personal views: edmonton

PERSONAL VIEWS: A who’s-who guide to the emerging acts of Edmonton, Alberta

As the city reaches out to victims of Fort McMurray wildfire, four local musicians explain how the city’s isolation hurts and helps their music scene.

- Jun 3, 2016
Personal Views is a ground-level guide to music scenes from around Canada by those who make them move. This week, we take a look at some of the folks making noise in Edmonton, Alberta.

For many Canadians, the first thing they think of when it comes to the capital of Alberta is a giant mall, but Canada’s fifth largest city is far from a big box cultural vacuum. Amiskwacîwâskahikan, Treaty 6 territory, #YEG or Edmonton is many things, including work camp and “gateway” to the oil sands at Fort McMurray, the isolated and most Northern city in North America (with a population over 1,000,000), home to the nicest smiles in Alberta and site of Canada’s first mosque.

It’s a city with a deep and rich history, that it’s only beginning to grapple with. Part of that history includes producing some of this country’s greatest musical talents, from k.d. lang, SNFU, one time poet-laureate Cadence Weapon, Sean Nicholas Savage, Makeout Videotape and all their subsequent offshoots, to more recent contributions like Purity Ring, Faith Healer, Tee-Tahs, Tennyson, No Problem, Jom Comyn and Begrime Exemous.

Its accomplishments in music in particular seem all the more amazing considering the city’s lack of music industry infrastructure, a major issue that came up with all four of our experts. But how its citizens and musicians are dealing with its venue closures and lack of safe spaces is helping to define Edmonton as the great music city that it is.

Brandi Strauss

Brandi Strauss

Photo by: Brandi Strauss

If you see a punk show poster from Edmonton, Brandi Strauss is just as likely to have designed it as she is to be in one of the bands on the bill, performing in Rhythm of Cruelty, Strangled, The Strap, and Static Control (the name of her solo work and visual projects).

Favourite Venue in Edmonton

9910

9910

The venue has impeccable sound. Although it is known to hold DJ nights and electronic shows, when bands have played it has been awesome.

Three Best Edmonton-based Acts of the Moment

No Problem

Private Investigators

Borys

Favourite Recent Edmonton Releases:

Boothman, Boothman Cometh


The Olm/OcraSplit CS


Blood BitchAcid Tongue

Bong SampleMidnight Oscillations

Tension CollectorsMr Sick & The Big Eye

Most Memorable Edmonton Show (in recent memory):

Poison Wave, Private Investigators, Aiwass, and Borys @ River Valley

Last summer my friend Alfredo and I set up a guerrilla art show in Edmonton's river valley. We had brought a generator and cleared a space among the trees for bands and artists to showcase their creative outlets. The bands who performed were Poison Wave, Private Investigators, Aiwass, and Borys. We had nearly a dozen artists contribute, showcasing their art. A range of formats from illustration, collage, textile design, installation, and film were present. To my surprise, there weren't any disturbances from the weather, police or passers by.


What sticks out to you as unique about the music scene in Edmonton?

The people. Everyone's enthusiasm and involvement within the music scene has always been something I've admired. For how small of a city Edmonton is, there are a lot of things happening - a lot of people doing really neat things. There is definitely no shortage of shows happening, even during the long winter months.

Everybody contributes to the community in one way or another - promoters like Dave Quirk and Tory Lorenz have done a lot for our community. They are bringing in acts who wouldn't normally consider playing Edmonton. Last year they had brought Pleasure Leftists. Destruction Unit is set to play this year.

Pleasure Leftists - You You

Does the Edmonton scene have particular musical tendencies? Any specific sounds or genres you associate with it?

Edmonton has always had a wide variety of sound as long as you know where to find it. Some scenes are more accessible than others, which lends itself to more ears. There has been and perhaps always will be a larger folk and pop punk scene in Edmonton. I believe this stems from Edmonton hosting Folk Festival annually since 1980.

Experimental and electronic music has been surging over the last few years in Edmonton, which has been awesome seeing the diversity in creativity among my peers. Pseudo Laboratories, a newer local label has released nearly a dozen tapes of some of Edmonton's newest emerging artists.

Being on the other side of the country, I’ve heard somewhat anecdotally that the scenes in Edmonton and Calgary overlap, or have a kind of symbiotic relationship. Is that true? How important are the surrounding scenes to Edmonton’s own?

Yes it is. For the most part, Edmonton is rather isolated - it seems only natural that it would create a special relationship with its neighbouring city. Calgary is the closest and most common place for bands from Edmonton to play and vice versa. Calgary like Edmonton has a lot of like minded and creative individuals making the most of where they live.

In the time that you’ve been involved, how has Edmonton’s music scene changed?

The biggest issue that faces the Edmonton music scene currently is venues not being able to sustain themselves.

When I first moved to the city, I was sixteen. At the time it seemed to me that there were a lot of younger individuals eager to participate in the community. Now that I am in my later twenties, I notice that this is no longer the case. Perhaps I am not going to the right shows or it could be that there are not enough all ages venues for minors to feel encouraged to participate.

What is the biggest issue facing Edmonton's music scene today?

The biggest issue that faces the Edmonton music scene currently is venues not being able to sustain themselves. Last year we had a significant amount of essential venues close down. Some were unable to obtain permits while others weren't able to maintain a large enough revenue to keep them open to the public. Wunderbar was probably the most popular venue to close down. The owner, Craig, has done so much for Edmonton's music scene. When it was announced that they would have to close their doors, the community got together and raised over $15 000 to keep the bar open for a few more months. It came to its end on October 31, 2015.

Not Enough Fest YEG

NEF

Photo by: Not Enough Fest YEG

Not Enough Fest is a festival for queer, trans, and female-identifying musicians in Edmonton. Their core organizing team is currently comprised of Clare Grehan, Jasmin Joe, Tanisha Arthur, Kendra Cowley, Kahn Lam, Stacey Hyde, Brett Montrose, Stacy Burnett, Stephanie Olsen, Nicole McDonal. Their projects include TEETH, Feed Dogs, Banshee, Quantize, Tuques, and Floret Duet (show promotion by Tanisha and Nicole).

Favourite Venue in Edmonton:

bohemia

uo LIVE at Bohemia (dec 11, 2015)

We would have to say bohemia is our fav, they have done a lot for us and are a physically accessible venue!

Three Best Edmonton-based Acts of the Moment:

Wares

Banshee

CONJURE

Favourite Recent Edmonton Releases:

PersuAsianEvolve

Marlaena MooreLive at Wunderbar

The Olm/OcraSplit CS

i hate sexCircle Thinking

Blood BitchAcid Tongue

Most Memorable Edmonton Show (in recent memory):

Not Enough Fest!

Not Enough Fest YEG 2016!


What sticks out to you as unique about the music scene in Edmonton?

We can’t speak for every scene or to everyone’s experiences, but our experience is that the music scene in Edmonton is supportive and everyone is attending everyone else’s shows, there isn’t a big popularity gap, we all just love music.

Does the Edmonton scene have particular musical tendencies? Are certain sounds or genres ascendant?

We can see that there are multiple scenes within Edmonton, even if we aren't a part of all of them. One that is more ascendant is the Ramshackle Day Parade and other weird/experimental music is bigger here than in cities of comparable size. Lots of people explore genres outside their comfort zone and are into multiple projects.

Ramshackle Day Parade 20150226 -- Tension Collectors , Evan A James , Private Investigators

How important are the surrounding scenes to Edmonton’s own?

Since Not Enough Fest has started we have reached out to and have had Calgary artists and musicians reach out to us, such as Femme Wave - who we are excited to be working with very soon, CHALK, as well as visual artists have asked us to exhibit, and people wanting to play at NEF 2016 from Vancouver and Calgary. More recently the scene in Lethbridge is beginning to cross over as well, especially with Electric Eye Music Fest.

In the time that you’ve been involved, how has Edmonton’s music scene changed?

People are more conscious of bills they are booking. It’s hard to find a show that doesn’t have at least one Woman/Queer/Trans or non-binary member playing.

People are more conscious of bills they are booking. It’s hard to find a show that doesn’t have at least one Woman/Queer/Trans or non-binary member playing. Safer spaces have become more practised especially within house shows, and the use of the Not Enough Fest chart that lists bands that have at least 1 W/Q/T/NB member, the chart is 9 pages long and still growing.

What is the biggest issue facing Edmonton's music scene today?

Essentially there is a long way to go in making the music scene more accessible and safer to many people on multiple levels, such as physically and financially accessible venues as well as a larger all ages scene, but it’s coming along with a more recent addition of an accessible (physically and all ages) event most Saturdays at the mercury room in Edmonton. These shows are really important.

Karimah

karimah

Photo by Lordski

With a great vocal range, Karimah is able to play freely along the continuum of R&B, juxtaposing modern slick synth pop with classic neo-soul on the same record.

