Sled Island: The Choose Your Own Adventure Festival

Written by Shane Joines
Photos by Allison Seto, Shane Joines, and J. Ashley Nixon (cover photo)

Remember bombing down the hill on an old wooden toboggan with three or four other kids piled in behind you as it careened down the slope of its own cruel volition? After slowing to a halt, you turn around to see an empty sled and your friends scattered haphazardly along the path behind you. That’s sort of what Sled Island is like, and if you got caught up in the maelstrom of the Comet is Coming show, the particles comprising your body probably still feel randomly dispersed throughout the universe. Trust in the deeper mystery; but first, let’s start at the beginning…

Drinking PBR in a record store before noon, Dead Friends hit all the aesthetic hallmarks of an Edmonton band, meaning slacker surf rock and a stoned boyishness ala Mac Demarco. At the hot dog stand next door, Ghost Woman’s swampy rock & roll provided a nice bluesy backdrop for lunch. Later, in an old Victorian mansion, Hundredmillionthousand splayed sunset tones for surfers waiting to catch a wave that will never crest, but perfectly at peace in the hue.

Thomas Thomas @ #1 Legion. Sled Island 2019. Photo by Allison Seto. allisonseto.com

This is how afternoon’s usually while away at Sled, catching up-and-coming bands at obscure venues and planning the night over beers on Broken City patio.

Speaking of which, Toronto’s Gloin kicked off the party downstairs with a psychedelic blur of ghosts trying to break out of the haunted house. Later on, the punk Prince Paul, Obnox, provided the antidote to when Afropunk goes commercial.

The rest of the evening proceeded at a Kawhi Leonard pace. Responsible choices all around. Wasiu’s humorous rhymes and bassy beats kept things moving as an incredibly diverse crowd gathered for the Le1f show, but club kid beats are never going to keep me around for long, so off to Awesome Kitchen for a slice of pizza and a healthy start to the festivities.

Photo by Shane Joines

Sled Island builds with a particular momentum, ricocheting between beers with friends, running into strangers who seem to be hip to the same sensibilities, discovering bands you are not going to find anywhere else, ending up in the right place at the right time enough to keep a Cheshire Cat smile plastered across your grill.

The *JPEGMafia* show on Thursday night was unquestionably one of those places in time. Local emcee Lyrique had the crowd in an uplifted groove for Jae Sterling to use as a launching pad at a sold out Commonwealth. Sterling used the opportunity to introduce his wider collective, Thot Police, and when founding members Cartel Madras stormed the stage, it felt like a coronation. Calgary’s hip-hop scene has came of age in the hands of the youth, galvanizing around the hyper stylish, but equally dedicated Madras born sisters, Eboshi and Contra. Affectionately known as Peggy by his own fans, JPEGMafia brought his dystopian immediacy to bear on the appropriately primed crowd, refusing to believe in the physical limitations of perpetual motion.

Photo by Shane Joines

The Cartel, recent Sub-Pop signees, would keep things moving the next night playing a triumphant farewell set to another sold out crowd at Hifi. Joyously highlighting a multicultural, gender fluid crowd that has blossomed along with a hip-hop scene in Calgary led mostly by artists from the diaspora. Several different scenes have coalesced around the ascendent Cartel Madras, which hopefully continue to flourish in their absence.
Friday brought a morning downpour and a languorous set by Thanya Iyer, like a cigarette left to burn in an ashtray as the ash remnants float away in the wind. 

Photo by Shane Joines

Rain kept the patios closed, but B*les & the Suede brought some sorely needed soul to the festival and enough good vibes to coerce the sun out of hiding. It may not have made much sense to have the illest dance artist at the festival playing at a library; nor did it help that the giant effing screen behind him wasn’t being used and the light show dated from 1986. In suiting fashion, the smoke machines set off the fire alarms and everyone was forced to vacate the building. Despite all this, Palestinian DJ, Muqata’a had the best sounding set of the evening and you should go out of your way to discover who he is…especially if you’re into beats.
Har Mar Superstar highlighted the Inglewood Block Party on Saturday, neighbored by the local dog parks and breweries. I’d been warned by a  friendly Minnesotan that Har Mar was not to be missed, and rest assured the well-conditioned dumb ringer for Jon Lovitz & Ron Jeremy’s love child did not disappoint in all his emotive, pseudo-athletic glory!

Korean psych band, DTSQ got things off to a rousing start Saturday night as their set wound through the venue like the rollercoaster off the cover of Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde.

Julien Baker @ The Palace. Sled Island 2019. Photo by Allison Seto. www.allisonseto.com

But if the psych bands ride into town on a janky cartoon rollercoaster, The Comet is Coming launched off in the pristine aerodynamics and seamless ambience of a shimmering space cruiser revving an engine that runs on funk until the whole world unravels in a hyper drive blur leaving your discombobulated molecules scattered in the wake. I mean, you probably show up a JPEGMafia show expecting violence, but when it happens out of nowhere at a jazz concert, you’ve conjured a particular intensity near impossible to replicate.

Honestly, the show was difficult to put yourself together after, with half your constituent particles vibrating in a different dimension. Meditating the next morning, my body still felt like it was riding a bicycle through the spaceways with a frictionless momentum.

Photo by J. Ashley Nixon

Tasha’s translucent love of life was a welcome return to earth before one last rendezvous with the crew while Cate le Bon seemingly melted on stage. Her soupy set, equally jangly and soothing, brought the proceedings to a satisfactory close (despite seeming to despise us all for being unable to turn down the stage lights in the appropriately anachronistic Canadian Legion).
Which closes the chapter on another edition of Sled Island, the Choose Your Own Adventure of music festivals. Luckily, I have a year to put myself back together again.

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