Skull Fist Rocks the Capital at Mavericks

The most important piece of advice I can give to any aspiring band photographer is one simple word: Flickr! Out of everything I’ve done to advertise myself, Flickr has been far and away the best bang for the buck. I’ve gotten more exposure and more paying gigs through Flickr than from anything else. Properly tagged, with good descriptions and titles your photos can be searched and found by millions of people and the investment of time is minimal if you have a good workflow set out.

Case and point; I got an email last week from the band Skull Fist asking if I’d come shoot their show. I thought maybe I’d seen them play before, or talked to them at a previous show, but it turns out they found me through Flickr. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but as my Flickr portfolio has grown, it’s becoming more and more frequent.

As for the show itself, I haven’t had that much fun shooting a band in a long time. If you keep up with this blog you’ll know the one biggest complaint I have about live music is that many bands don’t pay much attention to performance aspect of the show. Live music should be larger than life, I’m not saying every band should go completely KISS and show up in spikes and make-up, but you should at least look like you didn’t just roll in from your day job. And move around a bit on stage, too many bands perform on stage like they’re

laying down a track in the studio. You might sound great, but sound is only one part of why people go see live bands. Well Skull Fist did not disappoint.

You may not like metal, but you have to give credit to any band that really turns it up to 11 to put on a memorable show. I`m going to make a point of shooting more metal shows in the future; my shots are only ever going to be as good as the band I`m shooting… lighting, gear, technique… these things are important, but they only let you reach the full potential of your subject. If your subject is boring, the best you can hope for is technically capable, but boring pictures. Well Skull Fist made me look good. They look the part, they act the part; Valhalla or bust… they`re here to rock.

I also have to give props to the crowd at Mavericks. A lot of my time shooting a show is spent looking over my shoulder for the inevitable flying beer… or body. I have a hard enough time avoiding the jostle at an upbeat alternative show, being a full line up of metal I was expecting WWIII on the dance floor. And while the mosh pit deserved it`s name, everyone was very conscious about giving me my space, in fact the crowd even came to my defense when the sole drunk that wasn`t with the program started getting physical with me.

So my thanks go out to the crowd at Mavericks… you let me get on with my business and good times where had by all. Skull Fist are currently touring eastern Canada followed by a tour out west then off to Europe, so check them out while they`re still on this side of the pond if you have a chance. Even if you`re not generally one to go to a metal show, trust me you will be entertained. You can see the rest of my shots of Skull Fist on Flickr, as well as shots from the other amazing bands in the line up: Aggressor, Black Moor and RottawaY.

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Down on the Corner: Busking the Streets of Ottawa

Ottawa has had a long tradition of great street performers, but in recent years the number of acts hitting the streets has been declining and we have Big Brother Business to blame.

Busking used to be a great way for struggling musicians and performers to make a buck and maybe get yourself noticed, but now businesses want to take a cut. City of Ottawa requires buskers to cough up $200 a year for a buskers license in order to work the Byward Market… but it doesn’t stop there, each financial district has it’s own Business Association that can levy it’s own fee for buskers… you want to work the streets in front of Parliament, that’s another license… you want to work Elgin… popped again… Bank St pull out your wallet boys and girls.

When I came to Ottawa for University in ’99 the Market was full of amazing buskers from all over the world. Acts from Europe and Australia especially loved coming to the Capital, ten years later I walk around the market and in a good week I see one fresh face I haven’t seen before. Mostly it’s the same half dozen acts that to be honest, have gotten lazy. Those that can afford the license now seem to think they own the place and don’t really have to try anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are still quite a few quality performers out there, the ones that really put on a show… engage the audience and really seem like they’re serious about it, Stunt Double Circus comes to mind. But you can tell there’s a lot of buskers that are pretty much just phoning it in now… it’s not enough to show up in dirty jeans and a t-shirt and bang out the same three songs all day if you want people to cough up their pocket change in a time where pocket change is getting harder to hang on to. And out of town acts are virtually non-existent so far this year, some struggle to just break even between room, board and travel expenses to tour different countries, being popped for a license on top of all that just doesn’t make Ottawa a financially attractive place to set up shop.

Busking has been integral to making the Market what it is today, and now business and industry is turning it’s backs on part of the reason the Market is so successful. Many great Canadian acts got their start busking, we wouldn’t have the Barenaked Ladies without it, but now it seems quality buskers might be a dying breed in this corner of the country. Be warned Ottawa, if this continues street theater will be gone from this town and it may never come back.

