Winterfest 2019: Battle of the Bands

A tale of two bands, a whole lot of beer, and one winner

Winterfest 2019: Battle of the Bands

I am seated on a beige bench in Lee’s Palace at 9:20 pm on January 9. Having just narrowly escaped death by a patch of ice on my way here, I note that the bench is one of those benches that you sat on in elementary school for recess. Above me, a disco ball reflects the purple lighting that engulfs the venue. There are four dangling lights surrounding the disco ball but only one of them is blue. It bothers me.

Four well-dressed guys with white shirts come on and play “Someday” by The Strokes. They are Paint Dept., one of the two finalists. They sound like an indie rock band straight from the early 2000s — you know the type. They formed in a band member’s garage with sentimental lyricism that makes you subtly miss your ex.

The most standout member of the band is Kyle, the bassist. His hair is seriously gorgeous. Kyle described his hair as “blinding and buoyant.” It looks like expensive spaghetti that drops down to his shoulders.

His dad later told me that Kyle used to be bald. Kyle confirms this, looking into the distance as he reminiscences about how he used to wear a hat when his hair was in the liminal state between baldness and the gorgeous spaghetti longness that it is today.

By now about 70 people are in the venue. Most of the crowd sit on the beige benches while the few bravely standing hold their drinks and stare at the band. I look intently at one stander who is touching his right arm with his left hand like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers. Paint Dept. gestures for the crowd to come closer before playing an Interpol cover.

I debate whether I should stand up and engage in the crowdly escapades. I decide otherwise. My status as a note-taker who is jotting down everything with a near-empty pen prohibits me.

The band tries to make banter the same way one tries to banter with a friend of a friend that one just met. It’s only when they play their second The Strokes cover, “Last Nite,” that the crowd really gets into it.

It’s at this point ­— after a raffle in which I did not win anything — that Rocket Bomb comes on. Another five well-dressed guys start playing high-energy pop songs. Do you have to dress nicely to be part of a band? The bassist does not have long hair, but his bright red jacket combines with the purple lighting to accentuate the ’80s aesthetic the band is going for.

Rocket Bomb are an indie dance pop collective with rose-tinted glasses for ’80s disco and funk who integrate modern pop sensibilities to create hip dance songs. They cite DNCE, John Mayer, Shawn Mendez, and The Killers as influences. They are more confident with the crowd, commanding the power to significantly increase the standing to bench-sitting ratio.

While they go through their set, someone in the crowd shouts, “I love you Jacob!” and then the lead singer ­— whose name is not Jacob — takes off his black jacket and proceeds to cover Tiësto and Dzeko’s “Jackie Chan.” Bodies move. Rocket Bomb gets the crowd to do that thing where everybody claps in the air.

Rocket Bomb are definitely the larger entity: sporting over 350 Facebook likes, over 1,200 Instagram followers, and almost 5,000 monthly listeners on Spotify as of press time. Meanwhile, Paint Dept. has nine Facebook likes, about 100 Instagram followers, and no Spotify.

In this sense, 2019’s Battle of the Bands is a classic David versus Goliath tale. Rocket Bomb advertise themselves as a product that 20-somethings can dance their 20s away to, while Paint Dept. are a grassroots garageband for 20-somethings who pontificate about how modern society lacks any realness.

Suddenly, Rocket Bomb starts playing the Wii theme. This is a level of post-irony that requires more alcohol in my system to appreciate, so I try to go to the washroom. Unfortunately, I am stopped by security who tell me I can’t bring a drink out. I do what any reasonable human being would do and finish the drink there. By the time I get back, Rocket Bomb is finishing their set.

They tell the crowd to follow them on Instagram and that they have merchandise for sale at the back. Everybody gets closer for the last song. Or, more accurately, about 35 people get really close to the stage and about 28 people stay on the sidelines, either sitting on the beige benches or standing and staring intently from a distance.

At the end of the night, these two seemingly distinct bands, in both sound and style, are pitted against each other in a battle of the bands. You’re probably here for an answer to this question: who wins? Well, to answer, I quote Jacques Derrida, the post-structuralist French philosopher: “Every other is wholly other.” For Derrida and his postmodern funkies, we don’t make comparisons with one another in terms of an objective standard.

I can’t really compare Paint Dept.’s sound with Rocket Bomb’s, because any sort of objective standard by which I might compare the two wouldn’t capture the singularity of each individual band.

Derrida points out that to take otherness seriously, that is, for an other to be truly Other, there has to be something utterly irreducible about them. The other must always be outside oneself. As such, there must be something unfathomable and untranslatable between Paint Dept. and Rocket Bomb as musical acts. Yet that singularity — that thing which makes Paint Dept. ‘Paint Dept.’ and Rocket Bomb ‘Rocket Bomb’ is what makes each respective act meaningful in the first place.

Declaring a winner for the battle actually defeats the ethos of both bands. Fortunately, the judges don’t have this philosophical concern — it is a battle after all.

Rocket Bomb won.

Winterfest and Frost Week events kick off second semester at St. George

Events ranging from pub nights to LinkedIn profile reviews among welcome-back festivities

Winterfest and Frost Week events kick off second semester at St. George

 

Students at UTSG were in for some frosty fun last week when the St. George Roundtable hosted Winterfest. The festivities are set to continue this week, with the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Frost Week events taking place January 15–19.

“Winterfest is… [a] week of events meant to welcome U of T students back to school, reminiscent of Orientation. We hope to give back a little to the community,” wrote Winterfest co-chairs Albert Hoang, Yolanda Alfaro, and Samantha Douek.

