Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver bands receive lots of love on the national level, but there are so many other Canadian cities with great local scenes. As part of an ongoing series profiling emerging acts, we’re highlighting Calgary as one of the most exciting cities for fresh, new talent.
Forget what you think you know about Calgary and its Stampede stereotypes and big-business oil execs. From a classically trained, experimental pop artist and a John Hughes-inspired post-punk synth-pop band to an avant-garde harpist and the raw, soulful words of a hip-hop wunderkind, there’s as much musical diversity as there is cultural diversity in Calgary’s next generation of superstars and indie heroes.
CBC Music consulted with a host of notable names and local experts to help narrow down this list to the 10 best new and emerging acts in Calgary right now. Scroll down and prepare to fall in love with a new contender for Canada’s music city.
With thanks to Katherine Duncan at CBC Music, Willow Grier at BeatRoute (a Western Canadian music magazine with offices in Calgary and Vancouver), CKUA senior producer Elliott Garnier and the music programmers at this year’s Sled Island.
Foonyap is a classically trained violinist (she entered the Mount Royal Conservatory of Music at 11 years old) whose 2016 debut full-length, Palimpsest, was a lush, weird and intoxicating blend of electro-opera meets experimental pop, reminiscent of Tori Amos, Austra and Braids. The Fader called one song “a tense and bespoke mixture of swampy electronics, strings, and vocals that flash with a bold volcanic brilliance.”
Foonyap’s releasing a four-song remix EP on June 16 called Apropos. After you listen to that, go back and rediscover her daring debut. It is a stunning, colossal work that’s as disconcerting as it is captivating.
CKUA senior producer (and former CBC Music writer) Elliott Garnier says that Deicha Carter, the frontperson for funk/soul act Deicha & the Voodoos, has an incredible voice and that the band’s live show is amazing. Based on a series of sizzling hot videos on YouTube, it’s impossible to disagree. Carter’s voice is smoked honey bourbon, equally at home in a sexy, soulful lower register as she is in belt-it-out powerhouse mode.
Carter also organizes Torch Nights at Dickens Pub, an event that pays tribute to legendary women artists with proceeds going towards the Women’s Centre of Calgary. It’s lovely to see new bands with big hearts who model social justice work as part of their practice.
CBC Music’s Katherine Duncan and BeatRoute’s Willow Grier both recommended 36?, and it’s easy to understand why. Even though 36? has existed in some incarnation since 2006, it’s only been the last couple years that things have really started to take off for the scruffy and scrappy fuzz-rock, psych-pop act. What began as the basement recordings of frontperson Taylor Cochrane has evolved into a full band that, at least on its 2015 EP, Split, evokes everything from Black Mountain to the Strokes to Hot Hot Heat.
Yes, Melted Mirror's band members are obviously students of the Cure and the Killers, but doesn’t it feel good sometimes to just dance while the world burns down around you? That’s the aesthetic and sound Chris Zajko promised when Melted Mirror was just getting started in 2015, telling BeatRoute, “What I really want to be doing is getting people to dance, but I want to get people dancing to ominous music. When people think of dance music, they’re thinking of uplifting, happy music. What excites me is the juxtaposition of a feel-good dance beat or a beat that gets your body moving, with an ominous mood.”
The band continued that mission on last year’s full-length, Borderzone, and it’s a breath of fresh air for everybody who doesn’t have the energy to pretend everything’s OK, but still needs to find release on the dance floor.
Hermitess is the solo project of harpist/singer-songwriter Jennifer Crighton, and this is the perfect soundtrack to so many activities: communing with nature, meditation, ice fishing, pagan rituals. Lest you think this is a slight, Crighton’s backing vocalists on this unusual but gorgeously atmospheric album are credited as the Witch Choir (Clea Foofat, Sarah Houle, Laura Leif, Melissa McWilliams and Erin Rudling). It’s a sonic disruption to almost anything else you’ve ever heard, and the whole thing unfolds like a secret garden coming to life after a long, harsh winter, cracking through the Earth bloom by bloom, branch by branch, song by song.
There is almost no information online about who Aiwass is, other than the band is a dark synth-pop — or I’d like to suggest crypto-dance-goth — duo that's name may be a nod to Aiwass, the name that occultist Aleister Crowley gave to the non-corporeal voice that he believed dictated The Book of Law to him.
No matter. Part of the fun of new acts is a deep sense of mystery. Sled Island says that the band captures the “eccentricities of the '80s with a modern spin. Downcast moans juxtaposed with industrious production cast an aura of coolness and indifference like a character from a John Hughes movie. Dancing is non-negotiable.”
Jahimba Hutson (a.k.a. A.Y.E.) is a force on his recent single, the devastating and raw “Can I Live,” which he released in response to the U.S. police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and in support of #BlackLivesMatter. Hutson, a charismatic and multi-talented artist who’s been making a name for himself with his backing band, the Extraordinary Gentlemen, has been hovering on the verge of the big time for a few years, but there aren’t a lot of people who think of Calgary as a possible new epicentre of Canadian hip-hop. Hutson may be the one who helps change that.
You might recognize Alice’s distinctively sunny and soulful style from a 2013 Target commercial, or perhaps you remember her as one-half of indie soul duo Jocelyn & Lisa. But in 2016, Alice went solo and scored a hit single with the hook-heavy “Jackpot” and her newest single, “Bound to You,” already has more than 110,000 views on YouTube.
Insert your “A-Bomb is blowing up” pun here because this is a band that can withstand all the corny shrapnel and blast-related jokes you’ve got. They’re just that good, that solid, that nothing will shake them from their fierce and flawless hard-rock hooks. The three-piece act — which actually owes its name to a menu item at Calgary’s famed Tubby Dog — is comprised of Faith Schadlich (lead vocals and guitar), Jenny Brisebois (bass) and Nicole Niewinski (drums), and though they’ve only been around for a little under two years, they’ve already penned at least one love letter to their hometown, "YYC," a frenetic and furiously catchy tune that recalls the Pack A.D. — and not because they're both all-women bands, but because the Pack is one of the best rock bands in the world, and A-Bomb is following that trajectory.
This four-piece has just a three-song demo but it’s pure fire. It’s a heady, heartbusting mixture of punk’s spit, metal’s snarl and hard rock’s left hook, and it’s so tightly wound and frenzied that listening from start to finish will leave you gasping for breath like you’ve just completed a full-body workout with one of those fitness trainers who uses #Swol as their main hashtag on Instagram. This might be one of the most thrilling three-song debuts the country’s ever seen.
Find me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner
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