At Long Last, Victoria Welcomed Rifflandia Back with Open Arms
With Lorde, Bikini Kill, Charli XCX, Art d'Ecco, Bran Van 3000, Cypress Hill, Chali2na, Fantastic Negrito
Published Sep 20, 2022After so much struggle and effort, it feels like a magnificent victory that Rifflandia not only came back, but also outdid itself in many ways. Even before the pandemic kicked the world's live music scene squarely in the wallet, the long-running multi-genre, multi-venue festival had been placed on hiatus, forced to cancel its 2019 edition, and organizers cited the need for "careful attention to ensure that Rifflandia is able to thrive for years to come."
Resurrected like a bat out of hell, the lineup for 2022 was absolutely incredible. However, things didn't entirely turn out as planned — life doesn't really work like that anymore.
One of the most anticipated headliners, Black Pumas were burned out after several years of incessant COVID-era touring and made the healthy choice to leave the road about a month before the event. Rifflandia managed to add Fantastic Negrito to replace Black Pumas, but their absence wasn't the only stumble — political performance art collective Pussy Riot weren't able to cross the border, and so the whole schedule at the Park was tweaked slightly to accommodate for the missing hell-raisers.
Regardless, Victoria needed to have Rifflandia back, and fans happily took everything that it had to offer. With several stages condensed between two spaces, Rifflandia sold out of weekend passes before the festival began. Thursday only had evening entertainment at Electric Avenue, but it was packed that night for what was practically a mini Bass Coast with tunes from Stickybuds, the Librarian and Sabota. Sunday culminated with a relaxing afternoon at the Park, headlined by the first-ever winner of Canada's Drag Race, Priyanka, among others. Here are some of the weekend's highlights.
While Dillon Francis held the headline slot on Thursday, budding pop superstar Rêve arguably made the biggest impression. Born Briannah Donolo in Montreal, she went viral after singing the national anthem at a Canadiens game, which brought her to the attention of the music industry. After a move to Toronto in 2020, a well-placed demo got her signed to uMusic as Rêve, which is French for "dream."
Playing her last show of a long summer tour, she was joined by a couple of high energy ballroom/rave dancers, and a spectacular specimen of a DJ called Lovely Beast, who rocked to the side in his mesh top, leather overalls and bondage horn mask. Her crew brought the energy up, and the crowd matched it.
Rêve only has a handful of singles out so far, but people belted out the hook to her Banx & Ranx-produced single "Headphones," even when it wasn't happening. During a song about singing to songs despite forgetting the words called "Big Boom," a small group of audience members added off-beat woos mid-song, completely unprovoked.
Unfortunately, an attempt to bring things down a shade had mixed results. Left alone with a Nord keyboard, Rêve sang a somber, emotional cover of Robyn's classic "Dancing on My Own," before transitioning into a slow take on a banger of her own, her first single "Still Dancing." The crowd sang along with the Robyn part, but struggled to maintain proper attention during the rest of the interlude. One imagines that kind of tearjerking Lady Gaga moment will resonate differently when Rêve finds herself headlining arenas next time she swings through the West Coast. She has it, and everyone is gonna find out soon enough.
Rêve course corrected soon after, picking the momentum right back up with the sexually charged Europop banger "Tongue." Lovely Beast then amped up the crowd and introduced the dancers while Rêve went off to change into a new outfit for her biggest single to date, "CTRL + ALT + DEL." Even playing some unreleased material, her set basically capped off after a half-hour, leaving Lovely Beast to DJ for the last 15 minutes.
He may have been playing on a day with headliners such as Ben Harper and Shaquille O'Neal, but Victoria's own Art d'Ecco packed a punch at the Park early Friday. The last time he played this festival back in its previous iteration in 2018, he was booked at the Rubber Boot Club, at what Art called "that cute little shithole down the street." This time, he was on the main stage, and made a good bid to receive a better time slot next time around.
Art d'Ecco is modern glam at its best, channeling the evocative lyricism and propulsive energy of T.Rex with the absurdist new-wave hooksmanship of Sparks. Like Bowie, Art has seemingly moved on from the androgynous makeup and bob wig in which he centred himself on the cover of his first two Paper Bags Records albums: 2018's Trespasser and 2021's In Standard Definition. Embracing more of a bespoke '80s Bowie look, the resplendent white suit that Art wore at Riff shone almost as brilliantly as his platinum blonde hair, and the charismatic showman lived up to the comparison.
