The 20th edition of RBC Ottawa's Bluesfest finally came to an end last Sunday after 10 days of wall-to-wall performances from artists from all sorts of backgrounds and genres, including electronic dance music. Even though this year's lineup was a little on the light side in respect to EDM bookings, the DJs that they did bring to the festival delivered in their own unique way.
Like the last few years, Ottawa's Bluesfest took place on the grounds of the Museum of War at Lebreton Flats, a picturesque setting with 2 out of 3 large stages settled right next to the river. It's a grassy area, and self-contained with plenty of space to roam around and sit. With a new entry way this year to allow better crowd flow, the organization of the stages was slightly adjusted but almost identical to last year's design. The food at Bluesfest was a foodie paradise as there were plenty of food trucks offering a diverse range of options including my favourites of ribs, steak sandwiches, dessert waffles, and pulled pork poutine. This year's Ottawa's Bluesfest ran like clockwork as fans and organizers alike made this festival as smooth as it has ever been.
Thursday, July 3rd - RL Grime and Adventure Club
The first night of Bluesfest started off with a bang as they booked two of the festival's favourites from last year, RL Grime and Adventure Club. RL Grime didn't bring a custom setup like he did last year with the Infinite Daps tour, but that didn't mean he didn't bring it as he unleashed his bass/trap style onto the eagerly awaiting crowd. There was no warm-up DJ act prior to RL Grime taking the stage but he made the most out of it by bringing the energy up almost instantly.
There was a lot more nuance at times within RL Grime's set this year as he opened up his live performance to more genres quite like Skrillex has of late. Mixing some familiar hip hop hooks with heavy drops, the young crowd rewarded him with raging enthusiasm. Some notable tracks played included "Dum Dee Dum" by Keys N Krates, "Get Low" by DJ Snake and Dillon Francis, his own original "Because of U" and his popular remix of Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction". But arguably his most popular track made to date in 2014 was reserved as his finale. "Tell Me", his collab with What So Not, capped off a diverse live set from the L.A artist.
Adventure Club ended the night with a heavy set with more big room bangers than previously heard from this Montreal duo in past performances. That being said, their style of producing beautifully crafted melodic bass music was not lost that night as they made sure to play all of their crowd favourites including "Gold" and their new chill remix of "Shawdow Of The Sun" by Max Elto . Notables tracks dropped included Skrillex' and KTN's "Recess", Botnek's remix of "Selfie" (A crowd favourite), and "Wild" by Montreal's own Snails and Antiserum.
Friday, July 4th - Bonobo and Zedd
The next day featured UK's Bonobo who brought his live performance to Ottawa with a full band while the multi-talented Bonobo positioned himself in the middle of the stage with his guitar, drum machine, synthesizer, and more. The setting couldn't have been more picturesque as the sun was gently setting across the river, Bonobo and his live band delivered a chilled out, memorable trip through his discography that fans will not soon forget.
Zedd came on later to headline the mainstage, the only DJ/Producer given the honour to play on the mainstage at this year's Bluesfest. The 70s-80s band Journey played beforehand, and with a custom stage to set up that included his own LED walls and pyro, the crowd had to wait a few minutes longer before the recent Grammy winner took the stage.
When I first saw Zedd booked for the mainstage, I must admit I was a bit skeptical. Would fans show up in enough numbers to please the organizers? Can this young talent, who became so popular so quickly thanks to his Grammy winning album "Clarity", be able to deliver a headlining set that will live up to the hype? All of these questions were quickly dissipated once Zedd took control of the decks where all you could hear were the massive screams from his fans.
The crowd had a good mix of young fans who knew every word to Zedd's most popular tracks including "Stay The Night", "Find You", and "Clarity", and sung every word proudly and loudly. There were even a good number of people that stuck around after Journey to see Zedd, and happily watched as they nodded their head, smiled, and even danced to music that they probably never heard of before that night.
With a new album on the way, Zedd gave the Ottawa crowd a brand new track to listen to. Thankfully it was a hard nosed electro infused track which gave me hope that he hasn't completely gone down the pop music route. Has Zedd successfully crossed over into the superstar category of DJs? Judging from his headlining performance in Ottawa that Friday night, the answer seems to be yes.
Saturday, July 5th - Artrave?
