Osheaga Day 1 Leaves Eveyone Happy

Flaming Lips at Osheaga 2023 by Tim Snow
Flaming Lips at Osheaga 2023 by Tim Snow

Friday morning was cloudy and overcast, but the heavens appeared to part especially for Osheaga and none of the forecasted thundershowers hassled what Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne correctly described as “a perfect day for a festival”. The first of three days of music offered up so many options that it required a whole lot of running between stages to fit in as many performances as possible. This is definitely not a complaint.

To begin, Altın Gün was a must-see on one of Osheaga’s two sets of paired stages – the approach allows for seamless transition between acts. Their Holland-meets-Turkish sound is heavy and psychedelic, with added bouncing bass. Space age zaps and zoops sprinkled in are reminiscent of sci-fi soundtracks of the 1970s. This, combined with the Siouxie Sioux-esque fullness of Merve Daşdemir’s vocals, gave the crowd lots to chew on and dance to. Gatineau, Quebec’s Mindflip followed, providing a bit of hometown hip hop talent with a bit of a throwback feel, but Soccer Mommy’s Osheaga debut was at the same time so a run over to the other side of the concert site was necessary.

Sophie Allison’s ethereal vocals sit in front of a guitar wall in a way that recalls 1990s indie rock – it’s hard not to hear some J Mascis influence in the solos, but also in terms of the self-depreciating, earnest lyrics. A cover of Sheryl Crow’s 2002 hit “Soak up the Sun” gave a little pop shimmer to the otherwise indie rock proceedings. Ending out the set with the pointed “Your Dog”, which became an enthusiastic singalong.

Osheaga’s decision to have the electronic stage in between the two paired stages gives the impression of walking through a rave between sets – and DJ Seinfeld’s house music was a nice soundtrack for hurrying to see another act, as was tech-house DJ/producer Pawsa (who drew an enormous crowd). This also meant missing L.A. band Wallows, whose lead singer Dylan Minnette is a former child actor who starred in the wildly popular “13 Reasons Why”, but Two Feet was too much of a draw.

“Go Fuck Yourself” went viral for a reason – the combination of slick guitar with deep bass and breathy vocals works incredibly well on headphones, so what would this sound like on a summer’s day? Turns out Zachary “Two Feet” Dess knows how to rock star it up. His voice moves from whisper to a roar, with “Feel Like I’m Drowning” presenting the jazzy, bluesy blueprint for his overall sound. This performance was followed up with L’impératrice, who walked on the stage like a well-dressed team (complete with light up heart brooches that changed colour depending on song mood) ready to score disco points, which they did immediately, slinking through “Off to the Side” as the audience danced along with singer Flore Benguigui throughout a shimmery, synth-fuelled set that was a perfect late afternoon confection.

Upping the drama, however, was Rina Sawayama, whose theatrical – no, cinematic – performance featured a series of vignettes complete with costume and set changes as well as very engaging, animated and committed performances from two back-up dancers. Sawayama has so much range it can be dizzying. One moment she’s in baggy jeans and men’s dress shirt spreading the gospel of UK garage on “Beg For You” (her hit with Charlie XCX), bouncing through the driving pop dance vibe of “LUCID” and then stripping down to reveal a bright red cut out latex bodysuit, donning a cowboy hat and channeling Shania Twain on “This Hell”. Roll credits – and seriously, the performance had a projected credit sequence. All there is to say is, “Let’s go girls!”

Sawayama’s spectacle was the perfect act to precede the Flaming Lips, whose giant pink inflatable robots and now to be expected plastic ball filled the stage. Oklahoma’s psychedelic darlings performed the entirety of 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, reminding everyone that “Do You Realize?” is not just a great song to be used in a commercial, but a great song, period. The band knows how to make a spectacle, and from wearing a Wonder Woman snuggie to inflatable rainbow and robots to heaps of confetti, Coyne said he was having a great time, and so was everyone else.

Any disappointment regarding eagerly anticipated R&B/Afrobeats/zouk artist Aya Nakamura’s inability to perform due to illness was tempered by the appearance of Charlotte Cardin, whose impassioned performance buoyed the hometown crowd. She provided a preview of some tunes off soon-to-be-released album 99 Nights and also served up hits like “Looping”.

Finishing off the night required yet another run over to the other set of stages for Bicep. Unfortunately, a combination of rain over the past few days (and perhaps the unnecessary spraying of the crowd with water), the ground around the Green and Valley stages was essentially muck. Perhaps this provided a bit of a old-timey rainy rave vibe for the Belfast duo, but their night bus vibes, though deeply satisfying, were a little less enjoyable because of the mud, which took away from the clear, gorgeous day as well as from the not-to-be-missed one-man-band that is JPEGMafia. Kicking things off with “Lean Beef Patty”, the energy level was through the roof, an reached fever pitch with not just the hit “1539 N.Calvert” but a cover of Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe”.

It was probably a mistake to leave before Joe Bada$$ to see headliner Rüfüs Du Sol, because though the light show was pleasing, their Australian variation on Depeche Mode’s formula of singable lyrics and beat-driven synthpop rock, was undercut by offkey vocals – but there was no mud. Hopefully there will be just as much great music but much less muck on day two.

Words by Erin MacLeod


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