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Event Review

Riot Fest Toronto – Downsview Park, Toronto – September 19-20, 2015

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By Vanessa Markov with guest writer Jawn Whitten
Photos by Walid Lodin

http://riotfest.org/toronto/

Riot Fest is becoming the fest that has something for everyone, whether it be a 90s punk band, an electro-rock dance party, or a legendary rap group. In other words, the 2015 lineup, featuring Weezer, The Prodigy, Alexisonfire, Wu-Tang Clan, and Motorhead, looked a lot like a burned mix CD you’d buy out of a high school locker in ’01. It was glorious.

So with this much diversity going on this year, I invited guest writer Jawn Whitten, to give his perspective of the fest alongside mine.

 

Jawn: So much awesomeness at Riot Fest this year!!

Vanessa: Indeed! Though, we agreed that Riot Fest 2014 was flawlessly organized, so expectations were high. Unfortunately, my first impression coming into the fest this year wasn’t the best.

J: Yeah, this year they added a Ferris wheel and a couple of other amusement park rides, which was awesome except you had to pay for them. So I bought beer instead and spun around to make it feel like I was on the Tilt-o-Wirl.

V: I really feel like the carnival was unnecessary. People drink at festivals. Going on The Zipper is neither a priority nor a good idea when you’re a few beers deep. A single Ferris wheel would have sufficed (like the one at Amnesia Rockfest in Montebello, QC) because you get a sweet view of the whole grounds. The carnival just wasn’t a good investment, and might be the reason why prices were hiked elsewhere.

J: Like the beer everyone was complaining about.

V: One of the great things about last year’s fest was the unusually decent price of $8 tall cans, but this year they cut them down to small cans for the same price. It was like being at the ACC, but for 7 hours instead of 2. They also got rid of the promo girls who sold tall cans to people waiting in line for beer tokens.

J: Speaking of lines, we got caught in a ridiculously long one entering the park and ended up missing GWAR.  Even though the band’s actual performance was cancelled due to the torrential downpour, it looked as though show goers had a good time when the band came out to spray everyone.  Their trademark blood bath was short lived thanks to the weather, but by the look of the audience, it still managed to be epic.

V: Yeah, I was disappointed to miss them. We wandered around for a bit after that, trying to configure ourselves to the new layout. (That carnival really messed things up and I hope they don’t bring it back next year.) After some brief rainfall, we settled into the crowd at the Riot Stage for Thrice.

J: You introduced me to Thrice at Amnesia Rockfest in June, and they played another satisfying daytime set at Riot Fest. The sound was a bit different because this time they were using different guitar amps, which makes it obvious that festival gear can really mess with your sound as a band. Either way, these guys have great energy onstage, especially their bass player Eddie Brackenrich who was headbanging about. I would see these guys again for sure – mostly just so I can say that I’ve seen Thrice…thrice.

V: After Thrice, whose guitar tones (fest amps or no fest amps) I love, and an especially long ATM line, we headed over to the Rock Stage to check out the legendary Motorhead. I admittedly didn’t know much about the band other than their level of influence in the metal community.

J: It was surprising to find out that Mothorhead was playing this year. In my opinion, they had dominated the entire night of the 2013 Gigantour with their loud, straightforward, no holds barred (in Lemmy’s words) “fuckin rock n roll”, while everyone else was doing the technical stuff. There were rumours that this show would be canceled, so I wondered whether or not the legendary English decibel-breaking power trio would see the Canadian stage. But then I saw Mikky Dee’s drum kit and was relieved!

One by one, they came onstage opened up with “Bomber”. Lemmy’s health issues were immediately apparent, his singing voice less gravelly and standing very still for the entire set. Still, it was fucking Motorhead and Lemmy is nothing short of amazing. Not to mention Phil’s iconic guitar playing and Mikky’s thunderous drumming. Solos included! Did I mention it was loud?

V: Yes, Lemmy was in rough shape and sounded weak, but his condition heightened my appreciation for the show. He was so determined to stay on stage despite barely being able to stand, which was a blessing given he canceled the Denver show. The scenery was something out of the 80s as well, with leather clad 20 year olds atop their boyfriends shoulders, sneaking bumps of cocaine. That’s something I have actually never seen at a show before. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the band, or if pot is just starting to become uncool.

