At a time of year when festivals come and go like the subway, an artist really has to stand out to draw huge crowds during one of these events. Your set list, of course, is always going to be the main attraction — but a little originality in your stage presentation can go a long way.
Few events offer a more unusual or original platform than the Tomorrowlandfestival in Belgium, which just wrapped its 2012 edition. Going to Tomorrowland is like falling down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole and landing in the middle of Woodstock. Inaugurated in 2005, this fest is as much about the stage and the environment as the artists who perform. Words really don’t do it justice, which is why I’ve dug deep to find a live set worth watching.
Skrillex is one of the most hotly debated artists on this site, and with good reason. But one thing is undeniable: he puts on a good show. Check out his set at Tomorrowland: it really gives you a fantastic sense of the environment. Epic!
And so the last day of the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest in Ottawa arrived. And after Saturday’s epic blowout, Sunday felt like it might be a slower day. But what should have been a bittersweet coda turned into quite the party. After these two weekends of EDM, and almost two full weeks of rock, pop, hip hop, blues and dubstep, the fest went out with a bang.
Ottawa’s BKRK (a.k.a. Paul Burke) got the late-afternoon crowd warmed up with punchy beats. Seemed as though a lot of people were still riding the high from the previous night’s Skrillex show.
Next up: Vancouver’s Felix Cartal. Did I mention what an amazing job DNA did programming the Electro Stage with a great mix of local, Canadian and international artists?
Cartal got the crowd jumping with remixes of Fedde Le Grand, Autoerotique and Laidback Luke.
Over on the Claridge Stage (the second main stage), Toronto’s The Weeknd performed. You couldn’t fail to be impressed by the number of fans who turned out, and who clearly knew the music by heart.
Considering rarely he performs, and his widely-reported reluctance to sign with a major label, it was interesting to observe his fan base: teenage girls, with a load of twentysomething guys. Curious, but it all worked.
Back to the Electro Stage for the final night — and it ended with Ultra Records star Wolfgang Gartner (a.k.a. Joey Youngman) delivering a crazy electro house set. Massive bangers and hit after hot hit. Here’s our boy Felix Cartal taking in the mayhem.
So the two Sunday nights at Bluesfest ended up being among the craziest and busiest of the festival. The tunes were the largest on these two nights: first with Chromeo on the opening weekend, and then Gartner wrapping it up on the final night. Kids losing their shit until the bitter end, until the last song was played out,
So long, Ottawa. I’ll miss the way you guys gave it your all for every act !
An homage to the legendary 1970 Festival Express tour that sent Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and The Band rolling across Canada by rail, the Full Flex Express packed Skrillex, Diplo, Grimes and Pretty Lights aboard a specially outfitted Via Rail train to party their way from from Toronto to Vancouver.
The set started at 6 pm with Diplo playing in 34-degree heat to about 10,000 people. He was in a chatty mood, continuously introducing his tracks on the mic and joking, “I heard Ottawa was harder than Toronto — but I had no idea how much harder!” This latter met with screams and cheers.
He dropped AC/DC to a thoroughly crazed reaction — no surprise, given, as I’ve mentioned before, Ottawa’s classic rock roots. Plus “Roxanne” by The Police with a deep Moombahton flow. The other huge anthem: “Rack City” remixed in various flavours.
Diplo felt so at home here he spent the last minutes of his set crowd-surfing, holding the mic and chatting. DJs jumping into crowd: is there any lingering doubt they’ve become our new rock stars? Nobody can touch them right now (figuratively speaking).
Meanwhile, over on the Electro Stage, Tyga was in the process of sending Ottawa’s hip-hop lovers ballistic.
I honestly had no idea that the local “heads” were so f**king nuts for the Cash Money/southern ballers style. But they lost it from the moment he hit the stage. He slammed it non-stop, and I had to duck side-stage as soon I heard the first few bars of “Rack City” — I could feel they were gearing up to lose their shit.
