I think I died and lived again during the eighth OBEY Convention in Halifax last weekend. The annual meeting of contemporary music and art is one of the most thoughtfully curated festivals in the country, and it’s never been more inspiring or influential. Programmer Andrew Patterson told an audience that OBEY is designed to offer a narrative. This can be any narrative you choose, created by however you experience it. Some of the artists and acts were so progressive, uncomfortable and confusing that I found various personal hells. By the third day, I ascended into a heaven from which I’ll probably never return. This year more than any other, OBEY offered incredible balance. Here are some of my peaks:
THURSDAY NIGHT DANCE PARTY
On Thursday night, Andrew Neville (Moon) created a hot dance session in the mini-room at Menz Bar, mixing Joy Division, Da Rude and some Gucci Mane (#FreeGucci) with a passion that’s usually gripped tight to the chest. Neville openly gave blessing after blessing before DJ Fadzwa’s eclectic set.
CONTAINER, GASHRAT, BUCK GOOTER
Rhode Island’s Container (Ren Schofield) is a bridge to many things, like from punk to techno, from acid house to hip-hop, from 90s London rave to present day gay bar. His work is ascetic in its simplicity and regular in its execution, but more intense than any electronic act I’ve ever experienced. I had a panic attack and then almost threw up. The harsh frequencies isolated nerves in my stomach that made my core tremble. The floor was shaking so hard I thought it would collapse. Everyone was talking in tongues.
Then the Bus Stop Theatre opened for Montreal’s Gashrat, who told me last month, “We are a ROCK band and we love to ROCK, it’s not complicated.” And really, it’s not. It was as easy as four women shredding, ripping and destroying heavy songs. I started praying to them, screaming, “This fucking rules,” like Hail Marys into the void. They played scuzzy, hard, clean, compact, visceral, staggered and smooth. The crowd circled around them, protected and illuminated in a light that faded on all sides into darkness. It was a baptism and I was soaked. Then OBEY summoned Virigina’s Buck Gooter, an unlikely duo making “primal industrial blues” that comes off like a twisted sacrifice from unseen shadows of the Appalachians, a creativity unleashed by calling upon mysterious things. Billy Brat played a theremin with a bubble gun and later held a speaker in people’s faces as Terry Turtle tore his guitar into halves. It was surreal, spooky and the start of my descent into madness. I lived in this obscurity until the sunrise.
BONNIE DOON, HOMESHAKE
Ottawa’s Bonnie Doon was as fresh as the afternoon rain, falling between Wire and surf-rock, cut-off t-shirts and discordances. Check them out. By midnight, Menz Bar was full (totally full) of worshippers for Montreal’s Homeshake featuring Peter Sagar and Brad Loughead (Each Other). The place was packed, likely because Sagar used to play with Mac DeMarco, which is kind of a big deal, I guess? Anyway, the only thing I learned about Sagar in our short time together was that he’s a big Hall & Oates fan. But the set itself was very special, even if some people didn’t understand it. Here’s why it ruled: it’s a rarity to see a band so well-rehearsed that unity appears to be the simplest thing on heaven and earth, but we know it’s not. Few bands are on the same wave together as Homeshake, pulling off nuanced ultra-jazz flourishes, soul drums, Brad on bass, R&B rhythms. This was the celestial part of OBEY; this was the ascension. Sagar’s languid vocals hover just above the noodles. He’s a noodle angel. They played “Chowder” with more power than the recording, and “Making a Fool of You” with more clarity, more surprise in the changes, more precision than you’d think possible, and yet effortlessly. That’s the jazz.
It was a beautiful day for church as everyone filed into the Halifax Music Co-Op for Gift of God, which couldn’t have been more apt or terrorizing to the senses; the trio creates a disorienting assault that pierces limbs to the floor, one by one. Then later, at the Common Roots Urban Farm, as the sun hung low in the sky and the breeze moved through us, Nick Dourado played very inspired organ and sax, his breathing tempered by whatever mystical spirits have been unearthed in that place. I sat stupefied thinking about what had happened over the previous 36 hours. This was the best OBEY Convention yet.