The Victoria music scene observed a milestone this past weekend as Rifflandia Festival returned to rock the city’s downtown core for its tenth straight year.
Over its decade-long history, Rifflandia has developed into a near-religious observance of the last vestiges of summer, complete with uncertain weather and #SeptemberForever hashtags. We usually see rain on at least one of the days (this year it was Sunday), although a little precipitation (much-needed after a dry and smoky summer across BC) did little to dampen spirits.
Far removed from its humble beginnings, the diverse, multi-genre fest has continued to attract concertgoers of all stripes, filling Royal Athletic Park for three full days of music, in addition to a full slate of after-dark performances over four nights at venues scattered around the city’s downtown core.
The main pilgrimage point for those night shows was the high capacity Electric Avenue which, for the second straight year, featured a cluster of venues within a closed-off two-block radius adjacent to Phillips Brewery, along with well-established venues like Lucky Bar, the Copper Owl, and the recently rebranded Capital Ballroom (formerly Sugar Nightclub).
Festival organizers Atomique Productions touted this year’s iteration for featuring a larger-than-ever contingent of female performers and a major focus on local and regional artists from around British Columbia. There was also seemingly more of an influx of DJ acts than ever before — which speaks to the continued rise in popularity of electronic dance music — from deep house to drum n’ bass to dubstep. Suffice it to say, Rifflandia provided definitive answers to the oft-asked question, “When will the bass drop?”
High points of the festival included strong headlining performances from Calgary alt-rockers July Talk, British electronic artist Bonobo, and a double-dose of (two very different sides of) the multi-talented and iconic Moby.
As usual, Team Rocktog was on hand all weekend to document the proceedings, so let’s revisit some of our new #SeptemberForever memories day by day.
The festival kicked off Thursday night with more than 30 artists performing across eight different stages. The evening’s main attraction was Phillips Backyard at Electric Avenue, where Toronto EDM duo DC and Hooks – collectively known as Zeds Dead – ran the anchor leg of their craftily curated Dead Beats Block Party, featuring a collection of fellow EDM artists.
With a strong local presence again at this year’s fest, Team Rocktog had a bunch of opportunities to catch up with some of our hometown favourites. Thursday’s Victoria acts included LABS and Stinging Belle performing at the Capital Ballroom, with Lovecoast and Fox Glove at the Copper Owl.
A couple of night one’s more memorable moments came from two Seattle-based artists. The enigmatic, genre-defying J GRGRY delivered a visually arresting early-evening performance at Lucky Bar (check out Tyson Elder’s interview with the man himself), while electro-pop duo SISTERS charmed a packed house at Capital Ballroom with their upbeat, anthemic melodies and nerdy stage banter.
Day 2 of Rifflandia saw festivalgoers flock to Royal Athletic Park in the afternoon for their first foray into weekend’s main stage performances.
First out of the gate were The Choir, a non-auditioned community choral group which performs their own arrangements of popular crowd-pleasers. They’ve become a fixture at Rifflandia the last few years as the opening act at RAP for each day of the festival. Early arrivals on Friday were also treated to a funkified performance from local 17-piece R&B orchestra The Leg-Up Program under the Rifftop Tent.
Things kicked into high gear with performances from Vancouver indie scene fixtures (and Team Rocktog favourites) Said The Whale, Toronto’s breakout R&B crooner (and surprise saxophone player) Charlotte Day Wilson, and Kingston, and Ontario rockers Glorious Sons. One of the quotes of the day came from Glorious Sons frontman Brett Emmons, who referenced a recent review of the band where the writer found his appearance and performance style reminiscent of “a slightly-out-of-shape Axl Rose.” Pretty good.
We also crashed a Do250 “secret show” (one of several throughout the weekend that took place in random locations within the expanded Rifflandia universe). This particular one was a “dugout session” from BC singer-songwriter Louise Burns. Put me in, coach!
Vancouver 8-piece groove machine and established party suppliers Five Alarm Funk delivered Friday’s penultimate park performance with a show that had a bit of everything: a drummer in (exclusively) gold-sequined hot pants, inflatable sharks, a guy in a tutu wielding a plastic sword, a Cabbage Patch Kid, coordinated dance moves, and the list goes on. Missed it? Let the FOMO flow through you (unless you caught them later that night at the Capital Ballroom).
