Rifflandia 2023 Brought Star Power and Synergy to Victoria

With DijahSB, Iggy Pop, Mavis Staples, Diplo, Herbie Hancock, U.S. Girls, Mel C, Sports Team and more

Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein

BY Alan RantaPublished Sep 19, 2023

After last year's victorious return, the 2023 edition of Rifflandia inevitably felt more low stakes, able to breathe without the burden of making a mission-cementing comeback. Still, the fest felt just as exciting and whirlwind as it ever does, with names big and small feeding their legend or making their mark. Exclaim! was there, and these are the best things we saw. 

September 15

Sports Team 

There's a love thing going on between Sports Team and the city of Victoria. After performing breakthrough single "The Drop" mid-set, frontperson Alex Rice explained his theory that the only reason they got booked to play in Victoria again so quickly after playing a headline show at Wicket Hall some six months earlier was through a mix-up on the ferry to Vancouver Island. They were on their way to the gig when rhythm guitarist Rob Knaggs ended up getting into the wrong van with an alarmed family that he did not know — the van's owner turned out to be the booker for Rifflandia.

Keeping to their stated aesthetic, drummer Alex Greenwood donned a lime green Manchester United soccer jersey adorned with the name and number of famed goalkeeper Mary Earps, while the rest of her crew looked like they could have been in a yacht rock band as opposed to one of the most incendiary alternative rock acts around.

Rice gave an inspired performance out front, hamming it up as if only Iggy Pop was watching him. He did a backwards somersault during "R Entertainment," then got up looking coolly dazed and chicken-kicked for the entire first verse of "Dig!" He gave the audience a clear and enticing invitation to join in their brand of mayhem.

Waiting for their finale "Stanton" to take off, Rice sat on the steps at the front of the expansive main stage, making it feel a little more intimate as his gang built up the swell behind him. They painted the silence with sounds evoking Pulp, Arctic Monkey, and early Supergrass, and left an impression in their own image.

U.S. Girls

Putting U.S. Girls at the modest Rifftop Stage — downwind of Splifflandia's legal weed dispensary at 4:20 — was inspired booking on paper, but the experience was perhaps a little more intense than hoped. Performing in the ever-warming sun, Meg Remy was forced to wear a black sweat towel as a makeshift veil for most of her set to lend herself a soft barrier against the devastating rays. Yet, rather than cloaking her, she made the protective towel a playful part of her performance, like a child playing peekaboo as she grooved away on her catalogue of cerebral art pop.

In the midst of a world tour supporting 2023's brilliant Bless This Mess, she and her drummerless band demonstrated the admirable depth and variety of her artistic vision. Their flawless rendition of "Futures Bet," complete with its Hendrix-like national anthem intro nod, highlighted how the beautiful, soulful pop dirge would fit wonderfully among the more progressive works of Fine Young Cannibals. After it was done, she jokingly said it wasn't that hot up there, before noting, "It can always get hotter. That's the thing."

Unfortunately, following a solid rendition of "Rosebud" from 2018's In a Poem Unlimited, they attempted to launch into "L-Over" when the entire PA system shut down due to a power issue, forcing the sound console to be rebooted. In near silence, the band played on, giving it their all despite only being audible within a spitting radius. The sound guy eventually got everything back online near the end of the song, at which point Remy whipped off her towel and projected larger than ever. Afterward, she noted her disappointment in the sound drop, as "L-Over" is her favorite song to perform. So they went ahead and played it all over again for all of our sake.

Putting her towel back on, Remy thanked security guards who had to hang out in the sun all day before launching into the disco hotshot of "4 American Dollars," transitioning so smoothly into a sizzling cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Be Thankful for What You Got" that it was barely perceptible. Afterward, Remy said, "I'm thankful for this heat, for this black stage burning my feet," before expressing gratitude for her keyboardist Geordie Gordon, pianist Edwin de Goeij, percussionist Ed Squires and her partner/guitarist Max "Slim Twig" Turnbull. Their kids were also in attendance, completing the family affair.

The loving vibes were apparent from one side of the stage to the other as the band jelled behind Remy's voice stronger than ever. All indications are that Remy and her coterie of ne'er-do-wells are aging like fine cheese. They're just getting stronger.

Iggy Pop

They say don't meet your idols, and this has proven to be relatively true. Anyone who has seen Bob Dylan or Brian Wilson perform over the past thirty years can attest to the difference between the image of the performer built in our minds and the cold reality of seeing someone perform years after their most influential recordings were made. Expectations must be tempered.