Performing with most of the crew behind his 2022 effort After the Head Rush, sexy greaser Evan Miller slickly licked the guitar, Aleisha Kalina sassed up the tambourine, grey-suited Connor Head cooled it down on guitar and synth, and the dapper rhythm section of drummer Malcolm Holt and bassist Pascal Levasseur kept it warm. They captured all the crisp stadium riffage, melodic nuance and shout-along harmonies that, combined with the charming star power of Art d'Ecco, makes their studio albums sound like greatest hits collections for a late '70s/early '80s band never before heard.
After opening with "Never Tell" from Trespasser and "TV God" from In Standard Definition, their set drew heavily from After the Head Rush, showcasing the jam-tastic disco-dance-rock prowess of tracks like "I Was a Teenager" and "Only Ones." His band hit their marks confidently and stylishly, with Head sizzling on the funky, staccato riff for "SAD Light Disco."
Naturally, near the end of their set, they dropped in a version of "Head Rush," which many may remember from those Fanatics licensed sportswear ads. When introducing the song, Art self-deprecatingly said that it was why most people were probably there, if they were even there on purpose, but he and his pals had already given so many reasons to come back. Finishing with upbeat indie rocker "Midlife Crisis" — recalling the Cars as Head teased the melody from his ASM Hydrasynth — gave them one more opportunity to put it over the top.
Bran Van 3000
Anyone who remembers Bran Van 3000, the Montreal-based collective named after a Swedish liquor, is probably of a certain age — the kind of people who also bought a weekend pass to see Cypress Hill and/or Bikini Kill. Their biggest hit was "Drinking in L.A.," their first single. That trip-hoppy Big Shiny Tune came out in 1997 and went everywhere, particularly across their native Canada. The album it was on, Glee, went gold up north, and won a Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year.
Their set at the Main Stage started off like the opening of a time capsule with sticky hinges. Di Salvio's flow was a little chunky, and Johnston's voice was a little underpowered in singing "Exactly Like Me!"
They battled sound issues too. During a sugary super-disco-charged version of "Old School," that seemingly contained a nod to "Stand Up" from their 2007 album Rosé, another vocalist attempted to take the lead, but her mic was only audible in the monitors. After the song was over, she asked if anyone could hear her, and received a resounding, "No! Turn it up!"
Thankfully, they tightened up as they went along. Initially wearing a majestic purple Lakers jacket, Di Salvio eventually shed it to reveal a BV3000 shirt in the style of the WuTang Clan logo, and his grip on the mic seemed to loosen. Their sound came around, they started projecting confidence, and gradually it felt like 25 years ago.
With Di Salvio slapping down some sweet Latin percussion, their rendition of 2001's "Astounded" did the late, great Curtis Mayfield's memory proud. Sara Johnston had a particularly wonderful moment near the end, taking inspiration from a sign in the crowd and singing a heartfelt take on "Mama Don't Smoke," the closing track from Glee.
Naturally, given they were on the 25th anniversary tour, they ended with a near-perfect take on "Drinking in L.A." that hammered home the nostalgia for the golden age of MuchMusic, when Len's sunshine was stolen. In the outro, the crowd was chanting "L.A." and Di Salvio, feeling it, got them to turn it into "one love" instead.
Not looking to ruffle any feathers, Bikini Kill were soft-spoken and well-behaved. Yeah, right! They told Victoria what for, screamed in their faces, and everybody loved it.
Bikini Kill were one of the most revolutionary forces in punk rock history, helming the nascent riot grrrl movement of the '90s. It sucks that the world still needs music like theirs, but it does now more than ever. In the middle of their set, iconic singer-bassist Kathleen Hanna asked, "How many bands have come to Canada since abortion has been illegal in the States and been, like, 'I'm moving here.' Well, I'm gonna go back and fuckin' fight."
Their set at Rifflandia was their first time playing in Canada, but not for lack of effort. They initially attempted to cross the border in 1991. Drummer-guitarist Tobi Vail made it across fine, but Hanna's new vocal monitor, recently bought for self-care, alerted the guards' attention, and they were turned back. A similar situation seemingly beset Pussy Riot, who had been booked to play the Park's Rifftop stage before Bikini Kill, but were unable to travel freely in order to perform music (they sent a video message in their stead, encouraging support for political prisoners, bodily autonomy, and Ukraine, as well as straight-up calling Vladimir Putin a murderer).
Before singing "Sugar" from 1993's Pussy Whipped, Hanna said the song was about getting out from under the heteronormative rock that society judges you with, and deems what our desires should be based on how we present ourselves to the world. What a message.
Relevantly, since it was an all-ages show at the Park, Vail dedicated a heartfelt rendition of "For Only" to Oakland artist Joey Casio, who died in the Ghost Ship fire. After the song was over, she humbly requested for more (and safer) all-ages venues, to prevent tragedies like that from happening again while still encouraging independent creativity.
