Islanders love their music. If you want evidence, look to the many grass-rooted musical festivals that happen all over Vancouver Island each summer. The locals certainly know how to have a good time; after so many years of successful festivals, live music culture has become a central aspect of the city’s identity as well as a favourite pastime for tourists and visitors. Rifflandia is perhaps the most notable example of Victoria’s homespun festival scene; it’s good fun close to home.
Now in it’s 8th year, Rifflandia is long finished with the immediate pains of getting established and is now cherished as an institution. It’s an obvious observation; with such charming character, delicious eateries, pubs, parks and easy access, Victoria is a perfect city for a music festival. The thousands of festival attendees, many of them yearly festival attendees, happily scuttled around the city. The festival is split between daytime performances out at the tree-lined Royal Athletic Park and various bars, event centres and music halls throughout the city.
Friday’s performances at Royal Athletic Park included The Dears, a talented Montreal group well respected within Indie rock circles. While this was their first Rifflandia appearance, keyboard player Krandle and guitarist Krief have each hit the festival with their solo projects; the band is something of a supergroup and a prime example of overlooked Canadian talent.
New York art rock trio Blonde Redhead more than satisfied a swelling audience. Splitting vocal duties between Kazu and Amedeo, the chemistry of Blonde Redhead was electric as the two guitarists drifted in performance in front of florescent pictures of tropical fruit. Formed in the early ‘90s, Blonde Redhead have made consistently amazing records for over twenty years and are still growing. Closing out their set with a couple of favourites, “Spring By Summer Fall,” and “23,” Blonde Redhead proved that while largely overshadowed by dance-able, radio-friendly material, profound artistic expression is alive and well, check out their latest record, Barragain.
Back at the Rifflandia main-stage, Jazz Cartier, a self-produced Toronto-based raper, energized fans of urban music with his over the top energy. Cartier often climbed into the crowd or stood perched atop of the shoulders of security guards to better savour the chemistry of the enthusiastic crowd.
The threat of a “Rainlandia” was a major concern going into the festival. Although there was the odd shower and a fair share of overcast clouds, the festival was mostly unaffected by the weather. A more pressing concern was the cancellation of Friday’s dance-friendly headliners Chromeo, who had to cancel out of sickness. A Tribe Called Red and the Arkells filled the void, although a few dance-oriented members of the audience were a bit disappointed, the festivities continued. With such a relaxing and laid back festival atmosphere, it doesn’t always matter who is playing on the stages; Rifflandia is also about socializing. People dressed as bananas, beer bottles or squid frolicked in the audience throughout the weekend.
Saturday featured another mix of artists who could be classified either as indie, electronic or both. While formally a bastion of independent bands and songwriters, the larger electro-dance were a large component of the festival’s lineup. Big Data, a hybrid indie/electro-pop band dazzled the afternoon audience with both a male and female vocalist and a rhythm section who wore broad smiles for the entirety of their performance. For many fans, Rifflandia is a place to discover new artists through the lively magic of performance. Big Data proved to be one of this year’s standout artists. Modest Mouse proved to be the formidable headliner that the festival’s fans expected. Some folks were to surprised to that Isaac Brock wasn’t really all that drunk, the Modest Mouse frontman has something of a reputation for wildness. A notable North-Western band, Modest Mouse was a nice feather in the cap of the festival. Locally, Modest Mouse are almost a house hold name; once as a small, under the radar indie group, the band played a bar in Victoria promoting an album called the Moon and Antarctica. Times have changed.
Sunday’s park performances featured a slew of notable garage rock bands like Tacocat and the extensively energetic Hollerado, who have a particular passion for fun and juvenile surf rocker. Neon Indian dazzled the attendants keeping dry in the Rifftop tent; music festivals are getting severely electronic in composure. On the rockier is of the spectrum, Julian Casablanca & the Voidz unleashed a bizarre wave of clunky, psychedelic-inspired jams. Though Casablanca continued to sing in his signature crone, the spirited act could be described as a little unfocused.
Local indie rock/pop favourites Mother Mother graced the park with the final set of 2015; Mother Mother should be no strangers to any Vancouver Island concert goers- the band has repeatedly played Rifflandia and Rock the Shores. The group by no means puts on a bad show, on the contrary, they performed promising new cuts, rearranged old favourites and pulled one of the best Pixies covers you’d ever heard, however, they simply aren’t new and exciting. While Rifflandia has come a long way since its modest inception, Victoria’s music community has the right to demand a very high quality of entertainment. With all due respect to Mother Mother, Rifflandia ought to strive to bring promising artists to the Island who have not yet experienced the city’s charming appetite for musical culture.
All in all, with the rain, redundant or cancelled headliners and increased expectations after so many years of successful music festivals, Rifflandia 2015 was not the festival’s best inception by any means. Regardless of hiccups or weather, the town turned out in droves, had plenty of fun running around town and socializing. Rifflandia is a local treasure that still shows plenty of sparkle.