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Vancouver musicians talk about their favourite music of 2020

Vancouver Sun logo Vancouver Sun 2020-12-23 Stuart Derdeyn
a young woman taking a selfie: B.C. groove artist Jayda G was signed to NinjaTune Records, who released her debut Significant Changes. © Provided by Vancouver Sun B.C. groove artist Jayda G was signed to NinjaTune Records, who released her debut Significant Changes.

It’s been a tough year on everyone. But the independent music sector might be having one of the toughest.

A recent report conducted by Nordicity on behalf of the Canadian Independent Music Association lists a 79 per cent drop in income from 2019 in the live music sector and a best-case scenario that the industry won’t see anything near pre-COVID levels until 2023/24. And that is a best-case scenario banking on continued federal, provincial, city and other financial support.

But musicians, like anyone else, are still cranking up the tunes and getting their isolated dance moves on, waiting out the next wave of health regulations like the rest of us. We interviewed five local artists about what their jam of the year has been with the hope that they might offer up some great ideas of sounds to share with others over this — legit weird — holiday season.

a close up of a person:  B.C. groove artist Jayda G was signed to NinjaTune Records, who released her debut Significant Changes. B.C. groove artist Jayda G was signed to NinjaTune Records, who released her debut Significant Changes.

Jayda G

Coming at you straight out of Grand Forks, B.C., Berlin-based producer Jayda G caught global ears with her excellent debut album Significant Changes on the influential Ninja Tune label. The followup Both Of Us/Are You Down EP dropped this Summer and not only received lavish praise for its songwriting and arranging but netted her a Best Dance Recording Grammy nomination for Both Of Us. Toss in the fact that she is also an environmental toxicologist and it’s safe to say she is doing her part to make the world sound, and be, better.

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Q: Which artist, song or album really connected with you in 2020?

A: The artist Sault.

Q: Why?  

A: They released two albums in 2020, Untitled (Rise) and Untitled (Black Is), both releases shrouded in mystery but incredibly well written and produced. 

Q: Any release coming in 2021 that you are excited about?

A: New material from Romy (From The XX). I just remixed her latest single and can’t waiting to hear what’s coming next from her in 2021. 

a man standing in front of a microphone:  Clarinetist François Houle plays new works with Sea and Sky.  Clarinetist François Houle plays new works with Sea and Sky. 

Francois Houle

Vancouver-based clarinetist, composer and bandleader Francois Houle notes in all-caps that — pandemic or no — he is as busy as ever. This statement is supported by his prolific output of nine new albums released on his Bandcamp-based label, Afterday Audio .

“I had to come back to Vancouver after a year in Switzerland, mostly because of COVID-19,” said Houle. “My year started with the bad news that my older brother having brain cancer. So I put together a cross Canada fundraising concert tour to support the B.C. Cancer Society in my brother’s name. I performed 18 concerts between Montreal and Vancouver, all outdoors, respecting social distance rules.”

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Q: Which artist, song or album really connected with you in 2020?

A : I can’t believe I would ever write this, but here it is. Lady Gaga, especially the soundtrack to A Star is Born; Taylor Swift’s Folklore, Busta Rhymes Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God and Steve Lacy’s Scratching the Seventies/Dreams. a soulful solo album I recently discovered.

Q: Why?

A : With COVID, I somehow started paying attention to lyrics much more than I ever have before and found myself drawn to these albums.

Q: Any release coming in 2021 that you are excited about?

A: My first CD and LP on Hat Hut Records, Switzerland’s own amazing label of avant-jazz. This is a duo with Marco Von Orelli, a fabulous cornet and trumpet player I connected with while living in Basel from April 2019 to March 2020. Cover art by Bill Frakes, a Pulitzer-prize winner. Also a quartet project with ITACA (Nick Fraser, Alessandro Fedrigo, and Nicola Fazzini). An Italian/Canadian super group which was supposed to tour extensively this year. We’re working on a recording and video for June 2021 to be premiered online at Toronto Jazz Festival.

a lit up city at night:  The Funk Hunters. © Rob Campbell The Funk Hunters.

The Funk Hunters

The DJ duo of Nick Middleton and Duncan Smith are the Funk Hunters.

