If your skin is crackling with excitement and your mind is occupied with sporadic spaz-outs, summer wardrobe conundrums, festival survival-kit checklists and your favourite tunes by acts like Lana Del Rey, Radiohead, Bastille and Half Moon Run, you’re probably headed to Osheaga this weekend. (If you’re not holding tickets, we hate to break it to you but the festival is totally sold out! You can still contend with scalpers on-site and online, but be prepared to spend some serious cash.)
Whether it’s a festival or a regular show, we always advocate checking out the opening acts, but every year we notice that there are a number of people at Osheaga who are in it for the headliners, arriving at Parc Jean-Drapeau in the late afternoon or even the early evening. That’s not the way to do it — take this annual opportunity to do a mega music festival properly and go HARD. That means getting in no later than 1:15 p.m., staying till the end AND hitting the afterparties. Do whatever you need to do to get it done (just stay hydrated) and you’ll have a truly memorable festival experience.
Our music team is here to help guide you to some seriously great rock, pop, hip hop and electronic acts you may not know (or not know well), most of them playing well before nightfall, and in one case playing at the same time as a headliner. Here are 16 artists you’ve gotta see this weekend:
On the verge of releasing their fourth LP Ship of Fools, Montreal’s Elephant Stone have some serious psych wizardry in store for the Osheaga crowd. They’ve played the festival before, and though their hallucinogenic pop sound works wonders in the dark, their vibe is strangely suited to open-air stages under the sun.
If you’re not attending the festival or want a double dose of Elephant Stone, they’re also playing a festival pre-party show at Divan Orange on Thursday night. (Lorraine Carpenter) La Vallée stage, Friday, 1:35 p.m.
Toronto’s Dragonette blends synthpop with sex appeal. It’s a testament to how grueling the Canadian music scene can be that this band isn’t bigger: since 2005, they’ve released three albums and an EP, they have a slick sound courtesy of bassist-producer Dan Kurtz, and frontwoman Martina Sorbara’s flirtatious vocals and bouncy stage presence come on like a mouthful of poprocks. I expect they’ll catch the Osheaga crowd off-guard, especially if they unload gems from their back catalog like “Gone Too Far.”
Although their Friday afternoon time slot makes little sense—the nighttime is the right time for this act — Dragonette will also be playing an official Osheaga afterparty at the casino that night at 11:30 p.m. (Stefan Sereda) De la Montagne stage, Friday, 1:40 p.m.
Playing the opening day of the festival (and an afterparty show at the Corona that night), Montreal’s indie rock royalty return to play their former hometown after disbanding five years ago. This reunion isn’t a cheap cash-grab either — yes they’ll be playing the hits (hits? let’s say classics) from the aughts, but new material from their recently released (and really good) self-titled EP will be worked into the set-list, too.
By all accounts, including a Cult MTL report on a recent Wolf Parade show in NYC, the band has been playing great shows lately, and their Osheaga debut promises to be nothing less than a celebration. Don’t miss it. (LC) Verte Sonnet stage, Friday, 4:55 p.m.
It pays to arrive early on day one of Osheaga and get the lay of the land from the jump, even if your favourite bands aren’t playing until later in the day. As you explore, take note of the Des Arbres stage — for my two, the stage with the richest ambiance on site — and make a mental note to be there to see Quebec’s own Safia Nolin.
Sure, we came to party like it’s nineteen-ninety-Nevermind later on with Cypress Hill and the Chilis, but the unplugged sincerity of the young talent, a singer/composer who weaves a mix of cosmic urgency and flattered indifference into her acoustic introspections, will take your soul to church on this first day of celebration. Save some extra sunscreen for the goosebumps Nolin can’t help but raise. (Darcy MacDonald) Des Arbres stage, Friday, 2:45 p.m.
This year’s fest reps the next generation of hip hop upcomers strongly. Friday alone brings Goldlink, the Underachievers and Long Beach, CA’s latest, biggest and brightest rap luminary Vince Staples. Though last year was, musically speaking, bigger for the Odd Future hangaround — whose style leans more towards, pensive, subtle and atmospheric than club-banging — Montreal is ready for the sounds of Staples’ Summertime ‘06, the 2015 record that pushed the gifted bar spitter from indie next-man to millennial favourite. (DM) Des Arbres stage, Friday, 9 p.m.
