From Oct. 9-11, the third incarnation of Jason Flammia’s Up + Downtown Music Festival took place, featuring over 70 independent artists and 11 venues throughout downtown Edmonton. Attendees with weekend wristbands, which were sold for $85, were granted access to the whole festival — mostly, anyways. It seems the festival suffered from inadequate capacities at some venues. In fact, when Friday night’s HUMANS show at The Common reached capacity, the festival had to apologize to wristband holders because they could not be granted entrance. Fortunately, we didn’t experience any problems getting into shows during the weekend.
Friday, Oct. 9
Freemasons Hall hosted bands Viking Fell and Langauage Arts. Viking Fell is an Edmonton-based experimental band that fuses hard rock and electronic sounds. In a dramatic visual extension of their experimentalism, they decided to opt out of spotlight illumination, so the stage was illuminated solely by flashing beams of light.
Art pop band Language Arts played material that ranged from light and cheerful to moody and atmospheric. When the band wasn’t playing, they engaged in some light-hearted banter with the audience. “It smells like hot lunch in here. Who brought hot lunch? That’s, like, our code for farts,” musician Kristen Cudmore joked. “Sorry. I have no class.”
As the night drew late, we made our way over to the Starlite Room for the Highway Kind. The Vancouver trio lists Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and ZZ Top as influences, and that makes a lot of sense. Thanks to ample amounts of fuzz, phasers, and tape echo, the Highway Kind played an energetic but safe set.
Rounding off the night was UP+DT headliner Earthless, an instrumental psychedelic rockband. To say that the trio can shred would not do them justice. The band’s ability to play songs that were so long—about 15 minutes each—and so demanding is admirable. The mental concentration needed was clear, and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell was in his zone. The pitfall to the band’s intricate music, though, was that it restricted their movement and engagement with the audience.
Saturday, Oct. 10
We began the second night of UP+DT at the All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral for Iceland Calling, a collective of Icelandic and Albertan folk musicians. While all the performers played exceptionally, it was multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sóley that lit up the cathedral with her set. Her soft vocals crescendoed into remarkable high notes layered over the pattering of her grand piano.
Many things distinguished Toronto’s Moon King’s set at the Starlite Room from other acts at UP+DT, but one of them was energy. Within minutes of ripping into the band’s synth-injected pop rock, vocalist Daniel Benjamin was on the edge of the stage, leaning into my camera, his hair flying everywhere. Eventually the set slowed down — perhaps too much. It was during this lull, though, that the band had a particularly strong moment: the performance of the trance-inducing “Impossible.” One couple took advantage of the lull in Moon King’s set by slow-dancing in front of the stage.
The second band we saw at Starlite that night was Never Young, a punk trio of nerdy-looking guys from California. From the onset, they had trouble with sound; their guitar volume levels rendered their vocals indiscernible — they may as well have been an instrumental punk band. It was a shame.
When Calgary rockers Viet Cong took the stage, they did so under the interchangeable joke names Goofy Buddies and Free Sandwiches For Everyone. After recent controversy over the band’s former name, the 2015 Polaris Prize nominees have decided to drop the appropriation of the Vietnam War-era political organization.
Name change aside, the band played a set worthy of its musical reputation. Lead vocalist Matt Flegel sang in his raspy voice with great ease, seemingly eating the microphone. It was not just Flegel who was on point, though — all the band members hit their cues in perfect unison.
Around the same time, at the Freemasons Hall, The Wet Secrets began to set up a large white “W” at the back of the stage. Interestingly, the band’s classic red marching band outfits were notably missing from the performance. Instead, they wore pure white ones.
When the band finally took the stage (about 20 minutes late), fans were treated to catchy sing-alongs like “Get Your Own Apartment.” One of the advantages of being a six-piece is the band’s capacity to achieve the same big sound that is present on their studio material. It also made the stage an incredibly dynamic space to watch, especially as Paul Arnusch split his time between his congas and keyboard during extended instrumental interludes. The Edmonton band also played some new numbers, including one that lead vocalist/bassist Lyle Bell insisted “can’t be played with sleeves.” At this point, saxophone player Christian Maslyk tossed his jacket onto a nearby drumhead. Throughout all of this glorious goofiness, projectionist Owen Brierley was showing psychedelic gifs.
Sunday, Oct. 11
Counterfeit Jeans, an Edmonton post-rock band coasting off of the success of a demo-turned-self-titled-EP, played a short but tight opening set at Denizen Hall on Sunday night. Their track “Violence” features hard-hitting guitar and recalls the stylings of bands like The Strokes.
A glowing sign that read “Spanks” was placed on the stage. Shortly after, Miesha & The Spanks ripped into a 45-minute set with “Wrecking Ball.” The pair of Calgary rockers maintained high energy throughout another track from their 2013 album Girls, Like Wolves. Then things slowed down for a bit, giving them a chance to briefly play their new single, “Summer Love.” The track showcased a softer sound, with paired-down distortion and a few “ooh ooh oohs.” While it’s understandable that they used their 2013 material as the set’s backbone, it may have been interesting to see them readapt music from 2011’s Gods of Love into their new style.
While the first two acts garnered a modest crowd, The Pack A.D. managed to pack the floor for an hour-long set. It’s no surprise that drummer Maya Miller began to break into a sweat. “Does anyone have a towel — preferably a clean one?” the drummer asked. Hilariously, the crowd obliged, tossing a towel of unknown origins into guitarist/lead vocalist Becky Black’s hands. The strongest moment of their set was the 2014 single “Cellophane.” The chorus was ushered in with a rain of crash cymbal, galloping guitar riffs, and a catchy hook.
Photo by Virginia Dowdell.