Yes in My Backyard: Guelph


By: Tom Beedham | Art by: Laura Stanley (Clockwise from top left: Luyos MC by Hong Lam, Vertical Squirrel, Nicolette & the Nobodies by Devic Fotos, Lisa Conway by Arden Wray, M. Mucci, Brad de Roo, Hymns57, Exi, Elaquent by Ryan Antooa, Cots by JG + SHI)

How do you keep a scene alive when the city loses nearly a fifth of its population in its warmest months when students head home from university? In Guelph, Ont., several factors help, including a healthy festival ecosystem (Hillside, Guelph Jazz Fest, Kazoo! Fest), a concentrated downtown, small venues that incubate new projects and welcome experimentation, a supportive media landscape (campus community radio, alternative newspapers), access to other major hubs (Toronto is 100 km away, Hamilton and Kitchener are closer), and good will from local businesses. But perhaps its most generative element is a lax attitude toward musical inbreeding—the degrees separating one act from the next are typically minimal, family trees tangled like spaghetti.


Steph Yates spent years exploring scrappier energy in Guelph’s noisier spaces. Cupcake Ductape, her delightfully bratty punk duo with Alanna Gurr, stemmed from breaks Scott Haynes took when the pair were providing Shopkeeper’s rhythm section, while Esther Grey’s tiptoed garage pop regularly accommodated guests and textural impulses. Now straddling Guelph and Montreal, Yates steps out for her solo debut as Cots, enlisting a murderers’ row of session musicians (Blake Howard, Josh Cole, Karen Ng, Ryan Brouwer, Sandro Perri, Thomas Hammerton) to turn wide-eyed wonder about travelling through the universe and the gentle, awesome balance of celestial mechanics into bossa nova-infused folk jazz.


Whether soliciting patient, downcast melodies from his weathered guitar or droning alongside Guelph’s resident hurdy-gurdy man Ben Grossman in Snake Church, M. Mucci proves himself a rare torchbearer, finding hope in bleak and barren landscapes. On an April 2021 split with Jon Collin, Mucci offered up eight tracks of sparse but affirming guitar music, notes shivering, then shimmering, pushing forward against the march of time. You could cry.


Nicolette Hoang picked her deferential band of Guelph locals (Ian Bain, Nicole Gulewitsch, Emma Howarth-Withers, Daniel Paillé) from pop, punk, and surf acts, but the outlaw-inflected country western that poured out tipped a 10-gallon hat to Dolly, Loretta, and Tammy, boots firmly rooted in the present. On 2019’s Devil’s Run, Hoang finds a place for herself in a town that’s not big enough for another university degree, and now that the band’s double vaxxed, they’re back in the studio, banging out new ones for a road that’s never been dustier.


Weaving psychic impulses into radical collective blasts at the intersection of free jazz, post-rock, minimalism, raga psychedelia, and kosmiche musik, Vertical Squirrels originally formed in 2008 as an experiment in group-improvisation. In recent years, the core of Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble, Lewis Melville, and Ted Warren took on a residency at grassroots experimental venue Silence, recontextualizing the project as a living improvised community expression with an open-door guest policy. A sample of those experiments lives on new offering Le gouffre / The Chasm, documenting the events of October 23, 2019, when the group invited Dong-Won Kim and Gary Diggins into the fold.


Save for private parties and hushed events in secret locations, Guelph was admittedly lacking in the techno department even approaching the pandemic, but with just a single, scant-on-details EP uploaded to Bandcamp, mysterious producer Exi fills the vacancy, summoning throbbing kicks and stuttering, bone rattle snares that penetrate lonely atmospheres like a ghost of the city’s ’90s rave scene trying to manifest a haunted chill out room.


A prolific producer and beatmaker, Sona “Elaquent” Elango has cultivated a devout international following but remains relatively unknown locally. Across handfuls of records spanning instrumental hip hop and chilled out jazz and neo-soul, J Dilla is a returning point of reference (to be sure, this past February, Elaquent paired up with Austin’s BoomBaptist and Denton’s Juicy the Emissary on a tribute to the late producer called Komfort Food), but Elango’s refreshingly in the moment. Never idle, quarantine has found the producer two EPs deep in a Bedtime Stories series, Elango’s emotive dreamtime beatscapes locked in and loose like watercolour paintings, swiftly and serenely expressionistic.


Having studied under kulintang master Danongan Kalanduyan in San Francisco, the music MaryCarl Guiao makes as Luyos MC engages with the Filipinx gong tradition from a decolonial consciousness raising standpoint. A typical performance opens with traditional kulintang compositions, then branches into more modern and experimental touches like spoken word and live electronic sound manipulations. Increasingly welcoming collaborators into her practice, Guiao has also turned her attention to her contemporaries, “Lake Agco Droplets” draping a vertically-hung web of gongs over respectfulchild’s “drops” and its hypnotic violins.


Smeared with the dust of so many tape loops, the tracks Steven de Taeye makes under the Hymns57 moniker have an immediate sepia quality to them. Taeye coasts through endless varieties of glistering, glassy landscapes with guitars, synths, field recordings, and found sounds fed through any number of effects; the project lends itself to a unique versatility, all the more captivating with the brevity Taeye typically favours over drone’s endless drifts. There’s an economy to Taeye’s work that allows him to address seemingly endless impressions, each track functioning like an emotional polaroid.


Best known for her solo project L Con, Lisa Conway has leaned into commissioned work throughout the pandemic, contributing full scores for film and theatre, as well as an experimental sound piece for MaerzMusik’s 27-hour livestreamed speaking clock. Harbinger, a contemporary dance work featuring Conway’s sound design and live mixing in collaboration with Victoria Cheong (New Chance), is set to premiere in Paris, and 2021’s Guelph Jazz Festival will feature a sound and light installation of Conway’s in the Goldie Mill Ruins. Sound installations have previously corresponded with Conway’s songwriting practice (2015’s Moon Phone was created in dialogue with L Con’s Moon Milk), so perhaps hints of work to come.


Brad de Roo scratches an obscure region of dopamine receptors. Joined by Marmalade Duplex bandmate Tyson Brinacombe, each successive outburst expresses an urge that might have occurred to many but few have had the impulse to appease, let alone document; dig through the discography and you’ll find everything from Eno-centric comedy roasts to party albums for no one. On most recent offering No Wave Exotica, de Roo channels the stripped down aesthetic violence of New York no wave through a bass VI while Brinacombe seizes the guitar pedals and uses them like an instrument, naked expression turned warped wonderland.

Yes in My Backyard: Saskatoon

Photo collage by Alec Martin (L-R: Sōhka, respectfulchild, éemi, Gus Davidson)


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

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

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 Foth

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

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

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.”

June Thrasher

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.