Sled Island returns to Calgary: A cornucopia of musical flavours!

Really, it’s not “Sled Island in Calgary” so much as “Calgary at Sled Island”. Because we are, finally (at Sled Island again), and there are (Calgarians listening and performing here), ecstatically! We’re happy to be talking to new Calgary musical adventures, as further proof of the fertility of the local musical garden; not just a reaction to our pandemic isolation, but a result of the cross-fertilization that we’ve somehow achieved out here on the prairies.

Both the interviewees, Uncanny Valley and Ginger Beef, are of Calgary and elsewhere origin, an enrichment which has always benefitted us in the areas of art and culture.

All 5 of us stood at different times in the parking lot outside the Palomino Smokehouse & Grill to talk about the return of the musical smorgasbord that is Sled Island Music & Arts Festival 2022!

MUSICAlive! starts off by making comparisons with Uncanny Valley to early U2’s post-punk, while still being contemporary

Young woman singing, man playing bass, woman playing keyboards onstage.
There’s 5 members to Uncanny Valley, but the Palomino is WAY too small for them to all be onstage! Photo by Arif Ansari.

“Yeah, awesome!” replies Ryan,. “We talk about how U2’s early stuff is so sick. It’s great!”

“They had like a post-punk sound with their early stuff: it’s not just specifically U2 but so many different bands from that era that we really draw our influence from,” continues vocalist Alicia. “Siouxsie and the Banshees, Xmal Deutschland; any others, Ryan?”

“I’m a bass player, so maybe the initial idea starts with it being written on bass,” Ryan responds, “and it kind of comes to the band. Alicia lives in Edmonton, (after living here) so it changed our process a little bit. But she just gets it! She grew up with her dad being in a pretty popular band in the 80’s. So when we were listening to goth, and post-punk, and sort of cheesier kinds of songs too, Alicia just knew it, and fit in perfectly writing lyrics and melodies.”

We ask them, given these references, if their songs have the outward-looking political bent of those 80s to 90s influences?

“No,” answers Alicia, “U2 had a definite political message about stuff that was going on in their country. For me, it’s a lot more about different feelings: a lot of it is mental health stuff that (Canadians are) going through. Even what we wanted to call our upcoming album reflected a bit on the pandemic too (Fevering Stare). A lot of it is more to do with inner stuff: personal, not so much political.”

Ryan points out that “Alicia is good at putting emotions to the sound swells that are present in the music; more intimate and in reaction to how the music sounds.”

Keyboardist, drummer, flautist and bassist performing onstage in small club.
Ginger Beef’s music, appropriate to its namesake, is a mix of Western and Eastern flavours. Photo by Yianne Tran.

In wonderful contrast, the same venue on the same day is also presenting the debut performance of Ginger Beef:

“I’m Jiajia Li, and I play the western flute and Chinese bamboo flute.”

“For this one I played Rhodes piano and synthesizer,” adds MSG, the Calgary component of this ironically named alt-jazz band, “and this weird degenerate Chinese Violin called the erhu: it’s got 2 strings!”

Jiajia continues: “I’m a classically-trained musician (on the western flute), and I’m originally from Beijing, and the Chinese bamboo flute is what I grew up with. The song (Flashback their first release on Bandcamp) has a tune that my Mom, who’s also an instrumentalist, played when I was young . . . And it was one of my favourite songs, when I was young, and I heard it over and over again, (and was inspired).”

We ask her musical collaborator MSG about the keyboard writing around these wind instrument ideas.

“That one actually did begin when Jiajia recorded some ideas and a bit of her playing the bamboo flute,” he replies, “and I just built it up around that with the synths and funkypop stuff . . . For the record, neither of us are really ‘jazz’ musicians, so I ‘d say we were ‘jazz-adjacent’.” (general laughter)

Jazz-adjacent. I’ll leave that for you to roll around in your head.

“Ginger Beef started last year during The Covid when nobody was allowed to play with anyone,” continues Jiajia, “so we’re stuck in the house and unfortunately we live in the same house (more laughter: they’re married). So we started jamming together. And Sled Island was kind enough to ask me to create a music video for their digital Island (last year’s virtual version, Camp sled).”

So the couple decided to combine their jamming and the opportunity this year, and voila: Ginger Beef is born!

Resonating with this, Uncanny’s Ryan notes: “Just to gush over Sled Island a bit, coming out of the pandemic to see what friends’ projects have been, how they’ve crafted it, and celebrate that over the weekend has been amazing.”

“I think it pushes us, too, to strive to be at a certain level,” finishes Alicia, “And be committed: we’re seeing all the other performances and they’re inspiring us.”

MSG ( 😉 ) points out that he’s heard Ginger Beef described as “inauthentic as Chinese food, but it tastes great!”

And they’re both fine with that, as are we.

Uncanny Valley (wait until you read the origins of that phrase) are hoping to have their full CD Fevering Stare available before the end of July, and Ginger Beef on August 11th are opening for Juno-nominated duo Over the Moon at an event the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium has started during its summer heat: Jubefest

Be there or be square!

Posted by Carey Rutherford

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.