Seven Artists Tell Us Why Canadian Electronic Music Rules
Sled Island 2017 acts including Actress, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and DIANA share their past and present favourites.
Being three hours north of the Canadian/American border, and three hours away from Alberta's capital city, Calgary is a bit of an island. It's too far from Vancouver for big touring acts to make it a part of their west coast routes, and pretty removed from the eastern half of the country, meaning it's rare for Canada's third-largest city to be a destination on musicians' itineraries. But for the past 11 years, there's one week where all of that changes.
During the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, the city hosts one of the best à la carte club-hopping experiences, drawing both international and homegrown headliners. Past editions have seen performances from the likes of De La Soul, Kaytranada, Kelela, Oneohtrix Point Never, and more, and thanks to guest curators including Peaches, Dan Deacon, and Tim Hecker, the programming has never been short of eclectic.
This year, the festival handed over the keys to Brainfeeder boss Flying Lotus and he didn't disappoint, with DJ Quik, Dedekind Cut, Ash Koosha, Yves Tumor, and others answering his call. Given Sled Island's commitment to showcasing diverse music from Vancouver to Halifax, we thought it was an opportune time to ask a handful of acts about what Canadian music, or Canadian electronic music, looks like to them. Unsurprisingly, the results were as varied as the lineup itself, and they present a picture of a young country with an abundance of talent, despite the distances.
Hometown: London, UK
The one that comes to mind is actually one of the first records that I bought when I started to study electronic music in a deeper context. I moved to London and started buying more electronic, IDM, and one of the first records that stood out to me was an artist who was known as Manitoba at the time, and obviously as Caribou now, Dan Snaith.
That was just a really great album, Start Breaking My Heart, and I listened to it on repeat for quite a long time. I remember the sleeve vividly as well, so I guess that was the first picture of Canada from an artist's perspective that I'd seen. I actually came quite close to moving to Canada when I was really young, my dad got offered a job, but it never happened.
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Anna Mayberry: I would say that I'm really into people who make stuff that's raw and has the potential for failure. Anything that's premade and clean I get bored of it.
David Psutka [not pictured]: To be honest, I don't think my mind registers whether music might be classified as "electronic" or if it originates in Canada. It's a big country with a plurality of artists/cities/sounds, so maybe the easy answer is "many, many things," which is a totally weak answer. I think this question made me realize the extent to which my current experience with music is actually very genre-agnostic and post-regional—which are both beautiful things and in my opinion, honest reflections of how media consumption and human interaction work in 2017.
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Joseph Shabason: I don't know if I'm biased because Thom is in the band, but Bernice is one of the most special electronic Canadian bands that I've heard. They're one of the most special bands in Canada, period, and they're just tops in my book.
Kieran Adams: New Chance. Just really unique approach to making something that has familiar textures, but is also its own thing. It's like vocal house music, but with a heavy, ambient approach. The thing that Victoria (Cheong) does that's really unique is incorporating lyrics and phrasing in such a way that doesn't sound out of place.
Hometown: Calgary, AB
Null Command from Victoria, BC. They're very simple, broken down, glitchy electronic music. An Ant And An Atom, who I'm touring with, a drone, post-rock, really meditative kind of act. Morning Coup, who I love, and is a really great friend of mine. It's kind of otherworldly, experimental pop. Someone who's highly electronic-influenced, as a loop artist like myself, would be Respectfulchild from Saskatoon. White Poppy, so dreamy. And of course, Loscil.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
I don't really search where music is coming from, unless it's an obvious thing, but usually I don't search for the location. The kind of music I listen to changes all the time. I have a [NTS] radio show because I'm always listening to new music and finding new music, and I'll go all over the place with it. Anything but blues and country, I can't stand them. It makes me tired.
But the whole Canadian vibe really resonates. Whenever I'm in Canada or close to it I'm just like "ahhh, nice people." There's just like an authenticity, there's an earnest vibe.
Hometown: Montréal, QC
My brother, Kaytanada. He's a pioneer. The radio in Canada is so centered around the same type of genre and sounds, you can't really explore much outside of that, but he's changing that without really being on the radio. He has the opportunity to work with artists that are super major and is changing it from the inside.
Hometown: Montréal, QC
It's going to sound incredibly cliche, but when I think of Canadian music, I think of the community aspect. There are so many cities that are just these dense bubbles that bear so much fruit. That's been my experience. I had a show on [Calgary radio station] CSJW and I only played Canadian music, and I would focus on a specific scene each show. There would always be a specific vibe to each town. And I see that when I tour too, hearing how I fit into each scene.
All photos by Kate Killet.
Michael Rancic is on Twitter.