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Ottawa band, Baberaham Lincoln play OXW on Thursday, June 16, 2016 at Le Temporaire. Photo by Andrew Carver/National Capital Rock.

The coolest music weekend you’ve never been to

By Josh Lemoine on June 14, 2016

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A secret in its own city, Ottawa Explosion Weekend gets visitors from around the world.

Ottawa Explosion Weekend (OXW) takes place this weekend in traditional and nontraditional venues around the city.  The brainchild of Emmanuel Sayer, Luke Martin and Azarin Sohrabkhani, OXW will see more than 80 bands play over 5 days.  It’s in its sixth year, but the Weekend is still a bit of secret in Ottawa.  I spoke with Sayer to learn more about what Ottawa Explosion is all about.

I think it’s the sign of a job well done if people across the ocean are aware of what we’re doing.”

“Ottawa Explosion Weekend is basically a 5-day showcase of independent music, and a celebration of local DIY culture.  It’s very exciting that it’s still growing and still going strong.  The whole goal of the event is to celebrate independent music… starting with Ottawa bands, and having a strong base of Ottawa bands, and getting to showcase those bands, as well as matching those bands with other bands from out-of-town. We match them up with bands that play similar music from cities that are close, so they can create networks.  We also bring in bands that are sort of bigger in the underground scene, that would be a bigger draw to audiences that are interested in that scene.”

When Sayer says independent, he means completely independent.  It has been running for six years without any grants.  The organizers are all doing it on a volunteer basis.  “We’ve been doing it without grants, but it is something we’re open to.  We feel like we’ve solidified what our mission is, and we feel like now is the time to seek support to see if we can grow it more.  If we don’t get it, that’s what’s great, is we don’t rely on it.  We have partnerships with Beau’s, who provides the beer, and a company in Montreal that provides merch, but that’s not bringing any money in.  It’s just a partnership.  Other than that we just budget wisely and don’t expect much.  If [OXW] tanks, it’s definitely my bank account that will take a hit!”

We lean more towards the side of music as art, music as community, music as being something you’re passionate about.

More and more non-traditional venues have been hosting music shows as of late.  Bands are putting on shows wherever they can, in venues such as Black Squirrel Books or Flapjack’s Pancake Shack.  It’s this DIY (Do It Yourself) culture that OXW celebrates.

“It’s more of a community feel or approach that is, to me, all about music and passion and community first.  It’s not about profit, it’s not about furthering career.  It’s the opposite of the music business.  Music is an art form, and it’s interesting how a lot of other art forms are seen more for the passion and creativity rather than the business side, whereas music, when people think of it, it’s always business.  We lean more towards the side of music as art, music as community, music as being something you’re passionate about.”

While you may not have heard of many of the bands playing OXW, there seems to be enough variety to appeal to most palates.  And Sayer wants to make it as easy and accessible as possible for audiences to discover bands they’ll like.

Local band, Expanda Fuzz play OXW on June 115, 2016 at Club Saw.

Local band, Expanda Fuzz play OXW on June 115, 2016 at Club Saw.

“It’s getting more and more diverse.  When I first started it was really in the garage rock, power-pop, punk scene, and it’s still in there, but it’s starting to spread out quite a bit.  There’s some electronic artists, there’s some quiet indie-rock bands, to some heavier, louder bands.  I feel like it’s really broad if you’re into small, independent music. But it’s all about discovery.  What we’ve been doing the last couple years is providing free download samplers.  So if you go to OttawaExplosion.com, we currently have two samplers up so people can listen and discover some bands.  That’s what’s great, you may not know these bands, but we don’t want that to be a barrier.”

While the bands (and the festival) may be unknown to most people in Ottawa, OXW has actually become a draw to people from outside the city.  In some cases, WAY outside the city.

“What’s interesting is [most] people in Ottawa probably haven’t heard of Ottawa Explosion Weekend, but even in 2012, there were people from the UK and Germany that came to this festival.  So people who are in the know and have their ears to the ground in the international DIY scene are aware.  So we’ve had people from Germany multiple years, people from Switzerland, the UK, we have people coming from France again this year.  We’re not marketing heavily to get the word out in Ottawa, but I think it’s the sign of a job well done if people across the ocean are aware of what we’re doing.”

So where would Sayer like to see Ottawa Explosion Weekend go in the future?

“I would like to see it continue growing in the direction it has been.  I think becoming more diverse musically, including more music styles, other bands in Ottawa, that’s we’re I’d like to see it.  More partnerships with other community organizers and organizations.  We’re growing it sustainably.  If there’s more people coming, we grow it and have more bands play.  We could book more bands and more venues, but I don’t want to see bands playing to empty rooms.  So we have to make sure that we grow it enough where the audience is there, then we can expand.”

To hear the full interview with Emmanuel Sayer, listen to Apt613 Live on CHUO 89.1 FM, tonight, June 14, 2016 at 6:00pm.

Ottawa Explosion Weekend takes place from June 15-19, 2016 at seven venues around downtown Ottawa and Gatineau.  A full OXW pass is $80 and available online. Tickets are available at the door for every show.  For more information, visit OttawaExplosion.com.