Winterfest kicked off on Monday, January 8 with an open mic night. On Tuesday, students were able to attend either a screening of Norwegian Wood, an adaption of a movie by Haruki Murakami, or a pub night at Supermarket in Kensington Market.

Wednesday’s highlight was the Battle of the Bands at Lee’s Palace, featuring local bands Basset, Newcomer, Rocket Bomb, and the ultimate champions, Dorval. Thursday’s events were a drag show and board game night. Winterfest closed on Friday with another pub night at Tequila Jack’s. Throughout the week, students had the opportunity to eat free pancakes, which were served at individual colleges.

At Frost Week, students will get to decorate donuts on Monday, attend a LinkedIn profile review on Tuesday, sing with Choir! Choir! Choir! on Wednesday, see Young MA in concert on Thursday, and eat a free vegan breakfast on Friday.

“Most of the time, the programming is similar to Orientation,” wrote UTSU President Mathias Memmel of Frost Week. “The idea is to help ease students into the new term. Still, next year’s team should consider re-imagining Frost Week. Whenever an event becomes a ‘tradition’, opportunities for growth and improvement are lost. It’s good to start from scratch every once in a while and invite in collaborators.”

Dorval takes home the gold at Winterfest’s Battle of the Bands

The band competed Wednesday night against Newcomer, Rocket Bomb, and Basset

Dorval takes home the gold at Winterfest’s Battle of the Bands

Once again, Battle of the Bands was a Winterfest highlight, with four bands competing to take home $500 and a gig at University College’s Fireball dance.

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Act I: Newcomer

The night opened with Newcomer filling out the Lee’s Palace stage, and an early crowd reluctant to move too close. After the first song, lead singer Matias Gutierrez invited the crowd to “dance or bounce around,” and bassist Joshua Sofian did his best to fuel the hype by jumping up and down himself. 

They played a few new songs, including a particularly catchy number called “Rushed.” Marty Camara stood out on drums, especially during lead single “Zeitgeist.” Gutierrez also caught the crowd’s attention when he threw in a ‘ting goes skraah, pap, pap, ka-ka-ka’ from Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot.”  Despite the band’s best attempts to pump up the room, however, only a few brave souls danced beyond the invisible barrier.

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Act II: Rocket Bomb

It wasn’t until Rocket Bomb came on and lead singer Jagger Cleeves called out people for “still sitting” that the audience began piling to the front of the stage. Playing popular covers of songs like Bruno Mars’ “Locked out of Heaven” really got the crowd dancing. 

Drummer Daniel Kiss kept up audience interaction by asking everyone to turn on their phones’ flashlights for a slower, original song, in which Cleeves sang poetically, “This is my uncomfortable place.” 

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Act III: Dorval

As the ‘redemption’ band competing a second time, Dorval was definitely the most prepared for Lee’s Palace. Their use of stage lighting drew attention to different band members, topping last year’s performance. Dorval’s stage presence had also matured even more — perhaps it was the added presence of bassist James Yoannou, perhaps simply another year of experience. 

Daniel Lewycky’s vocals were on fire, bringing to mind blues-rock artist Barns Courtney. Midway, Yoannou announced that it was Lewycky’s birthday, and the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Dorval’s energy was unstoppable for the whole set, with drummer Adam Moffatt actually standing up to play. 

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Act IV: Basset

Basset rounded out the night with a softer indie folk set. Yasmine Shelton immediately captivated the audience with her powerful voice in a rendition of “Feeling Good.” The rest of the set alternated between original songs and unexpected rearrangements of classics like Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” 

Watching ensembles perform is quite different from watching rockers. Basset was not rocking out per se, but their shared smiles let the audience know they were enjoying their performance, making them a delight to watch. Musician Sam Clark was proof of their versatility, slinging his mandolin over his back in order to pick up his violin during seamless transitions from one instrument to another. 

Notably, Shelton was the only woman to perform at the event, and the first woman to be part of a competing band since 2015’s Battle of the Bands. Even the emcee, Kaitlyn Ferreira, noted that there were “a lot of men performing” at the event. Last year, The Accolades had a female guest singer join them, but for the most part, male artists have dominated the event.

Shelton said that at U of T at least, she rarely sees women in bands, though she is not sure why this is the case. She encouraged women and non-binary people to join ensembles, saying that she does think “there are people who are open to having them there.” 

“Maybe it’s just not their first instinct to reach out, but I think having the courage to go out there and find people, maybe that’s what’s lacking,” said Shelton. “But I think it’s worth it.”

“I would say if you are going to join a band with men, make sure they’re great people because the music industry isn’t necessarily known for being particularly great for women,” she added. “The further you go, in a weird way, the fewer options you have in terms of picking your people based on character as opposed to skill level.”

At least on Wednesday night, everyone on and off the stage appeared to be having a good time. The night ended with the judges announcing Dorval as the winners, to the sound of cheers from the audience.

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Live at Lee’s Palace

Winterfest's Battle of the Bands to take place January 10

Live at Lee’s Palace

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.

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Newcomer

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.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROCKET BOMB

Rocket Bomb

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.

Photo by TIM LEYES PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of BASSET

Basset

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.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DORVAL

Dorval

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.

In photos: Winterfest Battle of the Bands 2016

4 UofT bands competed for the top spot at Lee's Palace on January 14th

In photos: Winterfest Battle of the Bands 2016

Northern Riot:

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts:

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers:

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications:

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Winterfest 2016 Battle of the Bands Pre-Coverage

We speak to the four groups selected to compete in this year's Battle of the Bands at Lee's Palace on January 14th

Winterfest 2016 Battle of the Bands Pre-Coverage