It’s appropriate to me to post this piece on July 1, Canada Day.
Not a day goes by that I do not feel immense gratitude for being able to call the great land that is Canada my home. I’ve done a lot of exploring, I’ve travelled, and I’ve learned some amazing truths in my time. From seeing and covering the Housecore Horror Film Festival two years in row in Austin, Texas, attending PAX, and now, being able to have attended and covered Sled Island in Calgary. There’s something really humbling about finding beauty right in your own backyard.
While I will not wax idiotic and pretend I found great brotherhood at Sled Island (in truth, I found just the opposite), what I did find in the place of camraderie, was a beautiful city, great music and some very deep connections with one of our long time readers, and some bands who have had immense impact on my life. I learned some lessons, as well.
So come along with me and dive into June 24, 2016 at Sled Island 2016.
Still reeling from the HEALTH show the night before, I definitely slept in and slept off a hangover. The DIAG crew took the morning and early afternoon off to do some exploring. We scoured the city for record shops, nerdy comic book shops, bookstores and oddities and were not disappointed. Big shout outs to the dudes at Recordland in Calgary who had an amazing selection of reasonably priced vinyl, while two thumbs down and a BOOURNS to the fuck up who runs Hot Wax records for being a complete asshole to us. Look. We get it. You’re the cool older hipster doofus who didn’t want to be seen selling Swans vinyl to the greasy metalhead types. I get it. Let me know how that works out for you when it comes time to pay your rent and all the rest of your equally goofy clientele has spent all their money on artisanal beard oil and craft beer.
Some people’s children, I swear to god.
But you know what’s great? Calgary is an amazing city to drive around in. There’s actually a skyline. Everyone was generally pleasant aside from the chode who ran Hot Wax and some redundant protoplasm I have yet to mention. We had a really delicious lunch at a little hole in the wall Japanese fusion place and got to wander through some little bars and coffee shops. Basically, a dream afternoon for DIAG.
Prepping for the 6pm show at Bamboo, I got drunk and applied too much eyeliner. When I tried to conceal the fact that I put on too much, I ended up putting on more. If you happened across me and I looked like a panda that had lost a fight a few days previous, that’s the look I was going for.. Stop judging me, MOM.
I have to say right here that I was pretty well blown away by the amount of folks who rolled out to see a 6pm stoner/doom metal show at Bamboo. The place was packed wall to wall with sweaty leatherclad metalheads, stank to high heaven of weed (see what I did there), which was actually a first for me in amongst the Calgary nightlife. Being a BC girl and a medical marijuana user and advocate, I seem to find myself rarely separated from the devil’s lettuce. The middle of the Witchstone set was the first time I smelled any cheeba during our stay. It seemed so appropriate.
Allow me to say that Witchstone is fucking sick live. Heavy and pulsing, a mixture between churning stoner riffs and psychedelic leanings. While extremely difficult to photograph, I think I managed to capture some shots that really give off the essence of this set.
Also. I have to step in here and make a comment. During this set, there was another musical photographer present and I’m assuming this person was new to the game due to shooting photographs exclusively with the flash on. Look, dickweed, I’ve been appointed by the rest of the group to tell you to fuck off. Don’t. Stop it. Not only did Sled Island specifically state – don’t fucking use the flash, but the rules of photography, even the most basic of rules should tell you that flash is generally going to make your pictures look washed the fuck out and shitty and useless. You’re shooting a stoner doom metal band. Work with what you’re given. Further.. it’s a real dick move in a darkened room of atmospheric music to flash the shit out of the musician who is playing to their fans. Stop it. Seriously. You give music photographers a bad name, and amongst experienced photographers you out yourself as a newbie. Don’t interrupt a show. Don’t make life difficult for the musicians. Go up there, take your photographs and fuck off. And if you can’t do this, please leave the photograph taking to those of use with some class.
Following WITCHSTONE, the truly fucking heavy Bell Witch played and their set crowded out the place even more. It was so packed at the start of the set that even raising my arms to lift my camera was a chore of figuring out how to move around people. What stands out for me here is that in a room of black clad leather loving metal heads, not once did I feel separated or not included. When I apologized for bumping into people on my way to take photographs, most people let me pass without any issue, seeing the huge camera I carry.. One dude even asked to see the finished photos.. Well here you are boo.. these are for you.
More on this sense of inclusion later.
Following Bell Witch, I had to make like a tree and leaf my way over to get some food.