However, it's doubtful that anyone walked away from seeing Iggy Pop on Rifflandia's main stage feeling like they didn't see him in all his glory at 76 years old.

Mostly performing in his signature shirtless style, the wrinkles and scars on his torso painting a road map of a life lived to the fullest, Pop and his band took the stage in near darkness with a creepy, droning intro like the opening of a John Carpenter film while grainy black and white footage of Iggy played slowly on the screens. Iggy quickly lost his black vest after the dogs started barking, and the band launched into "Five Foot One" from his 1979 album New Values.

A selection of Pop's greatest hits blanketed the set list, from classic Stooges proto-punk numbers like "Raw Power" and a sped-up take on "TV Eye" to his brilliant solo work in "Lust for Life" and "The Passenger." Yet he never made it feel like he was doing us a favour or going through the motions by delivering what we wanted to hear.

Importantly, he inserted new material in there to keep it fresh, like "Modern Day Ripoff" from this year's Every Loser. He's kept the fire burning longer than most of the audience had been alive, and he still showcased all of his legendary physical and vocal presence.

There's a hitch in his giddy-up, but giddy he upped, working all parts of the stage and crowd. He used the mic like a needle to inject himself during "Raw Power," grabbed the mic like a crooner for "Gimme Danger," and coaxed the crowd to sing the David Bowie-influenced chorus of "The Passenger." Arguably the band's most impressive moment came in their lengthy rendition of "I'm Sick of You," when Pop sat on a monitor centre stage to emote while its mangled guitar tone and mariachi trumpet curled behind him into an otherworldly snake-charming incantation of "The End" by the Doors.

During "I Wanna Be Your Dog," Iggy went flat on his back, and it looked like a long way back up to the living, but he beat his chest triumphantly like King Kong after he arose. Iggy Pop is a king of sorts. After waving to the crowd, taking a few bows, and limping off the stage, having left most of himself on it, he came back out quickly to nail three more songs for his encore. 

Marc Rebillet

This mind-bludgeoning set started with a respectful and acknowledgement, and then a little girl introduced Marc Rebillet by yelling, "Get the fuck out of bed, bitch! Go!" Following her command by stomping out onto the main stage like a Mad Lebowski in a black housecoat, weird-ass American loop daddy Rebillet was definitely weird, and eventually showed his ass.

Following in the great tradition of onstage eccentrics like Reggie Watts and Beardyman, Rebillet doesn't really have a plan when he hits the stage. He just pops off, loops things and somehow music happens. It's spectacular to behold.

Building his first loop out of lippy raspberries and a scream that seemed like a hard system reboot, he stuttered out a ludicrously simple, sparse keyboard melody, added in a little banana shaker, layered on percussion and started playing with a sci-fi synth lead until the bass kicked in almost ten minutes into his set. 

He kept screaming "make way" until it eventually morphed into "make way for the vibe," the air cannons exploded, and the whole thing took off in a different direction. Of course, he dropped the sound out of nowhere again to ask a guy in the crowd specifically if he was bringing the vibe, and it is unclear if he was. This vignette would actually be one of the more lucid moments of Marc's set as he worked a slow burn throughout his performance, which was actually somewhat detrimental to his overall momentum.

At one point he noodled out a heartstring-plucking piano solo that could be used as an abstract intro to Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is." This moment bled into a sentimental downtempo instrumental with a Minimal Wave feel, and as that worked its way down to a natural lull, he put the mic on a Phillips beer as he opened it and told people they can do whatever the fuck they want to because it's their life.

Rebillet later put on a bra in one fluid motion and crowd-surfed while spraying a bottle of champagne like a winning Formula-1 driver. After being accidentally dropped by the crowd, he eventually went back to his laptop, announced that he wanted to fuck, and confetti cannons blew paper all over the crowd. Yowzah!

September 16

Chet Faker

Chet Faker nestled himself into quite the comfy corner on Rifflandia's massive main stage. Sandwiched between two keyboard stations and four massive octo-speaker banks with a few more monitors on the ground, Faker looked like he was grooving away in his own cozy sound cocoon, inviting us in to watch.

Starting off with "Oh Me Oh My," the opening track from 2021's Hotel Surrender, his was one of Saturday's most satisfying sets. Unfortunately, about ten minutes in, his vocals dropped out while he was trying to sing "Feel Good." It wasn't the only time the festival had power issues, so there were some exasperated gasps of annoyance, but this issue was fixed way quicker than the dropout during U.S. Girls' set at the Rifftop stage the previous day.