The group would usually be taking up a multi-night residency at the Commodore Ballroom around now for its celebrated seasonal Funk the Halls shows. That isn’t happening.

However, the group became the first electronic act in Canada to received a Road Gold certification from the Canadian Independent Music Association for ticket sales exceeding 25,000 on its 2019 Typecast Tour. With live music scuppered for now, the funk hunters pivoted to online streaming and were cranking out free weekly shows on their Twitch channel racking up 2.1 million minutes watched.

Nick Middleton answered the questions.

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Q: Which artist, song or album really connected with you in 2020

A : With touring on hold, I’ve found myself having the chance to do a lot more listening for pleasure this year which has been nice. Hands down the artist I’ve listened to the most this year is Leisure, an incredible band from New Zealand.

Q: Why?

A : New Zealand just always seems to have it going on musically, its one of our fave places in the world to tour every year and Leisure is a great example of the Kiwi sensibility to music. Funky production backed up with catchy guitar licks and smooth vocals, they just ooze good vibes. Fun fact, they are signed to Canadian label Nettwerk.

Q: Any release coming in 2021 that you are excited about?

A : Our Westwood Recordings label mates and longtime friends and collaborators, Moontricks, are finishing up their debut album right now due out in mid-2021, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. Its an incredible blend of folk and electronic, they have such a unique sound.

a woman with dark hair:  Louise Burns is a Vancouver-based singer/songwriter and producer. Louise Burns is a Vancouver-based singer/songwriter and producer.

Louise Burns

Vancouver singer-songwriter/producer Louise Burns followed up her excellent 2019 album Portraits with a wonderful seven track dub mix release titled Silhouettes.

Reworking the material from her album into unique remixes just gave fans deeper insight into the electronically driven songwriting that made songs such as Just Walk Away and Cherry such ear-grabbing pop. Besides working on her own material, Burns worked on the new Melt EP from Jody Glenham and is writing her fifth album. “But most importantly, I got a puppy.”

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Q: Which artist, song or album really connected with you in 2020

A : I’m obsessed with all things Oneohtrix Point Never. Also, the Jim E-Stack remix of the song Cruel World by Active Child.

Q: Why?

A : I love happy sad songs, and Cruel World really embodies that sentiment. Plus, 2020 … need I say more. The remix is so beautiful and nostalgic and sad, very much my thing. As for Oneohtrix Point Never, I love electronic music, and it’s been inspiring to get into from a writing perspective. Working from home means less accessible gear for me, but more options for playing around on the computer with my soft synth collection!

Q: Any release coming in 2021 that you are excited about?

A : The new ACTORS record Acts of Worship! Also, I am, at my core, a simple soul, and I am always fascinated with what songs end up being a massive hit. Pop and hip hop production is so good right now.

a man wearing glasses:  Robert Connely Farr is a Vancouver-based blues rocker. © Tyler McLeod Robert Connely Farr is a Vancouver-based blues rocker.

Robert Connely Farr

Maple Blues Award-nominated singer Robert Connely Farr grew up in Bolton, Mississippi and studied blues at the feet of mentor Jimmy “Duck” Holmes.

Over the course of albums such as Country Supper and Live in EastVan, he has been dropping deep, dirty grooves and wow’ing local blues fans with his gutbucket brand of rocking delta boogie. Splitting time between Vancouver and Mississippi, Farr didn’t get the usual amount of road time in this year, but he did release three albums.

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Q: Which artist, song or album really connected with you in 2020? 

A : Reverend John Wilkins album Trouble dropped earlier this year, then the Rev passed away from COVID. It’s especially hard, because he is another one of those elders that is part of the “living blues.”

Q: Why?

A : The Rev is a teacher. His music, though very much a spiritual album, gave me so much comfort this year. That is one of the aspects of music from my home that I love dearly, that it is a source of spiritual comfort in dire times.

Q: Any release coming in 2021 that you are excited about?

A : My goals this year are to land a few songs in TV and film — hint, hint any music supervisors that might be reading — and I am sitting on a new album and writing new songs like crazy. But what I really want to do is go home, see my family, eat some catfish and play some blues with Jimmy Duck Holmes!

sderdeyn@postmedia.com

twitter.com/stuartderdeyn

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