Nuit Blanche: Bringing new light and humanization to downtown

nuit blanche

By Ben Hollihan

There was a strong reinfusion of non-hockey goer life in Edmonton’s downtown this weekend. Nuit Blanche, Edmonton’s version of the all-night art festival that began in Paris during 2002, was on Saturday night. Well, Saturday night to Sunday morning. This year’s festival went on from 7pm-7am, with thirty projects divided into ten large installations in the theme of Light and Illumination, focussing on gentrification, and the cost of beauty in our city. The festival spanned a large portion of central downtown, from 96th Street in Chinatown to the EPCOR tower. The projects ranged from giant interactive projections to spinning lights, a tunnel of spiral glow to experimental electroacoustic music. Another installation was titled Vignettes, a series of different spaces filled with art inspired by Jay-Z to Alice in Wonderland.

I had a chance to sit down with the Board, Chair, and President of Nuit Blanche Edmonton, Todd Janes, to talk about the festival last Friday. If you do not know Todd’s name yet, you will soon. Over the past 3 years, Nuit Blanche Edmonton, under the guide of Janes, has been involved with Edmonton Design Week, Edmonton Culture Week, and their own separate festivals, which have attracted thousands of people cumulatively. Over the phone, we discussed the history of Nuit Blanche in Edmonton, the inception of the festival stemming from Todd, his two friends, and a late night of drinking- as good ideas often do- in 2013. The idea behind bringing Nuit Blanche to Edmonton was in part due to a feeling that many of the larger festivals had grown stale and lost their charm, it having been replaced with dollar signs. (looking at you, Folk Festival). Why name it after a pre-existing French festival though? Ideally, for recognition of the similarities between the two. An independent, globally interconnected grassroots festival. And a festival based on filling the night with light fits perfectly into Edmonton’s long dark winters.

There is something about Edmonton art that never fails to bring the city together. Janes recalled how even the first year brought out over 50,000 people. In the past there was always a large number of new families and new Canadians alongside the young (and old) hip, art-going crowd.  Janes talked about “quintessential moments” of the festival, moments when the magic of being present in a large crowd, all flocking to observe and absorb the art, brought Edmontonians closer together, such as the seizing of the street by pedestrians in 2015.

One of the issues that Janes wanted the festival to address was that of gentrification that is currently occurring in our downtown core. Janes mentioned how people are often suspect of contemporary art, and for good reason. Artists are so often viewed as a detached and privileged folk who become more concerned with fame and fortune than creating authentic art. It is ensured to be free. The idea is that these installations allowed us to view our downtown core differently, to examine the cost and meaning of developing (or forcing) beauty in our downtown core. Ideally, Janes hoped that we could learn more from our city by walking it, to humanize what is now becoming a downtown flooded with corporate glass giants.Janes mentioned one of the most important aspects of this festival for him, is to create accessible art that brings everyone together. This art is as much something to enjoy as it is something to make you think. Free through grants and sponsors, meant for everyone, and intended to be without pretention, this is more of the art that Edmonton needs if we wish to keep the spirit of our city alive during a time of immense change to our architecture and core.


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Live Review: Bring Your Headphones at the Bleeding Heart Art Space

Bleeding Heart Art Space (Photo by Kali Wells)

by Ben Hollihan

The concept of a bring your own headphones show was a strange and almost comic one for me. It conjures up images of headphone discos, glow sticks and the sound of heavy breathing and squeaking shoes for anyone not plugged in. Bring Your Headphones, an event put on by record label Mangled Tapes, in tandem with a show promotion and curation organization Sweaty Palms, both based in Edmonton, was nothing like that. It could hardly be called a music performance at all, but rather a live and spontaneous art installation.

With my photographer, Kali Wells, I showed up at Bleeding Heart Art Space in the heart of Edmonton’s downtown a few hours before the show began and to much dismay, we could not locate the venue. Feeling suddenly like an alien in my hometown, we wandered around for twenty minutes, checking between Google Maps and the street signs, before noticing the small bleeding heart logo in a otherwise nondescript doorway. Unbeknownst to us, Bleeding Heart Art Space was literally that, a small art gallery, not exactly ideal for live performances, but as we were shown, it was the perfect venue for an event like this.

