In early October I participated in BreakOut West and attended the Western Canadian Music Awards where my Album Sonidos de Cuba was nominated for best electronic album of 2014. This was my first time to Winnipeg and my first time playing outside of Vancouver so naturally I was quite excited. The festival was structured with conferences, seminars, and mentoring sessions during the day with concerts in the evening and the awards ceremony on Sunday. I had booked myself into two rounds of mentoring sessions with five industry professionals each along with a music supervisor pitching session and a meeting with representatives from FACTOR.
This would also be my first time making use of my new custom flight case from Dinosaur Cases. I thought it would be a good idea to put most of my clothes in the case to lighten my carry on baggage. When I got to the check-in desk and weighed my case I was told I would have to pay a $75 overweight bag fee. I was about to pay the fee when a woman waiting nearby exclaimed “Are you crazy? Wear 3 sweaters! Stuff those cute socks in your bag! It’s 75 bucks!!” I was pretty skeptical that I’d be able to reduce the weight enough to avoid the fee, but I had time so I figured I’d give it a shot. Sure enough, by wearing my jacket, blazer, and hoodie, then stuffing my carry on luggage beyond capacity I made it (narrowly) under the limit. It just meant I was uncomfortably warm and rather silly looking in the security lineup and that my bag was bursting at the seams with socks and underwear.
Upon arrival my timing was quite tight. The rental car agent asked me if I cared if my vehicle was yellow but I just wanted to get it as quickly as possible. “Yellow” turned out to be what I would call metallic spinach-carrot baby poo. I had to go straight from the airport to my first round of mentoring sessions and managed to make it just a little late. Unfortunately I removed my prepared questions when I was taking out all the stuff I had to cram in my bag to get it under the weight limit. I had been studying my questions on the plane so it was fine, but I was definitely more flustered than I would have liked.
The mentoring sessions wrapped up around 4:30pm and I was famished. The only thing I’d had to eat since the bowl of cereal before my 9am flight were a few handfuls of yoghurt raisins. I had a beer and a Reuben at Bailey’s, the pub next to my hotel and it was the best Reuben sandwich I’ve ever had (although I can’t remember the last time I had a Reuben). I got the impression that Bailey’s absorbed its fair share of cigarette smoke back in the days when health regulations allowed such things. Near the entrance was an alcove filled with slot machines. Once fed, I was ready to check into my room at the Fairmont and pick up my festival passes and swag bag. Included was a microphone shaped sponge body scrub thingy and a heart shaped Yoda pin. I vaguely remember requesting a room with a view so I was perched up on the 21st floor with a great vista of the parks lining the Red River. I could also see a sad tattered Canadian flag flying from the building across the street.
That evening I had my first Showcase performance at Ozzy’s. It’s a dark, fairly large space below a hotel with another club upstairs called the Zoo. It was pretty dead when I arrived. It seemed like there was just a dedicated crew of regulars working the slot machines, something you don’t see much of in Vancouver, unless you frequent the casinos. I received load-in instructions, and later beer recommendations from someone who could have either been staff or a dedicated regular. My new case made my setup time much faster. I just opened it up and put it down on a keyboard stand, plugged in my power and a few other connections and I was ready to go. However, for some reason I wasn’t getting any audio out of the MicroBrute! Had it been damaged during the trip? The envelope lights were turning on when I hit the keys, but it wasn’t making any sound out of the main outs or the headphone outs. Just as I was starting to think about how I would do my show without it, I noticed that the VCA switch was stuck between Gate and ENV so the VCA wasn’t being triggered when I hit the keys or when I sent MIDI from the Octatrack. I flicked it back to ENV and it went back to working as usual and I could start breathing again.
Ozzy’s has a medium sized stage made to accommodate bands small bands. Underneath the stage is a row of speakers. Once I dropped my first beat I jumped a little because the stage was pulsating and vibrating with my kicks and bass. I must say it felt pretty awesome! I think I probably played my strongest set ever that night. I felt my transitions were smooth and my trumpet playing was strong. The audience had filled in more than I realized during my set, so I was pleasantly surprised when I finished to a warm and hearty applause.
I managed to score a Red Stripe after a long hunt by the bartender but before learning that my two drink tickets were only supposed to be used on domestic beer or single shot cocktails. Astral Swans were up next and we chatted as I tore my gear down and he set his up. Astral Swans is a solo artist, and the first to be released on Dan Mangan’s Matic label. His dark sense of humour really comes through in his music and banter between songs, but I felt his performance suffered from a muddy mix from the sound tech. I spent a good portion of his set internally debating whether to approach the mixing board or not (I didn’t).
He was followed by Yes We Mystic, a local band that featured five members on violin, cello, mandolin, guitar, Korg MS20, Nord Electro and drums. I quite enjoyed their energetic music and great use of eclectic and unique instrumentation. After their set I brought my gear back to the hotel before heading out to Shannon’s Irish Pub to catch The Mariachi Ghost. They were amazing so I was really glad I caught them. Each member wore Mariachi uniforms and badass makeup with a Mexican Dia de los Muertos motif on half their face. They also had two dancers performing along with them during some of their songs. Unfortunately they suffered from some strange chirpy feedback issues but it didn’t stop me or the rest of the audience from enjoying their set.