Rifflandia Music Festival sends off the summer with stellar lineup

A Tribe Called Red, Bonobo, Black Tiger Sex Machine, July Talk, Band of Rascals and Too Many Zooz, at Rifflandia Music Festival, Sept.15 – Sept. 16, 2017

Photo by Connal McNamara
Photo by Connal McNamara

Victoria’s Rifflandia Music Festival kicked off last Thursday (Sept. 14), with a packed line-up and high energy after-dark shows in the city’s downtown sector. The tenth anniversary of the island festival was a glorious send off to what has been a smoky, and often troubled, summer.

Rifflandia originally got its start with a “10×10 tent and a handful of colourful pins”, according to the festival’s organizers. That first year, around 1500 music fans donned the pink bracelets. The event has since attracted incredible talent, sprouted more than 20 new stages, and commandeered the use of Royal Athletic Park where festival-goers showed up to catch a lineup of knockout talent that included the likes of July Talk, Bonobo, Yukon Blonde, Moby and more.

July Talk set off the weekend with a packed performance Friday night. Peter Dreimanis rasped the opening call of “Picturing Love”, both an invitation to enter into fantasy and a lyrical exploration of modern love, sex, and media—“Picture yourself in a tangle with another. You feel your body awaken.” Saturday brought sunshine and a costume theme of cats-in-space. Music fans and space-trotting felines wandered down the vendor area known as Main Street, enjoying free grilled cheese sandwiches courtesy of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, and, of course, a lot of great music.

Too Many Zooz, a trio composed of baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino, trumpeter Matt Doe and percussionist David “King of Sludge” Parks, tore it up in the afternoon sun with their “bass house” rhythms. The trio honed their sound in New York’s underground—it turns out that catching the attention of grumpy subway commuters is a great way to polish up your brass. The group rose to YouTube fame after a performance filmed by a passenger went viral and was viewed millions of times. Anyone lucky enough to catch this act can agree that Too Many Zooz’ rise from the subterranean seems absolutely deserved. Pellegrino’s happy feet, pink pompadour and saxophone capers met with Doe’s trumpet and the King of Sludge’s full-body percussion to bring “bass house” to Victoria like a New York subway crashing into a peaceful teashop.

But Rifflandia did more than play host to excellent and invasive talent. It also highlighted notable local musicians including Band of Rascals, a semi-shaggy four-pack rolling out of Cowichan Valley. Describing their sound as “nuts and bolts” rock and roll, this young group laid down a set composed of elements from their 2014 self-titled EP and their upcoming Tempest. Balancing hard-hitting boot-stompers like “Holler” with subdued, introspective numbers like “Held in Thought”, the group showed that what they lack in footwear they make up for in talent. They’re having fun, fleshing out their sound, and they’re only just getting started. And so was the crowd. As one bedazzled space tiger shouted out during the raving dance party that was A Tribe Called Red, “It’s not even seven! We’re going to dance like this until they shut the city down.”

A Tribe Called Red, made up of DJ NDN, Bear Witness and 2oolman, started in with “Electric Pow Wow Drum” and two dancers in full First Nations dress. Like the music, the dance and costumes were a mix of traditional and contemporary. A voice-over recounted the experience of being on a reservation, washing into the flow of the Tribe’s pow wow step.

Saturday night, Bonobo packed the park with over 7,000 fans. It was excellent to see the city turn out in such force for live music, especially with the sad demise of the Squamish and Pemberton festivals. Bonobo’s 2017 album Migration makes for excellent listening during melancholy walks in the rain. But it turns out that Simon Green (aka Bonobo) can also put together a live performance of breath-taking scope and shifting soundscapes. Starting the performance alone—one man and his machines—Bonobo was joined by a full band, including Szjerdene, whose ambrosial vocals made the set almost unbearably good. The crowd was left swaying, astonished and dream struck. Eventually, they started out on the wander down the hill to Electric Avenue for more, and more and more.

The after party included local phenomena like Astrocolor, who have been creating dance-inducing happenings at Rifflandia for seven years. It also included the dark, blood-thrumming music of Montreal’s Black Tiger Sex Machine. This trio filled the night with frenetic energy, iconic tiger masks flashing red through the smoke machines as the crowd caught the second wind that would see them through to Sunday.