We ascended the stairs into a tiny room, one in which forty people would have at capacity. Hanging on the bleach white walls, illuminated by a low winter sun, was an art installation, Contemporary Relics, by Dominika Koziak. There were four or five long tables, each with their own amp heads that were all hooked-up to a master, providing plenty of opportunities to plug in and listen. Shuffling about the room, setting up chairs, projector, and ensuring all the amps were connected and working were Matthew Belton (Westfalia) and Mustafa Rafiq (Family Injera), the organizers and performers of the event. Belton and Rafiq paced around the room, plugging in equipment and testing gear, I chatted a bit with them about who they are and their music and the idea behind putting on this show. Rafiq spoke about his history of being involved with theatre before being fully converted—following an experience with the Japanese band Mono at a psychedelia festival in Austin—to a life dedicated to promoting and performing experimental music.

“[They] completely changed the way I thought about music,” said Rafiq.

For Rafiq and Belton, ambient music shifts from a perfectly rehearsed package in which performers follow a set structure and have total knowledge of what comes next, to a more visceral one, where the music comes alive through total improvisation. Both of these musicians also work heavily in the music industry outside of performing, by producing, tracking, and curating events for things like Found Festival, Nextfest, or for their own companies, Sweaty Palms and Mangled Tapes. show time approaching, the performers made final adjustments, and the projectionist, Courteney Morin, ensured that all presets were in place to have creative freedom with projection. The mish-mash of cords and technical instruments slowly found their way into a configuration with chairs surrounding the circumference of the room, water provided for all, and at the head of the room a table full of gear and laptops. As the chatter in the room died down, everyone ensured that their headphones were plugged in (despite clearing out every Long and McQuade in the city for amp heads, we still had to make more inputs using splitters), volume was adjusted, the room breathed in anticipation, and the music begun.

Rafiq’s (Family Injera) set was guitar-based which he then processed live. The music had a distinct post-rock feel as his songs started from nothing but, by layering guitar and synths, slowly built to a climax. Belton’s (Westfalia) was more digitally focused and included a standout use of distinguished percussion, mostly comprised of what sounded like a Roland 808 or 909. Cardinal and Kris Burwash (aka K. Burwash) were the night’s other two performers. Cardinal’s set was more edgy, with less building and more repetition. The tones were smooth in timbre, but the shifts from tone to tone had a quicker, sharper quality to them, punctuated to an abrupt end to the set. It shifted the feel of the music from drone to a more groove based electronic sound. K. Burwash, who was up last, had a set comprised of clean, cool tones that modulated frequently, not seeming to stay on any one pitch for too long. the sets were haunting and hypnotic with sounds and tones that ranged from crystal clear pitches to muddy noise, played over one another, cycled again and again, and with no clear start or end to any track. Working hand in hand with Morin’s projections, the performances created a relaxed, meditative state in the room as all eyes and ears were taken over.

Morin’s mesmerizing projections were cast on a large blank wall directly behind each performer. What initially began as a small spectacle art space, grey laminate floors boxed in by four white walls, had become an intriguing and unusual performance space, cables snaking around tables and everyone watching seated people create art. The projections varied from looped textured grids of hills to mirror images of clouds, incurring a feel of hypnotic transcendence, or perhaps a feeling of connection with true reality.

Seeing the sounds on screen (Photo by Kali Wells)

Before the show began, Rafiq told me that too often shows become more about being seen and about how he had to take a step back from some Edmonton shows. “These shows should be about the music, not about who is there. The community was getting too exclusive, too much,” he said.

