From the smooth R&B sounds of Vancouver's Biawanna to the riotous punk offerings of Calgary's Stripmall, these are the new voices your next playlist deserves.
by Michael Rancic
A year can be an arbitrary unit of time when it comes to music. But once all the “best of” dust has settled, starting a new year provides a good opportunity to look forward instead of behind, and think about artists who have promising futures ahead of them. Here’s a list of artists across the country we think will be making waves in 2020.
These self-described “prairie punks” released the killer debut Surrounding Area this past summer and have been gigging hard ever since. Featuring former members of Blü Shorts, Hag Face, Shematomas, We Knew, and Ultra Gash they live up to their noisy pedigree by delivering bold, gothic country with a sinister slant. Vocalist Geneva Haley’s howl is truly fierce, meeting the fiery intensity of the open-plains-evoking fretwork, grimy basslines, and unrelenting percussion of the band as they contemplate the openness and bleakness of rural life.
By now Jae Sterling should be a name that’s familiar to most Calgarians, whether it’s from his recent tenure as one of the National Music Centre’s Artists in Residence in 2019, or as co-founder of the Thot Police collective along with Cartel Madras’s Contra and Eboshi. On Sterling’s latest tape, Trap Bby, which arrived in the summer, he declares he has “Big Plans” and you’d be remiss to not take him seriously as someone who can see those plans through. Trap Bby showcases his staccato flow over lithe, idiosyncratic beats that forgo the usual gauzy, woozy textures of trap for a sound that’s as clearly defined as visions can get.
Obroa-skai opened 2019 with their incredible self-titled record, which took the harsh noise/screamo band on tour across Canada, and in 2020 their destructive forces will show no signs of slowing with two new split records in the works as well as plans for a full-length. Named after an obscure planet in the Star Wars Extended Universe, this hardworking trio stand out for their ability to incorporate caustic noise into more conventional song structures, situating their place in the ecosystem of extreme music as urgent, vital, and unpredictable.
Bruce Roach’s Gut cassette was a surprising hit for Melbourne/Berlin based label Potatoheadz Records last year, but an initial listen makes it easy to understand why. For 40 minutes, Roach’s austere techno is executed rawly and wholly entrancing. Stylistically Roach incorporates elements of early techno and Electronic Body Music (think Front 242 or early Skinny Puppy) into these compositions, leaning toward the style’s darker, eerie textures. Not much is known about the Edmonton-based artist, though they also collaborated with Montreal-based DJ and producer PULSUM last year on their The Fear You Give To Me release. Also, their Soundcloud page, which dates back a few years, is adorned with screencaps taken from the 1989 Canadian cult horror film Things which also happens to star an actor named Bruce Roach. It’s an obscure, but fitting, reference for this gloriously unpolished project.
James Baley has proven himself as an indispensable collaborator and performer. Whether it’s been backing the likes of Zaki Ibrahim or U.S. Girls onstage, appearing on the latest LPs from artists as wide-ranging as the psych-funk sextet Badge Epoque Ensemble, and the deep-house revivalist AZARI, or his work in Toronto’s Kiki and ballroom scene, the message is clear: follow Baley’s rich voice and talent wherever he goes. Baley has released two EPs of his own in 2015 and 2017 respectively, and recently took part in The Canadian Music Publishers Association Create Canada song camp in Calgary, so hopefully there’s more where that came from very soon.
Bruisers mastermind Kritty Uranowski is someone who rarely gets the spotlight shone on her, even though many would agree she’s a pillar in Toronto’s music scene. From her previous work in White Suede and Patti Cake, to managing and mentoring other artists in ventures like Girls Rock Camp Toronto and Baby Pineapple Studio, playing with Dorothea Paas and Queen of Swords, or the recently launched Toronto-centric music podcast Come For A Ride that she co-hosts with partner Jesse Locke, Uranowski has her hands in many different projects. Her commanding voice and knack for smart hooks lie at the centre of Lavender Bruisers’ appeal, and with a great amount of momentum behind her recently rebooted band, there’s no time like the present to start paying attention.
After hearing the string of stellar singles that singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Biawanna released in 2019, you’d never guess that they were released in their first year as a recording artist. Right out of the gate, songs like “Care” are written with the sensibilities toward melody, rhythm and style of a seasoned pro, while Biawanna’s sleek vocals can’t help but soothe even if they’re concerned with love lost and personal conflict. With hundreds of thousands of plays on Spotify already, many have already taken note of this burgeoning artist’s talents, and it’s only a matter of time before Biawanna’s name is ubiquitous.
As co-founder of Vancouver’s NuZi, a collective dedicated to providing a platform for Black, Indiginous, queer and trans women in the city’s electronic music scene, Venetta (aka Betty Mulat) understands exactly how political the dancefloor can be. Speaking out against the lack of affordability in Vancouver for artists and how that directly affects the city’s nightlife, Venetta has become an outspoken champion for reclaiming the space in electronic music originally carved out by marginalized people. Her mixes and productions are just as biting and relevant, oscillating between acid, techno, and electro.
After finding their footing with their highly-acclaimed 2016 self-titled EP, Loving are readying the release of their first full length, If I Am Only My Thoughts, this month via Last Gang records. The band’s laid back, lo-fi folk sticks to everything it touches, like honeyed melodies that you can’t help but feel drawn to. The band, which features brothers Lucas and Jesse Henderson and David Parry record their songs to tape in Parry’s basement, a process which gives their material a great deal of warmth and timeless feel.
Sussy (Victoria, BC)
As a solo project for Suzie Raudaschl of Victoria indie pop faves Bridal Party, Sussy is immediately a much more personal affair, something reinforced by the stark electronic production of her songs, which fosters a sense of intimacy and closeness with Raudaschl’s voice. The drum machine driven backdrop of “Why Bother?“ or synthy house of the more recent “1 Busy Gal” (produced by collaborator Madeline Collier) showcase just how delicate but expressive those vocals can be, as well as the range of styles and sounds she’s willing to play with here– making Sussy a difficult project to pin down but all the more exciting for it.