An act in head-to-toe yeti costumes. People in unexplained morphsuits cutting through the crowd like sharks. The promise of heatstroke hanging like an axe over our heads the entire while. That, in short and sweet terms, is the summary of the delightfully bizarre Saturday of the Phillips Backyard Weekender 2017.
Now, to preface this, having monopoly over a music scene as small as Victoria comes with some funny perks. I’m not naming names, (unless you’re a Victoria local, in which case I’m totally naming names and it can be our public secret) but only a company with no competition could get away with charging over $100 dollars for a weekend festival that has a changeover time of an hour and forty-five minutes between acts— as that was what it ended up being. With nothing going on in between except a DJ that had apparently been told to serve more as background music and less as entertainment, food that cost roughly $11 per festival-sized portion, and staff that had evidently gotten to pick the rules they wanted to enforce out of a hat, you know what saved the second day of the three-day festival?
Victoria’s music fans—old or new, casual or veteran, big audience or small—are hands-down the most supportive, optimistic, upbeat consumers of music anywhere in Canada. That may seem like a biased leap, but let me backtrack so that you get more of a sense of what I’m talking about.
To set the stage: it’s 1pm. The sun, as though to mock those of us who were shivering in yesterday’s distinctly autumn chill, dialed itself up by what felt like ten degrees. I walked through one of the four available lines at the entryway, since no one seemed to care if you went through your designated crew line or not. “Do you have any food or drink in the bag?” asked the security guard, which was a surprise, as I had walked in and out of the venue through this same entryway seven times yesterday and had never been checked or even questioned.
“Just a fruit cup and a meal replacement drink,” I said, which was a mistake. If you take away anything from this review, take away this: lie. I don’t mean in a, “No sir, this water bottle I have is actually filled to the brim with vodka” way, but in a “Look, the cheapest food here is $11, not including the mini-donuts. I am paying $46 dollars for this one-day ticket and do not want to spend an extra $25 on overpriced food and vendors that charge you for water, especially considering that if I have a normal day-pass, then once I exit the venue I am not allowed back in for the entire day. That means that if I want to grab a $2 granola bar from the grocery store down the street then I’m hooped, because if I’m here from start to finish I would have spent eight hours in direct sunlight with nothing but small water bottles that I have to pay for” way.
Dutifully, I slunk back to the garbage can stationed at the front of the lines and dumped my two items of food, of course leaving the other three items of food I hadn’t mentioned buried under my camera and notebook, because who do you take me for? Hunched over the same bin stood a woman with a scalp already streaked red by the sun, pouring out her pre-bought water bottle. “Why are they making you do that?” I said, mystified. “They even have water bottle refilling stations inside.”
One shoulder jerked in a shrug. “All he said was that there was perfectly fine enough food and water inside, so buy it in there. I’m excited for today though,” she added, brightening despite the admittance to the blatant cash-grab that had been inflicted on us all. “I bought a ticket just to see the Fortune Killers.”
After walking back past the guard who didn’t even bother to check that I had properly thrown out the food I’d said I would, I entered the venue for the first time today and saw that, despite Saturday being the priciest day, there were scarcely more people than the day before. On Instagram there are photos of a Phillips Backstage that is absolutely packed with fans, but that doesn’t become a reality until five o’clock at the earliest, when more than half the day has already passed. Not even the alcohol vendors get lineups until six in the evening, and that’s saying something.
However, the fans are the focus of today, and so it’s the fans who are going to get the spotlight. And the first act of the day, Kermode, is where they first won their praise.
Where to start? Kermode is a band whose mission is to “take back music”—as in, go back to their roots and orbit solely around their craft and the joy of performing. “The only way you can see us is when we’re playing live,” boasted the lead guitarist. “No social media, no merch, no nothing. We’re our PR friends’ worst nightmare.” Quick-witted and down to earth, Kermode were the epitome of professionalism despite the meager audience, reveling simply in the fact that they were on stage.
You would think that, due to the combination of the unfavourable time slot and dry heat that was already unbearable, Kermode would receive a smattering of applause—but you would be wrong. The audience poured their all into their applause, and genuine enthusiasm was etched into every single person’s face; there hadn’t been one person who wasn’t dancing, or cheering, or smiling, or singing along, and that whole-hearted enjoyment is what divides Victoria music-goers from other music scenes across the country. It didn’t matter that the sun was burning all of us pale Canadians to a crisp, or that in the hour and forty-five minutes it took to get the next act onstage we could have been watching another performance—all that mattered was that they were there, and that that there was music. And that simplicity was beautiful.
Of course, beauty is fleeting, and so is patience. DJ Bellyfish played the kind of remixes that teenage girls put on while singing into their hairbrushes as they prep themselves for a house party: mainstream hop-alongs that are as bouncy as they are forgettable. With no lightshow, no main stage access, and no volume that surpassed a faint thrum in the background, DJ Bellyfish did not serve as the tide-over he was meant to be during the grueling changeover times—but by no fault of his own. His mixes were as catchy as they were light-hearted, but with his lack of volume he went largely unnoticed throughout the duration of the day.
Instead, festival-goers sat on the ground in their desperate attempt to seek shade, as only staff had shelter. Enthusiasm waned, replaced instead by eye rolls and good-natured mutterings.
“What time is Cake supposed to come on later?” asked an elderly man sitting across the picnic table from me. It was the only one that faced the stage; the other four were stationed behind it, and so seven of us were crammed on each bench just to rest our feet.
