In addition to being the highlight of my summer, Osheaga music festival is one of the biggest and best music festivals in Canada. Based in Montreal, the three day festival attracts crowds of up to 40,000 people per day. While many are there for the biggest names in music, including this year’s line-up of Radiohead, Lana Del Rey, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Disclosure and more, there are many up and coming artists that are worth getting excited about.
MusicDash has rounded up a few of the best and newest artists to keep your eye on. So pack your bags, buy your wristbands, and prepare to dance!
1) The Wombats
The Wombats are English indie favourites, but are less well-known across the pond in Canada. However with three albums to their name and an infectious indie rock sound, they are enough to please any crowd. Their latest record Glitterbug was released in 2015, and with catchy tracks including “Your Body is a Weapon” and “The English Summer” are rock & roll at it’s finest grunginess.
2) July Talk
Canadian favourites July Talk are Juno award winning rockstars who have toured with Weezer and Tegan & Sara. With their edgy, punky sound, and unique vocals, one can easily say they are a truly distinct band with a sound all their own. Their stunning debut album was released back in 2012, yet still feels fresh and new in 2016.
3) The Strumbellas
The Strumbellas are another Canadian group that has a very special sound. A blend of pop, indie and alt-folk makes for a wide array of upbeat songs. They have a sonic fingerprint that closely resembles the likes of bands such as The Lumineers (who will also be playing Osheaga) as well as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (who played last summer.)
4) The Struts
The Struts are sleek, edgy rock straight out of the 80s. They are the band that could be the next biggest rock and roll group, with an earth shattering sound that is well beyond their young years. There is passion and heart behind every note and lyric, and they march to the beat of their own drum unabashedly staying true to who they are. If you want to see a band that apologizes for nothing and owns it, then this is the act for you.
5) Coleman Hell
Another Canadian who is easing his way into the spotlight, Coleman Hell is making a name for himself by securing gigs including opening for popular Ohio duo Twenty One Pilots. Although his smash single “Two Heads” is easily his best known track, his other songs also bring together memorable fusions of indie pop and folktronica.
6) Frightened Rabbit
Scottish indie rock band Frightened Rabbit has been around since 2003 and has six albums to their name. With a beautiful melancholy sound, the band effortlessly makes any song sweet and pure. Crowds will be swaying along to the calming melodies of summer bliss.
Mike Nelson, better known to the masses as BANNERS, is a singer-songwriter with a unique sound who is making his mark in the world of indie music. MusicDash caught up with BANNERS as he finished off his first Canadian tour to chat about music and his time in Canada.
MusicDash: What did it feel like when you got signed to Island Records?
BANNERS: It’s an absolute on and a privilege to be signed to Island. It’s funny with major labels. I think in signing to a record label you are always aware of it’s legacy, of the amazing artists and music that are or have been involved with that label. It becomes your responsibility to extend that legacy and that is what I try to always keep in mind.
I think there’s a generally perceived wisdom that the record industry is run by suits and businessmen who are interested exclusively in making money, and the greatest pleasure for me was discovering that that is simply not true, that, actually, these labels are full of people that are intensely passionate about music, and about creating it. It’s been amazing to be so supported and Im working hard to repay that faith.
MusicDash: What made you decide to contact Sephen Kozmeniuk to work on your sound?
BANNERS: Like so much in music, like in life, an opportunity arrises and you have to grasp that opportunity and see where it goes. I was in Canada to do some songwriting with a couple of writers and he was interested in meeting up. I liked him so we tried a couple of sessions and it went from there. There was the opportunity to work with a few other producers but I realised pretty quickly that he was my guy! We have so many similar musical influences and we both want to make music that means something to people!
MusicDash: What have been some of your favourite memories from your time living in Toronto? (It’s pretty far from Liverpool to say the least!)
