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Poppin’ off 

Five days. Eighteen venues. More than a hundred bands. Not enough hours in your life. So we’ll help you program your HPX. by Johnston Farrow and Sean Flinn


Giselle Numba OneHot Springs leader goes hip-hop

Giselle Numba One was born during the 2005 edition of Pop Montreal. The singer/MC hit the stage with “all these fools around town,” including SoCalled, members of Malajube on keys and percussion, and francophone MC Seba. She sang, rapped and played xylophone.

“’Twas such a ball that I started working on more of the same,” writes GN1 from Montreal. It was “a way of procrastinating from the songwriting I had to do for the Hot Springs album, which is done now. So I can smoke weed and make beats all day.”

She adds: “I got me some gear and I’ve got this shack in the back of my house where I burn black spruce oil and make beats.”

Along the way though she did hook up with some like-minded people, such as Graham Van Pelt of Think About Life/Miracle Fortress. He drops a few memorable verses on Giselle Numba One’s “Crazee Bitch,” a blip-hop gem. “We used to live together at this crazy space called Friendship Cove, which hada recording studio, so we made rap songs,” GN1 recalls.

She sings and raps over masterful minimalist tracks. “I liked the idea of singing my own hooks,” she says. “I don’t use samples or nothing. But lately I’ve been getting into the instrumental hook. ’Cos I get all squirmy when I hear too much R+B in the hip-hop I listen to. So I don’t want to be one of those.”

The comparisons to the likes of Björk and Peaches have already come her way, an assessment she dismisses. “See, I never understood that. I am just as influenced by Jeremy Enigk and KRS-One as I am by whoever of the five witches a girl’s gonna wind up compared to. I guess what sets me apart in hip-hop is that I rap about black magic and mental institutions. And sometimes I’ll play the flute into a loop station and that freaks people out right there.”

It was supposed to stay underground, but the people have clamoured for more Giselle Numba One; soon you will, too. SF

Thursday October 19 at the Bus Stop, 7:30pm, $6

MemphisStars frontman builds a new world with his other band

Haligonians will get to see a different side of Torquil Campbell, one of the most charismatic frontmen in Canadian music, when he performs with his band, Memphis. Fans of the Broken Social Scene family might know Campbell for his gig with the Juno-nominated Stars. Like the solo side projects of Broken Social Scene members Jason Collett, Emily Haines and Amy Millan, Memphis is decidedly more subdued than Campbell’s other band.

“It’s pretty hard to be louder than Broken Social Scene,” the always affable Campbell says from a house in rural Quebec. “I think it’s because we’re always on the road and we just get louder all the time. I think it’s just a different side of our personalities.”

Memphis originally formed between Campbell and longtime friend Chris Dumont while attending theatre school in New York City. Other members of the group included Metric guitarist Jimmy Shaw and Stars keyboardist Chris Seligman. The group played around the city for some time before other musical projects took over. However, the bond between Campbell and Dumont remained and the two formed the nucleus for Memphis’s full-lengths: 2004’s well-received I Dreamed we Fell Apart and this year’s fantastic daydream A Little Place in the Wilderness.

Written in the summer of 2005 during a work hiatus, Memphis’s latest opus is the mixture Campbell’s and Dumont’s musical tastes, incorporating the former’s unique lyrical cadence with the latter’s orchestral leanings.

“Chris is from North Carolina and grew up loving the ’60s pop like the Beatles,” Campbell explains. “I was really into ’70s soul and ’80s pop. Not that I don’t love the Beatles—because I do—but Memphis sounds like those two sensibilities coming together.”

Campbell says the lyrical content is more thematic than Stars, whose songs tend to be populated by individual characters. A Little Place in the Wilderness draws on poetic imagery to tell its story, something that ties directly to the album title.

“It’s about going to that place within all of us when we feel like getting away from ourselves, like when we’re feeling lonely and sad,” Campbell says. “I think I try to do the same thing in all of my music. It’s about building your own world.” JF

Editor’s note: As this issue was going to press, it was announced that Torquil Campbell is ill and Memphis has cancelled its HPX appearances.

Jordan DareMontreal scenester makes “upfront electronic music”

Although he’s one of the few DJs to hit the stage during this year’s Pop Explosion, Jordan Dare might be one of the hardest artists to define. Self-consciously shrouded in mystery, Dare refuses to share much about his background—where he’s from, and whether his name is real or not. He also declines to categorize his music, which includes elements of techno, electro and shades of new wave and acid house.

