Incubate Festival 2012: Review

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Bike lanes, beers and babes make for boner-riffic urban festival

By now most of us should be familiar with the phenomenon of the urban, multi-venue music festival. While relatively new to Saskatoon – thank you MoSoFest – festivals like North By North East and Sled Island have resonated with a steely round of applause from the Canadian music landscape.

The music itself is total sex, but the layers of urban architecture that acts as the collective stage should be no less understated as the foreplay that gets us to where we want to be. Simply put, a multi-venue festival’s success is hinged on the infrastructure surrounding it. Of course, sweaty babes rocking out to girthy power chords is always a boner-riffic plus.

A multi-venue festival’s success is hinged on the infrastructure surrounding it

Tilburg, located close to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is roughly the same size as Saskatoon population-wise (229,000), with a strong student presence and a lively nightlife. The comparisons, unfortunately, stop dead there.

Tilburg is seemingly built around the idea that a city can be largely mobile without relying on motor vehicles. Pedestrian-only squares and avenues course through the downtown like canals, and are lined with shops, cafes and live music venues. And the ubiquitous bike lanes are beautiful for the fact that they simply exist, never mind that the people inhabiting these spaces are wholly breathtaking as well.

Tilburg bike lanes

And don’t forget about the suburbs. Despite the relatively small population, Tilburg has a light-rail cutting through it, bringing those on the periphery to the centre with little congestion.

The Incubate Festival is a hugely successful undertaking for Tilburg, and vice versa. And while it may seem unfair to compare a European city to one located in the prairie provinces of Canada, there are many lessons still to be learned with city planning and how the population wants to be connected to their arts.

This is especially relevant to the sweetest part of a multi-venue festival: wildly careening in-between stages in a scramble to catch as many bands as possible.

Hopefully these lessons will be scrutinized with the upcoming Park(ing) Day festival in Saskatoon.

Friday, September 14

Tyson McShane, leader of my band Slow Down Molasses, once said half the reason we ever did these tours was because we were all geeked-out nerds with a collectively raging boner for the amazing and obscure groups gathered together as the musical architecture for these festivals.

It was fitting that the first show we caught at Incubate was Damo Suzuki backed by members of Mogwai and a whole slew of others, including McShane himself. Total boner, but, even like the upper echelons of sex itself, my interest began to turtle after about fifteen minutes. Suzuki’s stream-of-consciousness spewing matched with a total din of improvised music was wholly amazing but after a short while there wasn’t much else to get out of it.

Immediately after our set we jumped into the crowd to battle dance and fist pump to LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum”.

I sprint down a car-less walkway towards the 013 venue, a ridiculously shaped theatre with multiple stages and a floor that reminded me of a hockey rink. Thankfully the concession sold beer in lieu of cheesy sodas and starchy deep-fried bits.

Thread Pulls band

I caught the metal onslaught of the Fields of Nephilim, bobbed at the ferocious noise blips of Black Dice and slammed to the skater-die hardcore of Toxic Shock while still managing to cram down a vegan hot dog from the festival caterer.

Slow Down Molasses had been scheduled to headline at the Cul De Sac venue, where Busdriver, another MoSo alumnus, was set to rock and baffle a packed, sweaty house with spazz-like rhymes and precision beats. The venue itself was a fun one to play, with a small stage and a beery armpit of a dance floor.

Immediately after our set we jumped into the crowd to battle dance and fist pump to LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum”. Fitting, disturbing and amazing, all rolled into one. The rest of the night was blur of Netherlands-style poutine (Kipsalon, which is donair on fries), more free beer and dancing with girls whom I could barely understand.

Saturday, September 15

Still besot with the city, I opted to wander through Tilburg in lieu of catching more bands. Thankfully, musicians were everywhere blasting out full-gear sets while citizens munched numbly on Rundvleeskroket purchased from a vending machine wall.

Mogwai band

Eventually I managed to drag myself back to Incubate in time to see hardcore rippers Ice Age, who are now my favourite band. Fuck yeah. I also catch a couple of songs of acoustic wonder Matt Elliot, the indie ‘verb of Tu Fawning and the floorpunching theatrics of Desolated. After a quick smoke break I head back to the carnal noise wreckage of Consumer Electronics and the fey beats of Sex Worker before joining a packed audience for Yann Tiersen, who put on one of the best shows of the festival with a grandiose gesture of dramatic indie rock. After catching a couple of songs from Conan, a dead ringer for High on Fire in both looks and sounds, and Thread Pulls, the stage was set for the might of Mogwai. Punishing laps of beautiful delay cascaded over a perpetually stoked audience, who stood amidst a sea of plastic boozy cups.

Fatigued from what amounted to be a mammoth of a day, we caught a couple of songs from DJ Ital before heading back to drink copious amounts of beer and giggle at decidedly lame jokes all the while keeping our Dutch hosts awake until 4 am – total North American scum.

Sunday, September 16

After watching a brief, hangover-y set from the total weirdiosity of Silver Apples, we left Tilburg to head to our next show in Antwerpen. Tilburg stretched out before us, and even the suburbs were condensed things of unrelenting European efficiency and lessons not lost for those of us who appreciate the design of where we live and the design of how we fall in love, get drunk, dance and rock the fuck out.