BANNERS: I really like Toronto. I’ve met so many great people there. My band are all from Toronto too. Truthfully though my life in Toronto has revolved around music so it’s just a pleasure to be in a place where I can just immerse myself into that creative headspace. St Lawrence Market is amazing too.
MusicDash: What has been your favourite show from the Canadian tour?
BANNERS: It’d be unfair to pick one! They’ve all had their moments. Playing these songs live is such a new thing for me that every live experience, good or bad, is important because it gives you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and figure out how to make the next show better.
MusicDash: “Shine a Light” has really taken the world by storm. Why do you think people like the song so much? How does it feel to have people respond to your sound?
BANNERS: I’ve always believed that if you want a song to mean something to people you have to make sure it means something to you first. And Shine a light means a lot to me, so maybe that’s what helps it resonate. It’s hard to say why people like it, but after spending so much time writing and recording it its amazing to hear that people do like it. That’s one of the pleasures of playing live really. Having the opportunity to meet people and let them tell you their experiences with the songs you’ve created. After the gig last night a guy told me it was the first song he sent to his new girlfriend on a mixtape so it means a lot to him. It’s things like that that make it worthwhile.
MusicDash: What was the recording and songwriting process like for your EP?
BANNERS: The stressful part is writing really, it’s ultimately very rewarding but there are certainly days where you worry you’re never going to be able to write ever again. In terms of the EP i already had “Ghosts” written from a long time ago, but all the other songs Stephen and I, along with a guy called Todd Clark, devoted a chunk of time to writing and the EP is the result. Once the songs were written we built the tracks up into a demo form so we could sit with them for a while. It’s important to give yourself time away from a song because it can be hard to analyze it properly otherwise. And then once we were happy with them we built the tracks up with session musicians.
MusicDash: As you’ve spent so much time in Canada this year, are you exited to step up to play large festival crowds like at WayHome and Osheaga?
BANNERS: I can’t wait. Both festivals sound brilliant and the line-ups are amazing. I love LCD Soundsystem, the Killers, Arcade Fire and Radiohead so I think it’s gonna be a pretty fun summer!
MusicDash: How did it feel to perform on Jimmy Kimmel?
BANNERS: It was great, obviously. Again, it was an absolute honour to be asked to play and from that point on I was just determined to give a good performance. Which is easy because they’re all so professional there that they give you the tools to do as well as you possibly can. I had great faith in myself and my band to do a good job so we all really enjoyed it!
MusicDash: Who are some of your favourite up and coming artists right now?
BANNERS: There’s a few bands back in Liverpool that I really love. Married to the Sea, Silent Sleep and a really cool band called Ex Easter Island head. I’m really proud of my home town and the music that comes out of there and I can’t wait to play there in may.
MusicDash: You recorded the song “Half Light” for the TV show The Royals. What made you decide to do that?
BANNERS: Well, The Royals had been really kind to me, they’d played two of my songs, “Start a Riot” and “Firefly”, on there already and needed some music for their end of season episode. They had a demo that Dan from Bastille has made and asked me to record. Which I was really happy to do because I think it’s a great song!
MusicDash: What are some fun facts about yourself?
BANNERS: When I’m not thinking about music I’m thinking about football, and specifically Liverpool Football Club. I was home for christmas when they played my song over the tannoy in the stadium which was probably my musical high point so far! I can’t imagine what would have to happen to top it!
MusicDash: What is your favourite part about performing?
BANNERS: Like I say these songs mean a lot to me, so to get to play them to people is just brilliant. The guys in my band are brilliant and are my best mates so to get to do that with your best friends is an indescribable feeling. As shine a light has been on the radio a lot seeing people sing it back to me is so much fun!
MusicDash: As you’re heading out on your first American tour at the end of the month, what can your fans expect from those shows?
BANNERS: Well I’ll be in America with all that American food so they can probably expect a slightly larger version of me as the tour goes on. But really they can expect an English boy with songs that mean loads to him playing with people that mean loads to him desperately trying to be anywhere near as cool as Jeff Buckley. The other bands I’m playing with “The Moth and the Flame” and “Pop Etc” are great so everyone should check them out!