“I wouldn’t even call it electro,” the Montreal DJ says over his cell phone while smoking a cigarette. “For the sake of proper electro, it’s not at all what it sounds like. It’s upfront electronic music.”

What is known is this: Dare has been DJing for well over a decade, he’s a huge fan of Joy Division and he has a new record, Obsession set to be released in the next few months on Bomb Boutique Recordings. It’s his first release since his Day In Day Out EP came out in 2004 on the White Leather label, subsidiary label of Turbo Recordings, run by Canadian electronic music darling Tiga.

“It’s not run by many people,” says Dare, explaining the length of time between releases. “Tiga being Tiga, his schedule is really heavy and there’s only so much the guy can do in a day. There were a lot of other releases set for that label, but I think Tiga’s schedule went sky-high and everything pretty much got held back.”

Dare went through many incarnations, most that he wishes not to speak about—more specifically how he made his name on the Montreal drum and bass scene. It’s his current day job on the electro side of the dance spectrum that makes him an act to see. The Pop Explosion is a reunion of sorts this weekend, as he hits the stage with former roommate Aaron Seigner AKA Double A, a former Montreal drum and bass DJ himself. It’s also a chance to play out his soon-to-be-released material.

Obsession is a lot heavier,” Dare says. “Day In Day Out was still pumping stuff, and I’m not playing anything like Metallica, but it’s definitely more bumping. Expect to dance.” JF

Thursday, October 19 at Tribeca, 10pm, $5


Five Blank PagesTwo girls and a guy form Brampton power-pop trio

Like many others, Noyan Hilmi came of age, musically speaking, at the zenith of Canadian indie-rock in the mid ’90s. Hilmi, singer/guitarist of Brampton, Ontario, three-piece Five Blank Pages, gravitated to historic Halifax-based bands Sloan, SuperFriendz, Hardship Post and The Inbreds.

“The attraction…was that just brilliant pop music,” Hilmi explains. “I love the guitars, the simple pop structures, the vocal harmonies.”

While those qualities shine through on the band’s Spaces to Occupy and Abandon EP, Five Blank Pages doesn’t imitate. Joined by his younger sister Chelen Hilmi (drums/vocals), Pinar Ozyetis (keys/vocals) and transplanted Newfoundlander Rajiv Thavanathan on bass, Hilmi leans more heavily into power-pop (he professes a love for Treble Charger and other bands from Sonic Unyon, which is now the distributor of his own music).

He started as a solo artist, just him and his guitar, but then decided to recruite those closest to him to form a band. “It was also a lot more fun being in a band with my then-girlfriend-now-wife and my little sister,” Hilmi says.

The two women add a rich layer of vocal harmony together, while Ozyetis lays down by turns atmospheric and blasting keyboards. As for the other Hilmi on drums, her brother beams: “Chelen is a solid drummer, and though she looks petite, she rivals many guys on the kit.”

On lyrics, he reveals, “I’m a pretty happy person but sometimes the most inspiring things are the things that challenge you, or challenge or your outlook.” This was a constant balance struck by another artist Hilmi adored, Elliott Smith.

Five Blank Pages come to Halifax from Brampton, a city west of Toronto that’s given rise to bands such as Moneen. They ought to represent quite nicely. SF

Friday, October 20 at The Seahorse, 11:50pm, $7

Land of TalkDependent’s Montreal sibling visits for first time

Every Halifax Pop Explosion, one or two bands create a buzz around their appearance. Sometimes the group is about to take off into the stratosphere (Arcade Fire, HPX 2004)and sometimes it’s the hype from the press and messageboards (The Organ, HPX 2004). Whatever the reason turns out to be, Land of Talk is one of those bands this year. It almost never happened.

“Land of Talk was really the last thing I planned on doing musically,” says lead singer/guitarist Elizabeth Powell. “I had failed so many times that I figured, I’d do this and hopefully maybe sell a few hundred records. And it’s caught on and turned into so much more.”

The Montreal three-piece met while attending the music program at Concordia University, when drummer Bucky Wheaton grabbed Powell’s chin and “made fun of my face.” Superficial pranks aside, the two started to perform together and, after several bass players, settled on Chris McCarron to round out the group.

