When it started raining heavily at PANAMANIA, Speed Control knew they were doing something right when no one left the show.
“It wasn’t a huge crowd,” says guitarist, Graeme Peters. “But there were still people there with their briefcases. That’s cool!”
It’s speaks to the liveliness of the two Northern Canadian bands that played last night. Both New North Collective and Speed Control travelled 5000km from Whitehorse to participate in the musical line-up for PANAMANIA, the 35-day arts and culture festival to enrich the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games experience. Despite the downpour, spectators stuck around to see the show.
“The whole festival is just amazing!” says band member, Jody Peters. “That’s the first time I’ve been on a Jumbotron.”
“Well, I was concerned if my noise hairs were coming out or not,” says Graeme Peters.
All originally from Whitehorse, Graeme Peters (guitar/vocals), brother Jody Peters (bass/vocals), and Ian March (drums) front the rock n’ roll band, Speed Control. The trio formed in Toronto, while Graeme was completing his jazz degree at the University of Toronto.
“I got tired of playing jazz and being in the back of the band,” “says Graeme. “I wanted to be in the front. So I picked up the guitar and we started at an open mic at The Drake.”
The band’s first show turned out to be the gig of a lifetime.
“We ended up accidently opening for Beck,” says Graeme. “He did a secret show at that open mic, and in the middle of our set, suddenly 400 people show up at this club. And I’m like, ‘Man, we’re awesome!’ And then I looked beside me, and it’s Beck and all his handlers. And he’s like, ‘I need your guitar.’”
For the trio, it was a sign to keep going. Now, the band balances year-round touring with their other passion: putting on a history of rock n’ roll educational performance in schools and running rock camps for kids and adults.
“We had to find a way to make ends meet on the road,” says Jody. “Because when you’re an unknown rock band from the Yukon, you don’t make very much. So how can we still teach kids about rock n’ roll, make money, and tour?”
As seen at last night’s concert, many of Speed Control’s songs are inspired by Yukon living. There’s a song about the Riverside Grocery Store in Whitehorse (“It’s literally a grocery list! Everything in that song you can find there.”); the Tent City housing protest on the Yukon’s legislature; and another that describes “what it feels like to come home.”
“It’s like the Yukon kind of calls you back in,” says Graeme.
For Jody, the northern highways inspires many of his songs.
“Anytime I write any songs, I’m inevitably driving through the Yukon,” he says. “There’s usually no traffic – except for the moose. It’s calm, peaceful, and you just start thinking.”
After PANAMANIA, the band will be touring across Canada, and then head back to the Yukon for a three week hiatus to relax and go sheep hunting (“it’s for protein”). But wherever Speed Control performs, expect liveliness and humour.
“You will dance,” says Jody.
During the next set, New North Collective gave a hauntingly performance in the rain. The group consists of s a dynamic bunch of musicians who are united under the artistic direction of Yukon artist/singer/songwriter Diyet. But the band includes artists from all three northern territories.
“Everybody’s got their own sound,” says Diayet. “It’s like building blocks.”
Throat singer/drum dancer Sylvia Cloutier hails from Nunavut/Nunavik, whereas spoken word artist/bassist Pat Braden and guitarist/songwriter Digawolf call the Northwest Territories home. They’re joined by Graeme Peters on piano, percussionist Robert Van Lieshout, and multi-instrumental and Juno-winning Bob Hamilton – all three from the Yukon.
“Across the entire north, there’s an incredible wealth of talent,” says Diyet. “Over the years, we’ve all gotten to see and work with each other in various forms, and are fans of each other’s work. So it was an opportunity to create good music, but also build stronger connections and networks.”
The group explores their idea of the north through their songs, which are written by a diverse group of songwriters and performed by a seven-piece ensemble. With an assortment of backgrounds, it creates a musical mixology that produces spellbinding songs.
“It’s music for everybody,” says Diayet. “There’s a sense of joy and energy that’s inviting. Sometimes things that comes from the middle of nowhere are amazing.
For both bands, it was thrilling to perform at PANAMANIA, described as “an awesome experience” as well as “very wet” (courtesy of the storm). But those wanting to catch a future performance by Speed Control or New North Collective may have to trek to the “wild and beautiful” north of Canada. This journey, however, is scarcely a hardship; as the band members tell me, the Yukon is bewitching, and may take hold of your spirit.
“It’s the spell of the Yukon,” says Hamilton. “The north is a blank slate where you can decide what you want to be. I went there and became a recording producer. Being a maverick is supported: you can achieve your goals and write your own story. ”
Of course, the members of Speed Control list a few other good reasons to visit the Yukon.
“You can hear the Northern lights on quiet nights,” says Graeme. “They snap and pop. In the summer, the sun’s always up, there’s all these musical events going on, there’s culture stuff. Even if there’s no events going on, there’s so much to do.”
Jody Peters agrees, but offers a blunter answer. “Fly into Whitehorse and land,” he says. “Then you’ll know why you need to be there.”
And Graeme Peters gives one excellent reason why everyone should visit Whitehorse:
“There are more hair salons per capita there than any other city in Canada,” says Graeme. “You can get your hair did!”