Favourite Venue in Edmonton:

The Needle Vinyl Tavern!

Needle-Logo_Black_Small-1

A brand new venue with a floor made from local records, it epitomizes fresh wax. It also has not one, but TWO stages and is our only restaurant/major concert venue. (But I'm loving the also brand new venues: 9910, which was designed and built to sound like a recording studio, and The Almanac, a hidden gem).

Three Best Edmonton-based Acts of the Moment:

K-Riz

Marlaena Moore

Nuela Charles

Favourite Recent Edmonton Releases:

DayxNightEvoke


Diamond Mind/Lab CoastSplit

Cayley ThomasWeird Love

WaresMissed The Point b/w Beach Date

Rhamborghini BeatsXIX

Most Memorable Edmonton Show (in recent memory):

Wares album release at the Needle, March 17 2016.

Wares (Solo) Live at the Needle

Cassia Hardy is amazing.


What sticks out to you as unique about the music scene in Edmonton?

Generally speaking, we have a tight knit community of artists that tend to be very collaborative, and not very cut-throat or exclusive.

Does the Edmonton scene have particular musical tendencies? Are certain sounds or genres ascendant?

In reference to live performances going on on your average night, I'd say that dream pop and jangly rock and acoustic folk inspired music are the underscores of the indie sphere. We do have artists working in every genre. I'm sure you can hear jazz, punk, noise, metal, indie pop, folk (and all their derivatives) in one week, if you went out every day. Edmonton is known still to be a blues town, though, with blues playing every night at Blues on Whyte a.k.a the Commercial Hotel.

How important are the surrounding scenes to Edmonton’s own?

I personally haven't done a ton of playing in Calgary. I've been over for Sled Island a few times, performing with Doug Hoyer, but I do see the camaraderie between the bands in each city. There are definitely some sister city style best friend band relationships, Like Diamond Mind (Edmonton) and Lab Coast (Calgary) who released a split tape together! Doug Hoyer (Edmonton) + Mark Mills (Calgary), who often perform together. Jesse Northey's (of Jesse and the Dandelions) mixtape club mixtapes featured artists from both cities. K-Riz and the HonorRoll crew of MCs and producers that I'm a part of, go down to Calgary often for 10 at 10 hip hop showcase.

The festivals like Bermuda fest, and Sled Island are important for both cities. You could really see the love between the scenes when Shred Island happened in Edmonton in 2013 (a festival of pulled together to benefit Sled Island and give the bands a place to play and stay while Calgary flooded).

In the time that you’ve been involved, how has Edmonton’s music scene changed?

I see many more women taking the stage, and putting out great records, which is fantastic. I'm super inspired and impressed by how great the women are here, and it's especially satisfying because for the first few years that I played, I basically never even saw another young female performing. Also, most of the really special and major venues for indie music (including some record shops that doubled as venues) that I grew up performing in or going to have now closed. Wunderbar, Artery, New City (and New New City), Ruckus, Megatunes, the Pawn Shop, R.I.P. Every generation of Edmontonian has their own fleet of venues loved and lost.

What is the biggest issue facing Edmonton's music scene today?

A lack of venues, and the legitimacy of our industry. Our music industry can and should be on the level that it is in Toronto or Montreal. We have a lot of great musicians, but not a lot of other industry professionals who can push artists past a certain place in their careers. I love that we have a tight knit community of artists who always come to each other's performances, buy each other's music, and work on each others stuff for free or very little, but I also want to see the scene here get legitimized on the industry front. I see that a lot of young indie musicians still don't really talk about getting paid fairly, or artist rights, or moving past playing in dive bars. Musicians move away when they want to go past a certain point: building a team, getting representation, sharing their music internationally, playing to new audiences. Then they end up saying (because they want to or feel they have to) that they hail from elsewhere. We're not considered legitimate.

Every generation of Edmontonian has their own fleet of venues loved and lost.

Edmonton's also got this recurring venue problem. The venues typically don't last more than a few years, so we'll get a crop of awesome and hip places, all at the same time, and then they'll shut down. Most venues provide kind of a mish mash of styles, and most venues aren't designed for music, they're designed for drinking, and then have sound systems retroactively placed in, so many design groans happen at shows, too. I can't prove why, but I see that the demographic that goes out to see local music often and actually cares about what they are hearing, is small. It's hard to grow a fanbase, and hard for some venue owners to keep people coming back and new people coming in.