The three produced one of the best releases of 2006 with the Applause Cheer Boo Hiss EP, which has created a stir with critics. The record landed Land of Talk on a label familiar to most Atlantic indie music fans, Dependent Music, after Dependent founder Brian Borcherdt approached the band and asked them to join its roster of cutting edge musicians, including Wintersleep, Holy Fuck and Jill Barber.

Punctuated by Powell’s pixie-ish voice that recalls a lazy, high-register PJ Harvey, along with danceable rhythms and heavy guitars, Land of Talk quickly made friends with some of the most acclaimed bands in Canada, hitting the road in the last year with other buzz-worthy groups such as The Dears, The Stills and Shout Out Out Out Out. Powell largely credits her band’s success on the current Montreal indie renaissance, although the music world is starting to take notice of the group’s talents outside that context.

“Playing with those Montreal bands doesn’t register because we see them all the time,” she says of her current hometown. “But we just found out we’re doing some shows at the CMJ Festival with bands that we’ve always respected outside of Montreal. That’s when I felt like something was happening with us.” JF

Friday, October 20 at The Marquee Club, 10:50pm, $12 adv/$14 door

The SpadesFive-piece metal outfit brings rock, hilarious nicknames

Moving ever closer, from west to east across this land, Netherlands’ The Spades are conquering eastern Canada. Ottawa, Quebec City, Fredericton and Saint John will all have fallen to the balls-out guitar attack of Eindhoven, Holland’s finest, by the time this quartet reaches Halifax for the Pop Explosion.

“The Spades will loot the place like there is no tomorrow,” promises vocalist Denvis Wankalot (AKA Denvis Grotenhuis) by email. He’s joined by Son of a Cop on drums, Barry Black on lead guitar, Dick Spade on bass and Enus on the other guitar in this twin-axe assault.

Oh, don’t worry though. They have a sensitive side as well, points out Wankalot, as evidenced by the care they show one another while on the road. “We like to rub each others’ feet while we drive from geiser to natural spring. There we rub each other with natural salts and give each other massages.”

Fair enough. Playing dirty, greasy garage rock necessitates some pampering, especially when your definition of a good show is, as Wankalot says, when you’re “coughing up blood.”

Who knew the Dutch were such a hard-rocking lot? Here we thought it was the Swedes you had to watch out for. Speaking of which, the boys in the Spades have played drinking games with the likes of The Hives and The Hellacopters from Sweden, says Wankalot, who also nods to Norway’s Turbonegro and the Detroit’s Dirtbombs. “With NoMeansNo,” Wankalot adds, “we talked politics.”

This band from “Eindhoven Rock City” has put out the long-player Learnin’ the Hard Way Not to Fuck With on Go Kart Records. They also appear on a split seven-inch with Toronto band Maximum RnR, another of this year’s HPX participants.

If you like your rawk (and your humour) trashy, you gotta check out the Spades. SF

Friday, October 20 at The Attic, 11:15pm, $6

Spesh KLocal rapper gets doper as he gets older

There are no excuses now for Halifax’s Kevin Kinch (AKA Spesh K). The local rapper who does double duty as a solo artist and part of the group Fax 4 is set to release his latest disc Media Coverage to the world only a few weeks after his appearance at the Pop Explosion. Adding fuel to the fire is a brand spanking new video of his first single from that record, “Retirement Days.”

“Videos have helped a lot for national exposure,” says a visibly excited Kinch after showing his fresh clip. “I was in Ottawa and staying with this guy and I told him I was doing a rap show and his friend started sing the hook to my song. I had never been there before. It’s like radio play, reaching out to places that aren’t my bedroom where I record the album.”

Spesh K might be one of the most patient hip-hop performers on the east coast. The 24-year-old slowly built his reputation on the local scene through five self-released albums, his work with Fax 4 and with rotation on MuchMusic. But none of that work seemed to align at the same time.

His well-received “Knockin’ Em Down” clip aired 10 months after the record it was on, Export Eh, hit shelves. And it took a few years to find the time to write the 17 tracks for Media Coverage, largely due to the recording of Fax 4’s debut disc InkLined taking first priority.

