Like all music festivals, the Halifax Pop Explosion is born from tireless effort. Bands wrestle with venues and broken-down vans, bar owners work to make as much money as possible, and bouncers struggle to ensure that no one has too much fun. Most trawl the night restlessly, searching for that one perfect set of the evening that will remind them that, yes, they are here for the music. Lucky for them, this year's festival line-up had a lot of gems.
Tuesday kicked off with an intriguing Gus' Pub set from young Truro, NS noise-punkers Pig, who surrounded themselves with amps and extra musicians for a show that was both freewheeling and focused. Then it was onto the Paragon, where Montreal's awesome Red Mass played their frenetic, slightly crazy garage-dance tunes.
Wednesday at the Seahorse, local heroes the Got to Get Got played with their usual high-energy shamble-rock sweetness. Next door at the Toothy Moose, Kestrels dealt with the venue's wretched sound as best as they could until a guitar somehow got thrown into a wall. Back at the Seahorse, Valleys shared their bleak, beautiful sound with a rapt audience, and over at Coconut Grove, D-Sisive did a skillful set to a virtually empty room.
Thursday was a bit of a mess with a glut of potentially awesome shows. In the end, the Paragon was a good choice: Think About Life brought the week's first dance party, and their canary-shirted singer Martin Cesar stole hearts and radiated good vibes. Cadence Weapon kicked off by reading a poem (that's his job now, don't you know) and played a set that was equal parts fierce and goofy, making him come across as quite the party laureate.
Friday, Halifax's First Aid Kit augmented their joyful pop rock with signs and sunglasses, followed by Toronto's Entire Cities, who crammed onto the stage and brought some people to tears with their emotive, rowdy anthems. Somehow, a mosh pit had formed at the Seahorse for Japanther, despite the bar's best efforts to the contrary. With Ramones covers and a rousing chant of "We want fun!" the set was punk punk punk and just about perfect.
Over at the Toothy Moose, the Pack A.D.'s performance was the equivalent of a sonic knuckle sandwich - those girls are killer. The bar forced Toronto's Diemonds to play earlier than their scheduled start time, and an unnecessary line-up outdoors meant a lot of people missed their skillful, sexed-up hard rock. They played again the next night at the Seahorse at a pay-what-you-can gig organized at the last minute in order to raise money for a broken-down van.
And this is the essence of Halifax Pop Explosion - a community that welcomes strangers and friends without question, and organizers and volunteers who work solely to bring good times to fruition.