Easy Star All-Stars
While the burgeoning North American festival scene prides itself on its diversity of genres, one thing is abundantly clear looking over the lineups for these musical parties: reggae doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves. New York–based reggae torchbearers Easy Star All-Stars have built their reputation on covering classic records spanning three decades of modern music and the ease with which they made some of the best-known songs their own. Songs like “Thriller” (Michael Jackson), “Karma Police” (Radiohead) and “Money” (Pink Floyd) sound like they came straight out of Jamaica, endearingly pleasant, while retaining the brooding atmosphere that made the originals such classics. Their set was a triumph for reggae music and hopefully that encourages the organizers to bringing more top-tier reggae to future Rifflandia instalments.
DÂM-FunK is a man with a singular mission. That mission: To resurrect the funk. Clearly a dude brought up on the likes of George Clinton, Parliament, and Prince, Damon G. Riddick—the man known as DÂM-FunK—was one of the great surprises of my Rifflandia experience. Throwing down modern funk heavily rooted in the old-school aesthetics of aforementioned genre titans, Riddick tickled the groove-bone inside me with songs like “Hood Pass Intact” and “Mirrors,” while earning the award for quote of the festival as he tossed free vinyl into the crowd whilst declaring, “I don’t want your money, I just want you to funk with me!”
Kid Koala’s Vinyl Vaudeville 3.0 show at Alix Goolden on Saturday night might go down as the most joyous set in Rifflandia history. The celebration started the moment Koala and his two stage assistants/dancers came dancing through the crowd—Koala armed with a portable beat-maker and his ladies holding what appeared to be lit tree branches—and carried through to the end of the night, when hundreds of paper airplanes screeched around the old church. Koala proved once again that he has some of the most skilled hands in the land, as he played his entire set on his three-turntable setup without the help of any laptops or sequencing devices. While encompassing everything from old school hip-hop to heavy metal, the real highlights came when Koala gave us songs from his latest (and incredibly stellar) album, 12 Bit Blues, in a set that pasted a big smile across the face of everyone in the room, including Koala himself, who probably had the biggest one there.
The crowd that managed to get to Royal Athletic Park early enough on Friday afternoon was treated to something incredibly special, as new Canadian supergroup Mounties put on their first live show as a band. Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays hammed it up for the wall of photographers at the front of the stage, hitting his knees and flailing manically behind his keyboard. Ryah Dahle of Vancouver rock stalwarts Limblifter looked relaxed and calm, not having to worry about front-man duties; while normally solo Hawksley Workman looked supremely comfortable and happy to be back behind a drum kit, where he started his musical career. The band was full of energy and supremely confident with songs like “Hall & Oates” and “Headphones” already sounding like future Can-rock classics.
Everyone needs to have their head split open and their expectations challenged now and then. Gender is an area where expectations and assumptions are so deeply engrained that getting them rocked to the core can be a wholly disorienting experience. Having it happen at a hip-hop show is even more disorienting, in a wholly glorious way, and that’s exactly what Mykki Blanco did. Armed in a garter and stockings, lips painted bright red and oily muscles rippling in the club lights, Blanco dropped rhymes that challenged every ridiculous stereotype that has seeped its way into the hip-hop mainstream over the most gangsta beats this side of Deathrow. Blanco put on a challenging show that no one in the audience is soon to forget.
I’m a sucker for anything associated with the Mars Volta, so when I heard that Bosnian Rainbows was the new project for guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez, I was more than intrigued. However, within moments of the group taking the stage it became obvious that the set wasn’t going to belong to the tight, great band, but to their overwhelmingly charismatic lead singer Teri Gender Bender. Bender handily wins the award for “Most Fascinating Person” at Rifflandia, with her jerky stage movements and incredibly evocative voice that ran a gamut of emotions. While their music doesn’t translate incredibly well to record for me, seeing the songs live, especially “I Cry For You,” was certainly a memorable experience, thanks mostly to Ms. Bender’s incredible stage presence.