Then it was time for the last show of the night. Last year, Dallas Green headlined Riot Fest with City in Colour and returned this year to headline Saturday night with the return of Alexisonfire. Fans were ecstatic to hear guitarist Wade MacNiel promise “We will never leave you again” before blasting into “Accidents”.

J: They played their set of classics for well over an hour which is how reunion shows should go. They are still absolutely energetic on stage. It would suck if they only got together for a 30 minute acoustic show, and played “Save Your Scissors” twice.

V: Day 2 was the day I was looking forward to the most! Weezer and Rancid!! We got there much earlier to catch more acts, but not early enough for Toronto’s Wildlife which was a total bummer. Those guys didn’t deserve the opening slot they got, but I think the fest was trying to get more people there earlier, which clearly didn’t fly. We did catch Babes in Toyland, though, who were great!

J: Babes in Toyland played a very impressive set with singer Kat Bejelland’s classic toxic wail at the forefront. She started the set with sunglasses on, but when they came off you could see the sheer insanity in her eyes (which I think are the actual power source of her vocals.) Drummer Lori Barbero was smiling the entire set. Kat and Lori were the only two original members, with Maureen Herman being replaced by Clera Sayler who is only in her early 20’s.

V: Lori was hilarious, she really got the crowd going. Kat was just a total badass even when she was dealing with a loose mic situation for a whole song. I’ll probably get shit for this, but the only thing running through my mind during this set was “Leave it to the chick band to be the most punk of them all.”

J: This is a band that Emily The Strange would dig.

V: We decided to switch things up and check out rapper/YouTube celeb Tyler the Creator, who had great stage presence. I can’t really say the same for the set, though.

J: Even though I’m the one who suggested we see him, his set left a bad taste in my mouth.

V: I wouldn’t go that far, but his stage banter and character was definitely more interesting than the music. I just love his use of comedy when interacting with the crowd, even though he was trolling the shit out of us most of the time.

J: “Put ya hands up, put ya hands up – STOP, stop the music – that was lame.” Sixteen times over – that was his set. Could you imagine if Metallica stopped playing in the middle of Sandman? There would be riots!

V: After that interesting experience, we headed back over to the Riot Stage for Rancid, who were playing …And Out Come The Wolves in all its glory. Full album sets are becoming a trend lately, and it’s one that I absolutely love!

J: The great thing about seeing bands do an album set is that you know which songs are coming up next. Which is why I knew Rancid was going to be awesome. But I also saw them at Rockfest doing the same set so it was like seeing The Avengers again.

V: But this time they played “Fall Back Down” after the album, which was a total treat. Although, despite seeing Rancid three times, I’m still jonesing to hear “Detroit” live! I won’t give up until I do.

J: Rancid is so awesome live that they sounded exactly like the album, which is worth noting. Many older bands struggle to sing their hits in their original tuning, but not these guys. This band holds two awards for me: Best Punk Bassist and Lowest Worn Guitar to Matt Freeman and Tim Armstrong respectively.

V: I was all about Weezer that day, but I have to say one of my favourite memories of the whole weekend was dancing our way out of the massive crowd during “Ruby Soho”. Unlike the cold and rainy day before, the sun was shining and you could feel that people were just starting to get into the festival spirit during that song. I had a moment there for sure.

And then there was Weezer. They played the entire Pinkerton album the night before while we were at Motorhead, which was fine by me because on Sunday they played The Blue Album which many in attendance, myself included, agreed is their absolute best. Man, the memories you get listening to an album you really, really love being played live front to back is totally unparalleled by any other music experience I’ve ever had.

J: Weezer is smart because they started their career in a lower tuning, so as they got older they actually started to sound better. Geniuses, I tell you. When they played their iconic Blue Album it sounded right where it should be. The fan favorite seemed to be “Say It Aint So” which had the lighters flying and the crowd singing back, but the following song, “In The Garage” was my jam. They also encored with a B side, “Perfect Situation” and closed with “Beverly Hills.” Amazing choices.

V: Never in a million years did I think I’d get to hear “Only In Dreams” live. The irony.

J: Fact: There are two types of Rivers Cumou. The pristine clean shaven Rivers, and the Dirty Hipster Beard Rivers. I bet he grows that bastard in a day.

