Elise Arsenault | Reporter
No musical regiment entered unarmed. Some brought ivory, or chords of steel and several dozen frets. Some carried toms, spurs, and hi-hats, and others battle-cried in perfect harmony. The finest pieces of armour included a leather jacket, a fedora, a bow tie, a lace dress, much plaid and several graphic tees. Though some grouped in squads and others fought solo, all battled with skill and honour. The name of this historic happening: Battle of the Bands 2015.
On Saturday, January 17th, five student musical acts performed 20-minute sets in Redeemer’s dining hall before two hundred spectators. The winners would be booked to play at Supercrawl, an annual art crawl drawing over 100,000 to downtown Hamilton each fall. Deemed “quite possibly the toughest B.O.T.B. competition to judge yet,” by Hamilton Spectator Music Editor Graham Rockingham, Redeemer ought to take much pride in the spirit and originality of each performer.
In past Battle of the Bands competitions, a total of five bands are selected by students via online voting. Seeing as only five groups entered this year, nominees were exempt from November’s elimination process and immediately granted spots in the event. By no means does this belittle the worth or musicianship of any act, as each band surely earned their time in the neon and applause from the crowd. Joining Graham Rockingham were judges Lisa La Rocca of Sonic Unyon Records, and Matt McKenna of folk-duo Ash & Bloom.
First to take the stage was Jonathan Thiessen whose stage name is Loud N’ Clear. Alternating between piano and acoustic guitar, Thiessen’s repertoire moved from raps to ballads with ease. His set included “Home” by Eppic, a rendition of A Great Big World’s “Say Something” - affirming God’s promise to “never give up on you” - topped off by an original song of his. The judges’ reactions were unanimous, applauding him on mastering the rap-to-song transitions and encouraging him to continue writing his own lyrics. Loud N’ Clear manned the stage with passionate presence, certainly validating his title and his place before the audience.
Next up was cover-band The Pineapple Influence. Members Ben Voskamp (on guitar and vocals), Daniel Stepus (on bass guitar), Nico Williemsen (on electric guitar) and Colin Wouda (on drums) shamelessly admitted to acquiring their name through an online generator. The group offered novel twists to popular hits, ensuring the crowd’s intrigue the whole way through. Highlights included the band’s slowed-down, soulful take on T-Swizzle’s “Shake it Off,” the sea of cellphone flashlights during Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” and Colin Wouda lighting his drumsticks on fire midway through Mark Ronson's “Uptown Funk” ft. Bruno Mars. Yup, both sticks took flame moments after Nico Williemsen cheekily called for the lights to dim, and a minute before a firefighter mounted the stage to extinguish the hazard - all while maintaining the ditty’s steady rhythm. The judges diagnosed them with funkitis, noting the contagious energy, smiles and enthusiasm to back their musicianship, execution and practice. Does the ordeal sound too good to be true? “Don’t believe me - just watch.”
Basement Revolver was the third group of the evening, headed by Chrisy Hurn on vocals and electric guitar alongside her elementary school pal Nimal Agalawatte on bass guitar and synthesizer. Chrisy Hurn’s lyrics were pure poetry, using simple and powerful metaphors to convey their message. Assuring they “just want to be cozy with you,” the duo invited the audience to sway, and sway they did. Looks on the crowd’s faces deemed it captivated by Basement Revolver’s original, soft and eerie sound. Running through one mic was an H2O Chorus & Echo guitar pedal, altering vocal resonance and giving Hurn’s voice a reverb-y umph that further set her apart. Strategically ending with familiar tune “Jolene” by Dolly Parton, the audience gladly sang along. Each judge gave them praises, affirming Nimal Agalawatte’s accompaniment, Chrisy Hurn’s understanding of art and meaning, and their sound being well-suited to James St. North (the site of Supercrawl … wink, wink).
The following act was comprised of Adam Rudy on bass guitar and lead vocals, Alex Teeuwsen on drums and vocals, and Jeff Scott and Jozef Teeuwsen on vocals and electric guitar. Originally named The Lanterns in January 2012, the group now goes by Second Mile, writing and performing original rock and roll songs with the skill of seasoned musicians. Each member was a master of his instrument, making for tight riffs and the timing of a metronome. Each song was strewn with hoots and hollers from the audience, setting the rhythm of their head banging. Their sound is best described by Matt McKenna, exclaiming: “it makes me want to set something on fire!” Entirely out of breath by the end of the set, Second Mile put on an exceptional show.
To Our Divide was the last band to perform on Saturday night, formed by Timon Moolman on vocals and electric guitar, Dan Vanden Boogaard on vocals and keys, Tristan Persaud on electric guitar, Dan Jumaquio on drums and Tristan Kaarid on drums and bass guitar (that is, Timon, Dan2 and Tristan2). The whole of their performance was high-energy, with synchronized head banging, closed eyes and lyrics pointing heavenward. Light and sound overlapped so as to create a thick ambience. “Ambitious anthems,” “a total experience” and “no calorie left unburned” were accurate expressions used by judges to discern their effect on beanie-clad fans. Conceived years ago in Dorm 12, this collective now performs with passion in their every fibre, wholly losing themselves in the wake of sound.
Come the end of the five numbers, approximately 125 spectators participated in voting for the People’s Choice Award, while judges deliberated over their notes. Favourited by the audience was To Our Divide, and selected to play at SuperCrawl was Basement Revolver.
Having written songs about anything and everything since the age of 14, Chrisy Hurn initially did so to express herself as an angsty teenager thinking it would ‘up’ her cool-factor. “I developed and refined the more I learned,” says Hurn, “I’m still learning a lot, and the more I learn the more I grow creatively.” So, keep an eye out for Basement Revolver come September 11th-13th 2015, and be sure to congratulate the bands in the halls.
At ease, singing soldiers and musical musketeers, you’ve fought this battle well.