After the sound came back on, Murphy sang a bit more, then played a jaunty piano melody that incredibly morphed into a synth melody over a beat as he picked up a white guitar, went back to the mic, and continued the smooth transition from "Feel Good" into "Whatever Tomorrow." 

He would later have a slight mic stand malfunction, requiring outside assistance, but all things considered, Faker crushed it. As the twilight descended, the stage's lighting splendour really came into focus. As Murphy played the funky electric piano of "Get High," a giant spotlight briefly searched for him in the darkness until heavenly blue skies with little fluffy clouds appeared on the big screen behind him, his image at the keys mirrored in complimentary blue and white on the screens next to the stage. Time slowed down, and everything in the world seemed alright for a moment.

Mavis Staples 

At 84 years old, Mavis was led out to Rifflandia's main stage mic with the assistance of a dapper man in a suit, and it was soon apparent that, for all of her astounding gumption, she would need to pace herself. Surrounded by a guitarist, rhythm section and a couple of backing singers, she had a little piano bench in front of the drummer where she would perch every song or so to have a sip of tea and let the band steep.

She got up when she could, though. Her voice frayed from years of commanding the devil to keep on stepping outta here, Staples gave it everything she had in service of the greater good. When her singers started chanting "I'll fly away" for their funky version of the title cut from 1974's City in the Sky, it felt like the whole ballpark might do so.

She did mix in newer selections like "Who Told You That" from the Tweedy-produced 2017 effort If All I Was Was Black and "Eyes on the Prize" from 2007's Ry Cooder-assisted We'll Never Turn Back, yet she seemed to dig deeper the farther she went back. She appeared well-supported during her famous renditions of Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That," which gave her backing singers each a chance to shine, as well as the Talking Heads' "Slippery People" and Steven Stills' "For What It's Worth." Most touchingly, she appeared visibly stirred during their version of "Friendship," choking back a few tears as she put a piece of her heart into one of the last songs recorded by her father Pops Staples before he passed.

Naturally, the setlist was stuffed and bookended with selections from the Staples Singers. Starting off with "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)," they closed with their first hit for Stax, 1971's "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)," sandwiching the seminal "Respect Yourself" somewhere in between.

During their performance of "Respect Yourself," the guitarist took the first verse and allowed Mavis to join the choir while she regained her bearings after a tea break. It was a smart way to structure the set, keeping the show going smoothly while allowing the marvellous Mrs. Mavis to shine through when she could. A master who still twinkles in the twilight of her career. Respect.


For an hour or so on a cool fall evening, Diplo made Victoria feel much more like Florida than Florida. The Park felt twice as packed )and twice as drunk) as it had the night before for the legendary Iggy Pop, with errant beer cans blanketing the grounds and little respect for personal space anywhere near the stage. Diplo came out with good energy, announced himself by saying, "My name is Diplo. Are you guys ready to rave tonight?"

For a few tracks, it seemed like he was going to do just that. His opening track was manic, building to a crazy hard techno drop, and he carried on that momentum for another song or two, going hard and deep until settling in to what the set would mostly consist of — questionable presentations of predictable Top 40 club tracks like "Say My Name" by Destiny's Child, "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey, "Roxanne" by the Police, and "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Honestly, Diplo's taste-level bordered on offensive at times.
Diplo's set also included a blatant ode to Gary Glitter in the form of a super cool edit of "Rock 'n' Roll (Part 2)." They used to play the original "na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na, hey" song at every hockey game until Glitter was convicted of child porn in 1999, before being convicted of pedophilia in 2006 and again in 2015. Why anyone would give main stage prime time exposure to the mediocre glam rock of a man as sick as Glitter is hard to understand.

Exacerbating the dwindling returns provided by Diplo's track selection, the packed crowd was so belligerent that being anywhere in it was an elbow massage. Relatively early in the evening, people arriving late to stages decided that your personal space was actually theirs and took it, forming a rolling sea of aimless wanderers like some horrible human car wash torture from a long forgotten fraternity hazing ritual. 

Altogether, Diplo's set wasn't all that distinguishable from the one that Paris Hilton pretended to perform at Electric Avenue the week before. One can only imagine how much Run the Jewels would have killed in that time slot, having destroyed the comparatively smaller stage at Rifflandia's Electric Avenue the week before.