The Damn Truth
If you like bump-and-grind heavy rock, you’ll want to be at the la Vallée stage Saturday afternoon for the Damn Truth. These Montreal guitar rockers refer to themselves as “1969’s evil twin,” but they sound more like Zeppelin’s hellraising half-sister. With songs like “I Want You (He’s a Lightweight),” their 2012 album, Dear in the Headlights, steeps itself in the rock’n’roll tradition. If they pack bass-heavy bangers like “Too Late,” “Get With You” and “Kinda Awkward” into their set, they’ll leave their audience greasy with sweat. (SS) La Vallée stage, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Coeur de Pirate
With all due respect to Osheaga headliner Lana Del Rey, Montreal chanteuse Béatrice Martin, aka Coeur de Pirate, is a younger artist with more albums under her belt and she writes most everything herself. Should we mention she’s just as gorgeous?
Coeur de Pirate roots her oeuvre in Quebec culture. By turns cheeky and melancholic, she’s won four Félixes, a Canadian Independent Music Award, and a Victoire de la Musique. She’s also been nominated for two Junos, topped the Quebec singles chart, and her debut went Platinum in Canada.
Her early hand-holding ballads won’t bring the party, but if you’re hoping for a fleeting festival love affair, this will be the set to find that heartwrecking soulmate you’ll never see again. (SS) La Vallée stage, Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
Melbourne’s soul futurist fourtet set a chill, funky pace for day two of Osheaga with an early set at the Tree Stage, which is the perfect venue for their laid-back cool vibe. Comparably, last year’s Sunday afternoon set by Toro Y Moi on this grassy, shady nook of the fest was a show-stopper, and with similar aesthetics, and I’d advise getting there early because the area tends to get packed quick, especially when something as intriguing as this begins and passersby get drawn in, which will definitely happen Saturday. Your day can’t go wrong from here. (DM) Des Arbres stage, Saturday, 2:45 p.m.
The Barr Brothers
The Barr Brothers are one of the many products of Montreal gracing the Osheaga line-up this year. Since their formation in 2008, the band has released three records and gained recognition from the likes of NPR and Consequence of Sound with their rambunctious live shows. As the story goes, brothers Andrew and Brad Barr transferred to the city from Boston after playing together for years under the name the Slip and moved into the apartment adjacent to harpist Sarah Page, whom they eventually met and added to their line-up. Page’s extra level of musicality separates the band from some of the other folk acts out there. This combined with their infectious energy and impressive instrumental improvisations makes for a live performance sure to excite music fans of all ages and backgrounds. (Donovan Burtan) De la Rivière, Saturday, 4 p.m.
EDM has been taking over the world for the past couple of years. Big name DJs such as Calvin Harris, Skrillex, and Diplo have been given massive headlining slots with glittery light shows stretching deep into the night. Despite the mind-numbing extravagance of the world’s most popular dance-music artists, musicians like James Hinton (aka the Range) have remained dedicated to subtlety and intimacy. The Range’s latest work, Potential, combines lush instrumentation with catchy vocal melodies pulled from amateur YouTube videos. Each song inspires dance without overindulging in bright synth sounds, making for an emotional sonic aesthetic. Hinton’s clean melodies and laid-back beats are sure to bring a fun vibe to a late-afternoon setting leading into the festival’s more epic late-night sets. (DB) Piknic Électronik stage, Saturday, 5:40 pm
Montreal’s le Matos are master manipulators of analogue synths, crafting a sound with echoes of the ’80s, powered by a 21st century energy. If their 2013 debut LP Join Us wasn’t proof enough, le Matos worked their magic on an award-winning score for breakout local post-apocalyptic adventure film Turbo Kid, the perfect nostalgic, romantic vehicle for their soundtrack-inspired compositions — Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter and Goblin are their touchstones.
Chronicles of the Wasteland, their 2015 sophomore LP, expanded on their Turbo Kid material, and amazing as it is to hear it live in a club setting, it promises a pretty amazing experience out in the festival field. (LC) Piknic Électronik stage, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Classic, Sam-Cooke-era soul takes the main stage for what will hopefully be a bright, sunny dance party. But even if the sky is gray, Texan Bridges will give us the warmth of his heart. His debut, Coming Home, made many a 2015 year-end list, deservingly so. The short, sweet collection of groovy love songs and gospel gold harkens back to a different time and place in modern music, when emotion trumped flash and a C, G and F chord were all you needed to pen a swinging number. This is probably the set I am most looking forward to all weekend. (DM) De La Riviere, Sunday, 4:45 p.m.
