Tomorrow marks the kickoff of this year’s edition of Bluesfest, and many of Ottawa’s highest regarded local acts are gearing up to take one of the festival’s many stages. One such act is Flight Distance, a hip hop act that has been operating, in one form or another, for ten years. In addition to their Bluesfest premiere, the band is set to release a split twelve-inch this summer titled “Worth.” Last year saw the release of a new album, Bad Information (produced by Crack Moses), a record which earned the band the number one spot on CHUO radio for several weeks. Their music is cultured—a confluence of DJ Calkuta’s nineties-ish beats and pops mixed with intelligent and intricate lyrics courtesy of two fine MCs, Patience and Bender. Their sound is plodding and deliberate, dark and serious, with just a touch of playfulness.
“We’re two dudes who share a similar cynicism and a similar dark, strange sense of humour,” says Patience. We’re sitting outside a coffee shop on Kent. Across a wobbly steel table sit the lyrical team behind Flight Distance, Patience and Bender. These guys go way back, they tell me. Bender moved to Ottawa ten years ago, and almost immediately met Patience at a rap show. They became friends, began making music, and ten years later they’re still at it. “He and I had similar approaches to writing and performing rap,” says Patience. “We just hit it off and decided to do this.”
So, what exactly are they doing? “Having fun with words,” smiles Bender. Their lyrics are a frenetic mix of reference, both local and global. References to local staples like Winterlude run alongside allusions to the fall of the Roman Empire. The band takes their name, a term describing the distance at which predators will cause a flight reaction in prey, from the book Life of Pi. The moniker connotes the band’s aggressive sound as well as hinting at the lyrical book-smarts found in their music. “It’s dense with references to things obscure and otherwise,” says Patience. Bender offers an example from his solo album, 12 Stories to Plummet From due out this fall, which features a song about Humphrey Bogart’s third wife drinking herself to death in a hotel room. Obscure.
Speaking of Bender, the man is purportedly quite good at rap battles. Last year, he won the King of the Dot, which is Canada’s premier rap battle league. His advice to would-be rap battlers: “Be mean. Don’t be afraid to be mean.” Bender likes to keep his battle career and his participation in Flight Distance separate. “I think it has given me a channel to get that out of my system,” he says. “Five years ago I was writing more battle rhymes in my songs, and I think the new record is going to be freer of that.” If nothing else, Bender’s skill in battling has translated into one of the most dynamic hip hop lyrical teams Ottawa has seen.
And the band has only been growing in popularity in recent years. Known to play with such acts as Shad, GZA, Ghostface and the like, these guys are steadily becoming one of the biggest acts in town. And it’s clear that they love their home. “There have been rap acts from Ottawa that pretty much disown the city when they leave, and that’d be pretty shitty of us, I think,” says Patience. He adds, “I don’t think we’re leaving anytime soon either.” Bender adds, “I think the Internet has really democratized things, and you can make your stand wherever now, and things might work out for you.” And this place has been kind to them. “When we play Ottawa shows, we see some of the most lively, fun crowds in the country,” Patience says.
I asked them what they’d like to tell up-and-coming artists in Ottawa. Their response: “You can be interesting in this city and people will take notice.” Without a doubt, these two speak from experience.
For further reading on Flight Distance, visit their website. The band plays Bluesfest’s Electro Stage this Sunday July 8th at 3:30pm.