It's easy to see parts of Salt-N-Pepa's legacy living on in the spirit of Princess Nokia, Leikeli47, Noname, Tierra Whack, and, briefly, Awkwafina, but nobody has ever done it quite like Salt-N-Pepa.

At Rifflandia, dazzling rappers Salt and Pepa were joined by DJ ShadowReD, who did his best to milk the crowd's '90s nostalgia. They hit the stage running, jamming through the bulk of their booty-shaking greatest hits, and left just as quickly. Coming out to their Grammy-winning sex-positive single "None of Your Business" from Very Necessary, as well as the soundtracks to Barb Wire (1996) and Miss Congeniality (2000), they raised the roof further with "R U Ready" before blowing us up with the "Love Rollercoaster" beat of "Champagne."

If their diamond encrusted mics, fabulously pink and bold attire, and no-fucks-given attitude wasn't enough, the duo's antics were enhanced by a pair of Salt-N-Pepa shakers for the booty anthem "Shake Your Thang" from 1988's A Salt with a Deadly Pepa. Unfortunately, just as things seemed to be settling into a true experience, the show was paused for a lengthy interlude from DJ ShadowReD. Salt and Pepa left the stage, letting their beat provider slap out a snippet of the best part from the biggest mainstream radio hits of the '80s and '90s.

The break stretched out to over ten minutes, like the biggest barroom karaoke session in Victoria history, belting out the chorus to "You Give Love A Bad Name," "Jump Around," and "Whoomp! (There It Is)." Thankfully, the ladies' return made him cut off a confusing selection of DJ Khaled's vapid hip-pop product "All I Do Is Win."

From that point on, Salt-N-Pepa churned out their biggest bangers, from "Let's Talk About Sex," "Push It," and "Shoop." It seemed like they were going to squeeze one more song into their 50 minute set, but they got chased off stage by the hard curfew, leaving us wanting more, as ever.

September 17


This was Kahdijah Payne's first time performing in Victoria as DijahSB. Dijah is a national treasure, one of the greatest voices this country has ever produced, and this was a moment to recognize.

With their blushing self-deprecation in mind, their set started with the smooth, confident "Frontin' Like Pharrell" before moving on to the less confident "Broke Boi Anthem." Already, in their first two choices, they wore their neuroses on their sleeves, as they do in their rhymes and on their social media accounts, at least the ones that Elon Musk hasn't suspended them from yet.

Before gliding into "Throw That Back" from 2021's Head Above the Waters, they led the crowd in a chant of "everything is going to be okay." This became a sort of mantra for their tragically short set, a phrase they would return to a few times, repeating that everything would be okay… for their bank account or life in general.

Following the soulful shuffle of "New Balance" from their 2021 mini-LP Tasty Raps, Vol. 1, DijahSB asked people to follow them on Instagram because of their recent Twitter suspension. They keep eggs in their pocket just in case they happen to run into Elmo. Apparently, they've been learning Portuguese with all the spare time they have now that X is their ex.

That said, other than a little disdain for Musk, Dijah was heartwarming to behold. Before a version of the veggi collaboration "Exceptional," they pleaded, "Things are extremely difficult right now, like very difficult, so please have some grace for yourselves, okay? The world is already beating us up. I need y'all to not join on that when it comes to yourselves."

Begging for all the energy the crowd could muster at the end of their teasingly brief half-hour set, DijahSB closed with a rendition of "Control," which appeared on Nill's 2021 album BLU. Few though they were, if all those bangers and thinkers didn't turn the crowd into DijahSB fans, it's doubtful anything will.

Mel C

This set may have been the most surprising of the weekend, even to Mel herself. There had been a mystery guest announced for the final day of Rifflandia, and amidst the usual festival kerfuffle they eventually found a time slot for a solo set from Melanie Chisholm, otherwise known as Sporty Spice. Keeping true to her image from the good old days, Chisholm came out on the main stage in sequin gym shorts and a warm up jacket, the latter of which she quickly ditched to reveal her signature sports bra.

Her head buried in her Pioneer headphones for most of her set, Chisholm delivered one of the best DJ sets of the entire fest. Twiddling knobs on a mixer between two digital decks, her work was made evident by one brief mistake when she either bumped something she shouldn't have or forgot to switch on something she should. But either way, she was actually doing something up there, which is becoming more difficult to discern as technology improves over time. Mel C is old school.

