Sled Island: bringing some of indie’s best to the wild wild West

By June 19, 2015 No Comments

The somewhat sleepy city of Calgary isn’t necessarily known for being a hotbed for festivals like its eastern neighbours of Toronto and Montreal, but they can boast a festival that is arguably of the same quality as the ones put on by the big dogs: Sled Island.

The somewhat sleepy city of Calgary isn’t necessarily known for being a hotbed for festivals like its eastern neighbours of Toronto and Montreal, but they can boast a festival that is arguably of the same quality as the ones put on by the big dogs: Sled Island.

It might sound like a weird name since you can’t exactly go tobogganing in June and Calgary’s not an island, but it’s become a popular way for locals and out-of-towners to take in great up-and-coming and established artists in venues across downtown as well as the nearby Kensington neighbourhood. With film, comedy and art components also in the mix, the festival brings together burgeoning local talent and established international artists with an average attendance of 30,000 over a five-day span. Despite some bumps along the way, they’ve got quite a history behind them as well.

Founded in 2007 by Zak Pashak, the festival brought 96 artists including Cat Power, Spoon, the Walkmen and local success story Chad VanGaalen to its inaugural edition that same year, with just over 6,000 people attending. From that point on, the festival would grow in terms of size, attendance and the pedigree of artists playing, with 2008 alone featuring Tegan and Sara, RZA, of Montreal, Broken Social Scene, Grizzly Bear, Mogwai, and Jose Gonzalez, to name a handful of acts playing that year. Subsequent years between 2009 and 2012 would feature sets from Andrew W.K., Owen Pallett, Girl Talk, Twin Shadow, Feist and the Hold Steady among others.

The 2013 edition of Sled Island was expected to be yet another successful year for the festival and the city, with the headliners for its big outdoor shows at Olympic Plaza slated to be Explosions in the Sky and the Jesus and Mary Chain, with Swans, Joel Plaskett, Mac DeMarco and Metz also among those playing that year.

However, on the second day of the festival, a monumental flood hit southern Alberta – including the downtown core and Kensington area of Calgary where Sled shows were being put on – forcing tens of thousands of people in Calgary specifically to evacuate their homes with water levels reaching record levels, eventually causing $5 billion worth of property damage. The flood would be the worst natural disaster in the province’s history. Following this, some bands who were unable to play the shows they were booked for during the festival instead played impromptu gigs at dance studios, house parties or any other kind of venue they could play at under those circumstances – a movement known as “Flood Island”.

The festival would mostly bounce back in 2014 with Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill/Le Tigre fame brought onboard as guest curator, with St. Vincent, Spiritualized, Killer Mike, Rhye and Rocket from the Crypt among the artists playing. However, Hanna – as well as her band the Julie Ruin – was forced to drop out of the festival due to a relapse of her battle with Lyme disease, causing her to enter a three-month course of treatment.

Regardless, 2014 was a success, and this year’s edition of the festival looks like it’ll be no different. Guest curated by influential Montreal post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the festival will also bring Television, Daniel Lanois, King Tuff, De La Soul and Yo La Tengo among others to the 403, as well as Calgary’s own Viet Cong – arguably one of the most buzzed about Canadian bands this year.

For further coverage of Sled Island, stay tuned to Shoeclack.

About David MacIntyre

I've been calling Montreal home for the past four and a half years of my life (though I'm originally from Calgary). I write about all kinds of things from sports, businesses and movies, but my main passion for writing will always be music!