A static ambience echoes through Café Decuf, an urban bar in downtown Ottawa. Dim lighting showcases a myriad of instruments set up across a small stage. The floor is sticky from alcohol and worn from dancing that has long since faded away. The last few chords of an upbeat rock song pulsate through the air of the tiny venue, with the sound of rain falling on the bustling street outside.
It’s the ninth stop on the Central and Eastern Canada tour for pop-rock band Xprime, a group from Niagara Falls. The trio comprised of Steph Mercier (guitar/vocals), Neil Carson (bass/vocals), and Phil Taylor (drums/vocals), has been on the road to promote its new EP PM. The rain has been following the band around on its journey, presently hitting each member a little bit harder since the departure of former member, Gab Sid in late October.
“It’s been going well; it’s been raining everyday,” laughs Mercier warmly.
“We do the rain dance in the van,” Taylor adds jokingly.
Days weren’t always so rainy and dark for the band. The members met in high school where they came together during music class, eventually taking over the music room to practice. The friends easily transitioned into being band mates, humorously describing the relationship as a “fun business partnership.”
From there the band came up with its unique name, a comedic incident that resulted from a winning battle of the bands performance.
“We all went to French high school in Welland, ON and that’s where we met. There was a battle of the bands coming up and we needed a name that worked in French and in English. We were walking around school and saw signs saying ‘Exprime-toi’, which means ‘express yourself.’ So we took out the ‘e’ and put it with an ‘x’ and it stuck!” Taylor explains.
The band’s adolescent days in the hallways and classrooms of Jean Vanier high school are in the past, as Xprime is striving for success by working persistently to expand into new music scenes across Canada. The band showcased at Canadian Music Week this year, and played renowned festivals including S.C.E.N.E. Music Festival (St. Catharines), Indie Week (Toronto) and Spring Music Fest (Hamilton).
However, what it takes to be a successful band in Canada is changing due to the music industry’s shift towards digitization. Many up-and-coming artists such as Xprime are utilizing social media services such as YouTube to promote themselves, in addition to releasing their content online through streaming services.
Jenia Shukov, the co-founder of Confront Magazine, believes the most successful Canadian bands are the ones that stay active online.
“Whether that’s touring nonstop to make a name for themselves, or creatively promoting their music through social media, they have to keep establishing a name for themselves and networking with the right people. Treating your fans the right way doesn’t hurt either,” she said.
Xprime has taken this to heart, as Taylor details how he always makes an effort to meet fans after the show and memorize their names. It is this true appreciation and love for the fans as well as the music that Xprime hopes will concretize its presence in Canadian music.
DJ Calder Pennie advocates for artists to utilize social media to establish themselves and gain coverage.
“It’s important because acts often don’t get national tours, let alone international concerts until they’ve released multiple albums. Fostering a large online fan base can help kick start opportunities,” he said.
Xprime’s fan base is doing just that. It is growing as a result of covering popular songs online and interacting with fans through funny videos.
A jangly guitar riff beings to play loudly in the background as one of the opening bands, Metronome Jones, begins to sound check. The rain can barely be heard as Carson and Mercier cheer them on. The atmosphere of the room is intimate but welcoming. Perhaps it’s this coziness that prompts the band to open up about how it never imagined music as a full-time profession.
“I thought I was going to be an architect and then a lawyer, and then I was a drummer,” Taylor laughs.
“I was going to be homeless,” Mercier chips in.
Carson jokes he told his mother he wanted to be, “the guy in the back of the cab paying the driver.”
They all erupt in laughter, the genuine kind that only comes with knowing each other for years. There is an easy dynamic between them that ebbs and flows. They play off of one another naturally, and there is an easy rhythm in the way they finish each other’s sentences.
