If you weren’t there, you missed it. Last weekend marked the 10th anniversary of my favourite music festival in Canada: SappyFest, the weird, earnest, scruffy crown jewel of Sackville, N.B. A human-sized antidote to corporate cavalcades like Osheaga, Pemberton or WayHome, Sappy invests all its efforts into forging small, overpowering moments. The stages aren’t large, many of its performers are unknowns, but the overall effect is one of discovery, sincerity, cultivated serendipity. There’s the sense that this is a cohesive, temporary village; no one wants anything more than to find their new favourite song.
For seven years, I’ve been attending Sappy as a kind of writer-in-residence, staying up till dawn to write a daily paper called Sappy Times. Full disclosure: They pay me to do this. But I’d attend the thing regardless, anything to see friends, make new ones, uncover wonders the likes of these.
Human Music – Cool Party (2014)
Lo-fi guitar pop from Winnipeg’s Human Music, who do everything right by not trying to do too much. All it takes is a breezy, easy melody, sloshing drums, a guitar solo or two. Boy and girl sing lines like “On the walk home / the moon falls / and the shadows grow,” and sometimes they do a “woo-oo-oo” in that California-by-Glasgow way. A song like this could hang like a pennant beside your barbecue; it could get taped to the back of your boombox, the one that plays your old tapes.
PUP – Reservoir (2013)
Some of SappyFest’s highlights were acts I already knew and loved, like Michael Feuerstack, Nap Eyes, Shotgun Jimmie and Nancy Pants. PUP I knew but didn’t quite love; then again, I had never seen them live. Nothing prepared me for the nimble jubilation of their live show, riffs and stage-divers flying like bottle-rockets from the stage. They’re so much trimmer, so much merrier than fellow Toronto punks like METZ and Fucked Up. They’re bantamweight scrappers, eager to get fired out of cannons. Even when they’re screaming about letdowns, raging against the day, PUP seem thrilled for every chance.
Partner – Hot Knives (2015)
Young, gifted and stoned, Partner are the best new band in Canada. When they started their hometown set – after midnight, packed like candlepins into Sackville’s old-school bowling alley – it was like a bomb going off. “WE’RE PARTNER,” shouted Josée Caron and Lucy Niles. “WE’RE COMING TO YOUR TOWN.” Drumroll, chug and then the heaviest, phosphorescing riffs – a cri-de-coeur of overflowing confidence and ambition, with somehow still a sense of slacker haplessness. It’s a mighty trick: making something so perfectly composed, meticulously rehearsed, feel messy and alive. Their success rests on Caron’s premier shredding skills but just as much on Niles’s deadpan presence: she’s like a punk-rock spirit animal, dry and goofy, singing perfect harmony at the top of her lungs. Are they a queer, millennial Lennon/McCartney or a plugged-in Cheech/Chong? Let’s give them a few albums to find out.
Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.