Canadian Music Week is an annual showcase of the best in Canadian music, offering up a buffet of intimate and evocative musical experiences guaranteed to satisfy any audiophile.
This year’s festival was anchored by headlining performances from CMW-tapped acts, Big Sean, Explosions In The Sky, Wolf Parade, Hollerado, The Strumbellas, and Dan Mangan (to name a small handful), with an impressive undercard that shone a spotlight on up-and-coming artists from across Canada and around the world. Running from April 18-23 at more than 30 venues scattered across central Toronto, #CMW2017 featured over 100 artists representing a wide range of genres, from aggressive electro-metal to lighthearted folk-country.
Top 8 Acts at #CMW2017:
After weeks of mining the lineup and creating a vague approximation of a schedule, I made the journey up the 401 from London, ON to sample four nights of this delectable sonic smorgasbord. Find out who rocked hardest (and who took a ride on someone’s shoulders to hit the bar mid-set) – here are my favourites acts from Canadian Music Week 2017:
World / Electro
Montreal-based Samito sound like sun feels on your face – a welcome change after three days of exploring Toronto under overcast skies and annoyingly persistent rain clouds. Their bright and funky grooves juxtapose frontman Samuel Matsinhe’s eclectic vocal remixing to bridge the gap between African rhythm, jam band, and electrofunk, creating a good-vibes-only atmosphere that’s impossible to resist.
Listen to Samito’s first single, ‘Tiku La Hina’:
Catch Samito at Riverfest Elora at the end of August 2017.
By the time I arrived at NeXT POP MTL showcase at the Silver Dollar Room on Wednesday, April 19, the sweat was already seeping into the nooks and crannies of this iconic downtown venue.
After a raucous and interactive display by Toronto’s Good Kid, Caveboy took the stage, turned down the lights, and launched into a set full of fan favourites, new pieces, and nostalgic pop covers. The Montreal three-piece enjoyed their set as much as their captive audience, jumping onto speakers and letting loose amongst their fans in the heart of the pit. Their enthusiasm was infectious, making Caveboy the perfect kick-off to the rest of my CMW experience.
Watch the video for Caveboy’s ‘Monochrome’:
6. Belle Game
(Vancouver, British Columbia)
Belle Game’s atmospheric, progressive crush pop set was a pleasant surprise. The Vancouver four-piece’s well-timed crescendos, placid intervals, and hypnotic vocals felt perfectly at home beneath the white sheet-tented stage at the Costume House. After their evocative set, it’s clear why Belle Game are on the lineup at Wayhome Music and Arts later this summer.
Listen to Belle Game’s ‘The River’, off their debut album Ritual Tradition Habit:
5. Duchess Says
Alternative Punk Rock
When was the last time you saw the lead singer of a band ride someone’s shoulders to the bar to buy a drink in the middle of their set? Mine was April 21 at Baby G.
When I arrived at Baby G after warming up with Avec Sans at the Drake Underground earlier the same evening, Duchess Says had already set the stage for the most riotous show I was able to catch during my time at CMW. Their fuzzy brand of rock and roll, syncopated with electronic touches and psych-tinged interludes, was moody and aggressive, while their smooth transitions and pace changes kept the energy high until the end of their in-your-face encore.
Check out Duchess Says for yourself – listen to ‘Negative Thoughts’ off their 2016 album Science Nouvelles:
Want more? Read Adam Helmers’ review of Science Nouvelles on Indie Underground.
As soon as Toronto-based glam-rocker Nyssa took the stage, I knew the lineup at the Red Bull Sound Select showcase at the Costume House would be one of the strongest of my #CMW2017 experience.
Clad in head-to-toe leather, Nyssa’s new wave-inspired sound and charismatic aesthetic pull on the sequined threads of 80s nostalgia to create a modern, subversive new take on glam rock. Her varied vocals never wavered as she strode around the stage and into the audience, setting the tone for a night of full of attitude and up-close-and-personal performances.
Check out the video for Nyssa’s single ‘Life is Hard’, released just days before she took the CMW stage:
Want more? Check out Aaron’s review of ‘Life is Hard‘ on Indie Underground.
3. Casper Skulls
Garage Post Punk
Casper Skulls were the fourth act on the lineup presented by Buzz Records at Lee’s Palace on Saturday, April 22. Building on the buzz (get it?) created by Pony, Twist, and Vallens, Casper Skulls injected a note of controlled discord that would perfectly set the stage for Weaves’ headlining set.
With rumbling guitar and bass, an insistent drumline, and vocals reminiscent of Parquet Courts’s Andrew Savage, vocalist Neil Bednis wove stories of adoration and apathy, balancing spoken (or more accurately, shouted) word with implacable vocals provided by Melanie St. Pierre.
Watch the official video for ‘Love Brain’, off Casper Skulls’s recent EP Lips and Skull:
2. Avec Sans
The London, UK-based electro-pop two-piece kicked off their North American tour at Canadian Music Week to an intimate crowd at the Drake Underground. CMW’s 2017 lineup featured no shortage of electro-pop duos, but it was Avec Sans’s polish, positivity, and stage presence that made them stand out from the rest.
Attendance may have been “criminally low” (to borrow a phrase from my friend and long-time fan of Avec Sans), but the intimacy only increased my appreciation for Alice Ivy’s clear vocals and Jack St. James’s mesmerizing mixes. When I caught up with Alice after her set, she was only too happy to load me and my concert buddies up with Avec Sans merch, including a signed copy of their new album Heartbreak Hi.
Check out the newest video from Avec Sans:
Want more? Read Indie Underground’s review of ‘Heartbreak Hi‘.
The long, rainy journey to the #RedBullSoundSelect showcase was well worth the effort. With a taco truck as the only indication that there was a stage somewhere inside this nondescript venue, the Costume House proved to be as intimate as it was unassuming.
Following strong performances by Nyssa, Belle Game, and She Devils, Frigs took their place under the makeshift tented stage and smoothly shifted from sound check into their gritty brand of post punk. In addition to unexpected pace changes and an arresting stage presence, vocalist Bria Salmena’s aggressive performance seamlessly blended with the band’s psychedelic instrumentals, earning Frigs the top position on my list.
Watch the video for ‘God Hates a Coward’ off Frigs’ 2016 EP Slush: