Written by Shane Joines
Photos by GrandStand HQ
Get up late in the morning and drag your ragged bones to yoga (most studios worth their salt offer free classes with a festival pass, kids!). Hop on your bike like The Dude from High Maintenance and trust in the better intuitions of humanity, a laissez faire dress code and possibly a backpack full of substances. May snow in Alberta probably explains the out of season beards, but it’s June now and thigh tattoos peeking out the hem of a sundress more than make up for our fashion faux pas. Welcome to Sled Island, a ramshackle, summer frolic if there ever was one.
Calgary hosts the 13th iteration of Sled Island, June 19-23, welcoming over 250 artists in 30+ venues scattered throughout the inner city, daring you to navigate the surreal horizons of some seriously mind warping music. Comedy, film and art installations fill in the gaps for 5 days of galavanting, general carousing, and frankly, getting walloped over the head with a cotton candy sledge hammer of syrupy grooves.
Find yourself in a gothic church paying penance for last night’s sins oozing off the walls of the affectionately dingy (Canadian) Legion #1; lose track of rooftop patio rendevouz as you bike around the city under a cartoon cloudscape plucked off the pages of whimsical poster art; lose track of what it is you even want to see, because you’re more likely to end up in a random backyard getting your wigged pushed back by a genre of music you didn’t even know existed.
Calgary’s Sled Island creates its unique character as an artist curated festival that wades along the obscure edges of musical genres, yet comes out no less funky for it. Curators of recent vintage include Flying Lotus, Fucked Up & Deerhoof; but this year, Sled cranks up the emotional resonance as young indie stalwart Julien Baker takes the reigns. Julien’s picks for this year’s Sled Island artists run the gamut from the subtle nineties nostalgia of Japanese Breakfast to the dreamlike lyrics of Torres; Nashville’s no nonsense, Bully, to Son of Afropunk, JPEGMafia.
Further festival highlights include Fly Pan Am, spun-off from the elongated orbit of Godspeed, You Black Emperor; Ghanaian King Ayisoba brings his kosobo rhythm to the rowdily intimate, Broken City; Grammy nominated 9th Wonder protege, Rapsody holds down the rap side of things alongside Michael Christmas and the welcome return of Wasiu. Sinjin Hawke & Nora Jones guide their spaceship on a collision course with an A/V experience; “Godfather of Palestinian Hip-Hop,” Muqata’a, brings his must see beat set; le je ne sais quoi of Cate le Bon; the sultry bass of Ouri; The Comet Is Coming, hands down funkiest of the recent jazz revivalists; and ambient impresario William Basinski, best known for his “Disintegration Tapes,” which literally document the deterioration of analog reels. We can only guess what his approach will be live, playing in Calgary’s immaculate new Central Library.
Other names of note: Hop Along, Jessica Pratt, Le1f, Cass McCombs, Black Belt Eagle Scout, the fastest fingers on earth, Lubomyr Melnyk, and I’ll leave the rest up to you. Honestly, half the fun is biking around the city discovering what bands with names like Man or Astro Man? actually sound like.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Sled Island unearths the type of line-up that even the hardcore music nerd cowers from with tail between their legs amidst the existential dread of disappearing down a Spotify rabbit hole forever. My advice, crack a beer, stare into the abyss, dip your toes in the Sled Island water and get ripped away with the current.
Enjoy at your own risk.