With the fourth anniversary, Supercrawl is bigger than ever before. Last year’s attendance was reported to reach 50,000 and this year the art and music programming has increased, more street area is being closed down and organizers project an even bigger number of attendees as long as the weather holds out.
Twenty years ago, Sonic Unyon began as a result of a band wanting to give grander scope to the recordings that they and their friends were doing. Tristan Psionic’s Mark Milne would dub cassettes in his parents’ basement originally but it didn’t take long before Milne, the band and the newfound label began making waves nationally. They’d set up shop just off James Street on Wilson and help begin a James Street North revitalization long ago. When art galleries along James Street North created a regular monthly art crawl, Sonic Unyon saw the opportunity to help create a spotlighting event to bring even more attention from outside regular attendees. Now, Sonic Unyon celebrates twenty years and the fourth anniversary of Super Crawl marks a two-day music and arts magnet set to attract over 70,000 people down to downtown.
“The Art Crawl now is bigger now than the first Supercrawl,” ruminates Mark Milne, Sonic Unyon cofounder and part of the organizing team behind Supercrawl. “Every year we’ve added more and more and that takes more time and people to put together. We have three large stages, two busking stages, 65 vendors, 20 food vendors, 75 volunteers, all the art installations and galleries, the local businesses have been really supportive of this. It’s a really great community and a lot of great people have come together to make this happen.
“Supercrawl is adding an element of excitement,” offers Sonic Unyon co-owner Tim Potocic. “It’s a vehicle to enlighten people how artistically vibrant Hamilton is. We want people to come down and experience the festival and realize there’s all of these shops, galleries and all of these cool things happening – maybe they could come down and even live down here.
“We’re diversifying the programming but still keeping it all family friendly,” adds Potocic. “We have amazing local bands on a variety of stages. 50 percent of our programming is local because we want to underscore our local talent and then we have a whole pile of really cool hipster indie rock style people like Owen Pallett, Change of Heart, Great Lake Swimmers, Born Ruffians, Zeus, Said The Whale, Hollerado – they’re all exciting and on the verge of breaking to be giant bands in the near future. We try to nurture that as well. We want to build a festival so that everyone can come and enjoy it. We’re trying to touch upon as many styles and genres of artistic expression – some dance, theatre, music, art installations, even circuses this year. We want people to see how great Hamilton is on every level.”
As one of the organizers that spearheaded developing the original art crawls with his Loose Cannon gallery, Dane Pedersen has adapted the programming possibilities for art showing at an event of this magnitude.
“Over the last couple of years we looked at what kind of art we were putting on the street to cope with the ridiculous amount of people we bring out so we went bigger this year,” explains Pedersen. “There is no subtle art, everything is meant to engage people. We have artists from across Ontario but we have a big component of Hamiltonians as well. We’re showcasing local talent but bringing in people from around the country but we’re a little more sophisticated than we have been in previous years and the art installations are going to show that.
“Music is different than art - we can just send a message,” adds Pedersen. “There’s a strong tradition of art shows that have a curatorial statement. We believe that all of the pieces are relevant to the people on the street looking at the art. While the themes and issues that artists might be exploring with the pieces that are showing, we really tried to make sure it is accessible to all audiences – to people who don’t normally go to galleries but also to people who attend the national gallery. We’ve chosen work that can reach both audiences and everywhere in between.”
As well as regular art and music enthusiasts, a wealth of people perhaps less likely to come to the galleries and the clubs from Hamilton and across Ontario and the Northern US are expected to come out. As Sonic Unyon adapts to the times, the distribution of music has faded away but their focus remains as a label and event organizer. With Young Rival, Terra Lightfoot, Mares of Thrace, Kestrels and more in their label stable, this year a retro vibe is accentuated with the additions of Vancouver’s Mystery Machine and Toronto’s Change of Heart.
“We’ve known Ian Blurton since 1992,” says Milne on the Change of Heart singer, guitarist. “He’s a great guy. People like him are the reason we do what we do. He’s a Canadian independent rock icon.”
“We toured with Tristan across Canada and always felt they were kindred spirits - they’re good dudes,” notes Blurton. “When you have friends like that for twenty years, there’s probably a reason.”
Blurton has long fostered a relationship with Hamilton playing here frequently with his bands - and as he grew into the role of one of Canada’s top producers, he’s even producing locals. Blurton has gone so far to enlist Hamilton band Huron to be his own backing band for his newest original music set for release this fall. With the release of a Change of Heart career retrospective, 1982-1997 There You Go, on Sonic Unyon – it only makes sense he make an appearance celebrating fifteen years of COH, fifteen years later.
“I probably go to Hamilton more than any other city in Canada,” admits Blurton. “I guess I get along with people from Hamilton quite well. “It’s more of a greatest hits kind of show – even though there are no hits,” he adds on reuniting Change of Heart. “The magic of music is pretty powerful so there are a lot of beautiful memories with that band but it’s interesting trying to not make it a nostalgia thing so we’re opening with a new jam and closing with a new song, we’re giving new arrangements to some of the songs. There’s going to be a CD that comes with the vinyl only and that’ll have 15 unreleased tracks so
there is a newer component to this as well.”
Nostalgia might seem to be a reoccurring theme for some elements. A former Change of Heart bass player that turned into a former Tristan Psionic bass player also returns to Hamilton to offer his latest musical outing for Supercrawl.
“That was a great time in life and I was fortunate enough to play with Change of Heart and my first tour with them was with Tristan Psionic and we became pretty good friends with Tim, Mark and Sandy [McIntosh],” recalls Rob Higgins. “When they decided to do an album, Change of Heart wasn’t working and they asked me to join the band. I have very fond memories of playing with Tristan Psionic, good guys and good times.”
Higgins fronts Dearly Beloved whose latest album Hawk Vs Pigeon has received praise from critics and fans alike and remains his current focus but it is somewhat of a family reunion for his return to the Hamilton area.
“My focus has been creating a body of work that I can be proud of with Dearly Beloved,” offers Higgins. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Sandy and the guys from Sonic Unyon and everyone else. I think there’s definitely going to be some friendly vibes in the air that day. I play at 2pm at 6pm and with Change of Heart later and I hear that there might be an interesting party happening at This Ain’t Hollywood even
later but I can’t say anything about that. You might not want to wrap up your day too early.”
There will be a wealth to see, hear and experience both Friday and Saturday but you’ll want to arrive early and be prepared to stay late for after parties and otherwise. Everyone involved is excited about making Supercrawl 2012 the biggest party of the year, but for the Sonic Unyon crew it also marks celebrating twenty years of changing the face of Hamilton.
“It’s exciting that Sonic Unyon is twenty years old and also very disappointing because you realize how old you actually are, and how
long you’ve been doing it and how we have interns that are younger than our company,” smiles Potocic. “But I love what we’ve done over the years and I love running the festival – it’s all true to my heart. I love music, art and Hamilton. I love bringing people to the downtown area. Hamilton’s always been cool, it’s just more people are realizing it.” V
Friday, September 14 and Saturday, September 15, on James Street North and surrounding areas. Check our calendar listings or click on supercrawl.ca for schedule of events at the various locations. Free Admission.