As for the recording process, it has been different each time. After winning the Niagara Falls annual Rock the Ice Nights contest in 2010, the band used its prize—20 hours of free studio recording time—to record an album. The band’s first EP and album were both also recorded in a basement by the band. The latest EP was recorded in The Pocket Studios in Toronto.
“We basically recorded the entire EP in our basement first, and then in the studio,” Taylor said. He acknowledges the band doesn’t have a specific song writing process.
Mercier explains how the songs often write themselves because with three songwriters there is always fresh material.
“Sometimes it starts as an instrumental jam and someone is like ‘I’d like to sing this one!’ and we start writing something on top of it. Sometimes it’s very collaborative and kind of starts from scratch, and other times it’s almost completely done,” he says with a smile.
Each member discusses his favourite song from PM, comparing selecting one to choosing a favourite child.
“They each satisfy kind of a different fetish,” says Mercier. “All the songs are pretty different from each other but we still have cohesion.”
“For me it’s between ‘Ambedo’ and ‘I Can’t Take No More’,” said Taylor.
Both songs are from opposite ends of the music spectrum. With an alternative rock meets pop sound, the band draws its inspiration from a wide range of artists including: The Beatles, Arctic Monkeys, Led Zeppelin, and “lots of French music.”
“I grew up listening to a lot of punk and metal,” said Mercier. “And Vampire Weekend; they’re definitely one of my favourite bands.”
Mercier also lists off Mother Mother, and Taylor bursts into “Baby Don’t Dance” and begins to beatbox. This spontaneity is apparent in the band’s energetic live performances, where the band dances and grooves to the music on impulse.
As for dream collaborations, Xprime fantasizes about working with the likes of Paul McCartney one day.
“If Beethoven was alive today, I’d love for him to orchestrate our next album,” said Taylor.
Xprime is a fan of other Canadian bands such as Arkells, Alexisonfire, and alt-pop group, the Ivory Hours.
“Have you heard Ivory Hours?” quips Mercier. “They’re from London, ON. They just won a big contest that’s got them played on The Edge (102.1).”
“Probably The Guess Who,” Carson chips in. “Got to throw Burton Cummings in there.”
Osheaga music festival has been Xprime’s favourite performance, and its biggest to date. The annual music festival held in Montreal, QB attracts a diverse range of artists and saw Xprime play alongside big acts including Florence + the machine, The Black Keys, Weezer, and Kendrick Lamar.
“It was just awesome to play that big of a stage with that many people. And the catering! Oh my God, the catering!” Mercier exclaims.
“They personally catered the artist’s food,” Taylor explains. “The beer, and the golf carts… it was pretty sweet.”
“That was probably an experience unlike any other,” Mercier and Taylor said in unison.
“They gave me these free Vans,” Taylor says, propping his foot up on the table and pointing to his shoes.
“I stood in line with St. Vincent to get mine,” says Mercier, admiring the sneakers.
Osheaga is one of Canada’s largest music festivals, drawing crowds of roughly 135,000 people. Fans energetically sweat it out in the hot sun and dance in the pouring rain just to see their favourite bands, jumping around to songs in sync with their heartbeats.
“For me, there’s almost less pressure,” says Mercier as he explains how it feels to play a crowd of such magnitude. “When there’s just 20 or 30 people in a room, you see everyone’s face and their reaction. When there’s 50,000 people and half of them clap, it sounds huge.”
“We’re also kind of used to it too. Our second ever gig was at the Olympic torch rally, which was in Niagara Falls and was 7000 people,” says Taylor.
The band also opened for country superstar, Keith Urban on New Year’s Eve last year to a crowd of 60,000 people.
But despite tasting the luxury of playing large crowds and fancy events, the band has a special place in its heart for smaller stages such as The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. There is always a large crowd of fans that show up and sing along, making the band feel proud.
“We’ve played a decent amount of really large stages for our level of band, which is great,” says Taylor.
As the band tours both the small and large Canadian cities, it is thankful for the music scene in Ottawa.
