The 12th edition of the Osheaga music festival attracted 135,000 revellers to the new (but temporary) Parc Jean-Drapeau-adjacent site over the weekend, from Aug. 4 to 6, and it was one for the books. Here are the highs and lows of Osheaga 2017:
Here comes the rain
Missing the first major deluge at the site on Friday was a blessing, though I did get drenched in its crescendo out in NDG. By all accounts it was chaos at Osheaga, where a relatively small crowd of early birds had already gathered. Many ran for cover, which was particularly hard to come by between the main stages (and considering that everyone in attendance faced the challenge of orienting themselves on an unfamiliar site), while others played it tough in their ponchos and held their ground. Angel Olsen’s set was the only casualty of the big storm, though Glass Animals were reduced to a two-song show due to water-logged synths. The Shins had a late start due to main-stage rain delays, and there was another deluge during their set, albeit a less violent one. The sky opened again during Lorde, making Friday officially the worst weather day in Osheaga’s 12-year history. (Lorraine Carpenter)
Have you ever really examined a rain-soaked poutine? Or a thousand, for that matter? Spare yourself. It’s ugly. (Darcy MacDonald)
One new feature of the festival’s temporary site was fake grass underfoot in the main stage area. Cleaner and less dangerous than the dirt, dust and little rocks we’ve become accustomed to (which would’ve become an instant mud pit/torture zone on Friday), this green carpeting worked pretty well to prevent skids and stains, and (somewhat) cushioned those inevitable drunken festival falls. Hotter to the touch than real grass (obviously), it didn’t offer much relief to tired and steamy asses on the sunny days, but still made for more durable seating than a real green, which would’ve been destroyed by rain and tens of thousands of feet by then anyway. After hearing that the festival would be held on the race track, I was afraid of a concrete hell-scape à la Woodstock 99, and a little turf helped to prevent that. (LC)
Hip hop saviours
With De La Soul and Lil Uzi Vert cancelling last minute, rap music took a blow both to the old school and the new. De La was a bummer for sure, and I hope to see them booked for a club show in the near future.
That said, the hip hop talents that did play were among the best of the fest, by all accounts:
So on Sunday, my first glimpse of FL tongue-twister Denzel Curry left me more than impressed. You never know what you’re gonna get with new MCs, but Curry may well be the definitive festival-generation rapper: loud, lit and legit as fuck.
Chicago’s Mick Jenkins followed with style and grace, and the part of his set I took in before heading to find a spot for Run the Jewels on the main stage was powerfully subtle and warm.
And then there’s the crown Jewels. Despite some sound problems at the beginning of the set, Killer Mike and El-P’s bone-crushing set of bangers levelled the huge crowd gathered to take in the New York/Atlanta dream team. Props to Tegan and Sara for warming us up. (DM)
The one to beat
Danny Brown’s slightly-delayed Saturday set was the Danny Brown show I’ve been waiting for since day one. Not to say I haven’t seen him crush stages before, but the apparently-clean-and-sober Danny’s energy while spitting about pills and orgies brought out a new force to his always frantic delivery. This was the rap show to match at Osheaga. (DM)
Tory Lanez, booked to replace Solange on Saturday, shat the bed as usual, and it only took me three minutes to see it coming. More than a few people commented to me that at some point Lanez really hyped the crowd by saying “Put your hand up if you don’t have an STD!” Shoulda been Danny — at least he can make dumb shit like that rhyme. Oh well. Rock-rock-on! (DM)
Justice and Lazers
The difference between DJs and producers is the difference between a run-of-the-mill dance set and doing the “D.A.N.C.E”, and the French duo make all the difference. Remixing yourself live for over an hour is a calling, not a skill. The call for Justice was loud and clear: “Follow the light.”
Major Lazer’s Saturday night set was fun, by comparison, but you’d think a crew who call themselves that would put their light show to greater use. A light misty rain mid-set was a welcome visit from Mother Nature, despite Friday’s unfortunate déluge, but hey, what’s a fest if you don’t get a little mud on your finely crafted freak outfit? (DM)
Based on her singles alone, I was not surprised to see a bulging crowd gathered at the Montagne stage to see Jain, despite the fact that the Parisian chanteuse has played Montreal twice in the past year. Her sound is upbeat, danceable and generally infectious,— pop music with rhythms and vocal play inspired by having come of age in Africa and the Middle East. It would be easy for the especially politically correct to call her an appropriator of culture, but the integration of her influences and passion in her delivery suggest that she’s not a tourist, unlike the guys who mined Afro-pop well in the ’80s — Vance Joy played a crowd-pleasing cover of “You Can Call Me Al” on day three, reminding me what a bunch of tepid tripe that was. (LC)
Politics and dancing
It would be a stretch to say that politics is on everyone’s minds during a music festival, but much of the on-stage spiel this weekend (like every year) aimed to celebrate the positivity that takes hold during gatherings like this. During the Trump era, American acts like Run the Jewels are particularly likely to reflect the orange menace with some positive talk. Foster the People singer Mark Foster (lol) rambled about how nice it is to be in Canada, how much they like Justin Trudeau by comparison to their guy and came out against bombings and shootings and in favour of the people (haha) changing things for the better. Then came “Pumped Up Kicks,” the song written from the POV of a school shooter, which I guess was part of the point? As a colleague said, “This is politics for basic people.” Basic bitches, more like. (LC)
Play the hits
That Foster the People track is already a few years old, as are “Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance and “Riptide” by Vance Joy — all three tracks were nearly-new when those bands played Osheaga the first time — but they got the crowds dancing, pumping fists and singing along, including, in the case of Milky Chance, a guy who we’re pretty sure was Jonas waving a Cookie Monster balloon in the air. As the old-man on campus this year, a characteristically cranky Liam Gallagher belted out the oldest hit of the weekend (that wasn’t a cover), the still ubiquitous “Wonderwall.” (LC)
as I drank away my tears from De La’s cancellation (seriously, that was my most highly anticipated set of the fest), a little set-up glitch forced Griz’s hand to play a list for a few tracks. Blackalicious, De La and Hieroglyphics suddenly featured and to that point in the day was the best set I heard.
