YES IN MY BACKYARD: Saskatoon
By: Lenore Maier
Like many things in 2020, the Saskatoon music scene is undergoing a transformation. The pandemic has put a halt to many artists’ plans, but there are some who have managed to lean into the isolation, exposing previously unseen and wonderful sides of their craft. The rise of the solo project is strong. Perhaps there’s more time at home to hone your craft, or maybe it’s one final ditch effort to let it all out and leave it all on the table. Either way, there is a lot of musical rebirth and growth happening on the prairies, and Saskatonians are luckier for it. From lo-fi electronic music to bedroom folk and even franco-pop, here are 10 artists doing exciting things in Saskatoon.
Ellen Froese has come to be known as a musical staple and sense of pride in Saskatchewan for her infectious brand of singer-songwriter country-folk music. Whether solo or backed up by her incredibly fun band Hot Toddies, Ellen will always steal the show. With what can surely be presumed to be a side effect of social distancing measures, Froese has recently been experimenting with drum machines and synth tracks that are equally endearing and unexpected.
Gus Davidson, a.k.a. Angus Dickenson, has slowly but surely established himself into the Saskatoon electronic scene over the past year. His recent self-titled debut album released by Pop Quiz Records is beyond its years in feel and composition. Gus’s recent online cassette release event hosted a fantastic bill with some of the best audio and video quality you can expect from a livestream concert.
Emilie Lebel, a.k.a. éemi, has proven herself to be one of Saskatoon’s most innovative and hard working musicians. Her infectious brand of franco-pop is simultaneously raw and polished. The honesty in éemi’s music is so tangible, it transcends beyond the language barrier. Her debut EP Honey was released as a glass jar full of Saskatchewan Kitako Lake honey. I can tell you that receiving it in my mailbox in late March at the beginning of a lockdown was very sweet, indeed.
Dylan Jules Cooper
A multi-instrumentalist who wades into more genres than most Saskatoon musicians, Dylan Cooper’s recent album Summer brings a much needed dose of fun. With a strong mix of soul-burning, R&B infused love songs and fast driving politically driven soul-rap, Summer falls somewhere between Marvin Gaye and M83. A difficult artist to pin down, Cooper’s genre-defying music will impress and surprise anyone previously familiar with his sound.
Originally hailing from Île-à-la-Crosse, Taylar Belanger a.k.a. Sōhka has been establishing herself as one of Saskatchewan’s most exciting R&B/hip-hop artists over the past year. Coming from a spoken word background, Sōhka brings a tremendous sense of strength and wisdom to her writing. Her new music video, “Protector” shines the light even brighter on the already vibrant scene of Indigenous female hip-hop artists in Saskatchewan.
Zann might be one of Saskatoon’s most unassuming artists. Their talent is multilayered, impressive and humbling. Everytime I listen to or watch Zann perform, I think to myself, “Joni Mitchell would love those guitar chords and vocal lines.” Living naturally at the crux of acoustic folk and accessible jazz, Zann makes it all look so easy, akin to watching Elvis Stojko land a quadruple axel in 1991. You know an artist is good at something when they make the execution appear effortless.
Bicycle Daze have been making a unique blend of mellow psychedelic shoegaze for the past couple of years. Word on the street is they have a new self-titled album in works, as a welcome follow-up to their 2018 single, “Upside Down”, slated for release later this year. Bicycle Daze was also behind one of Saskatoon’s coolest music events to happen in 2020: Albertfest, a socially distanced block party music festival.
Taylor Jade’s musical specialty lies in a dark and brooding sense of acoustic sedation. Her most recent release, the single “Lamb to Slaughter,” was recorded on her phone during the middle of lockdown in May 2020. More than once, I’ve found myself listening to this track on repeat. One of her best songs, and remarkably candid.
One of Saskatoon’s most unique artists across all media, respectfulchild has been working recently in the realm of visual arts, but not before releasing a simply amazing video performance which includes them dressed up as a baroque bourgeois white-hair dancing and fanning themself to a remix of “Starships” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.”
If you are a musician in Saskatchewan who has experienced any form of success, chances are you are heavily indebted to Kaelen Klypak in some form or another. Kaelen has long been an essential part of the province’s music scene, relentlessly advocating for local artists on behalf of SaskMusic, a non-profit that promotes and develops the artists and music industry of Saskatchewan. He’s recently jumped the fence to the dark side (from advocate to artist) unveiling his electronic project, June Thrasher. Any fans of Daft Punk and Kavinsky will thank themselves for checking it out.