“All I know is that we love playing here,” Taylor says. “Every time we’ve been here it’s been a great show.”
The last four times Xprime has played in Ottawa, Café Decuf has been the venue.
“It’s just been a great night from top to bottom. The people are really receptive, they like going out and seeing live bands,” Mercier says.
Xprime takes this positive outlook from each performance with each step it takes forward as a band.
“Success is the little things, sometimes it’s things that are completely unexpected like Osheaga. I wasn’t expecting that to happen so soon for us. The things that you create and deploy successfully, like when we release a record; we put a lot of time, energy and love into it and it always ends up really nice,” says Taylor.
The band is resilient in achieving its dream and has not slowed down in the face of Sid’s departure. No tour dates or performances have been removed, and Xprime even treated the crowd to its newest song that is yet to be recorded.
Taylor also hints that plans for the future could possibly revolve around playing frosh concerts at Universities. He mentions the University of Ottawa, where he attended to study Communications and Political Science.
Adrian Deveau is a University student and Xprime fan who described the band as “honest, personal, and energetic” after watching it perform at Osheaga and at The Mansion in Kingston, ON. “Xprime cares about their music, their presence, and they care for the audience to have a good time. Whether it be in front of large crowds at festivals or in smaller local venues, Xprime manages to make the audience dance and get lost in the music.”
This is why Shukov believes bands like Xprime will succeed.
“I don’t think the rest of the world realizes how much talent comes out of Canada because so many of the artists are still emerging or are ‘undiscovered’ internationally. Yeah, you have the big names like Justin Bieber or The Weeknd in the pop side of the industry, but there are so many other diverse artists from this country that cover the most obscure genres. Canadian artists try things that a lot of other artists don’t, they aren’t afraid to dip their toes into different waters.”
The band will navigate its way through the stormy waters minus one member with its umbrellas propped open, hoping for sunny days ahead. Xprime’s rhythm will stay steady as it continues to work on new music, marching forward to the beat of Taylor’s drums.
It’s safe to say Justin Bieber is well on his way to a full fledged comeback, after releasing his smash singles “What Do Mean” and “Sorry”.
Just when you think he can’t outdo himself, the Biebs releases “Love Yourself” with the help of Ed Sheeran. The two songbirds harmonize for a pleasant, sweet and slow song. The song is both acoustic and intimate, and tugs on one’s heartstrings.
With a cheerful melody, the track reminds us that love can really shatter you to the core, and that narcissism is not the way to make a relationship work.
The song pointedly addresses how girls use Bieber for his fame, as Bieber and Sheeran chime in together for the chorus:
Florence and the Machine has been taking over everything this year, touring all over the world and performing at festivals to promote “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”.
Just when you think one of Florence’s hits “What Kind of Man” can’t get any better, indie rockers Foals take the song to new heights with their cover.
The band dropped by the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge to cover the song, using synths and drums to make the song a full-on rock anthem. To add a surprising twist, the band even throws in their own track “What Went Down”.
Borns has rocked everyone – literally – with the release of his quirky electro-pop debut album, ‘Dopamine’. He takes each listener on a smooth sailing electric odyssey with songs like ‘Holy Ghost’ and upbeat tracks like ‘American Money’. There are tinges of funk sprinkled throughout, evident in ‘Dopamine’ and ‘Fool’. This compliments the balance between a few slow songs where he croons soulfully, like on the standout track ‘Clouds’. It slows everything down, transcending time and space as it whisks us away to a higher place.
‘Dopamine’ is a fresh take on psychedelic pop. With the sounds of Tame Impala and MGMT, Borns makes the electronica genre all his own.
Infectious melodies and soft synths make for a pleasant listen, for songs that tackle every topic.
Electrifying and shiny, Borns’ ethereal falsetto brings a new layer of buoyancy making each track flow into the next. A sense of clarity washes over with each lyric, accompanied by a quaint feeling of distance.
