Currently, the property standing at 1982 West 4th Avenue is listed for sale. The storefront is better known as Zulu Records and it – one of its two rooms, specifically – is currently up for grabs. Though Zulu may end up downsizing, the Vancouver arts scene is no stranger to loss.
Over the past several years, the city has seen departures from venues such as Mesa Luna, the Starfish Room, and the Zoo Zhop, to name a few. The weekend of July 11, however, was a celebration of the local arts, with the fifth annual Khatsahlano street party stretching across 4th Avenue from MacDonald to Burrard. With six stages and over fifty artists playing this year, Vancouverites had the chance to partake in a variety of free music and entertainment, with much credit owed to Zulu Records for curating the event.
To start the day, local outfit Skinny Kids took to the Vine stage. Even before beginning their set, lead vocalist Trevor Gray admitted he didn’t think anyone would be up this early in the morning to make it to their show. Early, in this case, was just a little after 11:15 a.m.
By the looks of the makeshift breakfast comprised of a bag of chips and a carton of OJ left standing on the stage, perhaps the members of Skinny Kids were still waking up themselves. Nonetheless, the trio kicked off the festivities on a high. Bringing with them their surf-punk vibes, the lo-fi rockers charmed a modest crowd with a set full of infectious bass lines, fuzzed out guitar riffs, and discordant vocals, all drenched in a tasty reverb. Throughout, Gray was casual while constructing these deliciously angular riffs around standouts tracks like “Cool Fetish Girls” and “Real Lost.” Even though the skies remained overcast for the majority of their show, the sun soaked songs of Skinny Kids did more than enough to warm up festivalgoers for the coming acts.
Later on, Colin Cowan & The Elastic Stars took their audience on a cosmic journey through their particular brand of psyched out folk-noir. Toasting to the “cool, crisp, and manageable Vancouver skies,” Cowan ventured far past our atmosphere into otherworldly soundscapes through an amalgamation of spaced-out guitar and towering, pointed vocal harmonies. Highlights included sweet tune “Beyond The Moon” and the drawn out introspective jam “Psychedelic Lido Heaven.” As Cowan & The Elastic Stars wrapped their set and eased listeners back down to Earth, plenty of audience members were left lingering around the stage, whether perplexed or wanting more was anyone’s guess.
Over at the Burrard Stage, The Courtneys cranked out a series of short but undeniably sweet anthemic summer tunes to a crowd that was ushered close to the barrier. Jen Twynn Payne’s frenzied drumming and vocal chants, paired with the fuzzy guitar of Courtney Loove and droning bass of Sydney Koke came together to create rolling waves of noisy twee-punk heaven, proving The Courtneys could have been imported straight from the ‘90s.
In the middle of their show, Koke paused to thank a member of the audience who had emailed in a request for the band to play their older song “Insufficient Funds,” to which they happily obliged. The tune, which laments life on minimum wage, was easily the climax of their set, with the trio deftly proclaiming the hooky repetition of “You can work for yourself!” as the crowd danced away. Even though their performance was cut short due to Payne adamantly not wanting to play a mystery cover, The Courtneys still brought their lo-fi shine to Khatsahlano.
Closing out my day was The Belle Game. While sound checking, keys player Katrina Jones called out to the crowd to ask if the ‘For Lease’ sign hanging out in front of half the Zulu Records space was fictitious. It isn’t. Obviously disappointed, she urged the audience to support the Vancouver art scene, particularly our local record stores.
Currently working on their next album, The Belle Game churned out ten unreleased songs during their set. Sonically, the band had noticeably shifted into uncharted territory. Getting away from the baroque pop and orchestral swells on Ritual Tradition Habit, the quartet’s set moved in between sparse and heavily textured electronic space, filled with a newly beefed up backbone of blown out synth. Still, the essence of The Belle Game remains grounded in the powerhouse that is Andrea Lo’s vocal prowess. Whether clean of effects or wrapped and layered in ribbons of lush reverb, Lo’s voice soared throughout their performance. Though their new material was a welcome treat, it was their moody reworking of fan favourite “River” that garnered the largest cheers from the crowd.
Over the past five years, the Khatsahlano Street Party has quickly become a staple in the Vancouver community. Imagining what the festival, let alone the neighbourhood, would look like without Zulu Records feels hollow. Support your local record store; we won’t know how good we had it until it’s gone.