Rifflandia is a half-decade old this year. No longer a tyke, Victoria’s music and art festival has grown up and now boasts the likes of Cake and Mother Mother as its headliners. Talented musicians fill the roster yet again, and the festival will wrap up in an explosion of candy-coloured confetti and costumes courtesy of the Flaming Lips live show.
“There’s something divinely magical about watching people act like children in the best possible way,” says Rifflandia TV host Chris Vickers from behind his signature moustache and horn-rimmed glasses. “The lead singer, Wayne, just frees you to be entirely in the moment, and all that indie-rock cred, hipster nonsense melts away and everyone is just having fun. It’s beautiful.”
Rifflandia rounds off the summer festival season with 110 artists over three days from Sept. 13–16. Wristband wearers will flock to the main festival grounds at Royal Athletic Park and then carry each day’s momentum across the city to the eight downtown stages for the night shows. With concerts at nine of Victoria’s finest venues, from the large-scale park stages to the close quarters of Lucky Bar, Rifflandia caters to a variety of live music experiences.
“It’s one thing to listen to a band online or on a record, but it’s another thing to be in the atmosphere that’s created during a concert,” says Jason Zerbin, the lead singer of the band Zerbin, who plays Saturday afternoon at the main stage. “There’s something that’s so energizing about the crowd, especially if they know the songs and you can just see them light up.”
The lineup offers a selection of familiar names from an impressive spectrum of genres. Alternative rock is an umbrella definition for many artists, but it by no means dominates the schedule. This year sees a stronger electronic music presence with the likes of Morgan Page, Longwalkshortdock and Lazy Rich performing — a move that reflects the genre’s growing popularity. For hip-hop fans, Rifflandia Five features Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Reggie Watts, and Saul Williams. For those more interested in punk, Chixdiggit! and Polaris-Prize-winning artist Fucked Up will perform. The roster is even peppered with traces of soul (like local band The Chantrelles) and bluegrass (The Washboard Union) among countless crossover bands. To help sort out the scope of genres and artists, Rifflandia puts out a magazine at their Market Square headquarters that is distributed around town, including several locations at UVic. It gives in-depth synopses of each artist’s work alongside interviews and photo spreads.
“It’s about music education. It allows people to experience different musicians and different sounds,” says Deb Beaton-Smith, director of festival administration and community outreach. “You realize that you’re having the opportunity to experience some of the bigger bands that are coming out of other countries.”
Rifflandia balances international and West Coast performers almost equally, giving significant stage time to local names even as the festival grows from year to year. Rifflandia’s focus on West Coast talent is a core part of the festival’s philosophy, says Beaton-Smith, who has been involved in the festival since its launch in 2008. Local bands gain exposure to a wider audience and share the stage with bigger-name musicians who already have international fame.
“It’s always so cool to get to go to festivals and play with bands you’ve loved for years and that you admire. We call it going on ‘field trips’ because other bands perform and we get to see what they bring to their live set,” says Ashleigh Ball from Hey Ocean!, the Vancouver-based band whose cross-country tour is kicking off at Rifflandia.
Rifflandia stretches the festival experience beyond music and shares the space with art, food and charity. Artlandia highlights Rifflandia-related art in galleries across town and on-site at Royal Athletic Park, while the War Child Lounge features acoustic sets in support of the non-profit organization. Food will be supplied by 10 independent vendors, and Phillips Brewery is returning this year with Rifflandabrau 5, a beer brewed exclusively for the festival. All this will comfort Rifflandia-goers on the hunt for affordable festival staples of merchandise, food and beer.
If you can’t wait for September, tune in to Rifflandia TV on rifflandia.com every Tuesday until Rifflandia begins. Vickers tours around local sponsors and acts as a hilarious and bizarre guide to the full festival experience. Keep watch for the long-limbed host and follow his lead. Do your own pre-Rifflandia research on the line-up that promises to deliver three solid days of live music true to Victoria’s tastes.
September 13–16, 2012
110 bands at 10 stages
DAY: Friday to Sunday at Royal Athletic Park, all ages
NIGHT: Thursday to Saturday at eight downtown venues, some 19+
Passes range from $20–$295
For full lineup, tickets and Rifflandia TV, visit rifflandia.com