At roughly the same time as Bridges plays the big stage, U.K. grime lord Skepta hits the Green stage, appropriately enough. Too bad these two sets clash but if old-school soul doesn’t hit you where it counts, give the spaz-mode stylings of the tongue-twisting Brit (who dropped a new one, Konnichiwa, this spring) a shot. (DM) Verte Sonnet stage, Sunday, 4:45 p.m.
Little Simz is an incredibly prolific U.K. rapper who gained international recognition on the back of her 2015 album A Curious Tale of Trials and Persons. Being a product of North London, Simz is close to the grime community, but also pulls a lot of influence from North American hip hop. Her emotional lyrics build from small ideas into roaring hooks with instrumental and electronic accompaniment achieving swagger and beauty. Last year, Osheaga had Kendrick Lamar as a headliner and although this year a rapper of that magnitude is absent, some lesser known names have made it onto the line-up. If you’re looking to see an energetic show in a small, intimate venue, Little Simz has got you covered. (DB) Des Arbres stage, Sunday, 5:40 p.m.
Claire Boucher aka Grimes might be one of the more divisive major acts at Osheaga. A growing complaint about music festivals is that women artists are underrepresented, but Osheaga’s line-up can boast plenty. That said, Grimes is girly: imagine the burning jealousy induced by your friend’s squeaky, hyperactive little sister turning out to have talent and popularity. As she demonstrates on “Kill V Maim,” Grimes is also vicious, like Harley Quinn with a synthesizer. This time around, she’s not touring behind Lana Del Rey (we’ll have to wait and see if LDR invites her up to duet on “Lolita” — Lana, if you’re reading this…), but pumping up the crowd for M83 and Radiohead, making Sunday the festival’s most high-energy night. Live, she’ll be less reliant on excellent concept videos and dudebro Chili Peppers fans might not “get” her Dune-influenced act, but anyone who does will enjoy her bitchin’ dance moves and take-no-prisoners multi-generic pop. Look forward to whatever outlandish fashion statement Grimes decides to make. (SS) De la Montagne stage, Sunday, 5:40 p.m.
For those of you sneaking in smokeables, you might be tempted to burn the whole stash during Cypress Hill’s set, but save a heater or two for Gramatik’s Sunday night performance at the Piknic Électronik stage. The Slovenian-born DJ is bound to bring a surprise funkfest replete with samples from the soul, jazz, hip hop and electro canons.
A political advocate for Internet freedom and fee-free music sharing, Gramatik rose to fame selling music via Beatport and now has nine albums released. Although he’ll be competing with Radiohead for an audience, he’s anathema to their morose musical stylings — I’d be willing to bet his show will be at least as much fun; if you’re not a fan of Yorke and crew, bet on Gramatik. (SS) Piknic Électronik stage, Sunday, 9:50 p.m.
Pre-parties and afterparties
Thursday, July 28
You can still enter the ticket lotto for a free Osheaga pre-party with Compton rapper YG (fresh off a bangin’ new LP, Still Brazy) at the Rialto on Thursday night with guests Bambii and Femminielli Noir. Rialto Theatre (5723 Parc), 9 p.m., free with RSVP
Friday, July 29
U.K.-ers Snakeships and U.S. rapper GoldLink hold down the Fairmount Theatre for night one of post-fest fun. 5240 Parc, 10 p.m., $25/$30
At le Belmont, everybody’s favourite longhaired Queb Tommy Kruise makes it wobble with guests Jamvis and la Rue. 4483 St-Laurent, 10 p.m., $5
Saturday, July 30
This is a no-brainer. Kaytranada, who plays the festival’s Piknic Électronik stage at 7:50 p.m. the same day, takes over le Belmont. Given that he sold out the Metropolis two months back, I’d act now on securing a ticket. Another Montreal beat genius, Noo-Bap, also guests, with Nana Zen. Hype. 4483 St-Laurent, 10 p.m., $20/$25
Sunday, July 31
If you’ve still got it in you, Foals and Love Thy Brother (former beat broker for sadly defunct Canadian glam-rap champs Ain’t No Love) close things out at the Fairmount Theatre. 5240 Parc, 10 p.m., $23.50/$27
Osheaga is happening at Parc Jean-Drapeau July 29-31. The festival is officially sold out. To see the complete schedule and site details, go to the festival’s website.