The Halifax Pop Explosion Music Festival and Conference (HPX) is one of the region’s largest and best events, hosting over 100 bands on stages across the city for four days. For the last 25 years, HPX has offered Halifax audiences the ultimate chance to see some of the world’s biggest acts on their way to the top.
Imagine Arcade Fire playing the legendary Marquee Ballroom two months after the release of their debut LP, Funerals. Or Broken Social Scene playing a show on Halloween night. Elliot Smith. Meat Puppets. Stereolab. Neko Case. Feist. The list goes on and on. Mixed with some of the most exciting emerging local bands, a community-focused conference, secret shows, and – of course – garlic fingers, the Halifax Pop Explosion is four jam-packed days and nights not to be missed by music fans and music lovers.
On the eve of the festival’s 25th anniversary, I’m going to give you 25 reasons why you should hit up this year’s Halifax Pop Explosion. Consider this less of a hierarchical countdown, more of a compendium of reasons.
From Cleveland, OH, this band released their fourth album in January – Life Without Sound – and it instantly became one of my favourite records of the year. Dylan Baldi is an incredible guitar player, and when you see him play live you really get a sense of how intricate some of these songs are. Cloud Nothings proudly represent “the merger of power pop and hardcore brawn…without sacrificing any of his irrepressible energy, or his enviable knack for hooks” (Uncut).
The tour DJ for Mykki Blanco, Bambii has been called “the Best Toronto DJ You Don’t Know About” by THUMP and – in the past year – has crafted mixes for The FADER, Crack Magazine, and more. Her sets glide between “lusty, pulsing, percussion-driven house” and “high-octane, neck-snapping club music.” As the kids say, her HPX show will be LIT.
REASON #23 – No more Molson, long live LOCAL BEER!
Gone are the days of Canadian & Coors Banquet at HPX. This year, 3 local breweries (Good Robot Brewing Company, Garrison Brewing Co., & The Gahan House), a local cider house (Sid’s Cider), and a local distillery (Nova Scotia Spirit Co.) will be providing all of the festival’s alcohol needs. And for all you non-craft fans out there, Grolsch will be available everywhere too.
If you’ve already purchased an HPX wristband or tickets, bring your receipt to one of the three breweries above to get discounts on pints, growler fills, and more. Don’t have a wristband yet? No problem. You can also buy them at these breweries (and they’ll give you a 10% break).
REASONS #22 & #21: The Rural Alberta Advantage & Yukon Blonde
Saturday, Oct. 21 @ Halifax Forum Multipurpose Centre
TICKETS | PASSES
Two of my favourite bands on the same bill? Yes, please! Returning to Nova Scotia with new albums either in tow or on the way, both acts have played to packed houses in Halifax over the last two years. This show is your chance to see them on a big stage! Let your hair down and dance to the retro-inspired rhythms of Yukon Blonde and sing your hearts out to the Canadiana anthems of The Rural Alberta Advantage. (Bonus points to you if you show up early to see a band I play in called Dance Movie!)
REASON #20 -The X-Audio Enhanced App
ANDROID | iOS
Sure, any festival can have an app. But this year, the HPX app provides an ~enhanced experience~ thanks to the folks at Lixar. Hear stories of Pop Explosion past, get tips on the best greasy joints to eat when the shows are over, and be the first to find out about festival secrets as the week rolls on. Throughout, you’ll get audio content relevant to your location! Consider it your contextual assistant as you bomb around the city during the festival.
A soul legend, Lee Fields has been making music for over 43 years! Did you know he was in Kool & The Gang before they made it big with “Celebration”? With his remarkable voice and incredible backing band (The Expressions), Fields is guaranteed to deliver a clinic in soul music when he returns. This is a show for fans of Daptone, Stax, Motown, and Chess Records especially, but also a show that everybody can enjoy no matter your musical preferences.
I saw some really amazing music at SappyFest this year, but my favourite discovery was The Courtneys. Mixing bubblegum garage melodies with krautrock drive and Sonic Youth-esque tones and traits, their new album II is amongst my favourites of the year. A great soundtrack to summer drives down the highway with the windows rolled down. Re-live that feeling not once, but twice at Pop Explosion.
Patrick Watson was one the first ever winners of the Polaris Music Prize in 2006. For the last ten years he has performed all over the world, but never in Atlantic Canada. Not once! Halifax Pop Explosion 2017 changes all that and brings him to town for what is certain to be a dramatic and haunting performance.