On the way out of the bar though, I must make mention that I wandered past some of the more hipster type metalheads.. you know the ones.. Squeaky clean jackets with preapproved Deafheaven patches, hard parts, waxed mustaches, murses openly mocking a few dudes who appeared to have shown up to the show in sweatpants, black denim and comfortable hoodies. The dudes in question in the sweatpants were rocking the fuck out during both sets and had purchased merch from the bands. Look. Stop it. Just stop it. Stop fighting and fucking bickering and playing this game of who’s more scene and who isn’t and who should belong at a show versus who shouldn’t. Who gives a fuck what those dudes were wearing and doing. They came and saw and rocked out and obviously gave enough of a shit to support these touring bands. No, they didn’t fit the metalhead fashion statement, but the thing is.. is that truly, one of the most counterculture movements is to just be who YOU are. Don’t wear a vest because you think it makes you cool. Be you. The irony of the hipster metal types who would be torn limb from limb at some of the shows I have shot, making fun of the dudes in plain black pants and dirty hoodies is pretty great and also highly lost. I hate intensely that this divide exists. We are all just as open to mocking. I too found myself to be the brunt of several of these jokes during my stay at Sled Island, and while I will agree that no, I am not some cool fashion plate, and yes, I truly don’t care what anyone has to say about it, I don’t think that the inclusion of metal and alternative music should be held hostage by dudes trying to outscene the other. If you’re judging people by their clothing it makes you kind of a loser. If you only end up hanging out with people who fit into your pre approved friendgroup based on the patches on their vest, or lack of vest, you’re probably missing out on hanging out with some really rad people and that’s a huge bummer. Don’t be that dude. Stop it. If you’re reading this Mr. Beige Murse with the Discharge patch on it.. try being friendly to the person standing next to you. They might end up being your new friend. Or at least, don’t throw stones from glass houses okay? You’re wearing a Deafheaven patch. Calm down.
Following the rainy deluge that accompanied the Bell Witch show (how apropos), we ended up having a meal with one of our long time readers, a religious studies professor, who then escorted us onwards, back to the Dickens pub for PSYCHIC TV.
I had previously researched the opening act Melted Mirror and knew mildly what to expect for this show, but beyond this, I was not sure what type of music I would be walking into.
Nothing really prepared me for Zad Kokar, a pair of French musicians clad in onesies, one wearing a mask that looked like it would have been completely in place in a movie like The Purge, and were playing discordant cacophonous music. Initial appearances aside, the set was fucking legit.
This pair put on a really great set and I look forward to hearing more in the future.
Following Zad Kokar was HSY, a group of noise punks from Toronto, fronted alternately by a long haired babely dude in camo and a tiny little girl with a powerful voice. I really enjoyed this set, there was a lot of good energy, some true rage, and I feel this was captured most excellently in these photographs.
Following HSY was Melted Mirror, a new wave goth type band that was equal parts confusing and engaging. The front man looks like one of those Patrick Bateman types, while the synthesizer dude looks like he jumped straight out of the 1980s with a dangly earring. The music was of course total 1980s throwback, sounding like someone resurrected Ian Curtis while high on Quaaludes and put the whole thing up against some synth. What I really noticed here was, like the 1980s, a lot of people in the crowd were jacked up and getting a bit aggro which is interesting, given that one would consider most gothy types to be pacifists if anything. While I was photographing for Melted Mirror, a female audience member became quite upset with me and began to shove me and at one point tried to grab my camera.
Look, honey.. I photograph extreme metal, okay? You’re 90lbs and 5 of those pounds are that bread bag twist tie septum ring in your nose. Stop it. While I can certainly appreciate that it’s annoying as hell to have people push past you, I’m not doing it to get a better view or somehow try to take something from you.. I’m here to do a job. Eventually I endeavored to use logic with this girl and told her that if she kept grabbing the camera I would end up standing at the front longer and she did eventually back off. Also. Don’t ever touch my camera. Unless I’ve made you sign some form of contract that involves signing your name in blood and solving the Hellraiser puzzle, don’t ever touch it. The camera I use is worth a shitload of shmeckles and I don’t need your grubby cheap Urban Outfitters nailpolished fingers getting sadness and cocaine residue on it.
All jokes aside here, I was genuinely pretty surprised that Dickens did not have a stage barrier set up for this show. I love the moat, the stage barrier, the photo pit. It keeps photographers away from the audience, there’s no pushing and shoving, and it lets me get nice and close to the bands. I definitely get that this can be tricky for smaller shows so I do sympathize. What I don’t sympathize with is being a fuckhead to music photographers. As mentioned previously, I totally get why people get their panties in a bunch about us. If the moron photographing Bell Witch is anything to go by, the photographers in this scene in particular may be leaving something to be desired. I consider myself to be a polite person. Pushing my way up front, I apologized the whole way, stood to take my photos and promptly left. I’ve never gotten shit on for doing my job before and this was something of a surreal experience for me. More on this later.
