More in: Rock / Pop
Any fine collection needs a curator, and the Sled Island lineup provides no exception. Herein, the esteemed minds behind the festival speak out on what most excites them, and why you should be excited, too.
Whether with his backing band, the Shrines, as a duo with BBQ or in collaboration with the Black Lips as The Almighty Defenders, King Khan is renowned for his soulful, frenetic garage rock.
June 3. The Sydney Opera House. The day garage rock duo King Khan and BBQ Show broke up. Details are fuzzy. No official comments from the Vivid Live festival or the Sydney Opera House, or corroboration from bandmate Mark Sultan, just the Kanye-esque ramblings that King Khan himself posted to the Daily Swarm that reveal a man on the verge of a breakdown. In his ramblings, between comparing himself to Jimi Hendrix and threatening the "Black Hand of Justice," Kahn tells a story about how an avant-garde performance of flying rubber snakes, dancing Chinese girls and a minor seafood fight inside one of the great 20th century architectural landmarks got him banned from the Sydney Opera House and the festival. And that somehow led to a heated confrontation with Sultan and the breakup of the band. Despite a scheduled interview, Khan has been unavailable for comment, travelling somewhere between Korea and Germany.
June 21. Calgary. Zak Pashak isn't leaving Calgary any time soon. Sled Island, the festival he founded and directs, isn't going to unravel just because of the dissolution of one of his curator's bands. Pashak doesn't seem worried, and remains cautiously optimistic about King Khan still playing the festival with his other band, the Almighty Defenders.
"We had the idea of the parties at the Legion being themed nights," says Pashak. "It'll be up to the curators what exactly the flavour of those nights will be. With King Kahn's night, we'll see how far we can get. We've all been reading what Kahn's been going through recently, so we'll see how he's feeling when he's in town."
As a guest curator, Kahn has already hand-picked the bands that'll play with him on his party night at the Legion, injecting a massive dose of garage rock into the already eclectic lineup of this year's Sled Island Festival. Along with his band, the Almighty Defenders, he's bringing along such ruckus-startin' acts as the Black Lips, Super Nice Brothers and a band that, according to Pashak, Kahn is most excited about, Golden Triangle. The other curators, Quintron and Miss Pussycat and Fucked Up, have also already chosen acts they'll be appearing on stage with during their own party nights at the Leigion.
For a festival like Sled Island, guest curators operate on a symbolic level as they embody the spirit and values of the festival. It's tempting to look at what ties the curators together: Larger-than-life stage personas that mix pranksterism, alcohol and chaos. If one were to draw out a mission statement from that collective, it'd be about the urgency and primacy of music in 2010. For Pashak, the joys of Sled Island are the simple ones, like just watching people discover and engage in new music. It's about the energy and excitement that a guest curator can bring, regardless of controversy or personal crisis.
“King Khan loved the festival last year," says Pashak. "He approached me and asked to be the guest curator and wanted to work with Quintron and Missy Pussycat on it. These curators just get the festival. They fit with our esthetic and know how to put on good rock shows.”
DAMIAN ABRAHAM (FUCKED UP’S FRONTMAN)
Toronto’s Fucked Up is usually called a hardcore punk band, but its Polaris Prize-winning album, The Chemisty of Common Life, proved that no simple terms can define the band.
When Sled Island came to us and asked, “Hey, do you guys wanna be involved,” we were like, “Absolutely.” It’s really great to see these people, through their hard work and cool bookings, make the festival into something better every time. The people who were previously involved had done such a good job with the booking; our approach was about playing to those strengths that were already there. We had such a cool foundation to build on. I don’t mean cool like hip and trendy taste-wise, but things that I’m already into, like Wire one year.
When a festival takes over a city, it provides an opportunity to turn on a lot of people who might not necessarily know about those bands or that kind of music. The geographic space of Canada is such that it makes touring kind of foreboding, but one thing this festival has done is to turn Calgary into a destination for the early touring part of the summer. So more bands are attracted, and it’s only going to grow. It’s already getting a reputation.