Partner just may be the biggest buzz band in Canada right now. Believe me, the hype is real! Their debut record was just released by You’ve Changed Records (one of the best labels in the country) and it’s full of all the things we’ve come to expect from a Partner set – ripping solos & guitarmonies, good old fashioned rock n’ roll fun, and lots of songs about getting/being high. All of this, wrapped in a late 90s/early 2000s power pop sheen. Highly recommended for fans of Weezer, Veruca Salt, and the Josie & The Pussycats Soundtrack.
REASON #15 – LOBBY SHOWS AT CKDU
Thursday, Oct. 19 & Friday, Oct. 20 – WHOOP-Szo/Strongboy + Beliefs/Fake Palms
One of the best parts of any Pop Explosion is cramming into the CKDU lobby to see bands play an all ages show before starting your night out on the town. This year’s installment of the lobby shows include the boundary pushing Guelph noise-builders WHOOP-Szo, the local smoothed out guitar whiz kids Strongboy, the spooky nuwave Hand Drawn Dracula mainstay Beliefs, and the post-punk gloomy psych purveyors Fake Palms – who, by the way, have also released an amazing new record this year.
Lido Pimienta is a force to be reckoned with. Not only did her album, La Papessa, win this year’s Polaris Music Prize, it was the first album to do so with no ‘team’ behind it. No label, no publicist, no management – completely independent. A dedicated and passionate artist, Lido will also be one of the featured speakers at the XPAND Music Conference (a FREE event, by the way). I saw her both speak and perform at SappyFest this year, and both were true highlights.
An internationally recognized poet, activist, educator, and musician Malcom London runs the largest youth open mix in Chicago with Chance The Rapper. He’s been called the Gil-Scott Heron of this generation by Cornel West, and was part of the first ever televised TED Talk with John Legend & Bill Gates. He comes to the Halifax Pop Explosion as both an XPAND Music Conference featured speaker (another FREE event) and a performer.
REASON #12 – 2ND ANNUAL CANADIAN LABEL SUMMIT
Last year, Pop Explosion introduced the first ever Canadian Label Summit. Providing an opportunity for labels from around the country (and the world) to learn about the latest trends in the industry, directly connect with other like-minded businesses, and discuss issues facing labels and artists, it’s a chance to learn from some of the biggest and best-known indie labels. Among others, reps from Tin Angel, Saddle Creek, Captured Tracks, Paper Bag, Arts & Crafts, and Buzz Records are participants this year.
From the Burdocks to Dog Day– Nancy Urich may just be one of my all time favourite local songwriters. Her latest project, Not You, brings to the table everything I have loved about her songs for over a decade: melodies that burrow into your skull, inescapably cool guitar tones, and chunky riffs – all coated in just the right amount of spookiness. Drummer Meg Yoshida (Bad Vibrations) is a powerhouse behind the kit. See the band open and close the festival.
When December rolls around and it’s time to put together a Best of 2017 list, Jon McKiel’s Memorial Ten Count will surely be near the top. I’ve been listening to McKiel’s songs for the better part of ten years now and – though I’ve been a big fan of all his records – his latest is a monumental statement. Jon McKiel is in peak form, and he has settled into such a captivating pocket with his backing band: JOYFULTALK’s Jay Crocker (guitar) & Sean Dicey (bass), and COUSINS’ Aaron Mangle (drums). They amp up the Memorial Ten Count material with such gusto and fervor, it’s hard to not be mesmerized when the outfit takes the stage.
REASON #09 – VISTING/INTERNATIONAL SHOWCASES
Every year, a number of other festivals, labels, and organizations come to Pop Explosion with their own bands in tow. Set against the backdrop of our amazing city, sights, and culture (nobody tell them about the construction, k?), Halifax welcomes these showcases with open arms. This year, among others, you can see bands traveling all the way from the UK at the London Music showcase, see up-and-coming Ontario acts presented by the excellent summer festival Riverfest Elora, attend a community-focused all ages show at the Quality Block Party, and catch what some of the biggest Canadian labels such as Dine Alone Records, Paper Bag Records, Buzz Records, and Forward Music have to offer.
