VERTTIGO Surged into the Future at Sled Island 2024

#1 Legion, June 20

Photo: Em Medland-Marchen

BY Em Medland-MarchenPublished Jun 24, 2024

As the sun set on day two of Sled Island, the streets of Calgary's downtown core came alive. Festival-goers venue hopped down 7th Ave, meandering from the basements of the Palomino to the #1 Legion, which swarmed with an audience gleeful to witness VERTTIGO emerge from their coffin. The band is Edmonton's latest dream-pop project, equal parts drama, abject and ecstasy who sunk their teeth into a vampirish Sled Island set on Thursday.

Although the band appeared on the scene fairly recently, since 2022 they've consistently released a slew of juicy, sonically tight and relentlessly catchy singles to a small but growing fanbase. The first time I saw VERTTIGO perform at BIG! Winter Classic in early 2024, I was impressed by lead vocalist Karímah's rock-solid commitment to theatrics, a macabre display of deathly vibrations and gothic gyrations that built a solid foundational performance for the band's plunky synths and molasses-like shoegaze. As the five-piece has added more and more live shows under their belt, their on-stage performance has matured like maroon wine.

At Sled Island, VERTTIGO took their time to tweak and tune instruments as an assortment of goths, punks, metalheads and indie rockers sauntered into the venue. Karímah hovered on-stage, dripping in black leather — behind her, the red leaves of a Canadian maple leaf bloomed alongside poppies and the Union Jack. The glaring contrast only added to the spectacle, encouraging VERTTIGO's audience to confront the garish reality of Canada's colonial and haunted history.

That mirror of reflection was shattered quickly as VERTTIGO launched into a wash of '80s synth-soul, anchored by Karímah's emotionally wavering vibrato. Her voice, containing echoes of Roy Orbison-style wallow with a touch of Ian Curtis' haunting baritone, nodded to gothic rock outfits of the past. Her recreation was also a reinvention of its own, paying homage to an immortal genre while awakening something entirely new and fresh. The performance is an absolutely critical take on a style of music with a decades-long history, one that pays respect to ghosts of the past while conjuring daring futures where women are leading the contemporary charge.

With fingers outstretched and her eyes glowing under blood-red stage lights, Karímah took inspiration from the on-stage drama of Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan. It's hard to not also see elements of drag in the performance, an intoxicating cultural collision of influences. Launching into their 2024 single "Snow Angels" and following up with the guitar-driven "Dagger," VERTTIGO quickly had their audience thrashing and grooving. To complete the effect, Karímah removed her leather jacket to reveal a bone-tight corset. Later, she pulled out a dagger of her own, her vocals reaching blood-curdling heights as she dragged it across her neck and mimicked plunging it into her heart. The display was emotionally raw, a revealing self-sacrifice that spoke to her unwavering commitment to the band's goth aesthetics.

The set reached a high point as the band performed a signature cover of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You." Synth-heavy "Autumn" brought the band's musicality back to the forefront, with Karímah reaching out to brush the fingertips of her delighted new fans. Throughout the set, the audience grew to a healthy 400 as the floor of the Legion filled with Sledders excited to engage in goth rock's resurrection. Opening for the likes of Drab Majesty and Void Vision at Verboden 2023, and with a fresh-off-the-press 7-inch vinyl through L.A. label Dum Dum Records, VERTTIGO will only continue to rise.

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