There is undeniable magic present at music festivals. Perhaps, a cliché statement seemingly belonging to an emergent hippie/hipster culture, yet once immersed within a festival, the magic is impossible to ignore. It minces about, invigorating sweaty chaotic bodies that boogie. It lingers, misting those who allow the music to whirl about them, solidifying their stance and delighting their ears. It drizzles down with the rain, brightens with the sunshine, and whistles with the wind.
This magic was ignited at Pigeon Hole’s performance on Rifflandia’s first night. The duo bounced across 9one9’s stage like a roman candle with rhymes shooting out like bright lights: quick and dirty. Pigeon Hole achieves that essential marriage of grimy and dark electronic beats to fast and often goofy lyrics. That unique juxtaposition between sounds creates a constantly excited crowd. Colin McCue and Lee Napthine bop about like little kids on pogo-sticks, hovering upon the edge of the stage, always interacting with the audience. McCue during ‘Wolf Pack’ made the audience compete through howling, frantically pointing at the right side, the middle, and then the left, demanding the release of inner wolves. Pigeon Hole encourages that release: hands need to be up, knees need to be bent, and hips need to shaken. As the closing song, Pigeon Hole played ‘Champion’, a song could lift dreary clouds on any grey day. The silly auto-tuned meowing chorus was the cotton candy after a thrashing roller coaster ride that whips you about with quick rhymes and dark bears and leaves you exhilarated and exhausted.
However, exhaustion has no place at a music festival. Part of the magic, is the body’s ability to withstand constant motion and movement. Rifflandia features forty-two musicians at fourteen venues over four days. These multiple venues are scattered about the city and offer that desired rare intimacy between artist and crowd. There is no giant stadium with assigned seating whose ushers discourage rambunctious dancing. Instead, Rifflandia invites the individual’s sporadic moves into nestled crowds, and that squeezing through people briefly parting to find the gap to dance within.
Market Square, one of the larger venues, still manages the creation of a spacious crowd. A divided dance floor separated those who have the overwhelming desire to swim to the front, often leaving a wake of sore toes and jostled ribs, with those with flailing limbs that require the extra room to avoid collision.
The Hood Internet, firstly draws one in with their curiosity inspiring name. What exactly does ‘Hood Internet’ entail? The question is answered once you hear the duo play glorious mash-ups of indie and rap. It isn’t the Girl Talk style with an orgy of catchy one-liners from top forty classics; it is a beautifully melding of genres. All flow in and out of one each other in one way or another. Who else can really successfully combine Phoenix’s ‘1901’ with R. Kelly’s ‘Ignition Remix’? The Hood Internet melding matches the diversity of Rifflandia’s crowd. It isn’t just various twenty year olds contorting around, it is all ages, (19+), enjoying the multi generational music.
The Funk Hunters share this diverse sound by remixing Fleetwood Mac, Red Hot Chili Peppers, alongside a constantly evolving electronic sound providing tastes of glitch-hop, dub-step, and house all throughout an hour set. Then, there’s the guitar that joins in the melee. The pair hunt for sounds like a child hunts for seashells upon a beach, slowly collecting various, perhaps slightly broken shells and placing them with a jar. The differences outshine the similarities, but every jar contains something different and the combination makes something beautiful every time. As the collection grows, it just gets better. The Funk Hunters also seem to have gained an institutional-type status in Victoria. Constantly playing shows, the majority of the audience had seen them before, yet had come back for more. The Funk Hunters spread the magic with their infectious remixes ordering a hunt for the best dance moves. People were dancing when waiting for the washroom and when standing in line for drink tickets and beer. This is the festival magic, within a show that never leaves people standing still.