V: I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to see Wu-Tang Clan because they were on at the same time. I probably won’t ever see them now, but the post-fest buzz on Monday seemed to concur that it was a weak set. I guess we’ll never truly know, but such is the multi-stage festival sacrifice…

J: After Weezer, the Prodigy headlined, which was a band a lot of people were excited to go see. I knew nothing about them.

V: My knowledge of the band is pretty limited as well, but they still held a place in my heart for opening on, arguably, one of the greatest rock compilation albums ever, Big Shiny Tunes 2. I even have distinct memories of the first time Much Music played the video for “Breathe”. Being like 12 at the time, it left an impression.

J: They had easily the craziest light show out of all the bands that weekend, with the bright carnival lights filling in our peripherals. Lights. EVERYWHERE.

V: It was bright as hell, which complimented their electronic industrial rock sound. It was a pretty epic way to close off.

J: And then it was over, Riot Fest had ended, and we were left to carry on with our regular lives.

V: What a weekend!  Click on the individual photos to enlarge the madness.

 

Event Review

‘Bob Marley: One Love’ Biopic Premiere [Event Review]

‘Bob Marley: One Love’ Biopic held it’s premiere alongside personal insights from a guest panel in London recently. Read our thoughts here.

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Bob Marley: One Love

I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to attend an event as special as this one. The venue, the esteemed guests and the incredibly warm staff made for a wonderful evening curated with meticulous detail from start to finish.

Regrettably, I must preface this article by saying that until last night, I wouldn’t have called myself a fan of Bob Marley. However, this night made a great case for that to change.

I don’t believe this event could have taken place at a better venue, Regent Street cinema is as charming as I can only imagine it was in 1896 when it premiered the very first motion picture in the UK. It is encouraging to see this cinema continue to strive for greatness so many years later.

Bob Marley Biopic Premiere

Bob Marley Biopic Premiere

Upon arrival, guests were greeted with tokens for a free cocktail redeemable at the bar. This kind gesture was much appreciated. After a short welcome speech from the cinema and the University of Westminster, the film started to roll. As aforementioned, I am by no means an expert on the life or music of Bob Marley, so I entered this screening almost blind. This was no issue I would wager it made the experience all the more enjoyable as I indulged in this incredible story with no expectations or worries about how they would portray this artist, which I believe has been the main criticism of this film. However, that is almost unavoidable for biopics.

I feel that Reinaldo Marcus Green (Director) did an excellent job of exhibiting the entire story cohesively yet not always chronologically and occasionally through abstract means. The introduction of flashbacks and dreamlike sequences kept the film from losing traction. I particularly enjoyed how the relationship between Bob and his father was depicted through regular brief interludes from the main story; using imagery such as the ring of fire, Green was able to convey a complex relationship throughout the film without explicitly telling the audience. This creative direction sets Bob Marley: One Love apart from your average biopic.

The film contains strong performances from the entire cast, especially Kingsley Ben-Adir, who was incredibly compelling. Not to mention the soundtrack, which, of course, was excellent, too. The film was greatly received by the audience, who regularly sang along.

As the credits began to roll, the film welcomed applause as the roundtable guests took their seats.

The guest panel consisted of Adrian Boot, Island Record’s in-house photographer who worked very closely with Bob and is responsible for the majority of Marley’s most iconic imagery, journalist Chris Salewicz and Bernie Dixon, a childhood friend of Bob’s. The panel was dictated by Dr Mykaell Riley, the Director of the Black Music Research Unit and Reader in Music Production Performance and Business at the University of Westminster.

The guests all shared personal stories from their times with Marley, respectively, which gave the audience a much more personal insight into the life of Bob. It was endearing to see these three men who had never met each other interact like lifelong friends through their collective love for the man.

Bob Marley Biopic Premiere

Bob Marley Biopic Premiere

Panellists told tales of Bob’s not-so-secret love affair with Cindy Breakspeare, who was briefly in the movie yet unmentioned. Dr. Riley asked who they thought the primary audience for the film was, which excited Salewicz, who was very quick to vocalize his opinion on the negative reviews this film has received by anonymous users who he suspected hadn’t even seen the film yet. This was due to the divide within Bob Marley’s fan base, ‘the purists’ vs ‘the masses’. The panellists settled on the film being made for ‘the masses,’ which justified some key characters being left out.

The event finished with some questions from guests, which made the conversation feel inclusive and tied off the evening very nicely. I would like to thank everybody involved for creating such a special viewing experience.

