Canadian Music Week 2018: A Not So Quick 'n' Dirty Wrap Up

Cramming 5 showcases in 7 days while simultaneously balancing a full course load, a job + internship, and maintaining somewhat of a social life was no easy feat for anyone. For better or for worse, this week nearly killed me and truthfully, I couldn't have been more thankful.

For starters, I celebrated my first anniversary as a serious "concert photographer" last Friday. I remember myself exactly a year ago, grabbing my little Canon 70D and hopping across the street after moving into a brand new condo to a tiny venue called Adelaide Hall shooting a band called Close Talker. At that point, I've only gotten my camera into 2 shows prior with my (very dismal, almost non-existent) portfolio as a result of cold emailing any band I could find that would grant me a photo pass. Although I had no idea who the band was, I knew I left as a fan that night. I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that just a year later, I would be doing this as my job that takes me all across North America, land me my dream internship, not to mention gain an entirely new appreciation for Toronto as a creative hub while making friends with hundreds of beautiful humans in the industry - artists and mentors whom I'm proud to call some of my closest friends. 

Completing its 36th year in action, Canadian Music Week is recognized as one of the premier entertainment events in North America focusing on the business of music through conferences, showcases, and concerts. A mini-SXSW for us North of the border, if you will. What makes CMW so special is the way it bridges the gap between Canadian talent and the rest of the world - placing our artists on the forefront of the global music scene while bringing in talent for our very own.

Since there was no way I could've duplicated myself ten times over in order to catch everything that was happening - and trust me, I would in a heartbeat if I could - here is just a glimpse of my experience and how I spent my week. 

***FYI: I made you a playlist of my faves to follow along to at the bottom of this <3

1. Day 1 - Lolo Zouai ft lemin. and Saya

I have to confess that I actually had no idea who Lolo was when I first saw her name on the bill, I was just intrigued by her name and dreamy 90's-esque cover art. Although I was not particularly responsible for covering opening acts, I had a few hours to kill between work and the headliner so I decided to get there early for a good spot. Even with a few slight technical difficulties in the beginning, lemin. still had no problem putting on a SHOW with her unmatched vocals and talent for storytelling (seriously, I thought there was something wrong with my body when I couldn't stop getting shivers during her cover of White Ferrari). Saya was a name I've heard around the Toronto music scene before but I had no idea how mesmerizing she would actually be in real life - No Pressure quickly became one of my most played songs this week.

After the first two openers, I met up with one of my friends had just interviewed Lolo Zouai and was telling me about how much of a powerhouse she was - which was clear to me as soon as she stepped on stage. I swear I couldn't get Brooklyn Love out of my head for the next few days. The alt-pop princess, I'm convinced, fits the perfect definition of "bittersweet bangers."

It was safe to say that these ladies did not disappoint in the slightest, all three being similar but completely different and complimented each other perfectly. I left my first showcase all buzzed and hyped for the rest of the week.


2 .Day 3 - Birds of Bellwoods ft. Nefe and Valley

Even though I don't remember exactly where/when we met, I was introduced to the Birds of Bellwoods boys about a year ago at their album release party by a mutual friend. Since then I can't even count on my fingers how many of their shows I've been to, and each time they've been extraordinarily welcoming and even let me tag along and document few legs of their tour. As a photographer (that is still very much just starting out) whose dream is to go on tour one day, getting opportunities the ones these boys gave me meant the absolute world.

Yes, this was technically one of my few nights "off" during the week, as in I wasn't really assigned to anything in particular, there was no way I was going to miss a Birds' show if I could help it. This was also (unfortunately) the night I only brought one lens with me that was not ideal for the venue we were in. The boys help me out tremendously by putting on a killer show, as usual, making my job an absolute breeze. I remember looking around at the big sweaty mess that was the Horseshoe Tavern at the end of the night and noticing the dozens of new and old industry friends that I was surrounded by. My heart has never felt so full, and this showcase was one I will always hold near and dear to my heart. 

As a side note, I always tell people to never miss an opener (or openers in this case) if they can help it. I've seen NEFE open for Picture This last fall and seeing her perform again blew me away at how much she's developed as an artist. When my friend Janine described Valley as being The 1975-esque - although I see similarities and differences in the comparison, these guys have such a unique sound that can only be understood by listening to them. Valley really knew how to get the audience on their feet and stay like there, not to mention that their songs Swim and You quickly made their way into my daily rotation. 

3. Day 4 - Sango

You've probably never heard the name of this crazy talented producer as he tends to work his magic behind the scenes. He's the mastermind behind the works of Tinashe, Bryson Tiller and Smino, just to name a few. Although I would've appreciated it if The Danforth Music Hall would've turned the lights up a tad bit more, Sango's set was nothing short of mesmerizing - after all, he's the first one to have done a Lift Yourself mix live that I've seen since Kanye shook the world.

4. Day 5 - Zach Oliver

Despite initially being assigned to Keys N Krates and being absolutely bummed that our credentials didn't get approved, it was a Friday night and I needed to find another way to take advantage of my media pass. As a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, I couldn't be more happy that I was able to spend the night at my favourite little Kensington bar, the Supermarket, for Zach Oliver. Zach was a buddy of one of my friends' and although I regretfully turned down their invite at first, I was happy that it became the one night I could really put down the camera (after Zach's set, of course) and soak in the music while sharing a few drinks with some dreamy British boys (and Emilie). You heard it from me first - Zach is a singer-songwriter you don't want to sleep on. I guarantee his lyrics can and will tug on your heartstrings a little (read: a lot). He dedicated an entire song to his girlfriend in the crowd and only looked at her wheh he performed it. Like !?!?! Where can I get someone like Zach??

5. Day 7 - Madison Beer

If we're being REALLY honest here, I have to admit that the only reason I knew of Madison was through her affiliation with Justin Bieber.....and hearing her songs through the walls c/o my roommate. Yes, I did have initial judgements about her music and yes, some of those were confirmed as I squeezed through dozens of screaming teeny-boppers lined up down Queen Street West on a Sunday night. Thankfully, there was a pit (a rare treat at The Velvet Underground but I'll take it). As her set went on, I confess that I was actually into a lot of her stuff, plus her energy on stage made it such a fun set to shoot. Couldn't be more happy to end off my week with this one as it confirmed my hope for future generations coming out and showing their support for their favourite artists. 

Moral of the story here is - there is so much talent out there that needs your support and discovery. Not just the top 1% in the industry. Small venues are also lit as fuuuccckkk. Don't get me wrong, I love the hype around arena shows just as much as the next fan or photographer, but I forgot how much I loved venue hopping, taking the time to watch a rising artist's come up, and talking to them about their journey. There were definitely points this week that really challenged my desire to work in this industry, just to reconfirm how much I really wanted and loved it. Wouldn't have wanted to kick off 2018 festival season any other way than in the heart of my very own city. This week, challenge yourself to discover (even just 1) new artist and see where it takes you.

On a final note, MASSIVE shout out to Blare Magazine for the opportunity, if you got this far (holy shit, thank you!!) make sure to check out their other Canadian Music Week features by some wicked talented photogs. 

Wendy Wei