Pop Eye

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - Mike Usinger

With the sec­ond edi­tion of West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val on the hori­zon, let’s get primed by re­flect­ing on some of the nom­i­nees for the most-mag­i­cal-per­for­mance award at last week­end’s in­au­gu­ral SKOOKUM Fes­ti­val in Van­cou­ver’s Stan­ley Park.

Con­sider Florence Welch show­ing up on­stage on Satur­day not only barefoot, but also in a sheer dress, all on a cold and rainy night when sen­si­ble folks were swad­dled in three lay­ers of Gore-tex, two hood­ies, red flan­nel un­der­wear with the ass hatch, and DIY rain­coats fash­ioned out of Glad garbage bags. Or Mother Mother head wag Ryan Gulde­mond gaz­ing out onto a rain-pelted crowd on Sun­day af­ter­noon to quip that there’s noth­ing he loves more than a good down­pour be­cause it pro­vides life to all liv­ing things, in­clud­ing the trees, bushes, and grass-huf­fers in Stan­ley Park.

Or An­nie Clark (the gui­tar goddess known as St. Vincent) on Satur­day, when she put on a clinic in how to blend alt-rock badassery with straight-outta-soho art-pop cool. Stand­ing in a field and watch­ing St. Vincent on the gi­ant video screen, among thou­sands and thou­sands of en­rap­tured fans, was great enough to make you jeal­ous of those who can say “I saw her when…”. For Van­cou­ver fans, that was at the Lamp­lighter a decade or so ago, back when it was still a dive bar, and Clark was so amaz­ing on the small stage that you could al­most for­get the eye-wa­ter­ing stench of stale urine rolling out of the pre-ren­o­vated pub’s 100-year-old bath­room.

For true mu­sic junkies, catch­ing St. Vincent— or Mother Mother or Florence + the Ma­chine, or the White Stripes, Black Keys, or Lady Gaga, or (in­sert chart-top­ping star here)—on the way up is what makes for the kind of mem­o­ries that main­stream con­sumers will never have.

And that brings us to the bril­liance of West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, which serves up a bill that in­cludes soul­jacked Grammy nom­i­nee Kali Uchis, al­ter­na­tive–r&b artist Kelela, and genre-splic­ing Lon­don ex­pat Blood Orange in Van­cou­ver this week (Septem­ber 13 to 16). And let’s not over­look a stylis­ti­cally di­verse un­der­card that in­cludes ev­ery­thing from punk vi­sion­ar­ies Metz to A$AP Mob MC A$AP Twelvyy.

What all the above—along with the 100 or so other artists booked for West­ward—have in com­mon is that they’re play­ing some of the most beau­ti­fully in­ti­mate rooms in the city: the Vogue, Bilt­more, Rio, For­tune Sound Club, Rick­shaw, and Fox Cabaret. And by “in­ti­mate”, we mean places where you can get within a few feet of the peo­ple you’ve come to see. That’s an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than show­ing up at Rogers Arena or Deer Lake Park when the doors open and then camp­ing out all day at the front of the stage wear­ing ex­tra-ab­sorbent De­pends.

As easy as it is to for­get in an age when sta­di­um­sized stars are made overnight on Spo­tify and Ap­ple Mu­sic, rock ’n’ roll—not to men­tion soul, pop, and hip-hop—has al­ways been at its most dan­ger­ous and thrilling at ground level. Think Nir­vana open­ing for Sonic Youth at the old New York The­atre, rather than Nir­vana go­ing through the mo­tions while head­lin­ing the Fo­rum. Or Adele show­ing she was des­tined for su­per­star­dom at the Red Room.

Now in its sec­ond year, West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val is where you can get close enough to am­bi­ent Youtube sen­sa­tion Poppy at the Vogue to de­cide whether she’s a cy­ber-bot or a liv­ing, breath­ing or­gan­ism. (Check out Youtube’s “I am not in a cult”, where she speaks in the kind of weird, dead, child­like voice that leaves you think­ing “Hey, that bizarrely life­like ro­bot is in a cult.”)

Or watch Spain’s Bad Gyal pump a lit­tle ex­tra life into what’s left of sum­mer when she heats up the Im­pe­rial.

Or re­live a sub­genre that rev­o­lu­tion­ized rock ’n’ roll when Mud­honey gets sludge-tas­tic at the Rick­shaw.

As a bonus, West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val is—as its name sug­gests—a fes­ti­val, which means that it has an added perk: once you’ve pur­chased a wrist­band, how much you see de­pends en­tirely on your own stamina. And the best part is that, each time you leave the house, you’ll find it eas­ier to con­vince your­self there are bet­ter ways to spend a week­end than binge-watch­ing Game of Thrones.

West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val has tapped into the same thing that big bashes like SKOOKUM have, namely that mu­sic is a po­tent drug: the more you con­sume, the more you want. And when that drug is of­fered up in rooms where you’re close enough to make eye con­tact with a per­former, the high is at its most in­tense.

So get ready to make mem­o­ries at West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val—and, if you’re lucky, wake up Mon­day re­al­iz­ing “Holy shit—i think I just saw them when…”

West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val takes place at var­i­ous venues around Van­cou­ver from Thurs­day to Sun­day (Septem­ber 13 to 16). Go to west­ward­fest.com/ for the full sched­ule.

Kali Uchis plays the Or­pheum on Satur­day as part of the sec­ond West­ward Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

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