A Recollection of the Festival’s 2013 Edition
Remember when you could go to Osheaga and find a prime spot to sit on the mountain overlooking the main stage? Or what about when there was a MEG stage for those edgy dance-pop artists—I mean before Piknic Electronik and before the horrendous staircase bridge.
After experiencing the past few years of sold-out madness, what was it even like before Osheaga sold out—or in this year’s case, sold out, then sold out again, and then again?
Osheaga 2013 invited 135,000 people, mostly out-of-province, to bask in the three-day experience, along with legends like New Order, The Cure and Beck.
I entered the grounds Friday as Capital Cities was closing their set. The L.A. band drew a full-formed crowd despite their early performance. Their genre-bending take on synth-based rock earned them a spot on alternative rock and hit 40 stations alike with their single “Safe and Sound.” After closing with the song and stowing their instruments away, the remix follow-up might have been overkill.
If you haven’t heard about the k-os debacle (where have you been?) here’s how it went down: after arriving on stage 20 minutes into his 40-minute-long set, Kevin Brereton was still unsatisfied with the line-check that had just taken place and stopped mid-song.
“I love music too much to do this,” he said before throwing his all access bracelet into the crowd. “I can’t hear myself.”
In k-os’s defense, the Scène de la Montagne has almost reached notoriety for its sound problems. Even Elena Tonra of Daughter kept trying to get the sound guy’s attention during her band’s set later that day.
Osheaga announced Friday night that k-os would be given a chance to redeem himself Saturday, since Miguel had to cancel his set (wasn’t Miguel a replacement act?).
After the k-os let-down, I set out to find the veggie pulled-pork shack Le Pick Up where they usually set up. This year, however, they were nowhere to be seen. Although there was an excellent variety of overpriced Chu Chai, poutine, hot dogs and pizza, Osheaga isn’t the same unless you’re eating a $10 vegan sandwich underneath the trees between the Piknic stage and the bathrooms. Even the dozen or so food trucks selling everything from waffles to dim sum couldn’t make up for that loss.
When Daughter arrived at the Scène de la Montagne just before 3 p.m., the U.K.-based trio’s unassuming and modest air changed the festival’s pace. The group’s music accompanied Tonra’s heart wrenching, soft-sounding vocals with guitar and bass arrangements that transitioned from delicate and calm to dramatic and forceful.
Thanking the crowd several times, it would have been harder not to be taken by their heart-on-their-sleeves sincerity.
While Alt-J were performing their psychedelic groove-pop on the Scène de la Montagne, Lianne La Havas was serving the Scène Verte onlookers her fiery vocals and attitude.
Later that day Beach House transformed that stage into a platform for a show that was as much music as spiritual awakening. Their laid-back, warm sounds feel like the California sun, Victoria Legrand’s comforting vocals floating stride-for-stride with Alex Scally’s swelling guitar.
The Paris-born Legrand showed off her French family background by sweet-talking the audience in her langue maternelle from behind her unruly hair. The duo’s set was extended to make up for the Azaelia Banks cancellation, and they welcomed nightfall with a relaxed grace.
Sabrina Halde and Jean-Vivier Lévesque’s Groenland, the rookie Montreal-based jazz-pop band were up next. They’ve moved to Toronto because “it was too hard to go to New York.”
Halde and Lévesque expanded their sound, which was originally electro-pop, to a six-piece band when they “made friends with strings.” The two studied music at the Université de Montreal before dropping out and moving to Toronto.
Their Saturday performance at the Scène des Arbres put a fresh face on the music’s lyrical longing: soulful strings, bouncing keyboards and careful drums building towards Halde’s uninhibited jazzy vocals.
It was the group’s first-ever performance at Osheaga, but Halde was especially excited for one particular thing.
“We heard that the food at Osheaga is awesome,” she said, and according to what an insider told me, Osheaga catering is indeed prepared by Chuck Hughes.
Groenland will be back in Montreal, after a tour across Quebec, for two Halloween shows at Sala Rossa.
Osheaga may have changed the park grounds layout and seen a swelling in attendance, but you can always count on either Stars or Metric (or both) to be there every year. Stars performed Saturday—their first Osheaga appearance since touring their latest album The North extensively and since lead vocalist Amy Millan became a mother.
Explosive hip-hop team Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performed later that day to thousands of people. Macklemore’s somewhat cheesy story intros to songs like “Thrift Shop” and “Ten Thousand Hours” didn’t lessen the shock when he welcomed Tegan and Sara on stage for the marriage-equality anthem of the year, “Same Love.” My speechlessness was probably the sum of my adoration for the Canadian twins, who performed earlier that day, and the song, which has garnered excessive radio play in the past month.
Something to note for future Osheaga-goers: if you’re dazed and overwhelmed by the festival lineup, wander over to the Piknic stage. There’s never any shame in acting a little ridiculous in front of bass-heavy amps blasting eardrum-bursting beats. This year the stage featured house and electronic DJs like 21-year-old Porter Robinson, Toronto-bred Azari & III, powwow thumping A Tribe Called Red and New York duo The Knocks, among many others.