In one of her more remarkable moments, she blended the Spice Girls' "Who Do You Think You Are" into "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, and then mashed them up in an unforgettable, shockingly complimentary fashion. Mixing in a fine selection of brand new club bangers like "My Bills" by Riton, "U Ok?" by PARISI, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso, and the original acid tweakin' funk-esque "Pump" by Chris Lorenzo, Chisholm injected enough nostalgia to acknowledge her fans without feeling like a stale homage or a cash grab. I doubt anyone was expecting her to spin in a taste of "Chop Suey!" by System of a Down, but she did, and it was one of the most pleasantly shocking things I've ever witnessed.

Near the end of her set, Chisholm had the crowd in the palm of her hand for "Fine Day Anthem" by Skrillex and Boys Noize when the sound started powering down, as if someone hit stop on a record player. She played up a faux-shocked expression before hitting play on "When You're Gone," her locally-loved 1998 collaboration with Bryan Adams. The crowd sang along with her as she waved and received their love, grabbing a mic only to say that she wouldn't come to Canada without playing that song. Nuts to the King. God save Mel C!

Stephen Marley 

Okay, so maybe "Stephen" isn't the first name that comes to mind when anyone hears the name Marley. But not only was Stephen Marley worth staying for, he compelled me to stay until the security guards asked us to leave — any hesitation was quickly put to rest by his aura, and his band.

Joined by keyboardist Llamar "Riff Raff" Brown, guitarist Ranoy Gordon, sideburn'd bassist Kawain Williamson, and flautist Kateri Farrell, they didn't have a drum set to pound the beat into us. Instead, they all performed sitting in chairs, relaxing around Marley as he generated good vibrations on the mic while playing binghi drums, shaker and a little guitar. The sound was very natural, acoustic and understated — almost a revolutionary statement in itself in this age of redlining producers and over-compressed masterings.

With the expected clouds of cannabis smoke curling in the night breeze, the vibe was unbelievably chill throughout his set. It was the complete opposite of the obnoxious mayhem Diplo had unfurled the previous night. This was nice music for nice people. Of course, with a big banner of his father's lovely face on stage, there were heavy doses of Bob in this Marley set. They also faithfully interpreted classics like "Three Little Birds" — where Farrell's flute practically became a bird singing a lullaby — "Jamming" and "Could You Be Loved," all belted out by the crowd.

It wasn't all about Bob, though. The younger Marley also played original compositions, like the gentle acoustic title track of this year's Old Soul. His rendition of the dancehall ganja ode "Traffic Jam" from 2007's Mind Control hit the sweet spot too. I hope Rifflandia books more Marleys in the future.

Herbie Hancock

The freshman to Mavis Staples' junior, Herbie Hancock landed on Rifflandia's main stage at the age of 83. The legendary American jazz keyboardist seemed to be holding up fairly well for someone who's been consistently active since the early '60s. 

"Hello, Vancouver," Hancock stated with fading confidence before eventually continuing, "Island! Island."

It was a nice save on a classic introduction error, but he promised to keep his talking to a minimum after that, more so due to the brief nature of his afternoon timeslot than his grasp on local geography. With the focus placed on his performance, and that of his all-star band, his music did his talking for him. It spoke volumes.

Before playing, Hancock declared his intent to start off with something strange, and appeared surprised by the crowd's enthusiastic response to the idea. In turn, the audience seemed a little unprepared for the evolving onslaught of his opening overture, which touched on various mid-career pieces including an element of "Rockit," the track that helped bring scratching to the mainstream in 1983.

Hancock highlighted trumpeter Terence Blanchard by mentioning his dozens of film scores before talking up mercurial guitarist Lionel Loueke and going poetic on James Genus, saying he had the guts of a bassist and the sweetness of dessert and basically placing the future of jazz in the hands of young drummer Jaylen Petinaud. None of it was hyperbole on Hancock's part. Loueke made his guitar sound like three different people playing three different instruments, Blanchard layered in haunting whirlwinds, Genus had all the crackle of Thundercat, and Petinaud was giving serious Makaya McCraven vibes on drums.

For the closer, Hancock picked up a keytar and launched into the funky riff from "Chameleon," the opening track from 1973's Head Hunters. It may have been a touch chunky in execution, but it's impressive that an 83 year old can stand with and play a keytar without assistance. I hurt my wrist getting out of bed this morning, and I'm half his age.

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