WORDS: Lauren DeGaine
PHOTOGRAPHY: James Lee Doran
It’s Thursday night, and in the streets of Victoria, BC, Rifflandia Music Festival’s revelers are out in full force. On Lucky Bar’s dance floor you wouldn’t know it’s just the beginning of Riff, because the energy in the local bar is the kind you might expect when an entire city gets together for a massive urban hometown party. And with sporadic rain throughout the weekend, the promise of a wet fall is imminent, so festival-goers gather at venues across the city for the last big party of the summer.
Victoria is a big little town, so running into everyone you know throughout the weekend is standard. Most of Riff’s attendees are locals and friends from the island and Vancouver. That community vibe is part of what makes Rifflandia special; there is an air of excitement and festivity throughout the city. Whether you’re attending Rifflandia or not, you know the festival is happening, and can’t help being swept up in it one way or another: people are dressed up and dancing in the streets, music from Phillips Backyard or Royal Athletic Park wafts into nearby neighborhoods, local establishments turn into music venues, and shops and restaurants participate by offering discounts to Riffers.
Among some of the most epic moments of the weekend were: The Westwood Recordings showcase at Lucky Bar and the super awesome dance party that was Moontricks’ set. Jurassic 5 performing at dusk to a packed Royal Athletic Park, then taking the brisk walk downtown for some sexy downtempo bass music courtesy of Her Royal Dubsteptress, DJ AppleCat. Heading to Wolf/Sheep Arthouse for sweaty late night dance sessions (the stage with the best sound system, in my opinion). Keys N Krates absolutely slaying Phillips Backyard and hometown heroes Pigeon Hole rocking that same stage. The nostalgic glory that was Prozzak. The Music BC mixer and taco extravaganza! Basking in the Sunday sunshine on a picnic blanket, listening to the sweet sounds of Fruit Bats while sipping on Phillips Brewery’s delicious lemon hefeweizen, appropriately name Rifflandibrau. Disco Brunch at Northern Quarter on Sunday (It’s not every weekend that the entire establishment breaks into song and dance at their tables when the DJ puts on Toto’s ‘Africa.’ Totally ridiculous. Very Rifflandia.)
Another quirk about Rifflandia is that it has separate daytime and nighttime stages. It was hard for me to grasp the idea at first, but after experiencing it I decided this method is awesome! The two different times of day have very different vibes. During the daytime, there is only one act playing at either of the 2 stages at a time. There are mixed opinions about this: for some, it means that if you’re not into whatever is playing at one stage, you don’t have the choice to head somewhere else. My personal opinion is that it means you never miss any daytime music, and you can spend your day relaxing on the gorgeous lawn drinking delicious libations instead of running around trying to catch every set. Royal Athletic Park shut down around 8pm every night, ensuring that its neighbors stay happy. At this point there’s a mass exodus when everyone heads downtown from the residential area, which is when you really get this sense of excitement for the upcoming nighttime shenanigans.
I did notice some room for improvement in Riff’s sound system game at the larger stages. With sound cutting out briefly during multiple different sets throughout the weekend, and a setup that created inconsistent sound in different areas of the dance floor at the daytime stages, it seemed they could have invested more in the production level of the sound. Maybe we’re in for a level-up next year! (Cough *PK Sound!* Cough)
One of the newest features of Rifflandia was that their downtown stages — Capitol Iron, Anian and Phillips Backyard — were all transformed into one area: Electric Avenue. With shared food venues and entrance points, this made traveling between the 3 stages way more convenient than previous years. Riff veterans know that switching stages mid-night can be a brutal mistake because capacity rules mean long lines and waiting in vain. The establishment of Electric Avenue means you can travel freely between the 3 biggest night stages, which is a huge improvement because you get to see more artists, run into more friends, and spend more time at all of the very different and uniquely awesome stages. Way to go, Rifflandia producers!
Festivals in the city are a completely different experience than remote camping festivals: you get to sleep in your own bed at night, take showers every day, and food and liquor are cheaper and easier to get. Also: after-parties. Also: mid-day parties. Also: brunch at some of the city’s most delicious spots. And even though I am on Team Camping is Awesome, I am also on Team Mimosas Are Awesome, and you can’t bring champagne bottles into a campground.
Since you don’t have to travel quite as far, city festivals are way more accessible, so you get a more diverse population than your traditional die-hards. This does tend to mean that you get a lot of people who don’t know that a festival is a marathon and not a sprint (aka a lot of people already super sloppy at 8pm on Thursday). Luckily, the laid-back west-coast culture of Victoria ensures that even when the entire city gets sideways together, the vibe stays positive and fun. People here know that what’s important are friends, family and good times.
Check out our album of photos from the weekend! It’s full of big smiles, adorable kids, amazing artists, beautiful Victoria skies, and other awesome Rifflandia moments.