Just like the rest of Ottawa, I had succumbed to the draw that was Lady Gaga, who had her Bluesfest debut on the first Saturday. Lady Gaga had been making strides to reach more EDM centric fans by reaching out to Zedd and Madeon to help produce tracks on her latest album ARTPOP. Even though she played Zedd's "G.U.Y" and other recent ARTPOP tracks live, it was her previous hits that delivered the majority of the crowd enthusiasm.
Once you see Lady Gaga live you understand how she managed to reach the heights of stardom as her performance was both personable, outlandish, eccentric, and even vulnerable at times. She put herself out there, and fans responded in kind. But was it really an "ArtRAVE"? Besides the bass/trap beats played including Dog Blood's "Middle Finger" before Gaga took the stage, it really wasn't. But let's not get semantics in the way of what was arguably one of the most memorable moments of this year's Bluesfest.
Friday, July 11th - Jacques Greene and Ryan Hemsworth
On the second Friday, the Black Sheep stage played host to the most underground night when Canadians Jacques Greene and Ryan Hemsworth took over.
Jacques Greene grooved to the beat as his love for the music showed as he displayed a lot of energy behind the decks throughout the set. It was heartening to see a nice mix of fans dancing at the outer edges of the crowd while young fans clung in the middle, bringing a nice atmosphere to the night.
This Montreal artist started off things on the lighter side but slowly upped the tempo to where he dropped Tiga's latest hit "Bugatti", followed by James Holden's remix of "The Sky Was Pink" by Nathan Fake. That remix was first released back in 2008, but when it was played live that night it felt just as fresh today than it has ever been. There was some love given to the WEDIDIT crew as tracks by Shlomo and Samo Sound Boy were played, providing some of the flavour that RL Grime first brought the week before.
Before Ryan Hemsworth took the stage, Jacques Greene ending his set with Hudson Mohawke's remix of "NRG", his soulful and beautifully made original "Body Party, and even brought a little OVO love with "2 On Thoful" by OB Obrien featuring Drake to end his set.
Ryan Hemsworth played my favourite set from Bluesfest this year and here's why. For one, this recent Juno winner showed clearly that he has developed a clear direction in his live shows by delivering a well crafted set from start to finish. Not one track felt out of place as Ryan picked what seemed like the ideal selection each time as I felt transported on a journey that every DJ should aspire on achieving.
Mixing in tracks like Rico Love's "OG Bobby Johnson (Remix)", M83's "We Own The Sky", Future's "Honest", or "Raptor" by Rustie together seem unlikely to work but Ryan Hemsworth manages to do it with ease. The live set also included a few Ryan Hemsworth originals including "Charly Wingate", and his "Let's Have A Sleepover Version" of Lorde's "Ribs" managed to continue the good vibes. Ending with "Thinking About You" by Frank Ocean, Ryan Hemsworth brought a fresh mix to Ottawa that electrified the crowd without having to use typical big banging tracks. Refreshing.
Saturday, July 12th - Time to explore
With no electronic dance music acts booked for the final Saturday, it was time to explore and check out new acts and sounds outside of my norm. While Deltron 3030, Childish Gambino, and Snoop Dogg did their thing and did it well, it was two unknown acts that really impressed.
Ever heard of Long Shen Dao? I didn't, but I will remember them long after their performance on the River Stage. They are a reggae band from Beijing, China that sang all of their songs in Chinese. What sets them apart besides their unique premise is how they manage to incorporate the "Gu Zheng", a Chinese string instrument, into their reggae sound. Someone should give their contact information over to Diplo.
The next act that really blew me away was Nostalghia, a 3 member band from Los Angeles led by lead vocalist Ciscandra Nostalghia. They provided a flawless live performance filled with emotion and power. With a new album titled "Chrysalis", Nostalghia showed it off to the Ottawa crowd in all of its glory. Ciscandra's voice sounds just as good live as in the album, but takes the songs to a different level thanks to her emotive and intense live performance. Tracks like "Cool for Chaos", "Homeostasis", and "Stockholm Syndrome" were my favourites of the day. It's hard to pin down their style but there's clearly a hint of electronic within Nostalghia's sound thanks to Roy Ghan, who played the drums, piano, and brought the live electronic infused aspects of their music onto the stage. If you're from B.C and just happen to be attending the Pemberton Music Festival this weekend, they'll be there and you should check them out.
Overall this year's RBC Ottawa Bluesfest was a complete success. The layout, the organization, the food, and most importantly the acts all put their best foot forward for 10 full nights in the Nation's Capital. Bluesfest has become a staple yearly event in Ottawa, and the 20th anniversary edition showed me that they could easily go for 20 more.