Winterfest’s annual Battle of the Bands takes place this Wednesday, with four bands competing for $500 and a gig at University College’s Fireball dance. Each boasting a diverse set of influences from funk and blues to classic rock and indie folk, this year’s lineup promises enough energy to give the new semester a proper kickoff.
The 19+ event takes place at the legendary Lee’s Palace at 8:00 pm and, as usual, cover is free for U of T students who are of age. For non-U of T attendees, cover is $5.
Here’s a look at the groups competing for the grand prize this year.
Appropriately named for the youngest band competing, Newcomer’s four members all met at U of T and started playing as a full band together last September. Lucas Ratigan and Matias Gutierrez both play guitar, with Gutierrez also on vocals, while Joshua Sofian plays bass and Marty Camara plays drums.
Despite their relative newness, Newcomer has already signed onto Mississauga-based record label Coin Records. They describe their sound as similar to alternative rock, citing The Strokes as a major influence, but they describe their writing processes as feeling “for the vibe.” They love performing, but their standout trait is their dedication to producing music they love.
“Whenever I feel like the rest of the guys are really vibing to the song, when we’re all vibing together, that’s a good Newcomer song,” said Gutierrez.
“We understand each other musically,” explained Camara. The band said that the audience can expect to “definitely connect” to their lyrics because they are widely interpretable. So far, they have two singles out, “Maternity Leave” and “Zeitgeist,” but all agreed that they are currently the most hyped about their unreleased songs. Be sure to come on time to hear a preview of their upcoming album.
Rocket Bomb’s guitarist and lead singer Jagger Cleeves and guitarist Josh Papa are childhood friends who moved to Toronto about two years ago. They began recording an unreleased EP in November 2016, which helped them recruit their drummer, Daniel Kiss, and bass player, Jerry de la Cruz, last summer.
Although they are all alternative rock fans, the band aims to produce pop music with a funk edge. It is refreshing to hear from a band so ready to entertain yet still focused on writing solid tracks, citing DNCE and Bruno Mars as influences for their collective sound.
“It’s kind of an effort to write pop music, but it’s so much more fun and more satisfying because it leads to people who are surprised by it,” said Cleeves. “In the end, they are like, ‘Whoa, you really went out on a limb here and made something cool.’”
If you are not a fan of pop, don’t worry. According to the band, their performances are an experience, comprised of not only visuals, sound, and the feel of the show, but also the natural chemistry of the musicians. In other words, you don’t have to love their songs to love their shows.
Previously called Sheepishly Yours, the almost year-old Victoria College band comprised of Yasmine Shelton, Sam Clark, and brothers Aaron and Noah Philipp-Muller is now Basset. Primarily an indie folk band, their collective classical training gives them a unique grasp of technical musicality, as seen through their diverse instrumentation and three-part harmonies.
For Wednesday’s performance, they will most likely stick to strings, with Clark switching between the mandolin and violin, Aaron on guitar, and Noah on cello — but each member plays multiple instruments. All of them offer vocals on one track or another. Shelton’s lead vocals are especially versatile, easily adapting to different styles.
“Especially in Toronto, there aren’t a whole lot of bands that use mandolin and then have a cello as their bass instrument — that’s kind of unusual,” said Aaron. Unsurprisingly, they noted The Punch Brothers as a major influence on their sound.
While their acoustic instruments might not line up with the rockability of Lee’s Palace, the chemistry between the four and the effort they put into workshopping each song should make for a tight show. Expect to be pleasantly surprised by unique rearrangements of popular songs and to hear some original tracks.
Those who attended last year’s Battle of the Bands should remember veteran band Dorval’s stunts and theatrics, which they promise will continue at this year’s show. The band formed at the end of 2014, but now bass player James Yoannou joins the original duo of guitarist Daniel Lewycky and drummer Adam Moffatt, allowing them to produce a fuller sound. Yoannou and Moffat are U of T alumni, while Lewycky is still a U of T student.
Moffatt described the band as “alternative experimental blues.” Although they have rock and roll similarities, Lewycky emphasizes the climax of a song as much as possible, which he said is “a very bluesy thing to do.” Despite the clear blues influence, they pride themselves on the uniqueness of each of their songs.
“It’s when the three of us come together; we start making the songs more progressively interesting than one of us could have done alone, which I really like,” explained Yoannou.
They are currently working on a second EP and will play some of their new songs at the show. Their first EP, A Match Made in Toronto, was released last March. Live shows are one of their greatest strengths, and their blues-inspired tracks are “more danceable than you might think,” so prepare to get up and groove.