The neat thing about Westward Music Festival is that, unlike most such events, it doesn’t feature a couple of headliners and a vast undercard playing outdoors while the punters jostle for space in a field that will eventually turn into a mud pit because, well, Vancouver. Instead, Westward takes place from Thursday to Sunday (September 13 to 16) at some of the city’s finest venues—including the Vogue Theatre, the Biltmore Cabaret, Venue, the Orpheum, and the Imperial—and puts the spotlight on acts from near and far that are just waiting to become your new favourite. (With a few old faves throw in for good measure, and yes, we’re looking at you, Mudhoney.) To get you started, we’ve made a list of six Westward acts that are well worth your attention.
Cigarettes After Sex
At the Vogue Theatre on Thursday
If gauzy, reverb-slathered love songs hit you in that sweet spot, and you’ve already worn out your vintage ’90s CD copies of Mojave 3’s Ask Me Tomorrow and Mazzy Starr’s So Tonight That I Might See, Greg Gonzalez has what you need. The Texas-based leader of Cigarettes After Sex writes the kind of songs you might have put on a mix CD for your high-school crush, hoping that he or she wouldn’t miss the message. Gonzalez’s singing has been described as “androgynous”, but we’ll go a step further and admit that we’re not actually convinced that such a cherubic voice is really coming out of a dude with a beard.
At the Fox Cabaret on Saturday
Sometimes it takes a while to find one’s footing. That’s certainly held true for Margaret Glaspy, who seemingly arrived out of nowhere at age 27 with 2016’s Emotions and Math. Critics praised the New York–based singer-songwriter’s fusion of winsome indie rock, slurred jazz vocals, and seemingly hyperpersonal lyrics. New fans wondered why no one had paid attention to Glaspy before, even though she’d kicked around on the indie-folk scene and released a couple of EPs. Ever found yourself sticking things out in a relationship simply because it was easier than packing up your records and starting all over again? With lyrics like “There’ll be too much time spent/Wondering where your heart went/Have mercy on me/Take your things from the apartment,” Glaspy can relate.
At the Vogue Theatre on Friday
If most pop stars strike you as prefabricated, soulless automatons… Well, you probably have a world-view with very little nuance. There is, however, at least one up-and-coming pop star who actually wants you to think she’s a prefabricated, soulless automaton. Poppy (formerly That Poppy, and Moriah Rose Pereira before that) is a YouTube star whose Lolita-android persona has received far more attention than her music has. We can report, however, that we’re fans, thanks in large part to the Diplo-collab single “Time Is Up”, a chipper new-wave-flavoured ditty explaining that, even though human beings have royally fucked up the planet and are destined to die off en masse, prefabricated, soulless automatons like her will be just fine.
At Venue on Sunday
Saba is nothing if not precocious. Having graduated high school at 16, the now 21-year-old has spent the last five years creating a catalogue of smoky, jazz-infused beats topped off with articulate lyrical explorations. Touching on subjects that tap into the recent sad-rap phenomenon, Saba is vocal in his discussions of depression, and marries his profound bars with a captivating delivery. A first-class musician, the up-and-comer has the goods to entertain any generation of rap fan.
At Venue on Friday
There’s a reason Ravyn Lenae was included in Rolling Stone’s “10 New Artists You Need to Know” list in March last year. Still in high school when she made the cut, she has toured with powerhouse SZA and the hotly tipped Noname, bringing her ethereal, quirky vocals to stages around North America. Performing over funk-infused beats that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Anderson .Paak record, the singer offers a fresh take on R&B in a market that’s saturated by pop-heavy hits.
At the Imperial on Sunday
Who cares about hit singles, glossy magazine covers, and almost 58,000 Instagram followers? Sometimes the fastest way to get a handle on someone’s career is to check out the crowd they run with. Before releasing her debut album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, earlier this year, Sophie had an impressive track record as a producer, working with everyone from Madonna and Charli XCX to Vince Staples and Let’s Eat Grandma. Thanks to a quite frankly inspirational take on shiny pop music, the enigmatic artist born Samuel Long is finally getting more recognition in front of the mike than behind the mixing board. Check out the regal, quietly powerful “It’s Okay to Cry”, and console yourself that, as sure as heaven knows you’re miserable now, tomorrow is definitely going to be a better day.