Sled Island

Sled Island 2015 Recap: Conquering Calgary

For the past 9 years Calgary has been cultivating one of North America’s premiere festivals. Sled Island is an independent music heaven as over 300 artists converge on Calgary for a week-long experience unlike anything else. The festival has been known for its incredibly strong and well-curated lineups. Luckily, organizers were once again able to piece together one of the most impressive lineups of the festival season. Influential acts such as Television and Drive Like Jehu shared the main stage with newcomers Viet Cong and King Tuff, while a variety of other venues played host to independent musicians from a wide spectrum. Further, legendary post-rock outfit Godspeed You Black Emperor were selected as guest curators which included artists such Montreal’s Avec Le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche. Kim Gordon’s Body/Head and jazz-punk legends The Ex.

Sled Island was attended by AudioHammock contributor Declan Boyer. You can reach Declan for questions or comments at declan@audiohammock.com

  • August 25th, 2015
  • By Declan Boyer

At first glance the incredible wealth of selection may come across as an issue. No independent music fan in their right mind should be okay missing the living mixtape Yo La Tengo, festival curators Godspeed You Black Emperor or the legendary hip hop outfit De La Soul. However, Sled Island’s undercard is impressive enough that it does not become an issue. For every ‘main’ show missed there is often a new discovery. In fact, throughout the week it was the festival’s impeccable curation that set it apart from other festivals. The musical spectrum covered within the festival was massive as psych, surf, garage, punk, metal, hip hop, shoegaze and many other were genres received adequate representation.

Sled Island was a magnificent experience with an endless supply of interesting music and so an attempt to recap its magic is futile. Instead of an article attempting to synthesize the magic, here is a guide to AudioHammock’s favourite performances at Sled Island 2015. Please bear in mind while reading this list that there were over 300 artists at the festival and if none of these artists resonate with you, it is a guarantee Sled is a festival with something for everyone.


The Classics

Television

Television were given the incredible responsibility of headlining Saturday’s main stage and the legendary art-punk act did not disappoint. The audience was in awe from the opening chords of “Prove It” to the flawless encore performance of “1880 or So” from the oft-overlooked self-titled album released in 1992. It is possible 1880 was once again overlooked however, as the audience was still recovering from the main set which concluded with a mesmerizing, extended performance of the title track from the seminal Marquee Moon.


Drive Like Jehu

Similar to Television and art-punk (as well as infinite other punk styles…) post hard-core would not exist in its current form without Drive Like Jehu. The band released two influential albums in the 90s and has been fairly quiet, especially in terms of touring, since. Thus, fans relished the rare opportunity to see the band perform from both their self-titled debut and follow Yank Crime. Drive Like Jehu sounded as fresh as ever, especially in relation to the current Midwestern emo-revival, which is forever indebted to the group.


Swervedriver

Shoegaze as a genre has always seemed to fly under the radar apart from a few key groups. While it is unfortunate listeners are missing out on My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, the real injustice is the lack of appreciation for UK shoegaze pioneers Swervedriver. Shoegaze is a genre that deals with layers and texture, but few are able to mix those elements with incredibly catchy hooks as well as Swervedriver. Further, the performance showcased the group’s more aggressive and raw tendancies, which are elements somewhat unique to shoegaze. Just like the other classic artists mentioned, Swervedriver’s performance sounded incredibly fresh in today’s musical landscape, and once again shows the expert curation of the festival.


Current Favorites

Lightning Bolt

It is very hard to find words to describe a Lightning Bolt performance. The best description of the experience is that it is akin to being inside of an earthquake, volcano, tsunami, tornado, hurricane and all other forces of nature at once.


Viet Cong

Viet Cong have been touring almost non-stop since the release of their excellent debut self-titled debut earlier this year. While the album will definitely find a spot of countless best-of 2015 lists, the album almost seems to pale in comparison to the groups incredible live show. The power and immediacy of the album are both pushed to the limit in a live setting to create an emotional, lush and loud live performance. The sheer force of the band reached an incredible climax during an extended performance of album closer “Death”.


King Tuff

King Tuff was a perfect choice for both the main stage and as headliner of their own performance. The trio used their Friday set to treat fans to a greatest hits show with a set-list featuring songs from all three Tuffy LPs. King Tuff’s unique brand of power-pop garage allowed fans the opportunity to let loose and have a great time which created good vibes all around. The good vibes continued through into Saturday’s main stage performance which put a greater emphasis on the latest King Tuff LP, Black Moon Spell. Although Kyle Thomas was the star of both shows, Magic Jake and Old Gary unsurprisingly performed flawlessly. If you haven't listened to King Tuff yet these guys shouldn't be on your radar, they should be the radar.


Ex Hex
Ex Hex

Ex Hex

Mary Timony is someone whose name has always been present within indie rock, but has never really been considered a household name. Things began to change following the release of her critically acclaimed collaboration with Sleater-Kinney members entitled Wild Flag. The success of Wild Flag led to mass anticipation of Timony’s follow up project, the back to basics garage rock group Ex Hex. The debut album Rips was a confident, loose and most importantly fun album that screamed for live performance. Therefore, it is no surprise the infectious tracks from Rips sound even better live. The band were able to be a bit more free musically which allowed their musical abilities to shine a bit more than on the studio recordings.

