A Tribe Called Red and more electrify closing night of Westward Music Festival

A Tribe Called Red, Hannah Georgas, Too Many Zooz, and Clairmont the Second at Venue Nightclub, 9/17/17

Photo courtesy of Timothy Nguyen
Photo by Timothy Nguyen

Soul reigned supreme at the Vogue on Saturday, but Sunday at Venue was all about dancing. A Tribe Called Red, Hannah Georgas, Too Many Zooz, and Clairmont the Second each made the audience move, but they all brought beats and rhythms that were distinctly their own.

Toronto rapper Clairmont the Second opened the night in front of a small legion of loyals. That or the early crowd was hip hop fans starved for a fresh act in their town. Either way, Clairmont had no problem commanding them. When he threw his gangly arms in any direction, everyone else did too. When he jumped, everyone else did too. They even knew or caught onto and sang along with the “No Favors” line “That right there cost money.” If anyone thought he needed to cut back on shouting “Hands up” and “I can’t hear you,” save it; he’s well aware: “I’m my own hype-man. I get my own crowd amped. I go so hard onstage I give myself cramps,” he raps on “Accident”.

Judging by the crowd’s reaction, you either love Too Many Zooz or you despise them. Even then, the dissenters at Venue were few. The group, which started as a busking act in New York City’s subway stations, blurted out five songs that contained so many movements, Zooz’ set felt longer than the 40 minutes it actually was. The first song alone climaxed probably 30 times with zero breaks, each more powerful than the last. (Sound like a good time?)

At the onset of Too Many Zooz’ opening sandy blasts of sax and trumpet, backed by a single multi-tasking percussionist, I already overheard a dissenter bemoan, “This is kinda stressful.” It’s easy to see how the band’s relentless stomp and their songs’ uninhibited acceleration can induce such anxiety. At the very least, Too Many Zooz got those audience members thinking about their own lung capacities and going to the gym. It’s difficult to feel like you have a valid excuse to sink into the bog of your couch when the band is basically blowing for 30 minutes straight AND gyrating against (and licking) their instruments AND throwing bicycle kicks.

Vancouver’s Hannah Georgas filled a much-needed cool-down slot with her comparatively chill indie pop. She didn’t clear the floor (far from it), but it did become less dense. Those who stuck around (or moved up) enjoyed her Robyn-esque dance tunes including “Evelyn”, the understated “Fantasize”, the hook-heavy “Shortie”, and more. Songs like the expansive “Don’t Go” provided spacious breaths of fresh air in themselves, opportunities for the crowd to decompress. No need to catch your breath outside, at the bar, or with a washroom break.

Finally, A Tribe Called Red, one of the last acts performing simultaneously at the multi-venue festival, hit the stage. DJs NDN, 2oolman, and Bear Witness docked behind their decks for the entirety of their set, but there was plenty too watch. As the members smashed contemporary beats ranging from dubstep to hip hop with traditional First Nations music, images of resistance – texts, videos, and stills – as well as stereotypes in pop culture – appropriated images in cowboy films and even professional wrestling – ran onscreen above them. But the main visual treats were the four dancers who squared off against each other every few songs. (I’m no dance expert, but I’d say at least two of them, the ones not dressed in traditional First Nations outfits, were b-boys.)

With so much movement and colour, the visuals felt like they hit from all angles. More importantly, the music, and the messages – of resistance, reclamation, First Nations’ precedence on “North American” soil, and the vital importance of protecting the land – did too. Tribe spliced original tracks including “R.E.D.” and “You’re Your Village to the Ground” with samples from “Cherokee People, Cherokee Pride” by Paul Revere & The Raiders and more. Electronic beats wrapped the audience – bound them – while chants and vocal samples came down on them from all sides.

I obviously can’t attest to the entirety of Westward Music Festival’s debut run, but I can say three of the shows I attended over the four nights packed the house with enthusiastic crowds. And even the one that was sparsely attended featured a stellar lineup of diverse local artists. Immediately following curfew on Sunday night, Westward Music Festival posted a thank-you message to and an RSVP link for September 13th-18th, 2018. If Westward Music Festival continues doing what it did this year, it could be throwing up RSVP links for 2019, 2020, and so on.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu