Arboretum Festival - Day One

August 18, 2017

Photo: Jimmy Skyline

Cadence Weapon

Edmonton’s Roland Pemberton III, offered up a blistering hip hop set. Never taking himself too seriously, and clearly enjoying the vibe of the forest stage, his smiles were a counter point to some of the most astute lyrics in rap today. He’s got game. Although he was personable, understated (rare in the hip hop genre), and charming, his words were full of insight and social commentary. His diction was perfect, with rapid fire vocals not getting lost in the DJ’s beats. Perhaps, hip hops urban element was a bit misplaced with the farm atmosphere, but his clear strong voice carried rhymes that were melodic and varied. He took the mick out of some of rap’s more universal cliches like call and response, and the hilarious “wave your hands in the air, so we can pretend we are at Glastonbury.” A great start to the festival, especially after the underwhelming Un Blonde set.

Photo: Jimmy Skyline

Isaac Vallentin

Even though he is from Ottawa, Isaac was not on my radar. Isaac seemed right at home, playing off the floor of the barn stage. Pushed slightly off to one side and framed by the old barn board and canoe he seemed to reflect a level of song craft found in the back rooms of Canadian bars. Wit and witticism came flying out of smart, tightly written melodies and serious hooks. Paced by indy guitar, a rich darkly toned voice, and cutting keyboard his songs seemed familiar, even though it was the first time I heard them.  Infectious songs, all about song craft, smartly dressed melodies, and undeniable hooks.

Photo: Jimmy Skyline

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

In terms of this festival, I only have two of the artists in my record collection. Along with Deerhoof!, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan are the only performers that I was familiar with. A near impossible to describe mash up of musical and cultural stylings that are a rare and refreshing musical endeavour in a land of mediocracy. I was a little worried about how their distinct studio sound would translate to the stage.  A six piece touring band, complete with Kabuki type face make up, pounded out a set in a self described “Noh Wave” musical style. A contemporary opera, fusing metal, noise, folk and disparate elements of east meets west. I took zero notations during this performance, which speaks to their ability to immerse the audience into another musical journey. Yamanaka is sometimes characterized as a “conquer of Death”, with in certain schools of Tibetan Buddhism.  Just like this lord of death Yamanaka//Sonic Titan played fearlessly into the night. Not to be missed. The forest stage was the perfect place for their brand of mystical performance. Captivating.

Photo: Jimmy Skyline

Le1f

Khalif Diouf, was provocative and gorgeous. This prince was commanding of everyones attention. Starting with a stage bathed in blue, his cape and hood framed a generous 6ft frame, with a bejewelled appliqué  wife beater and spandex short pants body suit. Pushing the limits in the NYC hip hop scene, Le1f drew from rap, reggae, and EDM to spin a cycle of highly sexualized songs. Prancing, gyrating and vogueing his way through his set, he was teasing and playful. As the stage lighting went from blue to red, things started to heat up. At one point stripping down to just the spandex, tossing his cap and muscle shirt, he teased, “OH, you like that!”.  At another point, Le1f crouched over a tall women, and simulated kissing and other sexual overtones, never appearing to threaten, but more of a celebration of hedonism. Provocative and confident, with rapid fire rants, and temptress attitude, Le1f dropped mad, disparate, and disjointed beats, similar to Cakes Da Killa. Occasionally, the flow was broken by Le1f pulling up the DJ’s beats and restarting the songs, but what was lost in flow, was made up with humour and charm. Claiming to have been awake since 4 am, his loss was our gain. Clearly, this didn’t slow him down as he leaped, danced, and vogued into the night.

Photo: Jimmy Skyline

Wake Island

A Montreal come NYC based electronic duo,  of Lebanese musicians Philippe Manasseh and Nadim Maghzal rounded out the first night for me. I can say that EDM holds little interest for me, but i was making connections to the early days of New Order who filtered their music through the Hip Hop/ Rap/ Graffiti culture of  1980’s NYC’s through their English upbringing (Power. Corruption and Lies era). Here, with Wake Island I came to understand the same filtering process, one of blending Montreal,  NYC, Lebanon, and Euro Trash influences to a highly danceable, melodic, and engaging sets of beats. Infectious and dancea