Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Battle Of The Bands Rewind Profile: The 2016 Speak Easy Battle Of The Bands

At last, let's tackle our final installment (until a year after the next battle) of our Battle of the Bands Rewind Profile Series! One day removed from our look back at last year's second VM Radio Battle of the Bands, let's reflect on the other March 2016 battle of the bands that also entertained local music fans during this busy month. Like our prior installments of this series, this is strictly an informational feature with trivia, facts, and results, and no personal criticism or reviews of the competing bands. Now, here's what you should know on last year's second local battle of the bands!
The 2016 Speak Easy Battle of the Bands (March 10th, 2016)

Background: Following the success of the Battle of the Bands at Algoma University's campus bar The Speak Easy on March 5th, 2015, organizers at the Algoma University Students Union indicated plans to hold further battles on at least a biennial basis, announcing a planned second installment for November 2015, though it was postponed due to unspecified "sponsorship issues". Instead, the second battle took place on March 10th, 2016, just over a year following the previous event. Like in 2015, seven competing acts played 15 minute sets each, and results were determined by a fan vote with no formal judging panel.
Prizes: Winnings were identical to 2015's Speak Easy Battle, with $400, $200, and $100 respectively going to the first, second, and third place bands.

Competitors: Two of 2016's competing acts were returning from 2015, those being alternative/hard rock trio The Din (who dropped "Mike Haggith &" from their name over the winter) and local/Toronto indie rock musician Jesse Merineau. The other five bands were all newcomers to a local battle of the bands, and they included alt-electronic project Aldous, former Coverfly bassist Bryan Brown in  a rare solo set, modern hard rock quartet Eclipse, punk/metal quintet Jack Spades, and reunited death/thrash metal trio Pillory. Impressively, all of the confirmed bands from the original November date were still able to compete in March.

Results: Fans at the battle selected Jesse Merineau to win the 2016 Speak Easy Battle and the $400 top prize. The Din came in second place to win $200, while Eclipse claimed the $100 third place prize.

Aftermath: Jesse Merineau rode the momentum of his battle victory to work on his upcoming solo CD (scheduled for release this summer), while he also returned home for a handful of notable concerts last year, including one with runners-up The Din opening at LopLops in September. The Din and Eclipse would both go on to finish in identical spots in that month's VM Radio Battle of the Bands, with The Din releasing their debut CD in the summer and continuing their upwards momentum well into 2017, and Eclipse playing steadily until suddenly disbanding for four months in November, though they will return to the stage next month. Pillory and Jack Spades remain familiar sights on local concert stages, with the former in pre-production of their second CD, and the latter teasing their new lineup's debut and first gigs since the fall in the near future. Aldous remain active in studio, but haven't advertised a live show since August, and Bryan Brown hasn't been publically advertised since as a musician, though both have indicated that they're now based out of town.

Some Notable Performers' Newer Bands (Metal/hard rock in italics, ex-members noted with an *):

The Bear Hunters (Justin Lam & Johnny Belanger from Jack Spades)
The Elements (Jesse Cook from Jack Spades)
Great Chamberlain (Anthony Marcello from Jesse Merineau's backing band; Based out of Ottawa)
Handsome Sandwich (Jesse Cook & Johnny Belanger from Jack Spades)  
Heavy Head (Jesse Cook & Johnny Belanger from Jack Spades and Daniel Horton from Eclipse) 
Project 421 (Curtis McKenzie, Daniel Horton, and Chris Thompson from Eclipse)
The Steeltown Girls (Tammy Hill from The Din)
Stegadeth (Tiffany Stocco from Jack Spades)
Winkstinger (Jesse Cook from Jack Spades)  


