As statements go it’s a significant one, even if Cartel Madras, pretty much inarguably, lacks the instant name recognition of Mother Mother, the Offspring, Marianas Trench, and Walk Off the Earth. Those who’ve been busy filling out their must-see list for the upcoming Ambleside Music Festival might have noted the Calgary-based duo slotted in for Sunday afternoon.
The doors open at 1, with Cartel Madras kicking off the day on the B-Stage at 2. And potentially blowing the minds of those smart enough to show up early. After all, here’s something that’s almost a given: acts that open all-day festivals often take the stage with something to prove.
On that front Cartel Madras is a frontrunner for the dark-horse act of the entire Ambleside Music Festival weekend. If it takes conviction to fly one’s freak flag, that goes double when you live in a city where cowboy hats are a fashion statement, right-wing conservatism is celebrated, and folks tend to like both kinds of music: country and western.
Into all this comes Cartel Madras, comprised of sisters Bhagya “Eboshi” Ramesh and Priya “Contra” Ramesh—known to hip-hop fans as Canada’s proudly queer creators, and premier ambassadors, of Goonda Rap. Need an elevator-pitch summation of the duo? Start with hyper-cinematic songs that—through a sharp LGBTQ lens—celebrate Tamil and Indian culture, sexuality, the South Asian diaspora, Kollywood movies, and progressive politics (personal and otherwise). Based on records like Age of the Goonda and last year’s The Serpent and The Tiger, the duo is as confident hanging in the club as it is diving headfirst into the trap and grime underground.
And all of that makes Cartel Madras an interesting leaping-off point for looking at Ambleside Music Festival.
This weekend’s three-day celebration isn’t the first time one of the most scenic parks in all of the Lower Mainland has played host to music fans. In pre-COVID times, Rock Ambleside Festival turned the spotlight on heritage acts like Loverboy, Chilliwack, and April Wine. Nostalgia can be a powerful drug, and admit it: you not only crank the stereo, but crank it to the max every time “Turn Me Loose”, “Fly at Night”, or “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” comes up on the car stereo.
Put together by GSL Group—the same team responsible for Rock Ambleside Festival—the Ambleside Music Festival marks a whole new vision for the site.
In an interview with the Straight, GSL marketing lead George Fadel notes that’s the world was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We did not have a show in 2020 or 2021 because of obvious reasons,” Fadel says. “So this was an opportunity for us to evolve and try something new in a region that has also been craving a different type of festival. This year’s show skews to a bit of a different demo, but I think we’ve put together a really awesome lineup with some really talented people and talented bands. We’re all really thrilled and excited about it.”
More than anything, Ambleside Music Festival has arrived to fill a major void in the Vancouver summer concert season. The city doesn’t lack for major multiday events, including the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, FVDED in the Park, TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, and Burnaby Blues + Roots Festival. But where all of those tend to focus on particular musical niches, Ambleside takes an approach that’s more in line with creating the perfect mixed tape.
There’s no shortage of platinum-shifting heavyweights, with the Offspring, Mother Mother, and Marianas Trench all taking the stage with hits-laden back catalogues. You will not only sing along to “Come Out and Play”, “I Got Love”, and “Haven’t Had Enough”, but will have zero problem remembering every line.
But where Ambleside Music Festival gets really interesting is the undercard.
The best mix tapes jump genres with effortless abandon, and that spirit marks the lineup for Ambleside Music Festival. Art-pop aficionados will find plenty to love in Little Destroyer, Hannah Georgas, and Charlotte Cardin, all of whom sound nothing like each other even though there’s an argument to be made they’d be at home at the same high-school lunch table. A commitment to reimagining the blues and unvarnished soul binds together Jesse Roper, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Tim Atlas, and local heroes the Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer. And Toyko Police Club, Valley, and Ria Mae all belong under the umbrella of forward-thinking pop-rock, but brilliant things being that label only begins to describe things.
“A good playlist is a real mix of genres,” Fadel offers. “That’s the vision that we had for this festival: giving a taste of everything for everybody. We really want a variety of people to come and enjoy the show knowing they are going to get multiple types of music. We’re trying to bring something to the city for locals where you get a bit of everything—a wide range of really talented artists from across Canada, and across the U.S. as well.”
And, in the case of talent like, say, Cartel Madras, artists who are designed to expand the horizons. And maybe even change the world view of those showing up at Ambleside Music Festival to lose themselves in glitter-bomb dance anthems like “We Are Stars” by Virginia to Vegas. As statements go, it’s an important one.