For more information on Bob Marley: One Love, head over to the official website.

Bob Marley: One Love Biopic Poster Artwork

Bob Marley: One Love Biopic Poster Artwork

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Event Review

FORMAT Festival: Diversity and Bold Expression in Comfort [Film Forward]

FORMAT Festival thrilled music and art fans in 2023. V13 will return and continue to cover events with unique analog photos.

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Leon Bridges at FORMAT Fest 2023, photo by Justin Birnstihl
Leon Bridges at FORMAT Fest 2023, photo by Justin Birnstihl

In the spirit of “C’est la V13,” 35mm film captured these images. Film Forward is a call to action encouraging you to anticipate where film photography can lead your mind in uncertain times. The “why” for my choice of using film will be more apparent as the number of images here grows from 13 to 31. It’s an exercise in mindfulness on the most self-serving level and a reminder of impermanence.

Live music photographers are typically permitted to be in the pit where nothing stands between us and the artists onstage for only the first three songs. After that, the fleeting moment will be gone and irreplaceable. Shooting film for kinetic action in low light commands a level of concentration that holds my consciousness to the present during those three songs.

Surrender to the Experience Completely

“We Rise by Lifting Others. Dance First, Think Later.” This mission statement or mantra glowed brightly along a popular pathway on the grounds of FORMAT Festival. My wife and I definitely danced relentlessly in the company of many deliciously different strangers. The connection among us all was palpable through set after set of electrifying performances.

FORMAT Festival Grounds and its Unexpected Amenities

Music and art lovers representing a multitude of tribes gathered in the surprisingly comfortable public spaces of the Momentary. It’s a premiere attraction for the lovingly maintained downtown of Bentonville, AR. The Momentary’s primary feature is a permanent main stage facing a gently sloping hill, and at the top is a cluster of small buildings that provide uncommon respite from outdoor conditions. Artists commanded a smaller stage here set in an air-conditioned black box theater adjacent to indoor restrooms and a gourmet coffee and pastry bar.

Another large festival stage with its spectator lawn featured a welcoming expanse of shade from the direct sun during afternoon performances. Broad cemented pathways facilitated easy exploration of the custom-crafted fourth and fifth stages. Italy’s Toiletpaper art magazine whimsically incorporated port-a-potties as access doors to a domed structure over a small stage. The parallel entrance hallways were papered over in collages that bled across every wall and ceiling. Finally, our last stop on most nights was for DJ sets at Drag Me to the Disco. This barn rave was affectionately named for the female impersonators who served as MCs there.

Art, Food and Music that Surprised and Delighted

FORMAT Festival truly integrated thought-provoking art with a curated creator roster throughout the experience. It wasn’t limited to destination art installations. The work of carefully selected artists surrounded us as decorated park amenities, concessions, and sound engineers’ booths for the main stages. The food options were unlike any I had ever experienced in a festival setting. In their own permanent buildings, a strip of independent local restaurants added more variety in addition to the food trucks and offered service in air-conditioned dining rooms.

Live shows from musicians that rarely, if ever, tour North Texas compelled our travel to Bentonville for an unforgettable first visit. A fever dream of awe-inspiring performances kept us dancing until we levitated. There were larger-than-life performances from headliners LCD Soundsystem, Alanis Morrissette, and Leon Bridges. However, my purest passion was for the disrupters.

FORMAT Festival 2023 event poster

FORMAT Festival 2023 event poster

The Performances I Couldn’t Miss

UK rapper Little Simz prowled the main stage like a stalking lioness whose prey was ignorance. Her lyrics of struggle and triumph amplified the voices of working-class Londoners and children of immigrants everywhere alike. Her accompanying bass rhythms physically pounded on my chest like a drum with an intensity that I’d rarely experienced before.

Australia’s non-binary multi-instrumentalist Tash Sultana was a virtuoso in their element, surrounded by nearly a dozen instruments and a multi-track looper. Tash’s face appeared ecstatic as they layered their complex compositions of hypnotizing groves before the main stage audience’s adoring eyes.

The enchanting Sudan Archives spun a trance of hypersexualized playfulness. She studied ethnomusicology and since committed to “show the blackness of the violin.” Recently, though, the evolution of her songcraft has produced more Beyonce-esque R&B and hip-hop. Her new songs sound as much like the future as ancient culture that inspired her distinctly African violin technique.