You can see more shots of Ottawa Street Music on my Flickr. If you see someone there, they’re worth checking out… throw them an extra buck or two. You may have seen my Stunt Double Circus pics already, but they’re definitely worth checking out in person if you get the chance.

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Raised By Swans w/ Pink Moth and Mouth at Zaphods

This Monday I shot a free show at Zaphods featuring Raised by Swans with openers Mouth and Pink Moth. The free concert series at Zaphods can be a mixed bag, sometimes great and sometimes not so much. The lineup this time was a bit of an odd mix. Mouth started off the show; two guys and a girl on drums who have just moved to Ottawa. Great energy and a great stage presence, definitely a band to keep your eye on. There’s nothing better as a photographer than shooting a band that really works the stage and moves around and these guys didn’t disappoint.

Next up was Pink Moth, a solo artist that mixed live guitar and haunting vocals with an iPod for a backup band. Easy on the ears, he laid down some hypnotic tracks that had a resonant musical quality. A great act, but to be honest I’d much rather listen to this type of music at home with a cup of tea and a book… it doesn’t make for the most entertaining live show.

The headliners, Raised by Swans, were recommended to me by a friend and were the reason I came to the show in the first place. They’ve been described as “The Canadian equivalent of Sigur Ros, Mercury Rev, or Radiohead – luscious, ambient, and dream-like” and that’s about the best description I’d be able to give. Great sound, great depth, but again… not the most interesting band to watch live. I know I’m biased being a photographer, but I go see live shows for the show that’s put on. If a band’s going to come and play in jeans and t-shirts, standing still for the whole set, to be quite honest I’d rather save the price of admission and buy their CD to listen to at home instead. This type of act usually sounds better on a CD anyways.

I’m not saying Pink Moth and Raised by Swans didn’t play great music, but I just wouldn’t pay to see their live act. In this respect Mouth won hands down for the night. They jumped, they screamed, they fought… they rocked, plain and simple. Without a doubt, buy a copy of Pink Moth and Raised by Swans’ album, you won’t be disappointed, but do yourself a favour and go see Mouth the next chance you get.

You can see more shots of Raised by Swans, Pink Moth and Mouth on my Flickr.

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The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep Inn

The Burning Hell

Made the trip over the border to Wakefield to see The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep Inn last weekend. Last time I saw Mathias at Zaphods it was a cold and blustery winter night and very few people braved the weather to see the show. This time the place was packed and were treated to an amazing show.

I’m still amazed at the high iso capabilities of the 50D, paired with my 85L I can get shots in even the dimmest bar.  My new (to me) ’65 Leica also arrived that weekend and I took it for a spin during the show, I’ll be posting shots from it in the next week or two… soon as I get around to developing the roll.

It’s too bad Wakefield is so far a trek, between the The Black Sheep and Cafe 1870 there’s always great acts playing. I try to make it out there when I can, but hopefully Ottawa will take the hint and start booking the same quality of music.  You can see more shots of The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep on my Flickr.

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Wax Mannequin Comes to the Capital

I’d been waiting a while to see this show. One of the best Canadian artists I’ve come across this decade, Wax Mannequin came to town to debut his new album Saxon. The openers where amazing as well. To be honest when I go to a show specifically for the headliner, I usually can’t wait for the opening acts to wrap things up as soon as possible but, Rae Spoon from out west and Mark Bragg were definitely worth hearing in their own right.  A face from the past popped up as well, Rajiv of Oh No Forest Fires came along to play bass for Mark Bragg.

All three bands looked great on stage, and god bless Zaphods for using well aimed spotlights. I tried some split toning as well as the usual black and whites this time. I won’t get technical, but careful split toning really helped control the shadow noise.

You can see more Wax Mannequin and friends on my Flickr.

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Loudlove in the Studio

Loudlove in the Studio by J B Hildebrand

Last week I was on assignment for the Kitchissippi Times out to shoot Loudlove, who are in the middle of recording a new album here in Ottawa at the Liverpool Court Studios. I managed to slip in for a quick shoot while the band was taking a break from recording. I went in to this job blind and on short notice… which is never ideal… but luckily the guys were very accommodating. I was expecting to grab some shots of the band while they where laying down a track, but by the time I got there they where already done playing and about to work on the mixing.