Bring Your Headphones was a night celebrating art. It had a familiar DIY punk tinge of many Edmonton based shows, yet everyone there felt more comfortable about being there, allowing themselves to solely focus on letting everything go through the means of drone and projection. Everyone was there to have their own, separate but connected experiences with the music. A refreshing take on building a music community for all ages, something that Sweaty Palms very strongly encourages.

Review – “Good Cake” – Akage No Anne

reviewed by Ben Hollihan

Good Cake, the new release from Toronto’s Akage No Anne, is a wild ride.  The band’s members- Yoshihide Nakajima, Fran Copelli, Tom Dunbar, and Bill Bedford- channel their inner pastel coloured souls in an attempt to communicate something a bit heavier. The 80’s Japanese aesthetic seems to be everywhere right now. It started to seep in from the fringes of vaporwave and internet culture to slowly soak into everything present in the musical underground. The four track release gives you plenty of this as Akage No Anne combines the goofy sounds of drum machines with ballad style lyrics to create a sound that is unusual, to say the least. But certainly not bad.

This release is about a break-up, and fundamentally about barriers. Barriers between us and others, us and ourselves, and the musician and listener. Upon the first few listens, what really stood out was the kind of ironic disguise. The whole album seems to be stemming from the concept of something meant to come off as self-aware, but is really only doing so as a sort of defence mechanism. Akage No Anne shifts from half-joking towards vulnerable and serious and back constantly throughout the release, the samples and synthesizers often adding the humorous element in while the guitars and lyrics anchor our attentions back to the emotional centre.

We are introduced to the EP by the title track through the echoing bounce and smooth timbre of synthesizers slowly building with the addition of a drum machine. Eventually a guitar chimes in, and that’s when the first shift towards an introspective album is clear, the vocals about breaking up and leaving each other close behind. It is a gradual start from the first impression of being a groovy mindless release into what makes up the majority of the album, stories of tough memories and the fear of loneliness.

“Robot Philosophies” is an amazing track about the need to be on your own, but the fear of the total freedom and lack of direction that comes with it.  The titular robot’s “life has meaning when the lights go green” – they only safe when they are in the company of someone they feel comfortable giving themselves over to, not able to withstand the idea of being alone and having no one to be controlled by.

Good Cake closes out with the “Play”, which strikes me as a love song, coming full circle into no longer being alone, but instead the opposite conflict that occurs when feelings are too one sided. It completes an album arc about break-ups and barriers, as the release touches on love, control, alienation, and loneliness.

On Good Cake‘s Bandcamp page, each track’s info is a little poem of sorts, which perfectly fits into the idea of using ironic humour or aloofness as a cover for legitimate emotions. Each liner note gives you an initially confusing yet intriguing introduction to the song. I found the more I listened to each track the more I could piece together what Akage No Anne was trying to convey with each piece of writing. I think that they are definitely worth a read, if only to get a glimpse into the mysterious and conflicted world of Akage No Anne.

Top Track: “Robot Philosophies”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Review – “Deception Bay” – Milk & Bone

reviewed by Ben Hollihan

Deception Bay, the synth-powered pop album from Montreal’s Milk & Bone, made up of Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin, has had a perfectly timed release. Sent out into the world during an icy cold snap amidst the warmer, albeit dark depths of a Canadian winter. It is an album of precise, calculated production that meshes with the honest warmth and vulnerability of their vocals. The subject matter however, is never as enchanting or relaxing as Milk & Bone’s singing, instead they choose to venture into the reliable but painful gold mine of songwriting: the changes we undergo as we transition from our formative years to the permanence of adulthood; the memories and scars we gather along the way to now.

The release has an extremely cohesive sound, occasionally bordering on repetitive. It is as though Milk & Bone are trying to convey the idea that these memories, these reflections, are all stemming from a single source; the same voice is recollecting each emotional scar and channelling it into the tracks on the release. They all share an ethereal, airy quality, achieved through the heavy use of synths and the occasional solitary grand piano, dreamy, breathy vocals and percussion in a groovy style akin to relaxed club beats.

