Pigeons & Planes: No Ceilings Toronto – In Conversation

ZEE: Back in April, we had the opportunity to check out Pigeons and Planes’ No Ceilings tour in Toronto. It’s a big deal because I’ve always wanted to go see a No Ceilings show but I’d have to go all the way to New York.

JAM: Yeah, it was a big deal. I mean, by this point everyone knows that Toronto’s music scene has taken off in a way that no one really expected. And because of that, there are so many more opportunities to experience new showcases. Like No Ceilings, in this case.

ZEE: People have become much more familiar with the music blog, Pigeons and Planes. It’s a blog I’ve been following for maybe five years now and a constant inspiration and resource to Careful. So it’s cool we’re able to go in-person and see what their upcoming artists have to offer.

JAM: But the whole thing was really unexpected. I think the lineup speaks for itself. We actually got to the venue a little early, and as we were sort of waiting outside, Kaiydo showed up. You actually had a pretty cool moment with him.

ZEE: I asked him what’s up, and his response was, “I didn’t know they knew me up here.” It was surprising considering that on the blogosphere these guys are huge. But in person, people don’t really know their faces yet.

JAM: I think that’s also a testament to how we get trapped in filter bubbles. Because online popularity obviously isn’t representative of popularity across the board, and that sounds like a really simple observation, but it’s easy to forget the more time we spend online. It was really cool to see Kaiydo genuinely surprised that anyone knew him at all.

ZEE: It’s what makes No Ceilings such a great platform for these artists.

JAM: Anyways, we later met these two guys from Kitchener, who told us that they were on their way to the Earl Sweatshirt before finding out it was cancelled. Instead of making the trek back home, they decided to come to No Ceilings. They were really big fans of Boogie, who was originally supposed to have a set, but lost his passport and didn’t make it into the country. You actually went over to them to break the news, right? How’d they take that?

ZEE: It shows the resiliency of music fans. Boogie disappeared from the bill and when I let them know, they were cool about it. They were just interested in checking out the showcase and having a good time. I find that really impressive considering when fans come out for a headliner, and the opener doesn’t fit the same genre of music, they can be disappointed.

JAM: So the show itself started with Kemba, and if anyone reading hasn’t heard of him, you should check out Negus whenever you get the chance. I think it’s one of more refreshing mixtapes of the past few years, and Kemba’s such an eloquent performer. After every song he did an acapella verse — I’m not familiar enough with his work to know if those bars appeared on other projects. Damn, he can rap.

ZEE: I first heard of Kemba when Kendrick Lamar brought him out for a big show last year in New York. When Jamaal brought Kemba up to me, he made sure to give me the highest expectations you could possibly have for a new, young rapper. He said Kemba’s Negus, was somewhere between Kendrick Lamar’s, Grammy-award-winning, To Pimp A Butterfly and Kanye West’s Yeezus.

JAM: In all fairness, I think sonically it does live somewhere in the middle. His command of imagery, the industrial/jazz blend, and his boom-bap delivery makes Negus a very striking project. It was a grand comparison, but I’d like to think that by the end you could at least see the similarities.

ZEE: You were quite optimistic but I see where you’re coming from. I checked out the project the day after because I really enjoyed his performance. It was captivating, and he’s very flexible. The intro has Kemba singing over a serene instrumental, presenting the throughline of this project. The next track has him celebrating the successes of Black people underscored by the kick of some war drums. I can now see why you made these comparisons. I’m glad he lived up to it. If he didn’t, I’d be very disappointed.

JAM: I’d be disappointed if you were disappointed.

ZEE: Kaiydo was the act I was most excited about. I was in love with his song, Fruit Punch. It was on loop for many many hours along with the handful of tracks he dropped around the same time. It was enjoyable, it was fun, it was colorful. I loved it. When he got on stage, accompanied by what we believed to be a raft but turned out to be an inflatable Kaiydo sign, we knew we were in for a fun time.

JAM: Yeah, I just remember them bringing out what looked like a tarp. Then he connected it to a pump, and when it blew up it was his name. That, in a lot of ways, set the tone for his performance. It was very in line with the type of music he makes. I’ve told you before that Kaiydo’s singles didn’t leave as big an impression on me as they did for you, but having seen him live, I’m really excited to see what he does next.

ZEE: It’s also important to note just how exciting these first two acts were, especially because they’re both fairly young. It’s so early on in their careers and they’ve both resonated with us respectively. When Kaiydo’s on stage, looking kind of shy to perform, getting dry mouth, repeatedly grabbing his water bottle because of how nervous he is, it’s amazing to see an artist actually swayed by how much pull their art has on the audience. By the time Kaiydo’s set was ending, the crowd really started pulling in. They were able to catch Kaiydo’s new song which may or may not be named by an audience member. Now if Kaiydo sticks to that, we don’t know, but it would be cool if it turns out that way because we were there for that story.

