20 past and present Calgary bands you should know

by Mark Teo

July 24, 2013






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We love you, Calgary.

The Calgary Folk Music Festival kicks off this week and we’ll be there to catch Kurt Vile, Sandro Perri, and many others. As such, we have Calgary on the mind, and, most notably, some of the varied, under-appreciated, and downright excellent bands that have emerged from the depths of the city. (And no, that’s not a flood joke.) While many Calgarian musicians have made a huge impact in other locales, plenty of talent has stuck it out in Southern Alberta’s small, but rock-solid, scene.

Here are 20 bands you should know—and, love them or hate them, that plenty of Calgarians have an opinion on. Calgarians, ex-Calgarians, or Calgary fetishists, feel free to drop bands we’ve missed in the comments.


KJ Jansen, singer of Chixdiggit!, is Calgary’s most celebrated punk dad. And why not? Though he’s mellowing out in Cowtown now, his pop-punk band (who were part of the first gen of Canadian acts signed to Sub Pop) took him across the world. They’re currently signed to Fat Wreck, too, which means that Jansen and co. are likely the Calgarians most likely to have visited Fat Mike’s creepy, urine-caked sex dungeon. Elsewhere, if you’re into the intersection of power-pop and pop-punk, The Mandates are not to be missed.

The Dudes

The Dudes, led by Danny Vacon’s iconic, scraggly beard and Pittsburgh Pirates cap, are the ultimate Calgary band: Their soul-inflected, punk-tinged indie rock has become synonymous with the city, even if they’re never received loads of recognition outside of the west. Active since the mid-’90s, The Dudes remain the kings of the self-described Radtown (or Palgary, to some), and the distant relative of the van-fetishizing, Thin Lizzy-worshipping circles that have developed in the city—including Vacon sideproject HighKicks, Napalmpom, and Chron Goblin.

The Hot Nasties

The Hot Nasties weren’t only one of Calgary’s first-wave punk bands—they were arguably one of their best, period. I was obsessed with the above 7-inch, and for good reason: They were part of the ’77 cohort that predated the punk’s eventual strict boundaries. Bandleader Warren Kinsella’s now a spin man for the Liberal Party, though if you badger him enough on Twitter, he’ll surely recount tales of his sketchy past at the Calgarian Hotel. (Note: Read AUX producer Sam Sutherland’s story about Calgary first-wave punk—some of which made its way into his book, Perfect Youth—right here.)


Depending on who you ask, chameleonic post-punk act Women—led by the uber-distinctive, uber-influential guitar playing of the since-passed Chris Reimer—are the best band to ever emerge from Calgary. (His much-missed musical abilities can also be heard on Gold’s Losing Your Hair EP, which was recently cut on Mammoth Cave Recording Co.) For good reason: 2008’s self-titled LP and 2010’s Public Strain are obsession-worthy masterpieces, deserving of their place in the Can-music canon.

Chad VanGaalen

Internationally, Chad vanGaalen might be one of Calgary’s most recognized exports, at least among the indie-rock set. For good reason: His deft songwriting has always managed to merge the accessible with the avant-garde (and check the above vid for proof). He deserves credit, too, for cementing Flemish Eye Records‘ place in the national music conversation—and that label has, and still does, serve as a Calgarian ambassador to the country.

Small Town DJs

In Calgary, Smalltown DJs are known for their legendarily excellent nights at the The HiFi. But internationally, they’ve also played fistfuls of international festivals—from SXSW to Shambhala—and have a weekly residency in Las Vegas, which, for Pete Emes and Mike Grimes, means a heckuva lot of travel. Here, Calgary’s finest party bringers.


Woodpigeon’s Mark Hamilton has spent time living in Austria and Scotland, and accordingly, his band is yet another high-profile Calgarian export. Throughout Woodpigeon’s career, they’ve cut diverse records varying from cerebral, orchestral fare to quivering, stripped-down folk—and the outfit has housed some of Calgary’s most beloved musicians, from Foon Yap (of Foon Yap and The Roar) to Kenna Burima (who’s been in countless other projects).