Also, a lot of Edmontonians actually don't live here 50-75% of the time, as they work up north in Fort McMurray in oil and gas (a place that is literally burning to the ground as I write this, by the way) for weeks on end. They might come back to Edmonton, and a place that played, let's say punk, for example, on the one weekend that they were last home, they might return to that same place three weeks later and there's folk the next time. So if that person is looking for a fix for punk, and they're not connected with the tight knit community here of punk musicians, they might think that punk music is barely ever played in Edmonton and there's not a scene, and then they go to the nearest pub and listen to whatever is being played on the satellite radio and say that there's nothing going on in Edmonton. A lot of people I have met over the years have no idea that many of our performance venues exist.

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Some might say that it's just a reflection of the type of person that lives here, and that nobody cares about music, but I would dare say that there's an infrastructure problem that makes it too difficult for ambivalent, or even passionate-yet-out-of-touch people, to keep up with their favourite music styles, fall in love with local artists, and support them. The City of Edmonton is notorious for tearing down buildings that would be relics and so venues with really cool histories aren't allowed to flourish for more than a generation, and we don't have those incredible relic venues that some other cities have. Because of the lack of consistency and growth in music venues, and the fact that most people like things to be quick and easy, and have to be beaten over the head with a message to remember it, I think it might be just too difficult for the average person (non-musician) who are would-be music fans, to know where to go to find their favourite new artists. So there isn't really a dedicated home for all the varieties of music, like how I have seen in Montreal, for example. As an R&B artist, I have to say that there's not much infrastructure for me here, so you'll have to account for my bias. :)

Hood Joplin

hoodjoplin

Photo by Hood Joplin

Hood Joplin is a beacon in Edmonton’s burgeoning electronic scene, playfully pitting footwork against trap and her own brand of hyperactive beats, breathing new life into “Deadmonton”’s heavy feet.

Favourite Venue in Edmonton:

9910

9910 1

As of late my new go to spot is a new venue started by the people who opened The Common called 9910. Incredible sound system, good vibes. Really stoked to have a spot like this so close to home.

Three Best Edmonton-based Acts of the Moment:

Ghibli / Manicure Records

Mitchmatic

Tennyson

Favourite Recent Edmonton Releases:

GumsmileSoft Absolve

CAREPCKG 001, Ghibli

2 R.A.W. 4 tha Radio, Krittakly Aklaimed

(Street Exclusive)

Cab’ral, History

Cab'ral - History

Sven KOther Peoples Theories

Bonus:

Peep GameReal Talk

Peep Game - "Real Talk"

Most Memorable Edmonton Show (in recent memory):

Carepackage Launch Party at Latitude 53.

Carepackage is a collective showcasing under-represented artists from the region with a focus on music, visual art, and design with aims of bringing the communities together (as well as being a dope club night). The series will commence in the next few weeks. Listen / stay tuned.


What sticks out to you as unique about the music scene in Edmonton?

The community is very supportive - I feel like everyone in the scene is happy when others create and that vibe both brings everyone together and encourages others to start performing. DIY culture is huge.

Does the Edmonton scene have particular musical tendencies? 

Some tendencies (other than Tendencies) of the scene involve people packing up and going to Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto which is unfortunate. I feel like people use Edmonton as an incubator before heading to bigger metropolitan areas.

How important are the surrounding scenes to Edmonton’s own?

The [Edmonton and Calgary] scenes are different but feels like a larger community after you meet a few people in the scene and see how connected everyone actually is with one another.

I’ve been known to take evening drives down to Calgary for a show, drive back up to Edmonton and go straight back to work haha. I love the musical scene down there and have made some really powerful friendships over the past few years. We have a ton of talent in Alberta and because our two major cities are so far apart it can feel rather isolated. The scenes are different but feels like a larger community after you meet a few people in the scene and see how connected everyone actually is with one another.

In the time that you’ve been involved, how has Edmonton’s music scene changed?

There are a lot more events celebrating female/queer/trans/poc artists; it's great to create places where new artists can feel comfortable and confident enough to showcase their work.

What is the biggest issue facing Edmonton's music scene today?

Venues. We lost nearly a dozen over the past few years. Gentrification has caused a serious increase in rent as of late as well as certain capital projects have had to knock down a few key DIY spots for development. We all feel the loss. Finding a venue that has a good sound system, is central enough for people to get to, is affordable and a safe space is a challenge for many.

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