Modern Hearts ft. St. Lucia—The Knocks
Over at the Villages des Art, Station 16 was doing some live action silk screening, Skin Jackin’ was painting on willing canvases/people (there were many), Music on Paper had original designs of band posters on for sale and Garbage Beauty had doors with lyrics painted on them in some unexpected places.
Meanwhile, Osheaga musicians were experimenting with romantic prose. I mean writing love letters .
Sunday morning began with wise words from Scottish indie-rock mainstay Frightened Rabbit: “There’s plenty of grinding when the sun sets, and I believe we’ve got some rappers later, so [for now] just link an arm,” Scott Hutchison said, introducing “Old Old Fashioned.”
The day’s most surprising gem was in the form of Gaspésie natives Stéphanie and Mélanie Boulay, a.k.a. Les soeurs Boulay. The two are making a name for themselves in Montreal, having won the French music contest Francouvertes in 2012 and making the Polaris long list this year.
While the Scène des Arbres is known for its intimate atmosphere, set among trees near the edge of the park grounds, the 100 or so spectators captivated by these sisters were quiet and attentive throughout the performance.
“Can we take you around with us?” they asked the crowd.
Their cover of Bill Monroe’s “The One I Love is Gone” is what really left me in awe. On a spectrum of folk, Stéphanie’s voice has audible pop sensibilities which, with her sister’s rougher blues tendencies, creates such a pleasant vocal combination. I wish I could carry them around with me.
Switching between guitars and percussion, these sisters stayed true to their folk sound and didn’t overcompensate.
Over on the Scène Verte, Little Green Cars were making a whole other genre of music. The Irish sextet with a not-so-little sound didn’t seem to be bothered by the sudden rainfall. In fact, it probably added to the overall gloomy-alternative vibe the group emitted, all the while rocking out.
“Sorry about the rain, it just follows us around,” lead singer Stevie Appleby told the crowd.
With the eventual reappearance of the sun came melancholy pop-duo Dusted at the Scène des Arbres Sunday evening. Having performed with The Besnard Lakes Aug. 1 as part of Osheaga’s pre-party, Dusted were “warmed up” after a long hiatus from touring.
Brian Borcherdt of Holy Fuck! and Leon Taheny (Final Fantasy, Rituals) launched Dusted’s debut Total Dust in Montreal during last year’s Pop Montreal festival. The two have been touring sporadically over the past year, working simultaneously on other projects (Borcherdt and Holy Fuck! are currently working on a new album).
In fact, Taheny had only signed up to handle Dusted’s production but ended up joining Borcherdt on stage.
“Initially it really was this temporary thing that we were going to do because [SXSW and European shows] were coming up,” Taheny said. “But as we started to reinterpret the record into a live scenario it just became really exciting.”
Borcherdt and Taheny brought their raw, full sound to Osheaga the organic way, with Borcherdt on vocals and guitar and Taheny on synths and percussion—but the duo finished 20 minutes early and the volume was painfully high.
Into the Atmosphere—Dusted
Nevertheless, the weather behaved and even Borcherdt commented on the festival’s overall jovial atmosphere.
“I took the metro here yesterday and I was crammed in this tube shooting through the underground with all these people—the enthusiasm is infectious,” Borcherdt told me.
“It was a really nice angle to see, because typically you’re in the van, or the shuttle, that picks you up at the airport,” he said. “You’re rolling in through the gates, you’re only seeing the crusty security guards who are annoyed because they’ve been doing it all day, stuck out in the rain or whatever. You show your credentials and you go backstage.
“This time I enjoyed the experience of just showing up with everybody and going through the main gate.”
Although “Sweater Weather” was the theme song to my heavy shirt addiction last fall, The Neighbourhood’s performance was sorely lacking Sunday night. The strongest thing about their set was their light show—a last-minute sound check wasn’t enough to fix the levels. Vocalist Jesse Rutherford handled the situation with more grace than k-os, offering us an acapella/rap of “West Coast” during an on-stage sound check and revealing the band’s RnB roots.
The festival was a success despite the no-shows, a traumatic encounter with dying baby squirrels in a decorated forest, and the horrible sight of garbage that accumulates on the ground when selling beer in plastic cups to some 100,000 people.
It was heartbreaking to be an Azaelia Banks, Frank Ocean, Quadron and Death Grips fan that weekend, (oh, and a Miguel fan), but the weather was beautiful, almost as beautiful as the view of the Montreal skyline from Parc Jean-Drapeau.
Kendrick Lamar is his own aggressive hype man
Kudos to Phoenix and The Lumineers for taking their passionate selves into the audience
Ellie Goulding is fit
Best outfits: Grouplove and Oberhofer
Osheaga in 184 seconds