As mentioned off the top, Calgary’s July Talk took their job as main stage headliners seriously, with lead singers Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay delivering a ferociously intense and sensual performance which, as we know from seeing them at 2016’s Rock the Shores and this year’s Sasquatch Festival in Washington State, is 100% on brand for them.
Post-park, Team Rocktog took to the streets, catching performances from local folk outfit Fallbrigade at The Duke, former Tribe Called Red member DJ Shub at Capital Iron, and a pair of notable sets at the Capital Ballroom from prog-rockers Bend Sinister and dream pop outfit Youngblood (the brainchild of charismatic frontwoman Alexis Youngblood), both out of Vancouver.
The extended program slated for Day 3 at Rifflandia presented an exercise in aural endurance for even the most rabid live music superfan. With performances stretching from 11:00 am at the MusiCounts TD Lounge at The Atrium through to 9:00 pm at Royal Athletic Park, then long into the night at Electric Avenue and other venues around town, Saturday at Riff left us battle-tested.
After a late night Friday, Team Rocktog was back in action early on to capture performances from Ocie Elliott, Youngblood, Hannah Georgas, and WiL at the MusiCounts TD Lounge. Proceeds from these bonus sets on both Saturday and Sunday went to the MusiCounts Band Aid Program, which provides instruments and scholarships to support and grow music education programs in Canada.
And, of course, we were on hand for another highly eclectic array of artists at the park, including the Fleetwood-Mac-inspired British DJ duo Fleetmac Wood, Halifax pop rockers Neon Dreams, and a killer main stage performance from Hannah Georgas. Other highlights included a frenetic onslaught from New York subway trio Too Many Zooz (whose set was pretty much one non-stop song), as well as memorable performances from the fantastic Dear Rouge, accomplished DJ crew and Rifflandia veterans A Tribe Called Red, and an upbeat, highly danceable, and truly dynamic headlining set from British electronic artist Simon Green, better known as Bonobo, who is featuring a live ensemble while touring in support of his new album Migration.
Dispatches from the night stages: we caught up with the effervescent Rykka at the Capital Ballroom, checked in at Capital Iron for a scorching performance from “violinistextremist” Kytami, peeped a DJ set from Felix Martin of Hot Chip at Phillips Backyard, and braved the crowd at Lucky Bar for local hip hop crew Illvis Freshly.
Sunday’s action again started at The Atrium in the MusiCounts TD Lounge with intimate performances from one-woman-band Chersea, a Vancouver-based artist with a haunting voice who features live looping of keyboards and vocals in her act, along with acoustic performances from Mike Hann and Ty Harvey from local folk rock band Quoia, and Laura Mina Mitic from Carmanah. The midday showcase culminated with an acoustic performance from the legendary Moby, featuring special guest vocalist Mindy Jones. Their set started off a bit rough due to some sound issues, including some terrible feedback that prompted Moby to admonish the sound tech with a dire warning: “Sir, I’m not a violent man, but if that happens again, I will kill you.” After the tech issues were sorted out, the duo performed a stripped-down selection of Moby favourites, including “Porcelain,” “Extreme Ways,” and “We Are All Made of Stars”.
Back at the park, Rifflandians braved a bit of rain to check out afternoon performances from local up-and-comer Fintan O’Brien, funky Toronto DJ Harrison, and Toronto synth-pop songstress Ralph, along with late-afternoon/early evening sets from Montreal electro-soul outfit Busty and the Bass, alt-country veteran Leeroy Stagger, Vancouver indie rockers Yukon Blonde, and a clinic on the turntables from Rifflandia charter member Z-Trip. Festival headliner Moby closed things out with a riotous DJ set and, while he didn’t dip into any of signature tunes from his heyday releases Go or Play, the passion and energy he brought to the stage was undeniable, and his pounding beats prompted a dance party for the ages. It was a robust finish to another extraordinary weekend of music in Victoria.