Forbidden Dimension

Even if you’ve never heard of Tom Bagley, you’ve likely seen his artwork—his illustrations grace Chixdiggit! album covers, vegetarian cookbooks, the pages of local alt-rag Fast Forward Weekly (where AUX contrib / Grown-Ups loboto bruh / my best BB boy Josiah “Pigpen” Hughes works), and countless concert posters. His horror-punk band, Forbidden Dimension, has been kicking around since the ’80s, and were, for a stint, signed to the powerhouse Cargo Records. They’re distinctly spooky, distinctly campy, and slot in well with like-minded locals like the mega-raspy Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir.


And, at the recommendation of the aforementioned Josiah Hughes, PMMA is a thrilling up-and-comer in Calgary. Check the above vid—it’s druggy, dark synth-punk with Danzig vocals. It needs to be heard to be believed, and their demo is wildly good.

Huevos Rancheros

They’re the instrumental surf band that scores literally every ’90s alt-rock memory held by every single Canadian. You know Huevos Rancheros, even if you don’t.

Dragon Fli Empire

Calgary’s hip hop scene has plenty of prospects, but arguably, the city’s most beloved band is Dragon Fli Empire. Using a delectably jazzy backbone—DJ Cosm seems like an undeniable student of the genre—the band became known for their positive, thoughtful, and occasionally hilarious style. Also: another Calgary rap act deserving of your ears is Blist.


We love what the Modern Math and Close to Modern folks (see: the AUX-approved Boogie Howser) are doing in Calgary—their approach to experimental beat-based fare is a breath of fresh air to a city best-known for their country and uber-earnest rock ‘n’ roll. Sanctums—consisting of Evangelos Typist and Dan Solo—are Modern Math’s first release, and their glitchy, hip-hop influenced ambient is a wonderful harbinger of things to come.

Hot Little Rocket

Hot Little Rocket’s reputation: They were an explosive live band. And it’s easy to see why—big, big riffage combines with shout-a-long vocals, combining into an amalgam that, even while observing a YouTube vid, sounds sweaty.

Jean Sebastian Audet

The perpetually 16-year-old J-S Audet has long been considered Calgary’s best-kept secret: Here, a wunderkind who could pull off any musical concept he dreamed of, from the incredible lo-fi pop of the The You Are Minez, the guitar assault of Faux Fur, to even the Odd Future-style rap of Zouk Fuck (above). He collectively makes us feel old, untalented, and then really, really old.


If we’re talking ’90s alt-rock, Calgary’s biggest contribution to the national musical conversation was “Andromeda.” No, not Zuckerbaby. “Andromeda.”


The Summerlad were a band whose legacy was tough to define: They evolved from alt-rock songwriting into meandering, more experimental compositions, and arguably, they all made it work. They were also a notable name of local label Saved By Radio, who put out records by celebrated local oddities like Jay Crocker, Ghostkeeper, and legendary producer Lorrie Matheson.

Consonant C

The Consonant C’s scrappy-yet-fey take on orchestral pop never ceased to delight, but it’s also worth noting that this song shouts out Azeda Booth, whose nuanced, experimental laptop fare also isn’t to be missed.

Jann Arden

Calgary folks love to remind us that Jann Arden doesn’t actually live in Calgary, but out in the sticks orbiting the town. Fair enough. But the “Insensitive” singer is forever embedded in your national rep, guys, so deal.


Yelpy, squawky, and energizing, SIDS were one of the Calgary bands I’d only heard based on reputation. Still, the band’s legacy continues to evolve: Jesse Locke plays skins for The Ketamines (and had previously toured with Dirty Beaches), guitarist Craig Fahner plays in Pittsburgh-Calgary project Feel Alright, keyboardist Sarah Ford is pursuing a comedy career in Toronto, and bassist Brady Kirchner now performs with the Mandates. (Who, as previously mentioned, we totally love.)

The Cape May

The Cape May produced pensive, complex not-quite-folk that birthed some surprising projects: Singer Clinton St. John took his literary penchant into a solo career, while Jeff McLeod launched a dirgey, Fugazi-inflected band called Hook & Eye.

Tags: Music, Lists, News, Calgary, Chad VanGaalen, Chixdiggit, Forbidden Dimension, Huevos Rancheros, Jann Arden, The Hot Nasties, Warren Kinsella, woodpigeon, Zuckerbaby






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