Now it appears that the success of other Maritime MCs might pave the way for the most successful Spesh K album yet. Classified, J-Bru, Jay Bizzy and JoRun have all scored critically acclaimed albums in the last year and it’s no coincidence that the first on that list lent his talents to a few Media Coverage tracks. Not only is the Pop Explosion a way to showcase Kinch’s new material, it’s also an opportunity for Halifax hip-hop heads to see the next generation of east coast MC talent.

“Back in the day me, Bru and Class had done hundreds of shows all over city,” Spesh K says. “Dudes like that are doing the same thing, but we’re just trying to do it on a bigger scale. But our shit’s more dope because we’re older and now we’re ready.” JF

Friday, October 20 at the Gorsebrook, 12:45am, $8


Cadence Weapon Polaris Prize nominee brings hip-hop back to Edmonton

Edmonton native Rollie Pemberton (AKA Cadence Weapon) burst into national consciousness last year as an artist to watch. His debut record Breaking Kayfabe—named after a wrestling term meaning to break character—is a subversive slice of underground hip-hop, mixing touches of electronica and old school beats with clever, off-the-wall raps. It became a critical hit and a Polaris Prize nomination, awarded to the best non-mainstream Canadian album of the year, outed the 20-year-old MC/producer and his unique vision (the award ultimately went to Final Fantasy). Even the keeper of the keys to Mount Uniacke took notice.

“We are kindred spirits, as it turns out,” Pemberton says of his friendship with Rich Terfry (AKA Buck 65). “He reached out to me. I had met his management and he emailed me and we got to chatting. We met up a couple of times and I jumped on when he played in Edmonton. We just really hit it off and we definitely have some ideas.”

Rapping since his early teens, Pemberton spent time in high school working at a music store, which opened him to brand new sounds and musical ideas. He cites a varied mixture of influences from Aphex Twin to Rza and even Bob Dylan. And unlike a lot of rappers, he goes into great detail of why he likes them, a sign of his current music journalist gig with the Edmonton alt-weekly See Magazine.

“I don’t want to limit myself and what I can do,” Pemberton says. “The kind of beats I rap over aren’t really traditional as other people. People are inclined to think I’m rap for indie rockers, which isn’t necessarily true, but in some cases it is.”

Mature, funny and well-spoken past his years, Pemberton is quick to acknowledge the amazing amount of attention he’s gotten with his first record. He also feels he still has a lot left to accomplish in his career. With the goods on display on Breaking Kayfabe, it looks as though those goals may not be too far out of reach.

“I’m not a huge award dude, but I’d love to win Junos and Grammys and stuff,” he says. “Not because I want to win them, but because of what winning them would mean for underground rap, or for Edmonton or the things that encompass me.” JF

Saturday, October 21 at The Marquee Club, 1:10am, $10 adv/$12 door

The DiablerosRock outfit vents its collective frustration into music you can dance to

At its core, Toronto quintet The Diableros possesses a restless soul. If the group’s debut, You Can’t Break the Strings in our Olympic Hearts, is any indication, they are the right band to capture the urgency—many would say the state of emergency—of the world today.

“I wouldn’t describe the band as a group of intense personalities, but there are a lot of things in this world that piss me off and I suppose I vent my frustration through my songs,” explains singer/guitarist Pete Carmicheal.

The emotional and sonic floodgates are thrown wide open on You Can’t Break the Strings. When the band takes the stage, expect to be overtaken by a big instrumental breaker. Several tunes, from “Tropical Pets” to “Smash the Clock,” establish a psychedelic-pop-flavoured rhythm for the verses that crest for the chorus. Organ splashes, bass booms, drums crash and guitars chime a la early-to-mid-career Stereolab.

For Carmicheal, making music amounts to releasing energy; he arrives at relief, “kinda like an orgasm.” He’s a studio head as well. “I also enjoy recording in a very nerdy way, so I have the best of both worlds doing this music thing.”

“Sugar-Laced Soul,” the first single, starts delicate and sweet but soon bursts open. Some fine melodic lines on bass and Carmicheal’s vocal push characterize the song. Carmicheal recalls a rush of satisfaction particularly about his experience laying down the song on the first take. “It was really cool because I had only written the song a couple weeks prior to recording. Then it ended up being our video single.”

