Winterfest’s annual Battle of the Bands has always been a treat for U of T’s musically inclined, and this year was no exception. Four bands brought a myriad of sounds to the table, providing a night of music, dancing, and free drink tickets. In the end, there could only be one winner to take home the $500 cash prize. Here, we’ve supplied a rundown of each band’s set.
Act I: Spaceship Thoughts
The first act to hit the stage was the mysterious and newly formed Spaceship Thoughts, comprised of out-of-this-world members Spoon Johnson (a human), Sky Casket (also a human), and Lump the Potato (also a human; not a potato). Lacking any online presence and playing for an audience only once before — it was to audition for this show — the self-described acoustic rap outfit seemed to have intentionally created a veil of intrigue around themselves.
With little notice, a heavy drumbeat kicked off their performance, commanding the attention of attendees still casually floating around the venue. The group’s frontman, questionably dressed in bling and a tie wrapped around his head, captivated the audience with fast and energetic verses on top of drums and acoustic guitar. Self-referential and clever lyrics caught my ear and made it clear why Winterfest’s audition team was impressed by the eccentric trio.
As the group’s 30-minute set progressed, the energy on stage began to fade. Since the songs were comprised of similar drumbeats, structures, and lyrical content, it became increasingly difficult to tell them apart. Still, clever lyrics and a unique style made for a solid start to the evening.
Act II: Northern Riot
Next to perform were the patriotic partiers from Northern Riot. “Rock and roll ain’t dead, it’s just asleep. So you’d better get loud to wake it the fuck up,” urged frontman Thomas Thurley near the beginning of their set. The band has been playing with their current five member lineup for about a year, during which they’ve made themselves comfortable in Toronto’s youthful music scene.
Their sound is unmistakably ‘70s inspired, with an emphasis on crunchy distortion and beefy vocals. The group’s fast and heavy-hitting rock sound eliminated any concern that they could not live up to Spaceship Thoughts’ energy. Northern Riot occasionally simmered for slower numbers like “Expired,” a track that showcased Thurley’s impressive vocal range.
Overall Northern Riot provided a solid soundtrack for a night of heavy drinking but offered little else. Groups like Kings of Leon and Mumford and Sons take influence from the past and bring something new to the table, but Northern Riot failed to innovate in any meaningful way. Unfortunately, one particularly awkward instance did not go over well with the U of T crowd, when the rhythm guitarist held his water bottle to his pelvis, and squirted it in a phallic gesture. Classy.
Act III: The Fallers
Fresh from a 22-date Canadian tour last summer, The Fallers are a group with plenty of experience playing on stages like Lee’s. Heavily inspired by garage rock like The Strokes, the trio delivers a live show that sounds as big, if not bigger, than their studio recordings.
The Fallers began their set with “Left, Right, and Centre,” an upbeat yet composed alt-rock number that instantly marked their difference in style from the previous acts instantly. Lead singer and guitarist Garret Olson’s vocals were stellar and complimented by tight basslines from Alex Lakusta and the drumming of Mackenzie Read.
The band flowed in and out of multiple styles, at one point resembling pop and at another point resembling punk. This made for an energetic and solid set, one that had many in the crowd wondering if they had already found the battle’s winner.
Act IV: The Implications
By the time the final band took the stage, the occupants of Lee’s Palace were the jumpiest they’d been all night. Perhaps it was the drink tickets catching up with students capitalizing on free booze, or maybe it was the contagious energy of the prior three bands to blame. But most likely it was in anticipation of the final band to take the stage: The Implications.
Performing at their third U of T Battle of the Bands, this time having rebranded from The Turks to The Implications, their quirky pop-rock style was both familiar and welcomed by the crowd. The four-piece group offered a cohesive show that highlighted their ability to work together through carefully timed drum fills, bass and guitar solos, and sing-along sections.
The band engaged with the audience on countless occasions: at one point they promised a free copy of their EP to whoever danced the hardest to their next song. Ultimately, it was this level of audience interaction and fun that propelled this set above others they have played in the past.
After roughly a 20-minute wait to make their decision, the judges took to the stage to announce that The Implications had won the 2016 Winterfest Battle of the Bands.