Elsewhere, Skrillex’s fans were busy getting ready to freak out the f**k out.
Pretty Lights was next up on the Main stage, as the crowd continued to swell. His set was orchestral and massive, punctuated with tunes like this one: “I Know The Truth.”
And finally, the main event! Skirllex brought a larger and more elaborate show than he had the previous night in Toronto. The backstage was closed due to all the pyrotechnics, lasers and whatnot, which meant no photography. So I had to sneak these …
This was a full-fledged rock concert ordeal, on a par with or bigger than what any of the week’s other main stage headliners had delivered — and the record crowd of 30,000 freaked to every minute of it.
… and FINALLY, an after party!
With the train set to depart at 2:30 am, getting to the party felt a little rushed, but once everyone got to Ritual Nightclub and settled in, the only issue I could foresee was getting all the artists to leave on time.
After Koan Sound (who are also on the train) played a dubsteppy set (including ragga jungle licks like “Special Dedication”), it was down to the Don. Skrillex, having just performed a full-on concert, played another few hours at this intimate club venue.
And the crowd was right there with him, partying on just as hard.
He gave it everything he had, sweating profusely and never letting up — even taking the photographer’s camera and snapping pics of himself with the crowd. Steadfast and dedicated, he is without question the hardest-working DJ out there right now.
And with that, the Full Flex Express left Ottawa as quickly as it had come, leaving a trail of wondrous disaster in its wake.
After going dark for a few days the Electro Stage came alive for the final weekend of the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest in Ottawa. And if you’ve been reading the recaps so far, you’ll know that the fest is definitely due for a name change, what with a lineup that includes headliners like Skrillex and metalheads Mastodon. Although perhaps distantly blues-inspired in some former lifetime, neither heavy metal nor dubstep could really be said to fit on the same bill as Howlin’ Wolf.
Toronto-based Grantdtheft was first up on the decks this Friday night. As a self-styled DJ/VJ, his forté is integrating video with his audio mixes. I thought he was doing this all in real time, and he assured me later that he was — but the real work lies in the gruelling studio process of synching video to audio. Once that’s uploaded (see “days of work”), then he mixes live as per usual.
Mad skills and loveable tunes that had the crowd singing along; hip-hop and reggae anthems and hooks like no other DJ had summoned all week. And maybe a few guilty pleasures rolled up in there as well.
A festival generally means fewer rules than a club gig, more freedom and less pressure to bring the latest and greatest. You get to play in more of a relaxed, party atmosphere. So maybe the reason I ended up hearing the remix of “Fading Like A Flower” twice in one week!
The last time I’d seen him was with Major Lazer in Toronto at Sound Academy, and this was definitely one of the sets I was looking forward to most: he seems to plays all my favourite jams, with tight technical mixes.
A natural-born musician, he also took an opportunity to chat engagingly with the crowd. Definitely one of the house -ier sets of the week, it got the ladies onto the dance floor — and the guys quickly followed suit.
Red Bull + fire extinguisher = the perfect metaphor for his set. Pulsating rhythms and beats that grip the heart. Beautiful and classic vocals co-existing peacefully with dirty, grimy bass lines to whine your waist.
Here, the boys chill offstage and catch up. These festivals give you a chance to see old friends and get to know new ones.
A-Trak, the evening’s headliner, turned in an absolutely mental set, drawing a crowd even larger than Tommy Lee and Aero’s or Paul Oakenfold’s — no small feat.
A ton of Montrealers made the two-hour drive and placed themselves strategically in the crowd to cheering with fierce Canadian pride for their hometown hero — a onetime DMC champ who has toured with the likes of Kanye West.
A-Trak’s quiet demeanour offstage belies his onstage persona: the “Big Bad Wolf.” Can you guess, by the way, which track was the banger of the night? Here’s a hint.
No question, this was the perfect way to gear up the Electro Stage for the final weekend of the festival.
