Musician Ben Caplan combines hard work and raw talent, as he hones his craft and draws international acclaim
Back to schoolBy Shannon Webb-Campbell | Oct 18, 2012
Halifax Pop Explosion has shed its teenage skin. The annual music festival turns 20 this year and boasts 160 acne-free acts at 15 post-pubescent venues over the course of five non-school nights (October 16 to 20).
“20 years is a big deal for a festival that’s gone bankrupt twice, renamed once, only to be named as its original title,” says executive director Jonny Stevens. “The history of Halifax Pop Explosion is like the little festival that could. We’ve always struggled along and fortunately for us, the last three years we’ve had a great surge of success. People have been packing the venues, and we’ve been given a lot of support.”
This year’s line up includes Vancouver singer/songwriter Dan Mangan performing with Symphony Nova Scotia, Of Montreal, Atlas Sound, Black Lips, Wintersleep, Mike O’Neill, The Pack A.D., Deer Tick, Purity Ring, Cold Specks, Born Ruffins, and reunions of classic east coast bands The Superfriendz, Cool Blue Halo, Strate Jackets and Hip Club Groove.
“We wanted to it to be like a high-school reunion. That’s the thing about being in a band, or a musician, we never went,” says Stevens. “I wanted this to be like a high-school reunion for the bands of the 90s, bands that shaped all of our musical tastes and put Halifax on the map. I want to get them back together to experience that again, for the fans and the bands.”
Much like the festival itself, which began in 1993 and featured only 19 acts, many musicians and locals came of age with Halifax Pop Explosion. Stevens grew up performing and attending HPX. In many ways, being the executive director of the festival has always been Stevens dream job.
“The Pop Explosion spoke to me. I was a kid who played in a punk rock band who toured in every shitty bar in Ontario,” says Stevens. “This is the event we always made it to, either performing, or attending. After I stopped playing music, I was elected to the board of directors. Now my job is not to mess this up.”
With this year’s ever-expanding line up, Halifax Pop Explosion offers a balance of retrospective artists and cutting edge new music. With bands from all over the globe, Halifax Pop Explosion has also added a new digital conference, showcasing the world of gaming, web, mobile design and marketing.
“The biggest struggle is really with ourselves creating the best festival we can,” he says. “There is always issues with venues closing. Money is something, paying for the festival is another. Our audience is intelligent people who want to come year after year.”
It’s not only bands reuniting for this year’s Pop Explosion, Victor Syperek is reopening the empty building on Gottingen. The original Marquee Club closed in 2008, and went on to become The Paragon Theatre, which shut down in spring 2011. Syperek plans to backlight the old Marquee sign to give a nod to the twinkling lights of early days.
While it was Murder Records label mates Sloan who paid tribute to the legendary club with their track, “The Marquee and The Moon,” The Superfriendz are looking forward to coming together, between the heavy curtains and under the spotlights at the 20th anniversary show with Cool Blue Halo, Hip Club Groove and Strate Jackets.
The Superfriendz bassist Charles Austin, now owner of North End recording studio The Echo Chamber, wonders if the band will find time to practice.
“A couple of us are actually adults, Drew (Yamada) is a doctor, Matt Murphy is a CBC Toronto producer of some kind,” says Austin. “We haven’t practiced, I have two kids. Dave Marsh plays with Joel Plaskett, so he’s very busy just playing and touring. I guess it is a reunion show. The thing about songs you’ve been playing that long, they are engrained in your muscle memory. Even if you haven’t played them in 10 years it’s there. Once you play it 50 times, it’s in your brain for the rest of your life.”
The Superfriendz split up in 1997, and Austin went on to start The Echo Chamber. Over the years he’s recorded Joel Plaskett’s legendary Down At The Khyber, The Superfantastic’s Pop-Up Book, Tanya Davis’ Gorgeous Morning, Old Man Luedecke’s albums
Mole In The Ground and Hinterland, Matt Mays, and countless others.
“It’s kind of weird when you look back over 20 years of pop or rock music the same influences and the same styles keep coming back.” he says. “When we were in our 20s we were copying bands in the ’60s, copying things that were old. Every generation can do something valid and interesting. You can’t help what year you were born.”