The band’s line-up has gelled around the core of Carmicheal and drummer Phoebe Lee, the only two to appear on the record. They’re joined by Ian Jackson (guitar), Ian Worang (bass), Matt Rubba (keyboards). All they need is for you to join them. SF

Saturday, October 21 at The Marquee Club, 10pm, $10 adv/$12 door

The Golden DogsToronto outfit makes big room sound, McCartney covers

Dave Azzolini, guitarist/vocalist for Toronto-based The Golden Dogs, has just readied a second radio single from the mid-August release Big Eye Little Eye. The band covered Paul McCartney’s “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” from the Wings 1973 album Band on the Run. Azzolini faded the song out on the guitar solo, the point where the 12 bars of triplets come in (he imitates the quick succession of notes with a laugh). Now complete, Azzolini imagines a radio DJ chattering over the fade, “And that’s the latest from the Golden Dogs…”

Fun with guitar solos aside, the cover goes to the kind of well-crafted, sharp and sophisticated “song-based rock,” as Azzolini calls it, The Golden Dogs make (often reminding you of Blinker the Star or a tougher Stars). He and his wife, Jessica Grassia, who sings and plays keyboards and percussion, saw McCartney on a recent tour.

“You saw it in peoples’ faces—that intense reliving of memory,” Azzolini recalls, adding the instant recollection and connection McCartney created with his audience forms a “synchronicity” the top Golden Dog hopes to develop with his own fans—regardless of the size of the room.

The song quality on Big Eye helps. Simply and smartly constructed rock that uses a “big room sound,” a tone Azzolini credits to producer and Halifax son Paul Aucoin (Heavy Blinkers, The Hylozoists). On “Construction Worker,” which Azzolini wrote when his neighbourhood was under siege to front-end loaders and trucks, starts and returns to a rapid snare and guitar jackhammering.

The band has its live legs now too. They have the confidence to work out and play with songs, including the sweet keys and drum-machine-driven “Never Meant Any Harm.”

Azzolini and Grassia trade vocals often. “We’re both intensely intertwined in this thing,” Azzolini says of his musical and life partner. “We love this so much.”

This is a band with much to share, much to connect with. SF

Saturday, October 21 at Stage Nine, 11:50pm, $8

Language ArtsExperimental Vancouver quartet goes solo for HPX gig

Machines are letting Kristen Cudmore down. “Everything in our house is breaking,” says the 24-year-old New Minas, Nova Scotia, native, now living in Vancouver, with mock helplessness.

The CD burner’s fried. She can’t create new copies of The Baby EP by her band Language Arts. Her sewing machine is shot. The phone has silenced its ring, so a warbling answering machine picks up.

Michael (Finn) Vaughan’s sleepy voice actually answered and he passed the phone to Cudmore. Vaughan plays double bass in Language Arts, while Cudmore rhymes, sings, plays classical guitar and writes the lyrics. Joined by drummer Matt Dawson and keyboard player Cody Osborne, Language Arts plays a unique and spry mix of acoustic pop, hip hop and classical styles.

“Everybody in our group is trained in some way,” says Cudmore, an Acadia music graduate. Vaughan got his chops at Acadia, where he studied applied science, but performed in the university’s youth orchestra.

The playing is expert, not overindulged. “It’s a warm tone with nylon strings,” she says of her guitar. Even as she raps and sings, she remains conscious of how plucking a string at a certain angle shades the note just that little, necessary, bit—a classical nuance.

Cudmore delivers a steady flow of conscience, contemplations, with an unaffected clarion-like voice. There’s no pretense or overwrought emotion on tunes such as “Running at Sunset.” That came out of time of grief, when her grandmother died. “She was really dear to me,” Cudmore reveals. At the same time she struggled with the “what now” question in life. “I went running a lot.” The repetitive and rhythmic motion triggered the song.

Fans of The Doers or Josh Martinez, artists who make carefree, smart and well-crafted music, and whom Cudmore mentions herself, will appreciate Language Arts.

Cudmore will be flying solo—just her and a very reliable sampler—for this gig, which will provide a perfect chance to meet this singular artist. SF

Saturday, October 21 at One World Cafe, 9:30pm, $5


BusStop Theatre 2203 GottingenThe Gorsebrook SMU Campus, Inglis at TowerThe Marquee Club 2037 GottingenOne World Café 2412 AgricolaThe Pavilion Central Halifax CommonThe Seahorse 1659 ArgyleStage Nine Blowers at GraftonTribeca 1588 GranvilleThe HPX box office is located at Sam the Record Man, 1656 Barrington.

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