The perfect phrase to describe it is one coined by Milk & Bone in the release: “I just can’t forget that crazy hazy tenderness.” (“KIDS”)  It constantly feels as though the narrator of these stories is getting lost in thought as they further dive into the past, slowly fading away from us. It is an album for remembering the past, not living in the present.

Deception Bay manages to sink a hook into the listener at the beginning with some interesting melodic lines which range from dull warble to sharp pangs, powerful lyrics about childhood and innocence, and a vibe that makes you want to get up and sway along to the songs. It gets off to a strong start with “Set in Stone” and “Daydream”, two tracks full of original twists on the dreamy synthpop trend, if only for the lyrics and unique use of low-fidelity sounding synths mixed in with high quality production. By the title track it has begun to drift dangerously far into pop generic-ism. From that point it settles into more familiar pop music territory. Not a disappointment, but not really challenging or exceedingly interesting either. For some this is exactly what they may be looking for in an album to listen to as they relax alone.

There is a very thin line that Milk & Bone is towing between drawing on material from past pop albums and shaping it into their own interesting, emotionally charged sound. While they do not achieve on every track, when they nail it, they really do nail it.

Top Tracks: “KIDS”; “Set in Stone”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Review – “~11~” – kraft 海 dayle

reviewed by Ben Hollihan

Kraft Dinner is simple, understated, and has some dedicated fans. It’s cheap, quite unhealthy to regularly eat it, and can be quite repetitive. Yet it’s loved for all these reasons. When a box of Kraft Dinner is torn open, an silent voice heard by all tells you exactly what you’re in for, a low quality, albeit delicious meal. It speaks to a certain lifestyle, an atmosphere that instantly comes to mind when the image of eating KD out of the pot is presented. A hazy, goofy feeling of nostalgia, of our lives when things were simpler (life only seems to go one direction in that respect, constantly complicating) or at least when things weren’t as they are now. Lo-fi hip hop is exactly the same, a simple, tasty morsel that appeals to a specific mood and emotional landscape.

~11~, a new project from Oshawa’s kraft 海 dayle, fits this mold perfectly with their fresh release. The formula on this album, like KD, is straightforward and loveable; take a 27 track tape, each one rarely running over ninety seconds, comprised of deep kicks, cracking fat snares, swinging hi hats, fuzzy melodies, A Tribe Called Quest and other anonymous vocal samples, throw in some interludes, and put a heavy compression over it all to bring out the low end in the sounds. This yields one bumping, self-aware tape full of political and personal weight. On this specific release, what you do get is an example of just how appealing and enjoyable this formula can be.

I haven’t heard many beat tapes that have hooked me with the very first track. They’re far and few between, and dayle has definitely created one, opening with a quote about genderfluidity to give us an insight into their thoughts and life, and then immediately launching into “mom”, a standout beat, which starts off with a short piano loop followed by a heavy thumping bass drum just a few seconds in, setting the tone for an album of whimsical short beats full of colour and bright sounds. The constant references to Kraft Dinner throughout the tape reinforces a humorous examination of identity, and perhaps even a knowledge of the tapes existence as a perfect summary of the lo-fi hip-hop genre.

What makes this tape stand out, aside from the amazing sampler beatcraft, is the personal connections and political statements that dayle has put into the liner notes, song titles, and interludes, infusing the tracks with these thoughts. It accentuates this release as a deeply emotional soundtrack for their lives. It gives the listener a different perspective to know that these positive, groovy beats were spawned out of a love and passion for dayle’s life and the people in it.

~11~ is a low-fidelity, half-serious take on serious issues. Its creative use of loops and snares, kicks and hi hats all come together perfectly in each beat, and while all the tracks are quite similar upon first listen, eventually the nuances of each one comes through, whether that be from the differing patterns of syncopation, or the unique melody phrases. Sometimes we all need a reminder that life is, after all, not so bad, despite all the problems we might face. And this tape is exactly that.

