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Rifflandia 6 review: Saturday at Royal Athletic Park

Thievery Corporation's Rob Garza, Chali 2na, USS and Death From Above 1979.
Death From Above 1979 closed out the main stage at Royal Athletic Park Saturday, Sept. 14 on day three of Rifflandia 6.

One can’t but help to stand in awe of Rifflandia’s massive success on almost every level. In six short years, Rifflandia has gone from a small, multi-venue festival featuring a number of excellent, albeit smaller acts, to an enormous four day event capable of drawing rock royalty such as Courtney Love and spurring a number of off-shoot subsidiaries including Artlandia and Thinklandia.

There are many reasons for Rifflandia’s stratospheric rise to prominence among Canadian festivals: from the consistent quality and diversity of the festival’s music, to fast beer lines and a family friendly atmosphere at Royal Athletic Park, Rifflandia effectively builds upon past successes while continually striving to create new ones.

Rifflandia’s success is most obvious when one considers the proliferation of its branding. For months leading up to the festival’s first day, Rifflandia inspired images swarm our city’s streets. From this year’s colourful logo to Christopher Vickers’ iconic mustache, Rifflandia is all-pervasive in this town even before the music begins.

Rob Garza was the picture of cool on an otherwise hot day two of Rifflandia 2013. Clad in a black leather jacket, the founder of the seminal EDM group Thievery Corporation played his solo dj set in the shade of the Rifftop Tent much to the delight of those who danced the early fall afternoon away. In stark contrast to some of the other festival DJ’s, Garza remained consummately calm behind his table. The electronic music trailblazer didn’t bob his head maniacally, much less dance to his own rhythms, preferring to display his virtuosity in a more subdued manner.

Garza’s set might have come as a surprise to those familiar with Thievery Corporation’s recent work. Whereas Thievery Corporation has evolved into a massive stage presence of up to twelve members, Garza’s solo set marks a return to his DJ roots. The highlight of Garza’s set came near the end, when he spun The Smith’s already infectiously danceable “This Charming Man” to a thick beat: Morrissey’s never sounded so funky.

Garza’s class and composure offered an interesting counterpoint to USS, who played the park’s main stage earlier in the afternoon. USS falls somewhere between Nickleback and Insane Clown Posse on the musical map, a territory I usually avoid. The band’s sound, a musical equivalent of an exceedingly debaucherous frat party, undoubtedly tickled many a “Zoners” fancy--- indeed, a terrifyingly large swarm of revelers gathered in front of the stage for USS’ matinee. Others weren’t so hyped, however, as USS’ performance ultimately had many of us tempted to steal hearing protection from an infant.

The highlight of the afternoon was Chali 2na’s amazing afternoon performance at the Rifftop Tent. A member of the legendary Jurassic 5, 2na’s infectious old school hip hop cured even the worst case of sun-stroke. 2na drew from his extensive catalogue, channeling a pre-Kanye breed of hip hop which took many of us back to the mid-1990s. 2na’s tunes still sound incredibly fresh twenty years after Jurassic 5 was first formed: my excited, yet rhythmically-devoid dance moves were on full display throughout 2na’s entire set.

Saturday night’s headlining act, Death From Above 1979, shares Rifflandia’s penchant for effective branding. The pink, elephantine faces of the band which grace Death From Above 1979’s 2004 release, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, are no doubt familiar to even those who haven’t heard a note of the album. The image was plastered upon many a fan’s t-shirt last night as thousands awaited the band’s reunion performance at Rifflandia.

Drummer/lead vocalist, Sebastian Grainger, and bass/synth mastermind Jesse F. Keeler took the stage to a chorus of chants at sundown, immediately launching into their minimalistic, riff-heavy derangement of the senses. While DFA is known and loved for their minimalism, I was surprised at first, by the size of Grainger’s drum kit. The driving rhythmic center of DFA’s patented pedigree of percussion-heavy noise rock is certainly no Neil Peart styled fare: it was amazing to hear the range of sounds Grainger managed to squeeze out of such a small kit.

Grainger and Keeler’s sonic assault could be heard well into the heart of Fernwood, taking a captivated crowd through stunning renditions of long beloved songs such as “Pull Out” and “Going Steady”. One couldn’t help be impressed by the precision of DFA’s aural assault: even after the band’s much lamented five year hiatus, DFA was tighter than ever, and seemed to be truly enjoying themselves on stage as Grainger’s banter with the audience was hilarious. He jokingly referred to the crowd in front of him as a “bunch of maggots” and when a fan threw Grainger’s solo disc onto the stage, the drummer replied, “thanks—I don’t have this one” before pounding out another song.

Death From Above 1979’s return the stage marked a climax, of sorts, in a festival full of highlights. The band’s stunning performance more than satiated long-time fans of the band, while giving them hope that we will be hearing a new album from DFA very soon.