Review: Squamish Valley Music Festival 2013


If you had a fear of ironic tank tops and trendy haircuts, the crowd at Said the Whale was the wrong place to be. If you loved dancing to sunny indie rock, however, it was well worth braving the mass of witty-slogan-clad young adults to watch the Vancouver based five-piece put on a killer show.  Said the Whale provided a perfect soundtrack for the thousands of festival-goers spread out on the field in front of Stawamus stage. The show featured new material off their fourth full-length album hawaiii, which trades familiar, easy-going folk for more energetic and upbeat rock. The hook-heavy music became catchier and catchier as the show went on, leaving many a blanket abandoned as its occupant joined the hordes of others dancing in the sun.


Although other acts may have had bigger names and bigger crowds, none had skinnier jeans than Vancouver indie duo Fine Times. They weren’t all tight denim, though- their music is the kind of power pop that gets stuck in your head for days, and the stage show was endlessly entertaining. If you were looking for a fun drinking game, taking a sip of beer every time front man Matt Moldowan smashed a cymbal with something other than a drumstick would leave any normal human being unconscious. Friday afternoon, objects of choice included three microphones, the floor, his fist (wearing a wrist support for weeks did nothing the stop the habit), and pretty much anything within reach. True to form, Fine Times definitely caused a little hell on the Marketplace stage.


With so many concerts to see in such a short period of time, a brief glimpse of Dan Mangan’s set was all we could manage. The opening bars of “Road Regrets” sounded as heartfelt and dramatic as ever, attracting an impressive crowd mostly made up of shirtless men. The stage was almost obscured by the sea of bare chests, but the video screens showed enough majestic facial hair and acoustic guitars to make us think that something good must be going on over there.


The only drinking game that would have you unconscious faster than the previously mentioned Fine Times activity would have something to do with Jurassic 5. Namely, taking a sip every time they mention “Jurassic 5” in a song. Their set, generously sprinkled with these self-name-drops, was a smooth display of their signature hip-hop. Even if rap wasn’t your forte, the show was worth seeing just for the experience of being in the crowd, an easygoing and enthusiastic group gathered in front of Garibaldi stage. The beats were infectious and bass-heavy, and seeing  five people rapping in perfect harmony was impressive. The show was a relaxed showcase of a hip-hop talent that had everyone moving.


A sign in the audience reading “EZRA KOENIG IS A NERD” summed up Vampire Weekend’s aesthetic Friday night. Taking the stage in button up shirts, in front of a floral backdrop, they looked like they had just stepped off of  a yacht and on to the stage. Their preppy image was misleading, though, as they launched directly into some of the catchiest tunes to come out of New York in recent years. They broke the ice with light and cheerful afro-pop tinged tunes of their first two albums before moving into the darker themes of Modern Vampires of the City, their third release. The show was different from many others at the festival, focusing solely on the music. There were no drawn out solos or ridiculous theatrics involved in the set; Vampire Weekend chose to play the festival as they were—just a band, playing their songs, and totally nailing it.


After Vampire Weekend’s simple set, it seemed like Madeon stole all the effects they skipped and mashed them into his performance. Smoke machines, video screens, projections, dancing girls, and flashing lights, combined with dance ready mixes, made the show an assault on all the senses. At this point in the night most audience members were completely intoxicated, but those still capable of dancing did so with reckless abandon. Occasionally swells and build-ups in the music fell short, but for the most part the music was fun, infectious, and well-mixed. Madeon provided some pleasant chaos to end the second day at Squamish.


If you were unable to rouse yourself before the ungodly hour of 3 PM (let’s face it, a good portion of those at the festival couldn’t manage it), your peaceful sleep would be suddenly invaded by the high energy indie rock of Yukon Blonde. It wouldn’t be an entirely unwelcome interruption, though, as being brought to consciousness by effortless seeming jams isn’t a bad way to wake up. For those who had already abandoned their sleeping bags and found their way to the Stawamus stage, Yukon Blonde laid out an upbeat set, incorporating recent work, older tunes, and a mysterious foam beer hat. Yukon Blonde was worth watching for a relaxed hour—the band provided enough energy for the crowd to dance, bop along, or just daydream in the sun before the insanity of the day began moving in.