Another week, another amazing show. If you’re in Ontario’s capital today, I urge you to head over to Yonge and Dundas Square, where the Mad Decent Block Party is raging even as we speak. Local heroes Zeds Dead will be wrapping things up later tonight, and I predict they’ll be shaking the concrete in such a manner as to have the walls of the nearby Eaton Center clinging on for dear life. It’s an extravaganza, amigos – and it’s FREE!!! Say no more.
Speaking of Zeds Dead, we start this week’s Sweets with the brand new EP the duo dropped earlier this week — a collaboration with Omar LinX and, as you’d expect, a classic. Elsewhere, Montreal duo Botnek have a heavy-duty remix on their hands and Alvin Risk takes Fun.‘s “We are Young,” plus a few other goodies. Onward!
I know what you’re thinking: “Why do I want to read a review of Identity Festival in Toronto last weekend when I haven’t even seen the bpm Spotlight episodes on Digital Dreams or Full Flex Express yet?” I completely understand how you feel — but with so many amazing shows happening this summer I feel like I need to give you feedback on ‘em while the experience is still fresh.
And fresh it was. Identity had a lot to live up to. Between the monumental scale of Digital Dreams and the all-star lineup of Full Flex — and factoring in the absence of tour headliner Wolfgang Gartner from the Toronto bill — Identity came into the picture as something of an underdog.
Still, Identity did have one secret weapon up its sleeve: Eric Prydz, who hasn’t played in Canada for more than a decade, was slated to close out the night — and for many people, that was more than enough on its own.
Interviewing Eric Prydz at Identity proved to be one of the highlights of my young career, and to discover how humble and down-to-earth he seems was inspiring and encouraging. As for his performance on stage well, no surprise there: it was the best of the night.
Praise should also go to Le Castle Vania, who threw down a wicked set for a crowd that didn’t seem as familiar with him as one might have expected. This guy does not make bad songs. And while he sticks pretty close to the North American brand of electro house, the young man from Atlanta has mad skills when it comes to mixing and making music. His remix of Kaskade’s “Turn it Down” (a favourite among all the songs I’ve blogged) sent the place mental. Madeon‘s set was incredible as well. He was well and truly representing, and you could see why the young Frenchman’s star has shot so high so fast.
My personal favorite set: Showtek. These guys are crazy. I’m not really a hardstyle fan, but they converted me. They’re an awesome bunch, both as artists and as people — but when the mic is on and the tables are turning, they morph into animals. I know hardstyle has its loyal fans, and I’m sure the genre gained a lot of new ones besides myself on Saturday. Can’t wait for you to see the footage our cameraman Middy captured. Epic!
So that’s the summer’s tally so far: Digital Dreams, Full Flex, Identity – all successes. Next up is the Mad Decent Block Party, which should make it four for four. This one’s free so be sure to get your ass down to Toronto’s Yonge & Dundas Square on Saturday July 28. Headlining: hometown heroes Zeds Dead! See you there.
Here we go again. Back to Echo Beach — this time to see a man who hasn’t traveled to Toronto … scratch that, Canada … no, wait, scratch that, North America … in 12 years. Eric Prydz is headling the Identity Festival in Toronto on Saturday, and I am amped.
I really don’t know what to expect. We’re talking about one of the pioneers of this genre. Somebody who was bending boundaries in the studio before the term EDM had even been invented. Who was making his mark as a live performer when DJs were still mainly associated with hip-hop acts. Who’d established the pseudonymous Cirez D as a household name well before alter egos became all the rage in dance music. Basically: if you’re in Toronto this Saturday there is only one destination.
And the awesome doesn’t stop with Pryda. Other heavy names featured at Identity include none other than Nero — currently number one on the bpm:tv Hot 20 Dance Chart with their single “Must Be The Feeling.” It’s a while since I’ve seen this UK duo perform, and I’m excited about how their sound has evolved. The latest album, Welcome Reality, has been a massive success, I’m looking forward to this set — not just to see the crowd’s reaction, but to hear their choice of remixes. Should be a performance to remember.