Guantanamo Baywatch

Within the current garage rock cannon there is nobody better at surf than Guantanamo Baywatch. While their sound takes influences from punk and garage it is combined with traditional surf to create one of the most fun bands around. Therefore, it is no surprise they provided one of the best sets of the week, as well as the perfect precursor to King Tuff’s headlining set later that evening. While the set was comprised of material mainly from the 2015 album Darling…It’s Too Late, the group also performed a few classic tracks.

Colleen Green

Accompanied only by an iPad rhythm section, Colleen Green turned in a set full of quick-witted, to the point garage rock. Green’s excellent 2015 album I Want To Grow Up was produced by Jake Orrall of Jeff The Brotherhood and his influence is readily apparent throughout. Further, it is his influence which gives Green’s sound an extra level depth that is not seen with her peers win Best Coast and Alvvays. Although Green is not quite in the same tier as fellow garage-slacker Courtney Barnett, the comparison is not far off.


New Discoveries

Yonatan Gat

After listening to almost constant live music for close to a week, no performance left more of an impression than Yonatan Gat. The former Monotix guitar god brought his predominately improv trio to Sled Island with the sole intention of melting faces. Yonatan, alongside bassist Sergio Sayeg and drummer Gal Lazer each used top of class musicianship and high energy to establish themselves as one of the most exciting live bands in music. A brief paragraph on the virtuosity of this trio does not give it justice, as similar to Lightning Bolt, this is something that needs to be experienced to fully understand. The sound is somewhat comparable to a free-form jazz version of Thee Oh Sees.


Avec Le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche

Godspeed You Black Emperor did an excellent job as guest curators as their selections covered a wide array of musical styles and sounds. Perhaps the most surprising selection however was Montreal based Avec Le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche. The four-piece created mind-numbing jams which would not have sounded out of place during the initial stages of Kraut. The band’s groovy performance was amplified by its extremely intimate venue, which created a very communal vibe to the entire performance. The performance sounded reminiscent of a more dance-centric version of GOAT. Both artists are able to create mind-altering grooves, however Avec are i nfluenced a bit more by electronic genres than the tribal influence heard on GOAT.


Mascaras

There are a lot of similarities between the performances by Avec and Portland trio Mascaras. The trio’s music is self-proclaimed “indulgent psych” and while that is kind of an arbitrary term, it makes sense after their performance. Again, the immediate musical connection to make is GOAT as both groups are able to create mind-altering, tribal based psych music. The main difference between Mascaras and GOAT however is the spontaneity of Mascaras. Led by drummer Pepe the group floated through mind-melting jams with an incredible ease and confidence. It was obvious they are a group that will continue to grow in the future and is someone who should be invested in immediately.

Kappa Chow

Kappa Chow are a guitar and drum combo from New Brunswick whose combination of simplicity and chaos sound reminiscent of early records by Ty Segall or The Black Lips. Garage rock is often characterized as boring and one-dimensional, but it is hard to dislike something as immediate and catchy as Kappa Chow. The duo’s music never overstayed their welcome and almost always contained an undeniably infectious energy.
Check out Side A from Kappa Chow's 2015 Tour Tape here.

Chairs

A style of music which has recently been growing in popularity is kraut, and its influence was definitely felt at Sled Island. Chairs would likely not be considered a kraut band, but their ability trance-inducing groove shared a lot of similarities to the genre. The strong kraut-influenced rhythm section was accompanied by dreamy vocals, guitars and keyboards which would be in the same realm as dream pop.
Check out "Bird Calls" on Chairs Bandcamp.

Birdstriking

A style of music which has recently been growing in popularity is kraut, and its influence was definitely felt at Sled Island. Chairs would likely not be considered a kraut band, but their ability trance-inducing groove shared a lot of similarities to the genre. The strong kraut-influenced rhythm section was accompanied by dreamy vocals, guitars and keyboards which would be in the same realm as dream pop.
Birdstriking, in addition to an expanding collective of Chinese musicians, make music which fuses elements of shoegaze, punk and noise to a create a unique live performance. The high energy and enthusiasm was infectious as the Beijing-based four piece did an excellent job setting the stage for legendary shoe-gazers Swervedriver. Further, the band was able to keep the audience guessing through their combination of swirling jams and punk burners. The band gained a big break while touring with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and their placement on the tour makes a lot of sense after seeing their performance. Expect the underground Chinese music scene to start making some big moves within the next few years, because if Birdstriking are any indication there is a plethora of unheard gems on their way.

Mascaras
Kappa Chow
Chairs
Birdstriking

Who did you see at Sled Island? Let us know and we will read your email on the AudioHammock Podcast!

Declan Boyer

Contributor

Declan is a Canadian who loves all things rock ‘n roll. The discovery of punk music led to Declan’s interest in politics, which translated to an education in Political Science from the University of Regina. Apart from music, Declan has a passion for high quality television, IPA’s and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

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