Maritimers know how to have a good time, as a factor of the saltiness of their environment and family gatherings. It’s no wonder (but is certainly a refreshing treat) to hear that CBC considers some Halifax locals to be worth listening to right now.
On this recent list, Devarrow and Walrus were both named as two of ten emerging artists to listen for as they continue pursuing an ever widening path into the Canadian and global music community. Devarrow – an artist moniker for Graham Ereaux – first came to my attention playing small university shows in Sackville, NB, and contributing a recording to the school’s annual benefit CD entitled ‘Conduct Becoming‘, in memory of an alumni with proceeds going toward cancer research. That early sound of playful art coming from this young man, his guitar, and any other instruments he could play simultaneously (incl. kick drum, harmonica, tambourine, looping tracks) were the talk of the cozy university town earlier this decade. Alongside this series of compilations of classmates’ ingenuity and liberal arts awareness synthesized into music, I listened to The Coast, The Cottage on repeat back in the day.
Last spring, I was delighted to hear Devarrow’s remade sound as ambient interlude music for a 100in1Day planning event in the Halifax Central Library meeting room. Considering the joy already in the room, it was a lovely cherry on top. I was unsurprised to have another familiar face in the room, though no less delighted. Knowing this music that had early promise was finding continued venues to nurture success is a confidence boost for the community our generation has formed. SO, to hear Graham made this list with special nods to his recent win of Casino Nova Scotia Artist-in-Residence grant is a huge step as a sign of Halifax’s supportive network of musicians.
Among the list are emerging favourites like Hillsburn (a brilliant group with boisterous energy behind their folk lyrics as time goes on) and selections from a diverse range of styles including hip hop/r&b to ‘aquavibes’ and ‘lazy pop’ – which rounds out the collection nicely to add Walrus to round out the compilation. Holly Gordon and Tahiat Mahboob carefully identified these acts as making splashes in the harbour that are rippling all over the world – and for good reason.
The multicultural network of Halifax has a complicated history that dates back to the time of colonization of the port city at the time pre-Confederation. It is through the communities built on the shores of Nova Scotia that prepared our country to become as pivotal on the world stage as it has remained – for casual, humble, honestly good fun. That’s what this list embodies. A collection of people who find purpose and value in making good, enjoyable art. And even more important, people to enable this creative power with support of local music.
Strength in local music is, in a way, an adequate litmus test for a community’s economic well-being, strong ticket sales indicate additional disposable income and/or venues making these events accessible to those interested in attending. Even better is a community that removes those barriers of cost and exclusivity – and Halifax is part of the Canadian movement to limit those issues where possible. More bands for less $$ is the ideal.
With a post-secondary institution visible from most vantage points in the city, the average age of the downtown dweller is attractive for keeping live music active in evening venues. The popularity of the Halifax Pop Explosion has enabled other music festivals to draw audiences at other times of the year, with two winter events this past season including Walrus (Cold Smoke, in January), and In The Dead Of Winter Festival (in February) encouraging a culture of live music being a year round activity, not just reserved for the few busy weeks of summer festivals.
Those summer festivals, however, can be a backbone for an entire summer to a touring, experimental band. It’s a time for casual networks to develop, showcase recent material, stock the merch table with leftover discs and new releases… and create a joyous bliss for fans of the whole lineup. Gridlock 2016 was beautiful in that regard – a blend of local and from-aways, big names and equally wonderful newbs. Echoing the ambiance of Sappyfest’s single white tent, it curated an atmosphere of community in the best ways. From these cute events to big shabangs like Evolve, Halifax artists find a home in many places quite easily.
This atmosphere in Nova Scotia, from what I have observed in the past few years, is nurtured by the entire Atlantic region’s arts community that strengthens and supports emerging talent in the face of economic downturns. Hillsburn played with Ben Caplan in support of the Fort McMurray fires last May at the Carleton, and drew a crowd of emotional enthusiasm for local compassion through song. The key is to keep music at the heart of the community, and allow those who produce it to not just survive, but to keep the community thriving because of its inclusion.
Devarrow, originally from Moncton is nurtured by rural environments just as much as he is supported by urban ones. Recording for his most recent EP (released in Europe, awaiting North American logistics and promo still) was completed in Ketch Harbour home studio solitude + focus funded by a kickstarter page featuring detailed summaries of what to expect, including the promise of growth: “Reinventing the Devarrow sound with a meticulously written dark, melancholic, yet oddly uplifting indie-folk-pop album.” This new sound has been compared to Fleet Foxes ethereal playfulness, not far off from Walrus’ homonymic soundscapes reflected in Tame Impala on the international scale but supported by Halifax-founded Wintersleep on multiple tours, most recently in Europe this spring.
Walrus is another genre entirely, continuing the Beatles echo into the 21st century, but still shares some common Maritime moments with Devarrow – including playing Sappyfest and other Sackville, NB events (where Graeme began unpacking his Devarrow thoughts into song). The geography of this entire list is beautiful, especially knowing the number of places they have all slingshotted to around the world between moments at home in Halifax. Keep an eye out for these artists and every other event poster plastered to Halifax street poles and event boards. I sure do. (the posters alone are worth a second look !! )
Now, it is time for another listen to Family Hangover yet again, to get another salty psychedelic breeze through the airwaves and this casual stroll through familiar maritime streets in Walrus’ timely fashionable music videos. peace n love broskis