Before appearing on tracks with BADBADNOTGOOD and Daniel Caesar, making an EP with River Tiber, or becoming one of the most sought-after vocalists in Toronto, Charlotte Day Wilson cut her teeth in Halifax. As the singer in The Wayo, Wilson left her mark on the local music scene before hitting the big time. Clocking in at just over 20 minutes, her acclaimed debut, CDW, is so smooth you’ll lose track of time. If you find yourself going back to your Sade records lately, you won’t want to miss this show.
One of the summer’s biggest box office successes was The Big Sick. A master class in indie romantic comedies, the film was written and directed by Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, etc). Remember his obnoxious roommate in the movie? That’s Kurt Braunohler! In addition to stand-up appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Late Late Show with James Corden, Braunohler has also been featured on Bob’s Burgers and co-hosts Hot Tub – a weekly variety show in New York with Kristen Schaal. His first Netflix special, Trust Me, was released in March.
Few Canadian bands have skyrocketed to the top of the blogosphere quite like Weaves. A staple on the Buzz Records roster, the band was shortlisted for the 2017 Polaris Music Prize. One of their newest singles, “Scream,” features the incomparable Tanya Tagaq, and their forthcoming record has already caught the attention of tastemakers like Stereogum, Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, and more. Big guitars? Check. 90s vibes? Check. A little quirky? Check.
Another standout from this year’s SappyFest (thank you, SappyFest!), Aquakultre & Big BUDI Band offers up a show like no other at Pop Explosion. Big BUDI Band is helmed by one of Halifax’s most prolific musicians, Nick Durado (Century Egg, EDDY, Special Costello, etc) and brings some of the city’s best musicians together for an extremely fun set of electro-funk rhythms. When I saw them at Sappy, the band included members of Gypsophilia, Chronos Band, Special Costello, and THREE drummers. So picture this jazzed-up dance party, and then about halfway through they bring in Aquakulture – an up-and-coming R&B/hip-hop vocalist from Halifax who has one of the sweetest voices you ever did here. The all-star band backs him up on a set of originals. Don’t miss this!
Cancer Bats (one of the hardest working heavy bands in Canada) playing an array of Black Sabbath songs. It’s really that fucking simple. Guaranteed fun.
Canadian post-hardcore trio METZ is no stranger to the Halifax Pop Explosion. The first time I saw them rip it up at Gus’ Pub in 2008 may be the first time I’ve ever seen a band use lights controlled by footswitches to accentuate their set. Fast forward 9 years and METZ (who, by the way, are on the seminal record label Sub Pop) return to Halifax with a new album, Strange Peace, recorded live to tape by Steve Albini. Oozing with intensity, and bursting with high octane energy, METZ is one of the best live bands this country has to offer.
REASON #02 – LOCAL BANDS
Since its inception, a major goal of the Halifax Pop Explosion has been to present the best local bands on stage in support of the major headliners. As HPX celebrates its 25th anniversary, there is – once again – no shortage of local acts to take in. On the October 10 episode of Halifax Is Burning, I featured over 15 Atlantic Canadian bands who will round out a majority of the HPX bills. Counting among them some personal favs – Beauts, Rabies, Designosaur, Not You, Jon McKiel, Sorrey, Valerie, Motherhood, Little You Little Me, Vogue Dots, Owen Meany’s Batting Stance, etc. – there is so much magnificent talent that will grace the stages at this year’s festival. Sure, go and catch the must-see headliners, but show up early and support the local bands. I promise you’ll find one of your new favourites.
REASON #01 – MUSIC MAKES OUR CITY BETTER
Regardless of whether you can catch one show, pick up a weekend pass, or make the commitment to attend the whole festival from Wednesday through to Saturday, getting out and supporting live music in Halifax is an important thing to do. This is a place of deep-seeded musical legacy, a city that pulsates through the fog with a burning creative core. It’s up to us – each and every one of us – to ensure this culture thrives. Halifax Pop Explosion presents a tremendous opportunity for us to see some of the best musicians our country and our region has to offer. That’s always been the goal of HPX – to show you the bands who may not be huge yet, but who will be in a few short years. When I saw Arcade Fire play at The Marquee in 2004, it seriously changed my life. Get out there and find a show that’s going to change your life this year. You won’t regret it, and our city will be better for it.
*A previous incarnation of this list was (gradually) rolled out on Trevor’s personal Facebook page.