Following the Melted Mirror set, the crowd began to seethe in preparation for PSYCHIC TV. The merch table went up at 10pm and people had begun to purchase their Psychick crosses and records. The band went on at 12:30am to mass cacophonous roaring.
The entirety of Dickens pub was packed to the tits, and of course the crowd was pretty difficult to paw my way through. I ended up being vomited out up front by a cool ass nerdy girl named Jillian (what up girl!), and was promptly lectured again for pushing my way to the front by another person … When I stated again, that I was there to do a job and even showed my photograph pass, I was sneered at. I was pretty blown away by the crappy attitude. When Psychick TV went on, I stayed up front in this position for one song, before moving to the other side of the stage for the second song. Fighting my way through the throng of people, I will say here that most people let me through, save for one fellow who felt that violently assaulting me by grabbing my shirt and screaming in my face was the answer to whatever rage he was feeling in his heart.
Allow me to say right here, that from the moment the beautiful GENESIS BREYER P-ORRIDGE took the stage, my heart was overflowing with immense gratitude. This is a condition of being in the presence of this person, this walking art piece, this influence, this legacy. My hands were shaking as I snapped photos. GENESIS has a hard beauty that is written firmly into the lines on he/r face. There is a practiced talent within PSYCHIC TV that comes from GENESIS having 50 goddamn years of practice making this music, this noise, that has been a part of my life for going on 16 years now. Previous to this, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, The Cult and Death in June have evoked similar responses in me. I am rarely star struck. So infrequently do I fumble for words. Staring at GENESIS and the rest of PSYCHIC TV, it felt like something slipped away and nothing else mattered but this music, this moment. The anger and injustice of being assaulted at a PSYCHIC TV show turned to motivation and from this, I took photographs that are so utterly perfect, I’m in the process of having my favourite one framed. I think that this also speaks to the transformative power of PSYCHIC TV, that much ugliness and darkness can be transformed into something that is it’s antithesis. This is the power of art, right here.
Suggestions for the future at Sled Island – huge draw shows like Psychic TV should have a barrier present, I advocate for this out of selfishness. I’m a five foot tall woman. I’m pretty petite. Being assaulted while carrying out my job was a very odd experience that I can now add to my resume, and while assault is not something foreign to me since I do work in job where tempers run high, when I carry a camera, it’s a whole different feeling.
But. This isn’t the fault of Sled Island festival. I think a lot of this attitude came from people who perhaps felt that I was getting away with something, that I was being rude, or that somehow they envied the position I have. What amuses me beyond all this is that two of the individuals who pitched fits over my work (not the man who assaulted me, mind you) have now liked all of these photographs on my instagram and have begun to follow my art page. Perhaps this too should serve as a reminder of the transformative power of art. I do wish that these people would allow this experience to trickle into their minds so that they understand that pretty finished photographs on an instagram come with the unsexy reality of a photographer putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into their work. In my case, it’s me with my hair in a bun, raccoon eyes, pushing my way through a crowd and taking these photographs. I’d like to point out here without sounding too much like an SJW, that I did not see the male photographer in the crowd experiencing the same outcry, but truly, again, I don’t care. I write about this experience to shed some light into how we view things. I feel very deeply that we often see things as happening specifically to us and take things personally without considering critical thinking around the situation.
After taking photographs for the industry standard three songs of the show, I moved to the back of the venue to drink cider, clean my lenses and stow my gear. When PSYCHIC TV played “After You’re Dead, She Said”, I had an emotional moment. This song is a shared favourite between myself and friend who is currently going through a dark emotional time. This friend once told me that PSYCHIC TV transformed how they thought about art and the human condition. And of course, I ended up crying.
If you’ve ever taken a shitload of LSD, you know that some of the most powerful and healing moments come when you cry and cry and cry out all the cancer and ugliness. I did some major personal healing at this show, and truly, I hope a lot of other people did as well.
Since my makeup was a complete disaster before, it was reaching a critical mass of Chernobyl like proportions, and I went to get drunk and came back to find myself seated next to Peaches. She didn’t get recognized and I didn’t wish to disturb her, and we both just stood and watched this wonderful show for a while, and for that fleeting moment, everything seemed right and made sense. Life’s funny that way.
While I had to make my way home and back to the beautiful forests of BC on June 25th and sadly missed the Peaches show, I got to start my new job on Monday and so far, it’s been fucking amazing.
Well, this post intially started as a simple show recap, and since the only journalism worth reading is Gonzo, of course this turned into more fuckery from the goddamn DIAG peanut gallery. I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry.
I would like to extend my most sincere thanks to the staff at Sled Island festival for doing a real bang up job. Thank you for offering to me this intensely wonderful opportunity. Let’s do it again some time.
Until next time kids, stay spooky.