By: Armitage Shanks, Drastic Plastic (@ArmitageShanks1)
Once again, I had the privilege to cover Osheaga for CKUT; here are some of the highlights of 2014. Friday’s pleasant afternoon featuring diverse acts kicked into high gear once London Grammar hit the Green Stage. Vocalist Hannah Reid‘s talents stupefied the sizable crowd from the first track; her clarity and power engaged the audience for London Grammar’s hour-long set of releases from their debut album (selected as Armitage Shanks’ 2nd best of 2013 on Drastic Plastic) that ran the gamut from trance to exuberant rapturous emotion.
Immediately afterward, I strolled by the Tree Stage and was lured into a giddily dancing crowd going ballistic for Bear Mountain. Never having heard this Vancouver band before, I was won over by their sound which I subsequently described to my mates as Phoenix being fronted by Roland Gift (of Fine Young Cannibals).
As Friday evening fell, I caught a nearly two-hour set of Skrillex on the main stage, which any music fan has to experience at least once. Sonny John Moore‘s powerful and clever amalgamation of EDM, hip-hop, R&B, bro-step, etc. truly becomes apparent live, as Skrillex took the festival participants through a musical maelstrom.
I closed Friday night off with Chase & Status at the Piknic Electronik; this London-based trio has put together some of the best dubstep and house tracks appearing in the UK during the past several years (their album No More Idols was selected as Armitage Shanks’ best album of 2012 on Drastic Plastic). Chase & Status‘ 90 minute show fully met my admittedly lofty expectations; I heartily recommend attending their next performance, whether in the sonic-scapes of an outdoor festival or a comparatively intimate club setting.
Saturday first treated me with another new discovery on the Green Stage: St. Lucia. This collective, hailing from South Africa and Brooklyn, created the perfect vibe for a hot, sunny and groovy Saturday afternoon; based on St. Lucia‘s sound, they could well have been the love children from a debauched affair between Duran Duran and MGMT.
The subsequent several hours of pleasant downtime were necessary for Saturday night’s fierce highlight on the main stage: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. While I had twice before witnessed Nick’s Caverne (as featured on the original Osheaga 2014 poster), he was never so frenetically demonic as at Osheaga 2014. Mr. Cave and his cohorts (particularly Warren Ellis) had entered another profane, diabolical dimension Saturday night that took the unsuspecting audience of 40,000 along for the ride. Woe to any small children and grandmothers who were caught up in the infernal torrent of Stagger Lee!
Sunday at Osheaga was the pre-eminent day of the festival. The plethora of quality acts certainly made for some heart-wrenching choices on my part. My afternoon started with The Kooks, who have been a successful act for the past decade in the UK, a long-time favourite band during my featured spots on Drastic Plastic, and doubtlessly a fond new discovery for the enthusiastic crowd that caught their show on the main stage.
One of the aforementioned difficult choices was alleviated by the good fortunate of coming across Kodaline performing a brief acoustic set on a wee stage in the middle of the lush treed section of the festival on my way to see Kate Nash. Ms. Nash’s live set on the Tree Stage was astonishing, as she abandoned her customary clever folk musings for a cracking all-female band, reminiscent of Blondie, that impelled a mosh pit to form.
The quality at the Tree Stage increased further, as cracking new UK band Temples (whom I have been faithfully playing during my segments of Drastic Plastic in 2014) took the crowd back into a psychedelic era that segued perfectly into my other fave new band of 2014, Royal Blood, who performed the next set on the adjacent Valley Stage. The duo from Brighton (who are guaranteed to be massive in 2015) blasted the audience with a torrid assault of intense guitar riffs and melodic hooks that riveted listeners and swelled the crowd to more than double its original size by the time their all-too short set had concluded.
How can one possibly follow up the adrenaline rush of Royal Blood? The only conceivable remedy was to head directly over to the Green Stage to catch Gogol Bordello‘s gypsy punk escapades. Bearing in mind that their previous show several years ago at Osheaga was one of the top-five sets I have witnessed during my 8 years of covering the festival, I was delighted to experience the equally energetic 2014 version of the performance by Eugene Hutz and his debauched band of troubadours.
As Gogol Bordello convinced the assembled masses to start wearing purple, the sun fell and I ran back to the Tree Stage to catch Jagwar Ma. This outstanding band turned in one of the top performances of the festival, breathing new life and nuance into their debut album that was one of my most consistently listened-to treasures of 2013. Overall, this year’s festival (and particularly the Sunday lineup) was such an exhilarating experience that, watching Arctic Monkeys, the night’s closing headliner on the main stage (and one of my fave bands of the past decade), could be best described as providing the perfect anthemic farewell to tide festivalgoers over until Osheaga 2015 welcomes us all back.