After falling asleep with The Funk Hunters playing in my head, Friday’s shows removed the energetic funk and brought the waves with indie surf band Current Swell. The band played at Royal Athletic Park’s Rifftop Tent at 6:45 and crooned gentle swaying lyrics coupled with an intricate trio of guitar strumming and soft drums. Current Swell perform what they see the most: the ocean. They build momentum by forming curly riffs that invite you in. Their sound can crash over you or it can shyly lick at your toes. Their song, ‘I Want A Bird’ perfectly captivates the west coast landscape. That experience of sitting on the beach and watching the waves crash and birds fly. Current Swell’s sound transports you to that west coast place among the trees and ocean.
Next was Courtney Love, a celebrity I’ve heard about my entire life. I imagine most of the nineties generation has. Ironically, I never had actively sought out her music, just had the knowledge of her on stage antics like flashing the crowd or taking off her panties midway through a set. Even Rifflandia’s posters promoted Courtney Love, when her band is called Hole. I contained the ignorance that Hole was an album of Courtney Love’s. The band commonly falls behind the figurehead; both in listing and performance. courtney love is the full moon in a nights sky, luminescent with bleach blonde hair and porcelain skin. She emits a sound unlike any other female singers at Rifflandia: rough, raw, and scratchy. A satisfying sound, like a velcro release. ‘Skinny Little B’ peeled from the speakers causing the crowd to grab and thrash with this aged grunge sound. courtney love still clings to her notorious fame by screaming at the crowd: “are we fucking good?” and demanding chants of “Courtney Love” to echo through the park before returning for an encore performance. This egotistical behavior is as unapologetic as Love is in taking off her panties midway through the set, it is the expectation and she exceeds it.
After the last Royal Athletic Park show played, a mass migration occurred after to Victoria’s downtown for the night venues. However, the lines wrapped around street corners like Christmas presents underneath a tree. Each venue was meet with a sense of excitement that changed into frustration as the waiting grew longer and longer. Time was wasted in the search for a venue without any wait. Eventually the frustration was appeased with Beth Orton performing at Alix Goolden Hall.
Orton’s acoustics paired with breathy lyrics provided a lullaby for the sleepy audience. Each person sat quietly within the pews, simply watching one woman with a guitar. The simplicity was the perfect end to Rifflandia’s Friday night.
Rifflandia’s Saturday began with the booming presence of Charli 2na of Jurassic Five. The man’s voice is molasses dripping from juicy speakers; deliciously sweet and sticky as melts into the audience, soaking up the anticipation felt. Charli 2na raps alongside an electric guitarist, keyboardist, and drummer; all who provide the simplistic funk that rafts the melodic verses down a groovy river. 2na calls for the crowd to raise fists and voices to Jurassic Five’s ‘Freedom’ as the group’s presence is felt through just one member. It’s that rich, yet light, energy that creates a permanent bounce to the crowd and is carried around all day.
Rob Garza’s DJ set took the next Rifftop Tent slot with channeling a theme to Rifflandia’s lineup with the fragmentation of groups: it wasn’t LCD Soundsystem playing together, but each DJ performing separately, it wasn’t Jurassic Five, it was Charli 2na, and it wasn’t Thievery Corporation, it was Rob Garza. This isolation allowed for one to piece together the significance of a group collective in music. Rob Garza identifies himself as belonging to the space or deep disco genre, whereas Thievery Corporation is an electronic combination of dubstep, acid jazz, and other international categories. Rob Garza played a dreamy synth-y set, filled with fractals of cymbal echoes and cyclical beats. The space disco genre is apt as Garza’s set could easily accompany an inter-galactic film as the narrative soundtrack. Garza’s set was a compilation of rowdy relaxation, allowing the crowd to restore energy for Death From Above 1979.
Death From Above 1979’s crowd was a sight to behold. While moshing is a normative experience at a rock concert, the mosh pit participants were insanely gleeful as they shoved and pushed to two men dominating instruments with ease upon stage. There is a casual element to Death From Above 1979, a relaxed posture is adopted when the deep riffs and quick racketing drums shake up the crowd. Their turbulent energy comes not from themselves, but from their playing. ‘Black History Month’ and ‘Romantic Rights’ were static electricity gathering shock as the incredible sound continued from just two people.