Top Tracks: “mom”, “obowl”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Review – “steady phase” – steady phase

reviewed by Ben Hollihan

Music and time are inherently linked. Specifically music and the passage of time as it gets entangled with memories, emotions and events in your life. Music is a vehicle to be used to travel through your life, whether or not you want to. It causes involuntary memory. For some it can be a scary, painful thing, and for others it is a nostalgic and exciting idea to sit in the passenger seat as music takes the wheel. steady phase, an EP from Victoria’s steady phase (a new project from Germany Germany’s Drew Harris), explores this concept perfectly. The title of the EP itself frames the release as an exploration of the phases of life and relationships we move throughout. Each track is, in its own way, a perspective on one of these phases.

“track one/ present” opens up the EP with thumping drums, a hopeful, optimistic guitar riff, and contented synth lines. About halfway through, the drums on the track begin to  syncopate and bounce around, creating an almost whimsy. It generates an exciting feeling of being at the start of something, the “present”, and knowing that the only direction you want to move in is forward. In “track two/ trust” steady phase sends us into a steadier pulse-like rhythm of 808’s. During the B section of the track, vast, reverb heavy guitar and synth leads in combination with the constant drums puts us at the moment the excitement of life settles down and we fall into a routine, beginning to build a comfortable trust. It all comes together to form a track that is predictable yet comforting, as though you’ve heard it before.

steady phase skips right to a bittersweet and peaceful sounding “fade” for the last track, intentionally missing the messiness that transpires as change occurs and we move on. Harris leans heavily on the drums and synth in this track, leaving out guitar, creating a resonant, wistful sound. A pensive synth loop closes the EP, almost as if it is reminiscing and reflecting on the release as a whole. Leaving out the pain and end of a life-phase points to an optimistic and perhaps lacking perspective on things; who wouldn’t want to go past the height of comfort and trust with all- yourself included- in life, and immediately into a fading and forgetting of the phase? Pain would be left out, but so would a crucial feeling that life has to offer.

Part of the brilliance is that these three tracks, all displaying the rise and fall of a life event, can be applied to any infinite number of them that we experience. Although the three tracks are quite similar upon first listen, the shifts in between each one are worth putting the effort into picking up on. The subtle feeling of empathy created lets us step into steady phase’s shoes, or anyone’s, for that matter.

Top Track: “track two/ trust”

RatingStrong Hoot (Good)

Review- “counter productive resolutions & demos from south east edmonton”- Aladean Kheroufi

reviewed by Ben Hollihan 

This harrowingly self-aware three-track EP from Edmonton’s Aladean Kheroufi manages to somehow perfectly capture the divide between wanting to grow up and hanging onto young recklessness. Calling a forgotten someone because of a bittersweet dream about them and feeling the nostalgia rekindle your connection. It brings to mind a worn out slinky with no spring left, yet you can’t stop playing with it; it above all still knows how to relax down the stairs. Sad, but still fun.

Kheroufi summarizes and uses lo-fi dreamy pop as a tool to paint a vivid picture of his emotional states through time. The second track of his EP, “Reeling,” is a perfect example, with hazy vocals telling a story of night time reminiscing of a relationship gone wrong. The pain sits cozily amidst upbeat drums, warm keys and slinky guitar riffs. An extreme vulnerability is wrapped in the safety of the other instruments.

What stands out on this EP is Kheroufi’s lyrical ability to blend irony, humour, and loneliness into a mixture that anyone can immediately understand.  The third track draws comparisons between our own personal problems and plans with those of an entire ideology. “You, me, and the American dream, know it was never meant to be” Kheroufi lazily sings on “American Dream,” highlighting our tendency to feel as though our own issues are just as impacting and important as any others, because to us, they are. The EP resolves calmly, and in the last moment a happy yell is heard to remind us to stop being so self-pitying, that it’s time to get our head out of the past and start living a bit already.

counter productive resolutions & demos from south east edmonton is truly is an EP that needs to be listened to whenever the fear of being human strikes. You’ll see what I mean.

Top Track: “Reeling”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)