airbourne rifflandia

Rifflandia Festival @ Royal Athletic Park – September 11-14 2014

Royal Athletic Park:

With several years experience in Royal Athletic Park, Rifflandia’s central location eases the logistics of traveling to the festival. Unlike many other local festivals, Rifflandia allows concert goers to enter and exit the event at will. This year, the tree-lined park shone brightly over the enthusiastic concert goers and the late summer heat was tempered by a comfortable island breeze. Rifflandia’s format is simple: beautiful scenery, a convenient location, crystal clear acoustics- mix them up with a healthy dose of laid back island attitude and voila: Rifflandia has cultivated an ideal setting for an arts festival. Beyond the music, the festival provides concert goers with an assortment of activities and merchandise to partake in, such as showcases of poster artwork, hair stylists, a half pipe, an assortment of delicious food trucks and draft beer courtesy of Phillips Brewery. The local venders and restaurants, in such a picturesque setting, make Rifflandia a fantastic display not only for the wide variety of musical acts, but as a perfect send-off to summer for this gorgeous easy-going city.

Friday:

Split between two stages, Royal Athletic Park started Friday festivities with some indie rock. We Are Scientists, a New York trio with consistently catchy bass-driven rock numbers, played more than a few numbers off their debut record. Born Ruffians’ performance at the tent stage would be their first of two sets, the latter taking place later that evening within the exquisite acoustics of Alex Goodin Hall. The festival shifted to a heavier gear with Airborne, a raunchy gang of Australians whose sound mirrors AC/DC. Cracking a beer open with his head, vocalist/guitarist Joel O’Keeffe fired energy into a crowd still warming up to the weekend’s festivities.

After the electro-pop of Dragonette, headliner Serena Ryder took to the main stage. An Ontario born guitarist, Ryder wields exceptional versatility in a variety of musical styles. In her first three songs, Ryder led her band through shifting styles of rock, pop, R&B and classic soul. Following her opening number, Ryder teased the audience with the iconic “At Last” by Eta James. With a beaming smile, Ryder asked the audience “do you want to hear the rest?” and received an enthusiastic response. Though Ryder can perform multiple genres, a constant factor in her music is the overwhelming power of her beautiful smoky voice.

The open beverage policy, clear air and stunning colours of the sunset reinforced the love of local beauty. With the unavoidable stress associated with the crowds and traffic of large-scale music festivals, the relaxing nature of Rifflandia has a particular allure.

Saturday:

Rifflandia’s second day featured a balance of rock, hip hop and electronic dance music.

Les Butcherettes, a Mexican three piece with a savage approach to garage rock. Front woman Teri Gender Bender wore an apron stained with blood. Between shouts and screams in Spanish, Teri scuttled like a crab across the stage, consistently moving with frantic style. Last year, her other musical project, Bosnian Rainbows played an exceptional set at the same Rifflandia main stage. There were more stylish female artists to come. Sub Pop signed Dum Dum Girls have exquisite harmonies over well crafted songs.

The New Pornographers, a veteran group of indie rockers known to excel in their various solo capacities, played a sharp sounding set in the clean outdoor acoustics. Band member Neko Case was absent from the performance, but Victoria is particularly fond of her replacement Kathryn Calder. Calder appeared elated to be back in her hometown for a break from their tour and to play to her family and friends. Originally hired as a touring replacement for the sometimes absent Neko Case, Kathryn Calder’s contributions have grown increasingly prominent.

Producer/DJ Rusko provided some EDM music for the festival’s dance prone or party driven patrons.

Festival headliner Death Cab For Cutie’s set was particularly special. Beyond the scenic environment, quality sound and highly respectable band, this would be the final touring performance of founding member Chris Walla. Starting with the hypnotic driving bass of “I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab For Cutie showed themselves in fine form; their set included many fan favourites such as the contemplative “Grapevine Fires” and “Cath” from Narrow Stairs. The gentle evening dusk was an ideal setting for Ben Gibbard solo acoustic performance of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”. A dark and romantic love song obsessed with the passage into death, the song is an enduring fan favourite. The audience was further dazzled by the sight of a shooting star in the deep evening sky; the falling light brightly shone for several seconds, enough time for a sizable part of the audience to see the descending meteor and cheer in response. Death Cab’s set showed continued consistency. Prior to the start of the final song of the day, Ben Gibbard reminded the crowd that it was Chris Walla’s finale with the touring group. Beyond his resigned duties in Death Cab For Cutie, Walla has engineered and produced dozens of albums by groups including the Decemberists, The Long Winters, Nada Surf, and Hot Hot Heat. Closing his 17 year career with the highly distinguished north-western band, Chris Walla supplied a modest “Thank You” to the cheering audience before joining with his band mates for a touching group hug; after all they are a sentimental bunch.

Sunday:

The third and final day of Rifflandia’s park component included a shift in the usual balance of genres. Originally slated to play, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore cancelled their place at the festival and were replaced by the Funk Hunters, a Vancouver based hip-hop group appealing to the rap and electronic styles rather than rock. The usual rock-based alternative diet is shifting to accommodate the popularity of hip hop and electronic music; this year’s festival did not include a notable guitarist such as past acts J Mascis, Lee Ranaldo or Bosnian Rainbows’ Omar Rodriguez Lopez. Thurston Moore would have satisfied such a craving. An afternoon performance by minimalist electro pop band Lightning Dust, featuring Amber Webber and Joshua Wells of Black Mountain, had a cathedral-like quality with windows that let in natural light and provided a backdrop of evergreen trees. Other afternoon performers included Lowell, signed to the Arts&Crafts Record Label, who sings a bubbly carefree sort of pop over bright buzzing synth. Vancouver’s Dear Rouge played a style of electro pop rock that blurred the boundaries of pop, indie and electronic. Rounding out the rock aspect of the festival, Half Moon Run supplied their brand of ambient folk rock style and low-key vocal harmonies.

Showing stamina considering the effort of a weekend long festival, while there were some tired faces, the audience had saved plenty of energy for Girl Talk. Accessible mash-up producer Girl Talk opened his set with an explosion of confetti. The cut and paste, Frankenstein-like adaptations of popular music were especially stimulating during the rain of bright coloured paper. On the sides of the stage, tech crews fired toilet paper rolls into the audience with automatic launchers. Giant inflatable hands and a pair of blow-up sneaker shoes lined the stage next to a few dozen ecstatic dancers recruited from the audience; the stage show distracted many sets of eyes from the mostly stationary Greg Gillis and his mixing equipment. A highly dedicated audience, jumped, danced and swayed ecstatically; fans of more organic music less intrigued by Girl Talk were ready to head home after a fruitful three day festival.

Rifflandia 7

Reaching a record amount of attendees, Rifflandia continues to grow in size and notoriety. The festival, within its confines at Royal Athletic Park, has worked through many of its growing pains; the festival is a showcase of talent for local and notable touring bands. Being so close to the city, the open nature of the festival brings out many of the best aspects of the garden city. Between delicious food, unpretentious concert goers and a fun and accessible Day festival site, Rifflandia is a unique celebration that avoids the pitfalls of many modern music festivals. For those who have problems with massive crowds, travel logistics or festival attitudes, this event is perfectly suited. Reflecting much of the endearing seaside culture of Vancouver Island, Rifflandia is now a cherished institution for a stunning and unique city.

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