This ending show left the crowd lingering for encores and a continued performance. However, the night venues were calling out with Phillips Brewery Backyard boasting Souls of Mischief.
Souls of Mischief had a similar effect to Charli 2na with debauched sounds pouring from the stage and high energy causing the whole crowd to bounce along and get down and dirty.
Despite Souls of Mischief’s entertaining performance, Kid Koala at Alix Goolden Hall drew a large portion of the crowd away from their set. Kid Koala is a magician. Flappers were plucked from side stage: decked in white leotards with feather fans, and enticing the crowd to come closer. Restrictive pews frustrated as aisle dancing is not permitted. Luckily, Kid Koala permanents with his power, instructing the crowd to embrace their inner four year old. A silly instruction to bend and close hands, then stretch and open them was reminiscent of the head and should song. This childish performance that accompanied sophisticated jazzy remixes, nurtured infectious silliness commonly absent from shows.
Sunday arrived with the rain’s promise to pour. Undaunted, crowds filtered through Royal Athletic Park early for The Ballantynes beginning show, which was a shaker. Their old fashioned musical style of rocking gospel awoke the sleepy crowd with a start. Lead singer and keyboardist, Jarod Odell leapt about with high kicks and spunky hip shakes. The band’s apparent desire is to set afire a desire to make trouble, and they succeed. Their opening noon spot was the perfect start to Rifflandia’s last day. The jumpy quick tempo and soulful female vocals hinted at the afternoon delights.
Following The Ballantynes was Rykka. A decent performance, yet songs quickly followed a generic pattern; an interesting beginning with an unusual sound effect, and then a rousing chorus, which was entertaining but quickly became tiring.
Sunday was essentially Rifflandia’s peak with alternating performances of Beats Antique, Matt and Kim, and finally, beautifully, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.
There’s something about Beats Antique tribal drums and ascending violin that causes my hands to glue together in prayer position. That sexy and earthy quality inspires sensual hips, especially when rain is pouring down. Beats Antique covered Daft Punk’s newest single ‘Get Lucky’, which exemplifies their incredible mastery of sound, everyone automatically provided the chorus while the music played, no direction required. Following this exceptional cover was the remix of Bassnectar’s ‘Voodoo’. This remix is euphoric; trumpet teases, bass bellows, and violin vilifies. The crowd slowly expanded to the outskirts of the tent, not caring about rain and wetness, just desiring a space to fantasize about a belly dancing career.
Big Boi followed, but was no match for the energy generated at Beats Antique. The crowd seemed to hunger for the continuation of uncontainable energy, which was soon to arrive with Matt and Kim’s performance.
Matt and Kim did not disappoint. I was warned about their antics and playful energy, yet I was blown away. During ‘Daylight’ Kim instructed the men in the front row to raise their hands and then proceeded to walk across them and booty shake. The magic was there, with just two people performing a song about beautiful daylight while heavier drops fell and lightning flashed over the mountains.
Seeing Edward Sharpe and Magnetic Zeroes perform the closing show at Rifflandia differed dramatically from their performance during the day at Sasquatch. The dusky setting complete with a squishy crowd created a slightly less communal feeling. In addition, Alexander (aka Edward Sharpe) apologized for having the flu, thus the joyful masculine voice was absent or faint throughout the set. The band still performed admirably, yet the missing energy was apparent. There was no bouncing on stage with ‘40 Day Dream’, instead just smaller leaps and bops to ‘That’s What’s Up’, and low-key renditions of ‘Truth’. However, the always ending ‘Home’ threw out the magic collected throughout the festival. Alexander and Jade ask for a story in place of the recording’s dialogue of the two falling in love, and one man simply said: “This summer I traveled up and down North America and up and down my soul. I decided that I was going to either die or make music, and I figured it out. I’m going to make music until I die”. This simple story encapsulates the magic within all festival’s performance: the active choice to delight oneself and others with music.
Rifflandia Photos © Daniel Rochat