JAM: I think what we saw with Kaiydo and Kemba, and what we’d also see with the next act, Michael Christmas, is that they’re not desensitized to their fans’ deep connections to their music. Michael Christmas’ set began with a story about the last time he was in Toronto, in which there were only three or four people there to see him, and they all stood in a corner. But for No Ceilings, the venue was almost full. You could see how much that meant to him.

ZEE: This was my first time actually diving into Michael Christmas’ music. I’ve heard the name, I’ve heard a few features, but it wasn’t until the show when I realized how personal his music can be. It was a bit self-deprecating. He goes through his day and he talks about the highs and the lows. He acknowledges that we experience both. It felt like his music could be the score to our day. I also thought it was adorable how excited he was that fans showed up and that there were tons of them. And a lot of them knew the words. A lot of them even did the ad libs with him! There were some great back-and-forths between Mickey and the audience, and it was super fun. It was a great way to experience his music for the first time.

JAM: And I think, to your point, even though his music is very personal, his set wasn’t any less energetic. I mean, he did that song, “Not the Only One,” which like you said is a mellow, intimate look at the mistakes that permeate our day-to-day lives. I remember him describing it as a song for when you’re pouring out cereal and totally miss the bowl. But the way he performed it had people jumping up and getting wild.

ZEE: Yeah, considering the songs are very personal and kind of dreary at times, it was fun. Everyone was wildin’ out… and there’s a very good segue into our next artist: a semi-surprise local act, Tasha the Amazon. Tasha was originally opening for Earl Sweatshirt, who cancelled earlier in the day. This is really cool of Tasha to come out to a much smaller venue and still perform. Tasha probably had one of the most energetic sets I’ve encountered in my life. That includes a lot of people wilding out more and Tasha feeding drinks to everyone. Not even just to the front of the crowd. People were happily circulating for free booze. It was orderly chaos.

JAM: What made Tasha’s set really special was that this was her first Toronto gig in a while. When the Earl show got cancelled, she wasn’t sure if she was going to be performing at all that night. But she got a last-minute call inviting her to perform at No Ceilings, and her passion and gratitude really showed. Again, that seemed like the central theme of the night.

ZEE: For a homecoming show, this was as good as it gets. Tasha recognized familiar faces in the crowd and would engage with the audience on a personal level. It seemed like a lot of them came out specifically for Tasha on short notice. She brought Cola of The OBGMs on stage to perform. It’s great to see just how wide-spanning and interwoven the Toronto arts community is becoming. It felt like a warm moment when old friends were able to celebrate each other’s success in their city. Shout outs to Pigeons and Planes!

JAM: Which is funny, because River Tiber and Charlotte Day Wilson had a homecoming show late last year that felt similarly warm and celebratory. So many of these artists now have a platform that didn’t exist only a few years ago, and it’s a remarkable thing to witness.

Zee: As a showcase, we’d say it’s a success. We had four very different artists, even with Boogie on the original bill. Judging from the audience’s reaction, everyone enjoyed the music. There was something about it they could be drawn to and celebrate in this space. Kemba, Kaiydo, Michael Christmas, Boogie, and even Tasha the Amazon, have very different styles, very different attitudes. They’re very different people. Yet music fans can converge on the show, not just in Toronto, and enjoy great music.

JAM: It’s maybe a little disingenuous to say that the crowd that night was microcosm of hip hop audiences as a whole, as the people who come out to No Ceilings still comprise a very specific audience. But even so, I think that night demonstrated that the genre’s listenership is, now more than ever, immensely receptive to a musically diverse conception of rap. And accordingly, it’s so gratifying to see shows that span multiple sounds and perspectives and styles.

Zee: I think we need to give it up for the all the people curating shows. When you’re sandwiching different artists together, fans don’t necessarily have to be there for a specific one; we’re there for the experience of live music. I think it hits us differently because we get to discover new music with material we may already like. We’re huge fans of Red Bull Sound Select and the artists they’ve brought together; both local and international. Curated shows have become a place for different artists of different disciplines to come together and create something further; from live music to future endeavors.

JAM: And seeing that I mentioned filter bubbles earlier on, I should say that these shows represent one potential way of enacting change and breaking down those barriers in real life. That these types of shows are becoming more popular is very telling for the future of of rap.

Zee: And for all of music, at this point. I sort of see these like musical pop-up shops. People are dropping by Toronto just to test the waters with their artists, pairing them with local artists, and bridging the gap between the two. So hopefully there will be more  in Toronto. I know this is still fairly early in it’s lifespan but I’d love to see what these pop-ups are capable of, and what artists they can match up, and to what extent this collaboration is. We have brands like Red Bull and Adidas bringing artists together for songs, bringing people together for live music. Just bring it to Toronto so we can check it out.

JAM: And if they don’t at least we have this.

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Photos taken by Ziyaad Haniff.