Rifflandia 2023 kicked at Electric Avenue Thursday with gates opening at 5:30pm.
Early audiences entered with no waits at the gate at Pembroke street and were greeted by a large art sculpture made of stereo that played music and occasional spoke. It’s the first of many social media worthy photo lures added all around the Electric Avenue grounds.
The ‘Base 2′ stage that in previous years was the main stage was covered in a canopy which will be most beneficial for Saturday’s audiences seeking shade in the afternoon sun. The tent gives the Phillips loading bay a more indoor feel which is a neat change.
This is the second year that Electric Avenue has used the Rock Bay property owned by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. This year the footprint has expanded further to accommodate the new main stage and provide room for Phillips Beer truck, all food trucks, picnic tables, games area, a new VIP lounge, interactive art installations and extra bathrooms.
The expansion is on land that is mostly gravel. It’s fine for the dry conditions forecast for the weekend, but had it been raining things would likely get fairly dirty pretty quick.
The Dome this year is more open having removed the white walls around the lower frame to allow more air flow and more points of entry/exit. They also added a seated lounge beside the dome. Even with the change, I think the dome itself could still be bigger.
Overall the atmosphere of the new grounds layout is great and there was no feeling of overcrowding at any stage on Thursday even when headliner Chris Lake performed with the other two stages done for the night. Sightlines to the main stage were quite good with the grounds leading to the stage having a natural slope down. One of consistent challenge the Phillips loading bay always has is that if you’re standing anywhere outside of the driveway that slopes down towards the stage, the rest of that area slopes the other way meaning a tall person blocks your view even more. Not so at the new main stage. At various times I would stand near front of house and was able to see the stage with very little obstruction.
Corporate sponsors were noticeable with a promo team from Takis handing out bags of their tortilla chip snacks all day, a Jose Cuervo stand selling tequila based drinks and a Camel cigarettes booth in a back corner of the venue.
The festival’s new Splifflandia cannabis delivery service looked to have a steady stream of customers, but I didn’t notice any marijuana smoking or odor during my day at the fest. Another new addition that had a fairly steady sales stream of customers was the So:Bar selling non-alcoholic beer and mocktails.
As for the music of day 1… If you were a fan of electronic music, Thursday was for you. If you were looking for anything with full bands, people singing or even a rapper, Thursday’s lineup was probably not your cup of tea.
The Dome stage was curated by Big Night, a project by Shiraz Higgins who is known for directing music videos. Big night is described as an art rave cult party and that was in full display as there was a group dressed as monks carrying Big Night themed signs and handing out cards with an image of Shiraz’s head on a religious styled painting. There was no artist schedule at The Dome. Guests would randomly pop in throughout the day. With the Electric Avenue’s “Fuzzy Thursday” theme, the audience fashion added to the spectacle in the dome area.
There were some moments of live performances for those starved for instruments and vocals. x/o sang to her tracks at the Base 2 stage at 7pm, though her vocals were a little hard to hear. Gospel House artist Kaleena Zanders’ vocals were hard to miss. Her set brought the energy up as the second act on the main stage. One of the best sets of the night for people who wanted to see a band was Vancouver’s KASIA at the Base 2 stage. She had a live drummer and guitarist performing throughout her set which made for a refreshing alternative to the rest of the day’s lineup. At one point at the Dome, Downtown Mischief’s Ollie Happyness played guitar for a short period.
Another alternative was Lafflandia. This year the comedy stage was set up beside the Base 2 stage and comedians would perform during the 20 minute breaks. Day one was hosted by Victoria comedian Dan Duvall.
Over on the main stage, Dr. Fresch visible enthusiasm on stage was infectious in the audience. He threw anyone in the rock crowd a bone by including Disturbed’s ‘Down with The Sickness into his set. He would also bring one half of the Funk Hunters, and Rifflandia booker Nick Middleton on stage while a Funk Hunters/Chali 2na track was being played.
British electronic music producer Chris Lake headline Thursday and his set featured the first drone light show of the weekend with array or drones flying in a choreographed formation behind the main stage showing numerous images and animations including a Chris Lake banner and Rifflandia 2023’s cherries logo. with the drones flying fairly low, I’m not sure how much of the audience could actually see the drones. I was pretty far back and off to the side and my view was partially obsructed by the stage.
Rifflandia continues Friday and Saturday at Electric Avenue with headliners Paris Hilton and Run The Jewels and Weekend 2 starts next Friday afternoon at Royal Athletic Park. The rest of the festival. Passes are available at rifflandia.com