Forget main stage, highlights at Rifflandia Festival were performed in a castle

While it can be hard to pass up seeing  main stage performers The Flaming Lips, Cake and Mother Mother, this year it was the Alix Goolden Performance Hall venue at the Rifflandia Festival, in Victoria, B.C., that stole the show.

The hall, an 800 seat former church sanctuary that looks like a castle, has vaulted ceilings, great lighting, and was the perfect venue for the roster of quirky independent bands that played there during the music festival, which was held at various locations throughout Victoria, September 13 to 16.

Three bands in particular really stood out: Austra, Humans, and Trust. While all three bands are of a similar synth-keyboard-driven, new wave nature, their performances and musical styles were all quite different.

Austra, which has been covered before in SPIN, is a Torontonian band formed by the trio of vocalist Katie Stelmanis, drummer Maya Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf. Stelmanis has a background in opera and her soaring vocals tower over the pulsing, dark beat produced by the band. Twin backup singers Sari and Romy Lightman, and Ryan Wonsiak joined the band for their show in Victoria, performing tracks from their album Feel it Break.

It only took one song to get the mostly hipster audience to swarm the front row, and when Austra performed “Lose It” it seemed as if the stained glass in the performance hall would shatter from the pitch of Stemanis’ voice. This band is a definite must-see.

The next evening, Humans took the stage at Alix Goolden. This feel-good electronic duo from Vancouver is all about fun. Robbie Slade and Peter Ricq are more than a set of DJs, they accompany their button-pressing with live vocals and instruments, and a whole lot of jumping around. As their bio states, they mean to overcome the disconnect experienced between the audience and the DJ who is stuck behind a massive table with headphones on.

Unfortunately this music fan only caught the last half of Humans’ performance, but that was enough to leave a lasting memory. “Avec Mes Mecs” is one of their great tracks.

Rifflandia ended on an unusual note, with Trust. This Toronto band, featuring Maya Postepski (of Austra) and Robert Alfons, is captivating. The performance, had Alfons on vocals, clad in black coveralls, jumping around on stage, kind of like Thom Yorke but more maniacal and without rhythm, while the two other affiliate band members kept their heads down to glowing synthesizers.

Trust is described as Alfons’ alter-ego, and is futuristic and artistic all at once. A bit like Crystal Castles, the band is intense and leans towards goth-electro. As weird as it is, it’s mesmerizing to watch Trust perform, and their track “Bulbform” is addictive.

Trust is also opening for The Faint in Vancouver on November 14; this is a band that needs to be experienced.

Sometimes the best performances are those by bands you’ve either never or barely heard of before. Such was the case for Rifflandia Festival this year, and I’m already anticipating next year’s event.   

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