FORMAT Festival acknowledged hip hop culture’s 50th anniversary in 2023 and featured stellar performances by 30-year veterans of both East and West Coast styles.  South Central LA’s kinetically explosive The Pharcyde bounced their way through beloved classics. NYC’s sublimely smooth Digable Planets glided about the stage in front of their live jazz-funk ensemble.

Community and Connection Resonated Strongly

The performers were sublimely colourful, but the revelers dancing to their music would not be outdone. Some were adorned with fur and LEDs. Others wore so little that it’s barely worth mentioning. They were all shapes, spanned a broad spectrum of sexuality, and they all came to dance through the night. They danced among strangers that didn’t feel as strange by the time the sun set on the festival’s final day.

Another mission statement or mantra glowed in neon from one of The Momentary’s buildings behind the main stage lawn. It read, “You Belong Here.” My wife and I easily agreed with that welcoming phrase after only our first visit to Bentonville. We knew we would return for year three of FORMAT Festival in 2024. I’ll bring many rolls of film again. I’ll also count on losing myself in moments that last forever when I surrender to the surreal.

Get stoked for FORMAT Festival 2024 and follow the event via their official website.

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Event Review

The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival Celebrates 20 Years! [Photos & Review]

The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary with an absolutely wonderful display of modern jazz in Playa Del Carmen put together by the Quintana Roo Tourism Board.

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Chris Botti at Riveria Maya Jazz Festival 20th Anniversary, photo by Kenzie Magnan
Chris Botti at Riveria Maya Jazz Festival 20th Anniversary, photo by Kenzie Magnan

I had the absolute privilege of attending the 20th Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. More than 14,000 attendees came out to see major players in the Jazz genre including Iraida Noriega, Pedrito Martínez and his band, Arturo Sandoval, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Aguamala, Antonio Sánchez, Snarky Puppy and Chris Botti. The event took place from November 24th to 25th, directly on the beach under a full moon. It was a beautiful setting for some incredible music.

The 24th began with a performance by Mexican native singer/songwriter Iraida Noriega under the setting sun. As the full moon began to show, Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his band entered the stage. The set was extremely lively. Martinez brought several fans onstage to dance to the Afro-Cuban beats. He was followed by Cuban-American composer Arturo Sandoval. Sandoval showcased what he is most famous for, his piano and trumpet playing. It was clear he has a huge following in Mexico, with the crowd going insane for his set.

The night rounded out with the famous Spanish Harlem Orchestra. The Latin dance orchestra had the total number of attendees up on their feet, dancing to the Salsa-inspired beats. I was blown away by the festival’s environment. Never had I been to a festival in such a beautiful area. I was elated for night two.

After my experience on night one, I could not wait to see what was in store for us on Sunday, November 25th. The night started off with the local band Aguamala. A consistent appearance at the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, Aguamala’s improvised fusion of jazz and rock makes them a unique opener for some larger acts to come.

Next up was Mexican drummer and composer Antonio Sánchez, joined by his spouse and singer Thana Alexis. Her ethereal vocals over his compositions made for a euphoric experience. Sánchez, who goes by Bad Hombre, includes a lot of political messages regarding peace and unity in his music. The messages resounded with the crowd, who awed at the performance.

Following Sánchez was American jazz-fusion band Snarky Puppy, led by multi-instrumentalist Michael League. The band has 25 rotating members, with a dozen or so performing at any given time. Despite being from Texas, the band has an immense following in Mexico and it was apparent with the ecstatic crowd.

The finale of the night and weekend was Chris Botti and his amazing group of special guests. The famous trumpeter brought along violinist Caroline Campbell, singer and actress Sy Smith, and jazz singer Veronica Swift. During the press conference, Botti mentioned he likes to keep his shows exciting. He says his music is made to be listened to in your living room, so he likes to switch up his live performance to keep things interesting. He did just that. From going out into the crowd with Campbell to showcasing solos of his band and guest singers, the fun did not stop. This is a show I would see again and again.

This was one of the most cherished musical encounters I’ve ever had. The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival is entirely free for attendees and compiles some of the greatest Grammy-winning Jazz groups in the world. The festival is put together by the Quintana Roo Tourism Board to provide both locals and visitors a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope to see the festival reach its 21st year next year with even more attendees and talented artists.

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