Booking Dinosaur Jr. was kind of a no-brainer. They’re a cool band that’s down for doing cool things, so there was a natural flow to the concert that was easy to slip in. White Lung is an amazing band from Vancouver that we played with a couple years ago when we were out on the West Coast, and then they came out to Toronto and we got to see them again and it made sense.
As for the guys from No Age, our relationship with them is about as close to being friends as you can get with someone who lives 3,000 miles away on the other side of the country in Los Anegeles, but they’re a band we’ve collaborated with and played a lot of shows together, and we share the same mindset. The GZA made hands-down one of the best rap records of all time with Liquid Swords. He was once again a person that we’re collaborating with in the future on some tracks.
Mark Sultan, the first time we ever hung out with him was at Sled Island, so it’s a great opportunity to discover bands but also to discover people. Funnily enough, Fist City just wrote me a message the other day and I listened to them for the first time. I think that band is incredible. It goes to show you that a big part of these festivals is finding out about new bands as well as bands that you may already have some preconceived notions about.
My tip for festival goers: When I go to festivals, what I do is, I ask myself “Will I ever be able to see this band again,” or, “Will I ever see this band again in these circumstances?” And if the answer is “No,” then I generally go with that, and hopefully I’ll have a chance later to see the other band I missed. Sometimes it just comes down to a coin-flip. I find that when you’re at a festival that the best laid plans normally go out the window and you ultimately wind up going with the flow. Every year I go to South by Southwest with a little piece of paper listing all the bands I want to check out, and I miss every single one of them, but I do end up seeing some fantastic acts. It’s about being spontaneous and open-minded so that even when you lose you win.
AS TOLD TO CHRISTINE LEONARD
QUINTRON (QUINTRON AND MISS PUSSYCAT SHOW)
A musician and an inventor, Quintron is a fixture in the New Orleans scene, and one of its major proponents. He’s as renowned for his “swamp-tech” sound as for his energetic and highly visual live show with his wife and co-conspirator, Miss Pussycat.
The opportunity to curate, Zak Pashak brought it to us, it wasn’t our suggestion. When we played Sled Island last year, we shared a stage with King Khan, and he’s a really old friend of ours. We’re family, so, knowing that he was involved, too, it was too good to pass up. We all share the same kind of circuit of bands that we love and are friends with, so we knew it would be easy to curate with him.
As far as getting together with the other curators, it’s all email, throwing out suggestions. A lot of it was creating a really long wish list and then, seeing who could actually make it. Our contribution was suggesting New Orleans stuff that no one would know about that we thought would be really awesome — some New Orleans music that the world needed to hear and hadn’t heard yet. And I think the only one that actually made it from that list would be Big Freedia, who’s a bounce artist.
Sissy bounce is like super-hype street music from New Orleans. It’s getting huge now. There’s New York DJs mixing bounce records — bounce exploded this year, thanks to a lot of things. People have been hip to it since the ’90s, but you had to come to New Orleans to get the records. None of the artists ever left the city, or usually their neighbourhood, even. And then after Katrina, when people had to leave and began travelling, even just temporarily, there started being bounce nights in Houston and Altanta, and I think it spread from there. Now, some of the bounce rappers from New Orleans are getting the idea that, “Hey, people love us. We can get flown to Canada and make a lot of money. Let’s do it.”
Big Freedia’s the only artist from our list who actually made it to Sled Island. There were a lot of legal issues. People had criminal records and couldn’t get over the border. Tire Fire couldn’t make it. King Louie would’ve been great. His new band, which is called Missing Monuments, or King Louie’s one-man band — anything involving King Louie would’ve been great. That was a major disappointment that he couldn’t do it. He’s a New Orleans garage-rock legend. He’s put out a ton of stuff on Goner, and he is one of our greatest trash songwriters.
