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The future is now

Photo: Matt Barnes

The future is now

The Halifax Pop Explosion returns, featuring musical talents from around the world

By Trevor J. Adams

Since 1992, local music fans have been expanding their minds at the Halifax Pop Explosion. Festival organizers aptly describe the annual celebration of music from the edge as “bringing tomorrow’s headliners to Halifax, and helping music fans discover their next favourite bands.”

Running from Oct. 23–26, the festival (one of Atlantic Canada’s largest events of its sort) takes over Halifax, bringing together exciting talent, eager fans, and industry professionals at multiple venues around the city. There are a lot of shows to choose from; to help you choose, read on for our must-see picks. (The following recommendations are shows that require advance tickets; there are also many walk-up shows throughout the city; keep your eyes open!)

One of the biggest nights of the festival comes before its official start, as it presents a collaboration between Jeremy Dutcher and Symphony Nova Scotia on Oct. 17 at the Dalhousie Arts Centre. From neighbouring New Brunswick, Dutcher is a classically trained Indigenous tenor, composer, performer, and activist who’s quickly become one of Canada’s most talked about musical talents.

After studying music here in Halifax at Dalhousie University, he launched a stratospheric career across North America as “the newest light” in an “Indigenous renaissance” (NPR), winning the 2018 Polaris Prize, performing sold-out shows across Canada, and appearing with major stars like Yo-Yo Ma. An artist of Dutcher’s rich talents needs a big musical canvas, which Symphony Nova Scotia is sure to provide.

Another highlight comes on Oct. 24 with Japanese Breakfast at the Marquee Ballroom on Gottingen Street. The solo project from Michelle Zauner tests the boundaries of indie rock and experimental pop, recently drawing acclaim for an artful cover of the Tears for Fears classic “Head over Heels.”

On Oct. 25, head to the acoustically ideal St. Matthew’s United Church on Barrington Street as it hosts Kaia Kater. The Montreal-born Grenadian-Canadian grew up with her family’s deep ties to folk music and spent years soaking up Appalachian music in West Virginia. She’s known for old-time banjo-picking skills, deft arrangements, and songwriting ability. This performance also includes Jennah Barry and Lydia Persaud.

The following night on Oct. 26, the Scotiabank Centre on Argyle Street will be abuzz with excitement, as the Juno-award winning Arkells take the stage. Since 2006, the alt rockers have drawn acclaim for their lively stage presence, diverse musical influences (including a heavy splash of Motown), and fearlessly progressive politics. West Coast indie rockers Mother Mother, who have loyal fans across the country, will open the show.

Oct. 26 is the last and busiest night of the festival. Other sure-to-entertain shows include Toronto hip-hop star Haviah Mighty at the Seahorse Tavern and Elisapie at St. Matthew’s. Described as “ambassador for Inuit culture,” Elisapie offers “soulful down-home folk music as she tenderly looks back on her heritage.”

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