Near the end of their set, after a righteous take on "Double Dare Ya" from their self-titled EP, Hanna dropped down for a couple of push-ups, then launched right into "Rebel Girl," because the place may have spontaneously combusted if they didn't play it.
The youth were certainly out in full force for their set, with so many cute little kids running around and rocking devil horns on dads' shoulders. As the band's recent endorsement of the Linda Lindas shows, the next generation is going to take their example and run with it.
Once an aspiring figure skater, Caroline Cecil's Olympic dreams came to an unceremonious end when she shattered her ankle. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as, a couple years later, she saw an Active Child set on the smallest stage at Sasquatch! Music Festival 2012, putting her on the path to become Whipped Cream.
From her home base in Nanaimo, she started grinding out her style of dark pop-, crunk-tinged bass music, and within a couple of years she was a staple at Shambhala, HARD, Life in Color and the like. She's only gotten bigger since, particularly since her bass brutality landed on the 2020 soundtrack for Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, where her "So Thick" collaboration with Baby Goth was nestled between Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion.
And if one could find enough space to move in the congested crowd, Whipped Cream gave plenty of compelling reasons to do so. Her set was as massive as it was scattered, containing references to everyone from Cardi B, Jimi Hendrix, George Michael and SZA to Benny Benassi, Daft Punk, Billie Eilish, and Peter Bjorn and John. Naturally, she sprinkled the set with bangers of her own, like the slick opener "Light of Mine" from 2021 and the menacing "You Wanted It" from 2019. It was manic.
Spinning under his DJ DIESEL moniker, a slightly confused Shaquille O'Neal later followed her with a somewhat similar brand of hardcore bass music, laying down atomic drops while yelling "WHERE'S MY MOSH PIT?!!" to "Vancouver," then "Vancouver Island" and finally to "Victoria."
Ibibio Sound Machine
Big band, big show — this was the kind of mid-day set that makes the festival experience. London's Ibibio Sound Machine is a melting pot of styles and cultures, all channeling their power into a blend of classic electronic music and Nigerian highlife. It's hard to sit still when this machine turns on.
Eno Williams had the powerful voice and aura of Grace Jones, her soulful and funky voice commanding the groove while her presence filled the space. Altogether, ISM had the full eight-piece band going, with Williams flanked by drums, percussion, guitar, bass, and a full horn section sprinkled with synths.
The scintillating progressive house of "Wanna See Your Face Again" showcased Williams' soulful '80s R&B vocals, while the funky chug of "17 18 19" showed what the band could cook up in Fela Kuti's kitchen.
Earning one of the biggest reactions was the simmering, slow-motion explosion of the pandemic-inspired "Protection from Evil." Williams got on the vocoder to modulate her vocals before the peak, and ended the song in a prayerful bow.
If anyone wasn't high as balls before they wandered into the crowd at Cypress Hill's set, they sure as hell were afterwards. People may discuss stoners as lazy slackers, but these guys were the first hip-hop group to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They may not exactly be Bikini Kill, but they've been activists in their own way, as one of the loudest voices helping to push the huge rock of cannabis legalization up that hill.
Granted, Victoria didn't get the 100 percent complete Cypress Hill experience. Drummer extraordinaire Eric Bobo and blunted rapper B-Real were there, but Sen Dog couldn't make it, though he sent his love. Longtime beatsmith DJ Muggs didn't produce their 2022 album Back in Black, and, though he is apparently planning on reuniting with the group for their eventual 11th and final album, he wasn't there either.
Greeting the crowd at the Main Stage was travelling turntablist DJ Lord. He's an old school DMC finalist, has been tickling the ones-and-twos for Public Enemy since 1998, and was a member of the rap-rock supergroup Prophets of Rage with B-Real, so the crowd was in good hands.
After about 15 minutes, B-Real and Bobo joined Lord, and that's when everyone really lit up. The group launched into a collection of the most-streamed tracks from Cypress Hill's Spotify, half of which are about weed. They had a lot to draw from, with some of the greatest albums from hip-hop's golden age under their belt and some criminally under-appreciated late-career work, but they gave the people what they wanted.
Naturally, with a massive joint in his hand, B-Real made the crowd feel the vibes, sending out as much positivity as he could with aggressive music. His trademark nasally tone and bluntly determined flow sounded like he hadn't aged a day in decades. He let the crowd take the hook to "Insane in the Membrane," but they might have taken it anyway.
For their closing track, B-Real made the crowd crouch down real low, then jump around for a cover of what he deemed the most explosive song in hip-hop. It was "Jump Around," famously recorded by House of Pain, but actually produced by DJ Muggs, and people went friggin' ballistic.
