Outer space post-punk (photo: Arif Ansari)

Made it in time for the opening band, The Intelligence. They were a great surprise, playing bizarre, somewhat charismatic post-punk dealing mostly with outer space. I was itching to see Wild Flag though. Pretty much the craziest supergroup that I’ve heard of in a while. The lineup consists of Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony from Helium and Rebecca Cole from the Minders. They were pretty much perfect and got into the long jam parts at times, but still managed to hold everybody’s attention. The vocals were catchy and they had me really close to hopping up and down many times, but I resisted. They don’t have an LP out until September, and I really cannot wait.

I tried to get into the Legion afterwards to see Moon Duo and Kurt Vile, but that venue was at capacity. Instead, I headed down to Vern’s for The Soft Pack. They were another great end to my night. Lazed-out surfer pop that had so many great hooks I was humming them all the way home. Surfing is not that lazy, for the record. It is difficult. There were after-parties every night at Undermountain, in the Emmedia area. I went to one, but it is difficult to report on something that is so late and so many beers have been consumed. Got to see the Moby Dicks (finally) and from what I recall, they were great. Hunx and his Punx were playing, but the dude from that band was in the old Kill Rock Stars band Gravy Train!!! and I will never forgive him for such a travesty. What a horrible bunch of garbage that was. Stinking up the music scene. I left pretty much after the Moby Dicks, knowing it could possibly go downhill right after.

Saturday was another eventful day. It started off right with a delicious free breakfast at 510, followed by a slow walk over to the Palomino to watch C’mon. Usually these kinds of bands give me a headache, but Ian Blurton and co. do the rock ‘n’ roll thing right. The jams were wild, and the solos were piled on. It was a buffet of wicked riffs. Oh, they also had a free BBQ buffet going on there, too!

The Main Stage was next, mostly because there was nothing better to do. I made it to Twin Shadow, which were nothing to write home about. What is that music anyway? New Age for the hip youth? I don’t know, but I needed to kill those vibes with beers. Because I was drowning my soul in alcohol, I missed most of the Raveonettes, who actually sounded pretty cool from afar. This is the only thing I regret during the festival. Usually I have a lot more regrets, but it was a special weekend in that regard. The Mayor of Calgary introduced Chad VanGaalen, which I thought was pretty special. What other Mayor would do that? He seems like a pretty cool dude. Chad VanGaalen is sounding more like he’s pulling off those wiry Sonic Youth riffs, especially on his new LP. Not bad!

Neal Hamburger, post-lunatic attack (photo: Arif Ansari)

Went across the street after to the Auburn for a comedy show. I had heard that some insane lunatic punched Neil Hamburger in the face the night before, so I was afraid he would have skipped town. Nope! I made it in time for Brody Stevens who went on insane rants and yelled a lot, but it was mostly pretty enjoyable. Tig Notaro was wonderful with her deadpan vocal style and amazing story of running into one of her favorite musicians many times and giving her the exact same compliment each time. She also did a great impression of an audience member that sounded like a bird. BUT! It was Neil Hamburger who stole the show with filthy jokes and wonderful audience participation, getting everybody to yell out “cranberry sauce!” in unison. So many gut-busters.

The last show of the night was at the Legion. Most of the bands were pretty forgettable until this band The Greenhornes went on stage. Instead of being forgettable, they bored me to death. It just sounded like jock rock jams. I was quickly falling asleep! A friend of mine told me that the band after, Deer Tick, would be good. He was so WRONG! It was just some boring alt-country trash that I could care less about. It seemed like I was at the wrong festival. I was getting more and more tired, and I wanted to leave. I couldn’t though, because WILD FLAG were playing once again! When they came on, they played another great show, with a lot of familiar faces in the audience from the previous night. They definitely made an impact. Tried to get into another one of those after parties after the show, but there was a massive line-up, and the cops showed up! The jig was up. No more fun.

Sunday is supposed to be the cherry on top of this already sloppy, frost-filled blowout, with one last hurrah at the Republik. Thee Oh Sees, The Bellrays, Bare Wires, Cheeseburger, and Demon’s Claws were all playing this show. There was a pig roast too! I missed it because I fell asleep for the majority of the day. It’s too hard covering all of this by myself.

Overall, I enjoyed my time. There are always going to be a few stinkers at a festival featuring over 200 performers. It seemed like I got stuck at more than I should have in order to see something good. One of my other qualms is the variety of genres of music. There used to be more of an experimental aspect to some of the shows, and now there seems to be more of a focus on one genre than others. It’s not as diverse. A lot of the shows were packed though, so what do I know? I might just be an old crank. I haven’t embraced the garage/power-pop scene like many of the people in the city. Sled Island will always be an important festival, as long as it continues to support local acts, local businesses and local artists. The audiences were mostly quite friendly, the volunteers were helpful and most of the venues were hospitable. Except for the Distillery. Fuck that place. I’m curious to see what will happen with next year’s festival.