I ended up lining them up behind the mixing board, which had a nice wall behind it and some cool stuff piled on the sides to create a nice frame for the image. It’s always nice to shoot a band that isn’t camera shy. They basically just goofed off for ten minutes while I snapped away, which from the short time I spent with them seemed to be their base state of being.

I’ve been asked by a few other photographers why I usually carry about three times more gear than I will ever need for a shoot… this is why. I often have no idea what I’ll need till I get there and I’ll take a sore back if it means I have what I need to get the shot. Also, people seem to take you more seriously the more gear you lug around even if you never touch most of it during a shoot… it’s one of those psychological things I don’t quite understand but am happy to take advantage of.

I ended up getting what I needed and the article will be out in the Kitchissippi Times today. If you can’t wait for the album they’re laying down now you can see Loudlove at the Ottawa Reggae Festival this Sunday at 8:00pm. You can check out my Flickr for some more shots from the shoot with Loudlove.

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Chris Page and Friends at Raw Sugar

Chris Page at Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa

Yet another trip to Raw Sugar Cafe last week… this time to see three different acts in one night. First up was Mark Davis out of Edmonton; great voice but a little too country for my taste, but that’s me. If you like bluesy-country check him out.

Next was Lorrie Matheson who sounded like a cross between Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker; also out of Alberta he’s got a touch of country to his sound but in his own words: “I love songs… but I @#%&ing hate country… unfortunately sometimes country are songs”. Lorrie is definitely worth a second or third listen, I picked up his album, In Vein, and can’t wait to hear what he sounds like with a backing band.

Chris Page of Ottawa’s Camp Radio closed off the night. Good set… what can I say that hasn’t been said, Camp Radio is one of Kelp Records best acts and Chris held his own nicely without a band behind him. Chris will be playing another solo show at the Black Sheep Inn up in Wakefield on July 23rd if you missed the Raw Sugar set. You can see the rest of the night’s pics on Flickr.

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Luxury Pond at Raw Sugar

Luxury Pond at Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa

Back at Raw Sugar Cafe again… not only does the place make a great back drop for photos, they book the most interesting bands. Sunday night was Luxury Pond, a two piece band from Toronto.

I’m not really sure how to describe their music besides to say it was a kind of ambient-folk-trance sound. Quiet vocals, looped ethereal chanting, harp like guitar rhythms and all manner of bells and pedals; I think I saw a xylophone too… or something similar. Dan Goldman is the front man for the Luxury Pond project, backed by Daniela Gesundheit. But they also perform, roles reversed as Snowblink.

I can’t say it enough; it’s always a pleasure to shoot a band that goes the extra mile to put on a show, instead of just throw some music at you. The definitely had a stage presence… very hypnotic and calming… a kind of folk meditation. You don’t have to jump around to put on a show… you just have to convince the audience that you’re musicians and not just a bunch of guys with instruments here to show you their hobby. Musicians are easy to shoot, you just need decent light… it’s the garage band hobbyists that really make me work.

Dan and Daniela will be coming back to Ottawa at the end of July as Snowblink, definitely worth checking out. You can see the rest of the Luxury Pond set and other bands shot at Raw Sugar on my Flickr.

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Giant Hand at Raw Sugar

Giant Hand at Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa

I recently had the pleasure of shooting two amazing Canadian performers, Giant Hand and Leif Vollebekk at the Raw Sugar Cafe on Somerset. For the last few years I’ve found new music acts pretty much to be dull copies of one another, but the Ottawa indie scene is producing surprise after surprise.

I won’t go into much detail about the music; I’m there for the visuals, excellent audio is just a nice bonus. Suffice to say both Leif and Giant Hand are performers to listen to if you get the chance. They also turned out to be extremely photogenic.

Raw Sugar is quickly becoming my secret weapon… the green walls, warm lights and mismatched vintage furniture make the whole venue a stage. The only thing it’s missing is a nice soft spot light at center stage for the singers face. A little fill flash fixes the problem but I really hate using a flash during a show if I don’t have to. One great thing about Raw Sugar is nice white ceilings to bounce flash off of, although you have to be careful about bouncing off the walls as the greens and yellows will play havoc with your white balance. You can see more photos of Giant Hand and Leif on my Flickr.


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