As for Big Freedia, she’s a rock star, but just like us, you’re never going to get as spectacular of a show as you would in New Orleans, where we’ve got all of our people, and we’ve got facilities at our fingertips. In New Orleans, we have tons of back-up dancers and singers, and Big Freedia, same thing. She had like 20 back-up dancers, and I’m sure that she’s not flying 20 back-up dancers to Canada to bend over and shake their asses. In a perfect world that would happen, but….
Outside of the artists we booked, I’m excited for Bloodshot Bill — he’s one of my favourite musicians of all time. He’s from Montreal, and we played with him at a festival in Europe and the Netherlands one time, and I saw him and was blown away. King Khan is friends with him. They did everything they could possibly do to get Bloodshot Bill at the festival — and he is, unless something goes wrong — but that’s the one I’m most excited to see, other than people from my own hometown.
AS TOLD TO PETER HEMMINGER
ADAM KAMIS AND KALLEN LAW
The local faces of the Sled Island curator team, Adam Kamis and Kallen Law have long been supporters of Calgary’s music scene. Both have regular shows on community and campus radio station CJSW 90.9, and Kamis is equally well-known for his band, The Brenda Vaqueros, and as the friendly bartender at Broken City.
Adam Kamis: Zak Pashak approached us two as principal curators, and when it came down to the actual picking of bands, our role turned out to be sifting through all the Sonic Bids applications, which is how any artist who isn’t directly contacted by any of the main curators gets involved.
Kallen Law: We didn’t talk to the other curators. They’re responsible for several nights, where they make a particular show exactly what they want it to be. For us, what we picked is scattered throughout the festival, so we weren’t held to any stylistic unity. Although, I don’t think they were either.
AK: Let me tell you, our local listening sessions were like throwing a side of beef into a pool full of piranhas. There were over 650 submissions and I can comfortably say that for 80 per cent of them you knew within the first few bars of the song that it was dog shit. That’s part of going with an open-submission system, though.
KL: Both Adam and I have shows on CJSW, so part of what we’ve learned over the years is how to quickly judge whether a song is going to be good. When we’re picking music for our radio shows, we don’t have time to listen to every song off every album, so we gain that kind of ability.
AK: We made a very conscious and deliberate effort to get new talent, exceptionally good talent — whether the bands were established or not didn’t really matter, or whether certain personalities were involved locally. For my part, I really wanted just to make it the most awesome musical experience for someone who wants to see something like Sled Island, which, for all intents and purposes, is a festival of new music.
For me, one of the most exciting bands we came across is Bonaventure James, an electronic artist from Lethbridge. He sort of sounds like he should be on that Not Not Fun record label: drone-y, tropical, sometimes dreamy electronic music. I’ve subsequently been able to see him live and it was quite good. And before this, I had no idea he even existed.
KL: One of my favourite local bands for a while now has been the Topless Mongos. They’re kind of like Pussy Galore.
AK: Yeah, like a very mid-90s type of garage rock — a mix between Supercharger and the Mummies.
KL: And led by Devon Giancarlo, who — I’ll say it right now — is Calgary’s secret weapon. He has a lot of attitude onstage.
AK: FOONYAP and the Roar. She still does Woodpidgeon — everyone still does Woodpidgeon; it’s like the Mafia, you can never leave — but this is her own thing and she is wildly, awesomely entertaining live. Honestly, I can’t think of a band from Calgary as visually and sonically arresting as they are. Foon is awesome. Other Alberta bands you don’t want to miss? Deadhorse, Radians, Krang, who else? Outdoor Miners. There are just so many.
KL: Just do your research!
AK: The magical part of the festival is when those people walking home from Olympic Plaza at 10 p.m. look in their festival guide and say “Holy crap, there’s all this other stuff going on. Wait, The Palomino’s just this way” or “The Legion’s just there, let’s just walk over and check it out.” They might be treated to a set by some local band that knocks their socks off.
AS TOLD TO PATRICK BOYLE