“Eight-thirty,” said the woman next to me. “Which means probably nine-thirty.”
“Well,” he sighed, “at least there’s the DJ.”
“Oh. Right,” she said.
With the essence of Victoria running bone-deep in all of them, the Electric Timber Co. is a union of Victoria-based veteran musicians who have come together to pioneer their own brand of Roots music. Overflowing with originality, fervor, and pizazz, the group events one of the local pubs downtown, the Bard and Banker, and was already a crowd-favourite.
Self-described as “soulgrass”, influences like Otis Redding, Jon and Roy, and Neil Young come together in an intersection of familiar sound and self-styled rhythm. The result? A traditional good time that struck a note with the audience, tapping into the genre that so many locals hold close to their hearts here. After selling out their first-ever show as a group, the Electric Timber Co. have been building themselves up show by show, fan by fan, the old-style way, and with a reaction like the one they received it’s easy to see how.
Piercing, no-holds-barred vocals. Slamming downbeats. An electric overcurrent that could jolt even the most lethargic of fans back into wakefulness.—all descriptors of the Fortune Killers, who, despite the sweltering heat and heat-drunk audience, were nothing short of transfixing.
With their latest single, “Fool’s Gold”, having been produced by Howard Reddekop—producer of mega-hits like Tegan & Sara and Mother Mother—fans who were prepared to be dazzled by a similar sound weren’t disappointed. As a Victoria-based pop-rock outfit, lead singer Felicia Harding awed the stands into silence with soaring synth-scapes that was by far the youngest and sultriest sound of the festival. Taking a breather from genres who were aimed at older and more traditional fans, the Fortune Killers exploded onto the stage and breathed a fresh wave of excitement into a crowd who was beginning to wilt from the day’s hardships.
In the wake of the Fortune Killers’ success, Vancouver-centric Little Destroyer amped up the electricity and made fans buckle in for a ride no one quite seemed prepared for. With their infectiously experimental style, notoriously bleak chords, and dark melodies, the electric-pop group swept the crowd away with their aggressive energy and radio-hit beats that tapered off into a heavy metal-worthy cacophony.
If it sounds too weird for you, it’s not—it’s a combination of the earworm club-mix you can’t get out of your head and the hit you hear on the radio that’s quickly become your guilty pleasure. They were fiercely themselves, unapologetically immersed in their craft, and, most importantly, absolutely fixated on giving the show of their lives—and, rightfully, the audience went berserk for it.
If you’ve read this far, it’s probably because of the mention of the yeti suits. Well, say goodbye to the suspense—said yeti suit act was none other than PPL MVR, who, if you Google their name, have already been listed “The Weirdest Band in the World”.
Originating from Los Angeles, PPL MVR are delightful in these three ways: firstly that no, they are not a heavy metal band, as one would assume (leaning instead towards a classic 70’s vibe); two, that all their interviews have been responded to in snarls in various octaves; and three, that these three men are willing to sweat in suits like that. If that doesn’t earn immediate respect I’m not sure what will.
Delivering a head-banging, hand-clapping, throat-straining good time, these yetis were a total throwback to the era they were aiming for. With pitch-perfect harmonies, hard-rocking guitar solos, and an (obviously) phenomenal stage presence, no louder screams were heard that night than when PPL MVR said their final goodbye to the audience.
An American vocalist and funk and jazz multi-instrumentalist from California, Karl Denson stuns with his instrumental arrangements and delivers James Bond-esque twists on common favourites like “Seven Nation Army”, as well as awing with his original tracks. With a classically molasses-sweet vocal range, impressive array of background instruments, and unsullied energy onstage, Denson kept in line with the Phillips Backyard Weekender’s preference for “old-style” genres like roots and jazz. Riding on the wave of the audience’s excitement, Denson supplied a classy, musically-impressive display that carried fans to their much-awaited headliner—Cake.
Alternative. Sarcastic. Trumpet-heavy. Influences that include Mariachi, funk, Iranian folk music, and hip-hop. Anyone would quirk their brow at the California-based three-piece band, but just one live show and you’d be sold.
Sitting at a staggering 643743 Likes on Facebook, one would be baffled at how a band with that description could reach such popularity, but think of it this way: you’ve heard of the Barenaked Ladies, right? Even if you aren’t a fan, you know how their humor and approachable method of songwriting draw in fans like moths to a flame? Picture that, but with a heavier emphasis on rap and rock-influenced hard-hitting guitar strains.
With a monotonous, distinctly hilarious intonation—such as in “The Distance”—and that classic-rock catchiness, Cake is the perfect band to drunkenly dance to: it’s original, traditionally listenable anthem songs, and was hands-down the best way to top off the night. The audience had finally been rewarded: after eight hours trapped in a venue with little shade, little seats, and food prices that would make any wallet cry, finally they were given a band that appealed to every single one of them.
“So what about those people in full-body, fully face-covering morphsuits that you mentioned?” I hear you asking. “What was their deal?”
And the answer to that is: I have no idea. No one had any idea. Some things are just better left unquestioned.
My name is Emma Sloan. I am a Canadian content writer, columnist, and published poet. As of 2018, I have five writing credits to my name including Beatroute Magazine, This Side of West, The Martlet, and BALDHIP Magazine, but that list continuously being added to. Follow me on Instagram at @emmacsloan for writing updates and news.