Danny Brown’s DJ brought him to the stage to the strains of “Iron Man.” The first tune I heard Saturday at Osheaga was Sabbath. Rock-rock-on. Made my fuckin’ day.
And Daniel Avery’s Sunday set ended with NIN’s “Closer.” Seriously, that song has never sounded that vital to me, until now. Something-something-like-an-animal brought us all a little closer to God. (DM)
Be humble, sit down
Behold this elegant beast, managing to both be humble AND sit down all at the same time, as Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 anthem played during Griz’s
Friday set at the Island Stage.
I mean, this motherfucker holds it all the way down. His poise says “I’ll sit wherever the fuck I damn well choose!” But the dolphin is keeping his humility in check and I think the guy might become an official attraction for years to come. (DM)
Bringing a three-month-old baby to Osheaga (for two out of the three days) gave people-watching a particular edge. As we walked the grounds with a Baby Bjorn on, my husband scouted out good looks for a style gallery while I watched people’s reactions (or lack thereof) to the baby, and to the idea of bringing one to a music festival. Some people congratulated us for doing so, others openly criticized, most busted out huge smiles and complimented her cuteness, a few even stopped us to take photos. By far the most excited of the bunch was a guy who must’ve been on molly — he was simply in awe of this child, took selfies with her and proclaimed his love for his new dog to us, practically crying with joy (all this during Danny Brown). (LC)
Brave new stages
The Ile stage is what the Piknic stage used to be — a haven for dancers and drugged up party people — but this one had a rubber-tiled dancefloor ON THE WATER, making for a waterbed effect that was trippy as hell, even for the sober. Meanwhile, the inflatable Perrier bar that’s been on-site for the past couple of years — they serve mixed drinks with flavoured Perrier in an air-conditioned space staffed with costumed barmaids — has always had DJs but is now a legit stage, attracting overflow crowds with DJs like Tommy Kruise and Derek Wise. Both welcome new additions to the site, though Perrier has to build a bigger plastic house next year. (LC)
The new set-up on what is now called the Island Stage is head and hands above the old Piknic Electronik-sponsored stage, and it’s almost as if the usual cast of douche-bros who frequented that old shit show were afraid of real ravers in a natural habitat.
I didn’t really discriminate over who was playing when, heading to dance when time permitted and generally liking what I heard. Sunday
sets by Daniel Avery and Kink, though I only heard small bits, sounded extremely promising. And my fest-closer was Russian techno star Nina Kravits, whose call to set ourselves right resounded on the padded, floating dance floor installed to make people feel…dizzier? Awesome! That’s what we’re here for. (DM)
One of the acts on the Ile stage was French producer/DJ Petit Biscuit, who drew a crowd so massive that it tested the strength of that waterbed dancefloor — which held just fine, thankfully. The relatively subtle beats and synth lines had the crowd rapt, proving that you don’t need big dumb EDM to get a good dancefloor going. It was cool to check out an artist I discovered very recently (thanks to an Uber driver with decent taste) and see such a dedicated local fanbase in action. (LC)
Battle of the brands
It’s unclear whether there was an actual increase in branded stands and areas this year, or if it was just the effect of a new, slightly condensed layout, but it certainly felt like the corporate presence ran deeper at Osheaga. We won a free drink by building a barrel at the Jack Daniels bar, walked through the Coors Light chillout zone and got turned away from the Virgin Mobile VIP (and bought a $12 sandwich from the St-Viateur Bagel stand, though high prices are nothing new). By contrast, food stands simply labelled “Greek Food” and “Asian Food” were welcome additions to a growing food-vendor scene (there were loads of new food trucks as well). I remember a local band admonishing the festival’s corporate orientation years ago, and I suspect they wouldn’t even accept Osheaga money these days, but I think even the most jaded festival-goer has to grudgingly acknowledge that you’ve got to be pragmatic about these things. Would we rather not have a festival at all, or have a half-assed version of what Osheaga has become? No. As long as credit-card pushers don’t invade the scene, I’ll ignore the branding like I ignore the kind of online advertising that makes this website possible (zing?). (LC)
The South African duo (and their DJ and dancers) wrought their fury on Montreal once again, having played Metropolis and Ile Soniq over the past few years. Their bombastic fusion of hip hop, dance music, industrial gore and freaky cartoonishness is so specific, weird and potentially offensive that it’s a always shocking to see how huge and diverse their audiences are, but people just eat it up. Osheaga was no different, and their eye-popping set definitely stole what little thunder the Weeknd was about to bring to the main stage on the other side of the site. (LC)
Brittney Howard of Alabama Shakes is a reincarnation of Mahalia Jackson, yo. (DM)
My companion and I elected to walk the Concorde bridge to skip metro mayhem, and I saw my new hero: this dude hailed a cab mid-bridge, hopped the barrier and finished his beer, chucking the empty to the pavement like a street-tough, and giving the door a meaningful slam as if to say, “Screw you, pedestrian. This Osheagan is outta here!” (DM)