Then there’s Madeon and Le Castle Vania: Both young, both heavy electro — and both awesome. The 18-year-old Frenchman Madeon has built a rep in Europe as something of a prodigy, as been a favorite on BBC Radio 1 for quite a while now. The Atlanta-based Le Castle Vania, meanwhile, is part of the tide of fresh blood from North America blood sweeping across face of the EDM world. Both should be great sets, so be sure to check them out.
And then there’s Excision. Canada, stand up! The dubstep demon from Kelowna, BC will definitely be excited to play such a high-profile fest in his home country. And whenever you get a bass DJ hype to play for you … well, consider your pants soiled. Be prepared to get grimy.
So with all that said, I think it only fair that this week’s Sweets should showcase the artists performing at Identity. Enjoy!
A very late-breaking edition of Sweets of the Week here, tendered with apologies: what with the jam-packed summer schedule of festivals and events, it can sometimes be tough to get the weekly playlist assembled in time for Friday. But don’t you stress — I will always provide for my homies.
This week we hear a massssssssive new big-room track from Laidback Luke, which has owned my iPod for the past couple of days, plus new stuff from Toronto’s Dzeko and Torres, Riva Starr and Butch Clancy, aaaaaand a sexy, sultry ballad from Ellie Goulding. These taste sooooo good! Have at it, kids!
I can still remember the feeling I got when I first heard “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit.” I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by Fedde Le Grand – and on the brand new track “Sparks” we see him come together with another talented Dutch DJ, Nicky Romero, to deliver the quintessential club banger. Look out for this one: it’s sure to get your ears ringing and your body moving. Prediction: “Sparks” is going to be one of those progressive house tracks that defines the summer of 2012!
But it was local heroes A Tribe Called Red who really blew me away.
One of the benefits of a festival setting is the opportunity to discover an unknown act. Since hearing A Tribe Called Red perform live, I’ve become mildly obsessed, to the point of downloading their free album. For a taste of what these guys are like, CHECK OUT THEIR SOUNDCLOUD.
A Native Canadian trio, DJs Bear Witness, Shub and NDN are into “mixing pow wow with contemporary club sounds,” as their Web site describes it — but that understates their impact. Performance-wise, they juxtapose politically charged visuals of First Nations culture against remixes of Adele and UK bass drops. All in all, a bass-heavy set with some truly organ-shifting moments.
“The set felt good, though very different from a club gig where you have four hours to get it going,” they told me afterward. Still, the crowd clearly appreciated their hard work. “The applause at the end was overwhelming; I had Goosebumps on my arms.”
On the other Bluesfest stages that day, the acts included Orgone …
… Down with Webster for the shrieking pre-teen set (a suitably PG-13 set with no thrown underwear) …
.. and Seal — who, for all his MOR rep, delivered an impressive performance and remixed a lot of his hits (but, thankfully, stayed true to “Crazy”).
Day 5 Electro Stage closer Chromeo turned in the BEST set I’ve heard all week — one that will go down as one of the standout performances of this festival. Sunday’s crowd showed no signs of fatigue and “raved” harder than previous nights.
Dave 1 and P-Thugg were generous in their selection and full-on with their performance, even coming around from behind the decks a few times to join the party. “When The Night Falls” and “Heads Will Roll” were big favorites, but it was the extended full mix of Duck Sauce’s “Big Bad Wolf,” with accompanying visuals, that had everyone jumping and howling.
Toward the last half-hour, the set shifted gears into “Ball So Hard” and a steady hip-hop interlude featuring the likes of Kanye, DJ Khaled and Rick Ross. It all wrapped up stunningly and had the crowd begging for an encore — a sentiment clearly appreciated by the band — but once again the strictly enforced injunction against music after 11 pm left those hopes dashed.
More Bluesfest Electro Stage recaps still to come …