In recent years, Calgary's Sled Island Music & Arts Festival has received plenty of acclaim for its unique and challenging, left-field lineups. Their choice of guest curators and headlining acts have played a heavy hand in this, with past editions featuring Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Kathleen Hanna, Tim Hecker, Wire's Colin Newman, and more. These acts have had the chance to let their input make an impact upon the festival by choosing performers and putting together showcases.
For the 2016 edition, the organizers' choice of guest curator was a particularly inspired one. Toronto-born multi-hypenate performer Peaches, aka Merrill Nisker, has been thrilling Canadian and international audiences for over a decade with her provocative, often politically charged electro-pop. Over the course of her career, she's collaborated with artists including Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O, Pink, and Major Lazer, and last year released her sixth studio album, Rub (which just earned her a Polaris Music Prize nomination).
She's put together an eclectic list of picks including New York rapper Junglepussy, Warp Records-signed electronic artist Lafawndah, Berlin-based musician and producer Planningtorock, Baltimore MC TT the Artist, and more. With Sled Island taking place June 22-26, we recently spoke to her to find out what audiences can expect from this year's festival.
THUMP: What was it like working with Sled Island as a curator?
Peaches: Basically they were like, "Get whoever you want," and I did. Seriously. Very open-minded and receptive to people they've never heard of. It didn't matter that they hadn't heard of Born in Flamez before. Vice Cooler hasn't played in who knows how many years. HYENAZ have never played outside of Europe.
For you, what's the difference between artist curated festival lineups and non-artist curated ones?
I guess regular ones are based on who's got an album out. They're always curated in a way but in different forms, as opposed to an artist curated festival, where they don't need to take into consideration whether the album came out this year or ten years ago. It's just whatever they're into.
So with that in mind, what was your goal as a curator?
I just wanted things that Calgary doesn't usually see. I find it hard myself to even get to Calgary—I've only played there two or three times in the past 16 years of doing Peaches—so I can't imagine any of the other bands get a chance to come to Calgary. I wanted the curation to be diverse and fun and a little bit out-there.
I feel being able to have input on a lineup makes it a little different to experience versus showing up to a venue for a show and then moving on to the next place.
Yeah, you feel a little more a part of the festival. I'm gonna hang out for a few days and watch other shows. It's exciting for me, and of course I'm billed as a curator and doing a show, so there's an expectation and I want to rise to the expectation.
Let's talk about some of the acts. You mentioned HYENAZ hadn't played outside of Europe before, what drew you to them?
I think there's something really magical about them live. It's not like listening to their albums, they're more like performance art, and it's something people need to experience.
A lot of people seem stoked on Cakes da Killa.
He's fantastic. We've done a few shows together in the past couple of years.
I've always been a fan of Junglepussy. A lot of these things are just me selfishly wanting to see artists play. I want to see Lafawndah play whom I've never seen play before. Vice Cooler was the co-producer on my last album [2015's Rub], it was just me and him, and he's in so many incredible no-wave and electronic bands. I always enjoy Planningtorock. I've seen Maluca play in LA in a small club with a few songs five years ago, I wanted to see her development. Born In Flamez is something I don't think people in Calgary get to see much of, the way they present themselves as live DJs with their visuals, I think that will be quite interesting.
Are there any other acts playing the festival you're excited to see?
I always like seeing Psychic TV. I've seen them probably three or four times.
What should people expect from your Saturday night headlining set?
The same completely unpredictable, very raw, interactive, and uplifting show.
Head over to Sled Island's official website for more info, including show times and locations.