A casual bystander could be forgiven for thinking that dozens of different bands were sharing the stage during the Heavy’s set. The four-piece act from across the pond jumped genres with every song, switching from heavy garage rock to soft ballads to reggae. The audience followed right along with them, trading head banging for various funky shuffles as the music explored neo soul, blues—you name it, the Heavy played it. The constant state of change made for a driving and exciting performance: even if one song wasn’t your favourite, you could bet that the next would have you on your feet again.


Unsettling electronic music might have seemed a little out of place in the middle of a sunny day in Squamish, but no one was complaining when Diamond Rings, the mysterious Toronto synth-popper, delivered his trademark dramatic sound Saturday evening. A small crowd had staked out the barrier before the musicians had even walked onstage. The numbers only grew as more and more people were drawn in by the hypnotizing synths, resonant vocals, and admirable dance moves. The darker music was performed with humour and energy that seemed to totally contradict the subject matter, but it remained heartfelt and the audience found it hard to tear themselves away from the stage as the show ended.


It’s hard to draw a crowd when your music doesn’t line up with the rest of the festival acts’ styles, and Twin Forks, a band brimming with feel-good folk Americana, stuck out at Squamish. Their tunes might have been sway-inducing, but they were mostly met with confusion at an event filled with rock and electronic groups. Several crowd members mistook one of their numbers for a Lumineers song and let out a few excited “Ho! Hey!”s before settling down again, slightly disappointed. As they launched into a cover of “Texas Love Song” by Slaid Cleaves, it was unclear whether or not they were poking fun at themselves with the lyrics about trucks, cacti, and cowboys. Although the original tunes they played had better reception, for the most part, Twin Forks’ music fell on deaf ears.


Childish Gambino was one of the most highly anticipated acts of the festival. Walking around Squamish early Friday afternoon, there was already a well-deserved buzz surrounding the young rapper. The excitement on Friday was nothing compared to the atmosphere Saturday night, however. Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino, filled the stage with incredible flow, powerful lyrics, and a larger than life personality. The crowd reacted with equal intensity, jumping, screaming, and occasionally launching unsuspecting audience members into the sea of people to crowd surf. The production was a blur of pulsing lights and LED screens, well-mixed to the point where it blended seamlessly into the music. The setlist heavily relied on tracks off Glover’s latest album, Camp, though it mixed in plenty of old favourites as well. All in all, Childish Gambino had very high expectations to live up to Saturday night. He responded by effortlessly high-jumping over all of them in a flurry of really good rap music.

For a look backstage during Childish Gambino’s set, see Maya-Roisin’s article.


If you would like the experience of a Queens of a Stone Age concert, you could find it by popping a QOTSA disc into your CD player and listening. Actually, scratch that. Although Queens of the Stone Age performed their songs almost exactly as they were recorded, there was something special about their set. Maybe if you took that CD and blasted it through a tower of speakers at an audience of thousands of fans, you would get closer to what Saturday’s headliners sounded like. The show was a mix of flashy lights, dizzying animation, and phenomenal music. Although the sounds could be experienced on your iPod, the set was worth seeing for the amazing production and atmosphere. Video screens cut between skulls and birds, the huge audience danced in the dark, and the songs were precisely played. The whole set had a perfectly rehearsed feeling, like it had been done hundreds of times before, and it went smoothly before the eyes of a new crowd. One might say it went …Like Clockwork.


Bear Mountain was one of our best new discoveries at Squamish. Closing the festival at the Marketplace stage, their syncopated, dance ready electronic music combined with their charismatic stage presence for a great show. They drew a sizeable crowd for the small stage, full of enthusiastic, slightly drunk, and very friendly concert-goers. Audience members happily carried strangers on their shoulders, threw their hands in the air at front man Ian Bevis’ every word, and caught guitarist Kyle Statham as he threw himself into the horde. Bear Mountain ended the festival with a bang, before returning for an encore and ending it for real with another bang.

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