  • New local hard/pop rock quartet Heavy Head were advertised to compete at this battle, just one night after they finished in third place in the first VM Radio Battle semifinal, but they dropped out the day of this event due to scheduling conflicts for frontman Mike Gaetano. However, the remainder of the band still competed as members of Jack Spades or Eclipse.
  • As was the case in 2015, the second Speak Easy Battle was held one day after the first semifinal of last year's second VM Radio Battle of the Bands at The Canadian Nightclub, which again differed by being a multi-band event over multiple nights, though the performer lineup actually fell from 11 competing bands in 2015 to 5 in 2016. The Din (who competed the day before) and Eclipse (who competed the following week) made the finals and finished in second and third place in both events, while Jack Spades played a non-competitive guest set on night #2 of that battle due to frontman J.D. Pearce's promotional involvement. The winner of the second VM Radio Battle was indie rock quartet K.I.C.K..
  • After missing the podium in 2015 with a strictly solo set, Jesse Merineau recruited local power pop/glam rock trio Caroline Divine to serve as his backing band for his Speak Easy Battle return last year, which apparently did the trick, giving him some "divine" intervention for his first place victory. While the set was entirely comprised of originals from Jesse's upcoming CD, this was technically Caroline Divine's last publically advertised concert before singer/guitarist Anthony Marcello moved to Ottawa, though his old bandmates joined Jesse & guitarist Mitchell Nielsen when he headlined at LopLops in September.
  • Similarly to Jesse Merineau's reversal of fortune from 2015 to 2016, The Din and 3/5ths of Project 421 (in their side project Eclipse) also moved from missing the podium to claiming top 3 placements in 2016, foreshadowing similar improvements in the VM Radio Battle later that month, which they also didn't place at in 2015.
  • Pillory's set at this battle marked their return to the stage after a nearly two year hiatus following their final shows as a thrash quartet in mid-2014. The band debuted new bassist Jordan Leach, their trio lineup with no rhythm guitarist, and a heavier, death metal-influenced sound at this event, completely abandoning their older originals from their debut CD "Cringe At The Cross".
  • Jack Spades' all-original set at the Speak Easy Battle was filmed by Shaw TV Sault Ste. Marie personality (and VM Radio Battle guest judge) Christian Lemay for a feature that aired on channel 10 in mid-late 2016, interspersed with interview footage taken from an Oddfellows Hall concert around that same time. This can be seen as a precursor to Shaw TV's recently-debuted series OnStage, featuring full concert sets from recent local events.
  • Twin City Sound & Entertainment were on hand to provide sound for the duration of the battle. Notably, Twin City Sound co-owner Steven Flint was a former bandmate of Eclipse's Curtis McKenzie and Daniel Horton in the short-lived hard rock band Punch, who were the 3rd place finishers in November 2013's Viva La Battle.
  • The most notable band from the inaugural Speak Easy Battle to not return for year #2 was defending champions Gnaeus, who won both of 2015's local battles. The post-punk quartet are believed to have missed both events due to the departure of drummer Brendan Garlick over the winter, with his replacement Alex Proulx not debuting with Gnaeus until their Ontario tour run that April.
  • While then-Haggith bassist Jordan Leach and experimental musician/Gore Street Cafe co-owner Sam Decter had promotional involvement in 2015's Speak Easy Battle, neither were publically involved with the event's return last year. Jordan did compete in the 2016 battle with Pillory, but as he wasn't promoting anymore, there were no concerns regarding a potential conflict of interest.
  • Despite prior hopes to hold further Speak Easy Battles of the Bands at least twice a year, there has been no official public word on a third installment from the A.U.S.U. since last year's event, be it this month or at a different date. A third VM Radio Battle of the Bands also did not occur in March 2017.
  • The Din later performed at Landmark Events' Showcase Festival in Toronto in January 2017, which was a competitive event to feature rising young bands to  music industry executives who would judge bands and select ones to get music industry grants. It's not known if The Din progressed any further in this showcase, but they did praise the event and the oportunities it brought afterwards.

    Shaw TV's video of Jack Spades' set
    (No other public videos known; Videos of the top 2 acts from 2015 featured to supplement this section)

    Sources/More Info:
    Official Facebook event page
    Event press release from SooToday
    I hope you guys liked this month's Battle of the Bands Rewind Profiles, and hopefully this series will return next year, saying that someone holds a new local battle later in 2017! That's all for today, but stay tuned for more news and previews as this week rolls along! Thanks everyone!

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