For the second year in a row Do250 hosted the Play Song & Surf Showcase. A battle-of-the-bands style contest that gives the winners a prime performance slot at the beyond sold out Song & Surf Festival February 10th–13th, 2017 in the wilds of Port Renfew. This year, Do250 however stepped up the digs from the humble Breakwater Café to Sugar Nightclub.
Four local bands were chosen to compete in front of a panel of industry judges which included the festival’s organizer Mike Hahn, Atomique’s Nick Blasko, Stephen Frank of Blue Heron Management, and Colin McTaggart — dog owner and manager to the stars. After each set, the panel would give their opinions on the bands and cast their vote for who would go on to play Song & Surf.
Certainly the most established and known band of the evening was Victoria-based supergroup The New Groovement. It was very bizarre to see them opening the contest. The staggering eleven piece funk ensemble features a full horn section, congas, Steph Wisla singing, and Illvis Freshly’s Danimal House as their resident emcee. It’s hard to imagine a band this large and with this level notoriety playing a small church and not headlining the evening main stage. Pews get in the way of dancing. I think there was a movie about it with the guy from Roadhouse.
It seemed the judges of the contest also felt similarly. Mentioning how well the band would fit on the main stage of the Tall Tree Music Festival or performing as Sugar Nightclub’s resident band, it was clear that The New Groovement had just made some powerful fans, and we’ll hopefully be seeing them throughout Victoria’s festival season.
Having played a set at Wheelies Motorcycles earlier in the evening, Tan and Hide were limber and loose during their set. The Americana psych-inspired band took me by surprise and quickly became my favourite act of the night. At times, I found the three-piece reminiscent of other west coast acts like The Cave Singers. It was the thick bass lines and distortion the won me over. The occasional addition of fiddle and backing vocals from Megan McCaffrey brought some much needed levity to their short set.
During their entire set, the band fought audio issues and feedback. This may have mired the judge’s and audience’s decision on this band. Well, that and the fact that their official band Instagram is marked as private, making it very hard to know you are tagging the right band sometimes.
With the appearance of a indie pop act like JPNSGRLS and the complex and interesting instrumentation like Foals, it was a surprise we haven’t seen Noble Wolves before. Up until this point, the band had been relegated to small venues like the Copper Owl playing to handful of people. The band themselves acknowledged the fact they’d never played a stage this large or to this size of a crowd. Having learned this, you could see it in their stiff movements they were unsure of what to do with all this space. It wasn’t until the end of their short set that vocalist Jeremy Fitzner felt comfortable enough to pace and engage with the audience.
Noble Wolves is a band to be excited about. Here’s hoping we see them on the bill at some Lucky Bar shows in the next few months to work out their stage presence, and maybe they’ll become a Zone Band of the Month later this year.
Rounding out the Battle of the Bands portion of the evening was sibling duo, Stel. Okay, a sibling duo and a large backing band which they referred to as their Stel Angels.
Throughout the evening, it was rumoured that this was the band to watch for, and it was no surprise that Stel won the slot to play Song & Surf at the church. While each band during the night had their own merits and talents, I couldn’t quite peg any of them to play in a small intimate church setting. That is, until Stel took the stage.
Adam and Sophia Stel work in perfect harmony, from their vocal ranges to their movements on stage to general presence. It’s the type of relationship that only comes from knowing someone your whole life and the power of being siblings. Full band or dynamic duo, it’s clear why this band won their spot at Song & Surf.
Finishing off the evening was last year’s Song & Surf Showcase winners, the enigmatic Zoubi and the Sea. Languid west coast folk sounds, distortion, smiles, and pop sensibilities make up their sets.
It’s always a treat to see Zoubi Arros and her band perform, but a waning crowd due to the show running about an hour behind schedule put a slight damper on her set. While it didn’t phase her or the rest of the band, it certainly had an effect of the remaining crowd.
A battle of the band showcase such as this is generally a fun night out full of discovering what is great in the local scene and a cheap night out to catch up with friends. Just be prepared for a long and late evening when there are five bands on the bill.