Rifflandia started off with a bang for me. It’s only been one evening but I’ve already seen six acts (OK, two were very brief). Also, two of those were on my list of “must sees” and they both hit it out of the park. That means I’m two for two so far.
First up, I dropped into the Copper Owl, which is located above Paul’s Motel/Diner, a quirky Victoria landmark. The venue has had a chequered past but now has a nice cozy, club atmosphere. Vancouver’s Little Wild were playing when I first got there and, although I didn’t stay long enough to do them justice, they did seem to be laying down some solid garage-style rock’n’roll.
I then hopped across the street to catch the first band that was on my agenda: Electric Oak. The venue didn’t do these guys any favours – Studio CMCT is located in a vacant storefront and its perfectly rectangular confines are lined with blank drywall, all painted white. This made things rather awkward for the audience at first – it was like being at a wedding in a private house where none of the guests know each other. However, Electric Oak gamely overcame these obstacles with a sincere performance that quickly melted the ice. Front man Alec Myring won over the crowd with his banter, but it certainly didn’t hurt that the band was on their home turf. The supporting musicians were tight, providing admirable support for Myring’s distinctive voice and insightful lyrics. The standout for the indie folk rockers was the stunning “Broken”.
Then it was back to the Copper Owl to catch Smash Boom Pow. I had them tagged as a band not to miss and, boy, was I right with that call. They are only a three-piece but they filled the place with thunderous music. Drummer Zane’s inventive beats provided the rock solid base upon which both Tobias (bass) and Ulysses poured on truckloads of metal layers. Tobias’ flexible bass playing was so instrumental that at times he was supplying as much of the melody as Ulysses’ lead guitar. That’s not to take anything away Ulysses’ stellar licks or his versatile voice that went from dream pop sweetness to such roaring power that he just about blew out a hole in the back of the Copper Owl. Despite their lightly humourous name, Smash Boom Pow’s noisy power pop has smarts that should get them noticed far and wide.
The next venue was something completely different. In a walk-down off Trounce Alley lies the nerve centre of Wolf Sheep. It’s the headquarters of Wolf Sheep Records, but it’s also an artists’ studio, art gallery, tattoo parlour and retail store. And for Rifflandia it is also a performance venue. I arrived in time to catch electro house performer Battery Poacher weaving his magic amidst the visual displays. His catchy rhythms had the audience swaying in appreciation and his progressions were creative enough to keep their interest throughout his drawn-out set. His sounds were greatly enhanced by his visuals, which included dry ice, an animated backdrop and light display. However, the most interesting light display was the one on his face, or more correctly on his Predator-meets-Jason mask. The lower part of this mask twinkled with lights in time with the music. All in all, my side trip to Wolf Sheep was a weird and wonderful distraction.
Finally, I headed down to Market Square, which during Rifflandia is essentially EDM Central. For those of you unfamiliar with downtown Victoria, Market Square is a courtyard surrounded by buildings that takes up virtually an entire city block. For the Riff, this courtyard has been converted into a massive outdoor nightclub, complete with 5-feet-high metal fences to cage in the seething crowds. I knew it would be busy, but nothing prepared me for the crushing mass of people that descended on Market Square last night. The result was an intoxicating, carnival-like party, such as I’ve never experienced in Victoria before. It’s unfortunate that I just caught just the tail end of Minneapolis’ Vaski because he sounded great. Hot on his heels came Zeds Dead. I predicated they would be off the hook, and indeed they were. The writhing audience was treated to an eye-popping light and smoke show, and the duo’s deep bass was so sonorous that I feared the tectonic plates beneath the Island would shift.
A great mix of music and venues and I’m perfect in my predictions so far. That makes it a successful first night all round.