Far away enough to be harmless, but one still ponders the emotions given off by the standout track ‘American Money’.
“So take me to the paradise in your eyes/
Green like American money/
You taste just right/
Sweet like Tennessee Honey”
It has a wistful and dreamy Lana Del Rey-esque vibe.
Track 5, ‘The Emotion’ is another slower song, pretty but powerful.
Overall the album is an eccentric taste of bubblegum induced psychedelia.
“Wanna feel that stream of dopamine,” he sings.
Hit play and prepare to be mesmerized, because as the 10th track states, Borns is about to be an ‘Overnight Sensation’.
The instant I heard 10,000 Emerald Pools by Borns aka singer-songwriter Garret Borns, I knew it was a hit. In fact, since receiving a shoutout from Taylor Swift, I’m surprised he isn’t bigger.
But I’m not worried. I know his time will come.
Now he has released his newest single, “Fool” an upbeat disco-electronica song.
There is a certain magic quality to this track, and the fact that Borns used to be a magician only proves what I already know: his haunting electronic track is sheer enchantment. It’s the kind of song I didn’t have to finish listening to the first time around to know I liked it.
In an interview with Beat Magazine, Borns explained his artist name: “I think the O with the stoke looks like a zero and I like that because it goes along with the concept of ‘borns’ and re-birth and zero as a number of no resistance. That’s something as an artist you always have to battle with, that sense of resistance.”
Borns is revving up for the release of his debut album “Dopamine” which is due out October 16th.
The Heirs are about to be your new favourite band. With their electrifying single ‘Alright Goodnight’ the brother-sister duo of Savannah and Brandon Hudson take on the pop world with flair.
Speaking about the track, Brandon has said: “We wanted to make something different, something groovy, but also something that could speak for itself and say more than the usual pop songs of today.”
I think they’ve done just that.
With an undeniable sonic resemblance to Foster the People, they will be taking the indie-pop world by the reigns.
Reflecting on their earliest memory of performing Savannah said, “One of our earliest memories performing together was, I believe, our first school talent show. I was in the 2nd grade and Brandon was in the 4th grade. I remember we covered some kid songs along with some originals and a year later, Brandon performed with his 5th grade band and they did a really cool rendition of “Come Together” by the Beatles and that ruled. When we were younger, we rallied up any kid musicians, making little bands, and we performed wherever we could, from talent shows to state fairs. We did them all.”
“We usually brainstorm on different concepts we create and then begin to visualize certain production elements that complement the ideas. It’s always a very relaxed but exciting process for us. We love being in the studio and creating. We are inspired by life in general.”
The duo was on America’s Got Talent back in 2013:
They’ve certainly come a long way on their musical journey, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.
I know I’m not the first person to jump on the “I hate Robin Thicke Bandwagon”. Yet, when he continues to make awful music I have no choice but to succumb to what the general public knows: he’s annoyingly untalented.
Armed with his newest track “Back Together”, he brings along rapper Nicki Minaj, probably in hopes of tricking her loyal army of fans into liking his music.
As to be expected, it didn’t work.
The song is a true funky flop. Disco is dead for a reason, and funk is only still alive because of Pharrell.
It’s like something out of the 70’s that should have stayed there.
And I still can’t seem to decipher which confuses me more: the music video (the beginning where Thicke floats on his back belting “Put me back together” with a martini balanced on his stomach??? ) or Nicki Minaj’s verse.
On the track, Minaj has some stand out lines such as the following:
“It’s popping / I’m Mary Poppins” Only to be outdone by: “I said, “ring, ring, ring, ring, ra-ring, ring /
Put a ring on it or ding, da-ding, ding”
Not only does the verse not do Nicki any justice as a rapper whatsoever, it does not work with the song. There is no cohesion, and there isn’t any lyrical flow. The rapping awkwardly does not mesh with the disco and feels like the two should be separate entities.