Western Canadian provinces are more famous for the views than the emerging music. But, the roaming Breakout West festival, held this year in Kelowna, British Columbia – a town famous for its wine, spectacular lakes, and adventure sport; it’s a somewhat more adult Queenstown, New Zealand – is shining a light on the vibrant scene.
Given Kelowna is more golf, swimming pools and pinot (it has a smattering of bands) it’s not this city per se that’s influential on a successful 2018 edition. As with any showcase, it’s the hotbed of music industry and artistic talent that make it feel like the epicentre of Canadian music. Those involved showed off the sheer musical breadth and geographical scale of this part of the world. We attended mixers held by people working with Inuit artists; who live in places where they need to stock up on wood to get through the winter, right through to the latest Eminem-esque stars coming out of cities closer to the US. Being all-encompassing, honing in on the est of all scenes was a great touch.
Moreover, Breakout West’s curation of extracurricular events outside the live element was strong. Much of the debate took place at a hotel on the picturesque Lake Okanagan. Gigwise spoke on a panel giving advice to new bands, who are trying to grow their audience. We also gave advice at one-on-one meetings and picked up demos for future coverage consideration. Discussion with people whose creativity felt boundless and inspiring is a great thing.
But, the main thrust and talking point of the weekend was the gigs taking place across a dozen downtown venues that were easy to pass between with queues rare. Here are the bands that thrilled us:
Singer Brady Allard cites Tears for Fears and Kate Bush as influences when he comes around to meet Gigwise, which you can faintly hear despite the comparatively lo-fi production. There’s a bit of a jaunty Merseybeat feel to it too. On stage at the BNA brewery, he played a bass that he’d borrowed and strapped on – just – with gaffa tape. Backed by a lead guitarist and a keyboardist with Rolling Stones hair, they looked and moved cool. His story is fairly interesting: he came out of a ten year relationship. Fell hard. Starting to lose his mind, he holed up in a caravan and wrote songs, that, remarkably full of colour and joy – at least musically: single ‘White Lies’, streaming below, implies some bitter lyrical content that may be relatable if you’re in a dark place.
Coming from middle-of-nowhere Whitehorse, Yukon are Soda Pony. The two-piece prom rockers played on Friday at a venue down the road, but, by now, word had spread and the atmosphere is pumping at BNA on the Saturday night. The way they play the drums and guitars with one hand whilst also hammering out hooks and chords on the vintage/toy keys on the other is brilliant. Some of the same people who’d seen them the first time were back ready for a second round. After playing their euphoric hit ‘On the Line’ – a track that epitomises their knack for hooks, guitar solos, a stadium rock strength vocal and humorous lyrics – they weren’t allowed to leave the stage and did a surprise encore. Gigwise caught them for an impromptu interview after the show, where they said they were brought up by parents who were jobbing 60’s session players and in the 80s had moved to Yukon for a more steady income. It’s a place, thanks to much industrial work, has a work hard play hard culture meaning there’s paid gig work for much of the working week for local people. For a place with such a small population: just over 35,000 in an area twice size of Britain, it’s great to hear artists are paid their due worth.
Wandering through Kelowna’s cold autumn streets, we stumble into a venue with a faux VIP feel that you’d likely go to for a school disco. ID’s are checked at the gate with the same seriousness as a nation state border. The formalities don’t stop there as security look eagle-eyed around for any misstep. Despite this, 20-year-old hotly-tipped Eminem-esque rapper Viisi was a magnet. Much of the existing YouTube material he has out is fairly uniform in terms of its tasteful but computerized beats, but live with a drummer and beat selector there’s an air of unpredictability that makes it exciting. He pulls off his slick raps brilliantly. And he mixes with his fellow label signee and singer, Efflo, for a duet that implies an ability to mix up his arrangements and not rely solely on the exhilarating strength of his rhymes that pack a punch. Seeing an artist as accomplished as Viisi in any art form is great. It’ll be exciting to see where he takes it from here.
After Soda Pony won the weekend it was on to a venue above a Starbucks. It feels like a student house party with cheap carpets, wobbly drunks, and an overly crowded dance floor. There is no chance of getting close to the pedals to even try and spill a lager on them because there is so much passion among those there. But from the outside circle were a classic rock band showered in effect pedals, pop punk licks, thrash metal speed, and Strokes-esque night out lyrics. It’s a helluva concoction for an after party and instills belief in their ability to keep playing late night sets in small venues. It truly works in this environment.
Blessed are Preoccupations’ long lost siblings. The viscerally entertaining band may be in the position of a lot of new, breaking bands but are seasoned veterans in some ways. Some of the members have recently been touring North America as a backing band for a Captured Tracks solo artist. As for Blessed, it feels like a democratic outpouring of ideas that creates a fantastic confrontational atmosphere. They’re the perfect late night escape, and a band who could do damage among the more post-punk, math-rock orientated promoters in the UK.