Musicians dream of taking it to the next level. Whether it’s going from an empty garage, to a small open mic night, or from the open mic scene to a paid gig at a local bar. For many, the next step up is the most challenging: to take their music to a big stage at a big event. That’s a big part of why the Battle of the Bands in Whitehorse has been a continued success — the event provides new musical acts with big opportunities.
The annual event is co-hosted by the Frostbite Music Society and B.Y.T.E. (Bringing Youth Towards Equality).
What started as a small talent show more than 10 years ago is now an annual competition between musical acts – and it’s been growing in popularity, among both crowds and bands.
B.Y.T.E. Whitehorse Outreach Coordinator Allison Furniss says that there are so many bands interested that there is some stiff competition before the battle even begins.
“We had an overwhelmingly high number of entries this year,” she says. “We were actually pleasantly surprised to have to make some really tough decisions. After a lot of discussion between Frostbite and B.Y.T.E. we came to accept seven competing bands this year.”
Along with a rule that all competitors be under the age of 30, Furniss and the other organizers also consider how long the groups have been together when choosing the final line-up. They also like to display a broad range of musical styles, from hip-hop artists to DJ’s and MC’s.
“Battle of the bands can be a launching pad for a lot of these up-and-coming artists,” Furniss says. “For many of them it’s definitely the first time they’ve had an opportunity to play for such a big audience at a large event.”
The quality amps, brighter lights, and bigger stage all unite to provide these bands with a view over the horizon, a peak into possible futures with bigger stages and events.
They’re also being judged by people who know music.
“Our judges are representatives from Rendezvous, from the Sunstroke Music Festival, and from Dawson City Music Fest, so in that sense there’s a lot of scouts,” Furniss says. “Often performers in Battle of the Bands have gone on to get professional recordings of their music and a lot of our bands have gone on to play these other festivals.”
The Battle of the Bands has been a boost for past performers such as Declan O’Donovan, who was invited to perform at Northern Scene in Ottawa last spring, and was nominated for a Maple Blues Award in the fall.
Other bands, such as Brass Knuckle Society, were invited to play at the Sunstroke and Dawson City Music Festivals last summer, and have had a steady stream of gigs through the winter. And last year’s winner, the hip hop duo Vision Quest, were invited to play the Future Routes Festival at the Yukon College, the Dawson City Music Festival, and the Blue Feather Music Festival.
This year’s battle had a varied line up, from DJ Botfly playing high-energy dubstep, to the young band Dead Simple who graced the stage for the third year and won second place.
The winners were the Midnight Sons. The band was formed in December 2012 and they’ve played most of the available venues around town, including a regular weekly gig at the Dirty Northern Public House on Wednesday nights.
The band is a trio, with Patrick Docherty on drums, Ian MacIntyre on bass/guitar, and Alex Johnston on guitar and vocals.
“I write all the songs by myself on an acoustic guitar so it’s original and from the heart,” Johnston says. “It won’t blast your head off, and it won’t put you to sleep; it’s somewhere in the middle.”
Winning the competition represents a very tangible boost to their new musical career.
“We have a tour coming up in March and that’s part of the reason we entered the Battle of the Bands,” Johnston says. “We need a demo CD to give out when we play those locations. Recording songs is around four to five hundred dollars each and we’re pretty financially strapped, so winning Battle of the Bands gets us that demo which we can use on the road.”
In addition to a photo shoot with Vanessa Falle and the chance to play at the Rendezvous’ Party on Main Street event on February 15, the winning band had their choice of a professional song recording with Jordy Walker, or a music video with GBP Creative.
For The Midnight Sons the choice was clear, and now when they tour their music south to Alberta and British Columbia they’ll have a CD to sell to the crowds.
Beyond their tour, Johnston isn’t sure exactly what’s in store for The Midnight Sons. Still, he’s optimistic.
“I’m confident we’re going to put our best foot forward. And to all the other bands in Battle of the Bands I would like to say to go out there and put your best foot forward.”