Wrapping up its eighth year of existence, Rifflandia, the crown jewel of Victoria, BC’s music year, proved itself a juggernaut, unbound by the constraints of music genres. Bringing in performers that ran the gamut of hip-hop, electronic, folk, funk, indie-rock and offshoots of each, Rifflandia ensures year after year that everyone in attendance has a chance to have their niche musical fetishes catered to.
First and foremost, we must discuss the mighty Doomtree. The seven-member strong collective out of Minnesota was the first booking I had circled on my schedule and they did not disappoint. Doomtree came up with the gem of the festival, assaulting the crowd with their five-MC attack. Few things have brought joy to my heart in the last few years like getting to yell along to old tracks like “Bolt Cutter” or “Bangarang!” We also don’t get a lot of world-class female MCs coming through, so the chance to see Doomtree’s Dessa up close was really something special. The energy shift every time she stepped to the front to take the shine was palpable.
As for Canadian rap, Pigeon Hole and Def3 held it down hard with blistering sets. Pigeon Hole, as usual, brought the party vibes with the most innovative trap-rap you’re going to hear. While Def3, straight outta Regina, laid the high-energy hip-hop in a more classicist vein. Juxtaposed against the embarrassing barking and “nigga” spotting of Torontonian Jazz Cartier, Def3 looked like the a warrior of hip-hop light. Please, don’t let me see another Jazz Cartier show but, please, give me more Def3.
Joey Bada$$, flanked by his DJ Statik Selektah, provided the other major hip-hop highlight of Rifflandia with a high-energy set that culled heavily (and favourably) from this year’s masterpiece, B4.Da.$$. “Paper Trail$” is one of the best hip-hop tracks of the year and good lord was it fun to see live, despite some microphone problems during the track (that were quickly remedied). Bada$$ is one of the rare cats who possesses the ability to be wholly gangsta while still being wholly accessible and affable.
In the world of grooviness there was none more powerful on the weekend than Montreal’s Busty and the Bass. The eight-piece funk/jazz/hip-hop ensemble was a tour-de-force of fun and excitement. How many times do you get to see an elephant play a trombone? One: one time. Seriously, check these guys out. If the world was a just place, Busty and the Bass would be slamming from every radio and listening device. The other dancing-est moment of the festival came right after, courtesy of hometown violin hero Kytami and her raucous drum ‘n’ bass. With violent scratching, a bit of rapping and a dash of dubstep for support, Kytami and her violin had the crowd bumping something fierce.
It wasn’t all grooves and raps for this guy though, as I rediscovered some great Canadian acts that I had nearly forgotten about. The Dears, who I got the pleasure of checking out twice, were flawless, ripping through new and old tunes with the utmost of class. I often don’t get the shoegazier stuff, but The Dears are instantly accessible while still keeping that pleasant dreamy feeling.
Then, in an old church turned venue, Alix Goolden Hall, I was witness to the beauty that is Canadian folk legend Hayden. Hayden’s music once loomed large in my life and as he played songs like “Trees Lounge,” “Bad as They Seem” and “Dynamite Walls” (which made me cry) I was reminded of important times past, with loves gained and lost, the agony of my teenage years. I loved every second of that feeling. He also played an amazing cover of the Chris Isaak classic “Wicked Game.” So there was that, too.
Lastly, Jay Malinowski blew me away with songs from Martel, his lovely album with string trio The Deadcoast. It’s hard to believe that this is guy who fronted Bedouin Soundclash for so long. His new songs rely less on groove and instead more on feeling, still buoyed by that amazing voice of his. Even though he kind of got upstaged by his dog, Sega, it was still the quiet highlight of a long, exhausting four stellar days.