One of the biggest contemporary stars on the festival's lineup, Charli XCX shut down the Main Stage at the Park on Saturday with a no-frills stadium pop show. The music was all canned except for her mic, which seemed a little buried at times. Other than some light costuming and projections, there wasn't a lot whole to the stage design either. However, she didn't need much to put on a crowd-shaking show — high energy, good humoured and refreshingly raw, there's something special about Charli XCX's on-stage energy. At one point she apologized in advance that her well-worn costume might fail and allow for a mid-song nip slip — "she's living her life."
That bit transitioned into the metropolitan bounce of "Yuck" from this year's Crash, for which Charli got the crowd belting the hook. Joined by a couple of backing dancers, Grant Gillmore and her choreographer Nathan Kim, she sang with gusto and danced with vigour, eliciting roars with every locked-in move.
She did a quick cover of "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls, which oddly took it all the way up through the first verse to the chorus twice but never paid off, with a beat that sounded more like a house retooling of "Don't Tell Me" by Madonna. Afterwards, she said Victoria looked "very cute and sexy" before launching into "I Don't Care," her iconic, star-making Icona Pop collaboration. It's such a stupidly enjoyable track, and it had the field jumping. She already has plenty, but more hits are doubtlessly on the way. The love is there.
Taking it back smoothly at the Philips Main Stage down in Electric Avenue, Chali 2na and Cut Chemist showed us how it used to be. A wonderful addition to a day's programming that also included DJ Shub and DJ Lord, Lucas MacFadden (a.k.a. Cut Chemist) is one of the all-time greatest turntablists. His mixes with DJ Shadow are stone-cold classics, particularly their influential 7-11 themed 1999 effort Brainfreeze.
This 45-minute set was full of the finest gems from their relatively brief yet thoroughly groovy catalogue, taking it back to what's golden while sprinkling in a few other surprises. MacFadden proved himself to be a more than capable rapper in his own right, and the pulsing tech-house of "Work My Mind" from Cut Chemist's 2018 album Die Cut showed how much life their newer material still has.
Naturally, Chali 2na was in top form on the mic, while Chemist tickled the sounds behind him. They ended with a shoutout to Vancouver's Funk Hunters, whom Chali called his "muthafuckin' brothers," as his collaborators since 2013 were set to headline the Philips Main Stage afterwards.
Before the madness was unleashed, the last set at the Rifftop Stage kicked off with a stirring speech from residential school survivor Eddy Charlie. Alongside Kristin Spray, he's one of the organizers behind Victoria Orange Shirt Day, who help create awareness about the ongoing legacy of our country's past abuses with the aim to educate and heal. The topic was heavy but necessary, especially given the festival is located on the unceded, traditional territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən people. Much to their credit, the crowd awaiting the party-hardy lunacy of Vancouver's own bbno$ gave Charlie the consideration and support he deserved.
Born Alexander Leon Gumuchian, bbno$ has been producing music since 2014, with his 2019 Y2K collab "Lalala" going viral on TikTok. It earned over 800 million Spotify streams, received an official remix with Carly Rae Jepsen and Enrique Iglesias, and has since achieved double-platinum status in the US.
Teasing "Lalala" right off the bat, bbno$ started off his set with its famous line, "Did I really just forget that melody?" With a style somewhere between Lil Dicky and "Weird Al" Yankovic, he played the theme to Veggie Tales, a rave mix of "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes, and gave out cookbooks — a District of North Cowichan Family and Friends Cookbook, to be exact — to those in the crowd going the hardest.
The last act to perform at Rifflandia 2022, shutting down the Main Stage at the Park after dark, Lorde drew a lot of attention. Her stage setup was massive and elaborate, with a huge, white, drum-like circle under a large staircase that cut the stage in half at an angle, all of which rotated depending on what the song and performers required. Her band would huddle around the base while she danced halfway up the stairs, or up on the risers and staircases around it as she worked the piece.
Coming down from the hype brought by bbno$, her set was a little slow to get going, but took a step up with a cover of Bananarama's 1983 new wave pop hit "Cruel Summer." With her uniformly dressed band engaged in simple choreography that would do David Byrne proud, they may have taken the song for themselves.
Considering the more acoustic and natural presentation of the artist and band, and the fact that many people knew the words anyway, it was a little odd that it appeared a fair amount of crowd noise was being pumped in through the system. It seemed like the crowd took over singing the plaintive ballad "Liability" from 2017's Melodrama, but it was hard to tell if they actually were. They definitely sang out "Royals," though, and howled to the moon along the way. One got the sense that if they had to, they'd howl until Rifflandia comes back again.