Written by Alex Brazeau
There wasn’t a whole lot of hip hop happening on day two, but day three brought us a real gem. If you aren’t yet familiar with Ottawa’s very own BlakDenim, it’s time to get yourself acquainted. I got a chance to spend the early afternoon hanging out backstage in their air conditioned trailer behind the Blacksheep stage since I was on-deck to shoot part of their inaugural Bluesfest performance, alongside Captivate Creative Studios, in support of the release of their latest EP Vangard(En). These guys (and girl) are seriously one of the more talented and diverse musical groups the city has to offer and I can really only describe them as a blend of hip hop and rock, infused with notes of funk, jazz, and soul all wrapped-up in an incredible nine-member ensemble.
Now into the first full weekend of the festival, things kicked off a little earlier in the day; so with the afternoon sun high in the sky I made my way out to set up my camera as the band wrapped up their sound check. As a crowd began to gather in front of the stage and on the hill behind me, lead MC Precise Kenny Creole—dressed all in black with a portrait of alt-rock icon and Ottawa native (and, funny enough, my former babysitter) Alanis Morissette on his shirt—grabbed the mic as members of the band came to life, hitting their first tune while Kenny began to flow with his own brand of clever and witty lyrics over the live instrumental.
The stage was nearly big enough to feature each of the nine members out in front of the crowd, with only percussionist Dr. PHeal; Sacha, the drummer; and bassist Karl, set slightly behind the others while performing. With powerful vocals laid down by the ever-soulful Erin Tomkins on tracks like “Intoxicated”, the haunting hook on “So Cold”, and getting an assist from the audience on “Hold Up, Hold On”, BlakDenim definitely showed they’ve got what it takes when it comes to putting on an amazing live show.
A helping hand came from more than just the crowd as we saw the band feature local MC Marc Highneken (who won the opportunity to perform alongside BlakDenim after crushing any and all competition in a freestyle cypher at their CD release party back in May at the Mercury Lounge) take to the stage to kick a verse on the original song “Yeahhh”. Squeezing himself in between Vic (on the flute) and trumpet player Ed, he spit a ferocious freestyle full of creative and hard-hitting metaphors, delivered with a snappy and punchy flow as he moved from one rhyme to the next, still holding a camera in his hand filming the audience reaction in front of him.
By far a personal and crowd favourite was the branded BlakDenim tuba being played by Sebastian, a topic of conversation among concertgoers even during the sound check. Painted all white with black around the bell, red birds and the word BLAKDENIM, it was definitely eye-catching up on the stage in the hot afternoon sun. Stand out tracks of the whole set for me had to be the remixed 007-inspired “Skyfall”, a cover of Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean”, EP cut “Horticulture”, and the final track of the set “Get Down”—which had an amazing and memorable scratch session from DJ and keyboardist Mark.
This is not a group or performance to be missed. Hip hop backed by live instruments is one of my most favourite things in music and I suggest you get to know BlakDenim by downloading their latest EP Vangard(En) on iTunes. Better yet, you can catch their next show at HOPE Volleyball Summerfest on Saturday, July 12 at noon down at Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa—I highly recommend it.