Yukon College is putting on a “spectacle” of a festival next weekend, stepping up its annual school-year kickoff with some heavy hip-hop artillery.
Cadence Weapon, Edmonton’s poet-laureate, is bringing his brand of blues-influenced hip-hop back to the territory on the heels of his impressive Yukon debut at the Dawson City Music Festival earlier this summer.
“That was a great experience,” the rapper said. “I’d never been to the Yukon before. I played Yellowknife’s Folk on the Rocks a few years ago, but Dawson was awesome, especially because I got to stay a couple of days after the festival.”
He’ll be headlining the college’s Future Routes festival on Friday, Sept. 6. His performance will top off an evening of sets by local acts including MC Turmoil & Kelvin, Abstract Original and Vision Quest.
Originally from Edmonton, Cadence Weapon (aka Rollie Pemberton) is now based in Montreal. His new album Hope in Dirt City has been getting a lot of attention for its innovation, especially in Pemberton’s use of live-recorded instrumentals converted to samples.
“The name comes from a nickname I had for Edmonton. It’s really tough being part of the artistic working class there,” Pemberton said.
“It’s more of like a self-deprecating nickname, coming from a hardscrabble background. Really the album touches on feelings of alienation in Edmonton, and just the idea of being creative and working on things in a place when you’re feeling hopeless. A positive idea in a situation that feels darker.”
The idea of using recordings of real musicians playing real instruments, then converting those recordings to samples, was born of a need to do something different, Pemberton said.
“It’s melancholy emotions put to up-beat music. There is lots of disco music, blues elements, and electronic elements. It all mixes together. I think it coalesces into something that no one else is really doing,” he said.
For those that didn’t catch his set in Dawson City, Pemberton’s style pays homage to hip-hop and rap pioneers like Public Enemy. There is an aggression and social urgency underlying much of his music, and his live shows are frenetic to say the least.
“I feel like I have really high standards for what a show is. It’s a performance. So many shows these days are one guy rapping on stage, not really doing anything.”
With four albums now under his belt, Pemberton has been hailed by some in the music industry as the saviour of hip-hop.
But his music isn’t overly nostalgic. As he sees it, he’s not trying to write better hip-hop, he’s trying to do something new.
“I wish people would stop saying that. It’s a lot of pressure. That to me is a nice thing to see, but the way I perceive things, I don’t think hip-hop necessarily needs saving. I’m not necessarily trying to create something that’s connected to the tradition of hip-hop. I grew up as a student of the game, but I’m trying to do something different.”
In Dawson City, Pemberton shared the stage with the Yukon’s own rising rap stars, Vision Quest. It was refreshing to see young artists so enthusiastic and committed to their craft, Pemberton said.
At Future Routes, Pemberton won’t just share a stage with the young upstarts, he’ll be performing with them. Vision Quest’s DJ Mackenzie Smith will be spinning vinyl for Pemberton’s headlining show.
“Playing with Cadence in Dawson City was amazing,” said Vision Quest’s Nick Johnson.
“He messaged us on Facebook to say that his guy, DJ Co-op, couldn’t make it, and asked if we’d be able to do it. Of course, Mackenzie was all over it,” Johnson said.
“It’s awesome. This is kind of something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve been really passionate about music and especially hip-hop,” Johnson said.
The festival is being put on as a partnership between the school, the student union and local youth group BYTE.
“We’ve always had a school-year kick off concert, but it’s never been a big spectacle like this,” said Josh Regnier, the college’s new student engagement coordinator.
When the idea first came about, the thought was to throw a big party to celebrate the college’s 50th anniversary, Regnier said. But the organizers wanted to reach beyond just the school community and get youth from across Whitehorse involved.
This is also BYTE’s 15th anniversary. The group’s expertise engaging youth in the Yukon made them the perfect partner, and the timing was great, said Dan Ashley, the student union’s president.
As well as a hip-hop show Friday night and a roots-rock show Saturday featuring headliners the Tequila Mocking Bird Orchestra, the festival also has a strong focus on sustainability.
“We really wanted to take advantage of the opportunities to have discussions about sustainability and our environmental footprint,” Ashley said.
Friday kicks off with a community green market at 10 a.m., followed by a free lunch catered by Alpine Bakery and sustainability talks all afternoon.
Saturday’s show features Nicole Edwards, Solid Fuel, Dead Simple, Zipline, and Death In Venice opening for the Tequila Mocking Bird Orchestra.
The city has also donated free transit to and from the college, running all weekend.
Tickets are $18 per night or $33 for the weekend, and are available at yukontickets.com, the Yukon Arts Centre, Arts Underground, Triple J’s and at BYTE.
Contact Jesse Winter at