Freeze Brain Experimental Music Festival

Freeze Brain Experimental Music Festival
Reviewed Aley Waterman

There’s something entirely copacetic about a 1-day-long, experimental music festival in Corner Brook Newfoundland in the dead of winter, a town where the overall vibe falls somewhere between spooky Twin Peaks-core and whimsical natural sublimity. If you’ve ever driven in from the east, that final 15 minutes of twisting road, river, and jagged rock carries something of the haunting, meandering quality that experimental music often plays with, a tension between journey and destination that is easier to feel than explain.

The festival, organized by Scott Sheppard and the other folks at 62 Broadway (a new and exciting Corner Brook community arts hub started by Nigel Jenkins), ran an afternoon event at their headquarters, followed by a night show at local brewery Bootleg. Following the success of warmer counterpart Wash Brain Festival this past summer, the day consisted of live musical performances and interactive artworks, including a full room transformed fully into a conceptual Ice Cavern, an installation run by LAWN (League of Artists of Western Newfoundland). For the afternoon event, people sat rapt for live performances by Umbrella State Broadcasting (U.S.B; Jeremy Wills), Loopstitch (featuring violinist Kate Read and sound engineer/artist Michelle LeCour) and It Could Be Franky (Danielle Hamel), three 30-minute sets that felt cohesive and original. First Umbrella State Broadcasting (U.S.B) filled the room with walls of avant-garde noise, intricately weaving atmospheric soundscapes with occasional dark, low and echoing vocals and watery effects that sounded like dropping heavy rocks in a pond, or running up the stairs of some ancient temple, offering an otherworldly urgency to the set that fully entranced listeners. Loopstitch had more of a verdant woodland sound that felt entirely honed and dialed, and It Could Be Franky added a vibrant, pop sensibility to the afternoon with songs full of upbeat, expressive melodies and intricate electronic backings. 

Between sets, people of all ages walked around the recently-renovated space, which used to be a weed store but has since had an artful makeover (and now works well as a live performance venue, office, and, well, hub, which I hadn’t really thought of conceptually before its opening but it’s true that hubs have their own thing going on). People filtered into the Ice Cavern, a space ship-esque room awash with blue light and fully decorated in shining silver thermal blankets, to make their own metallic artworks. On a big screen next to seating, an animation of the words Freeze Brain darted around, accompanied by the festival’s mascot, a skull that is also a snowman head, equal parts cute, weird, and spooky. The Cloud Factory, a not-for-profit contemporary arts organization, installed an interactive projection artwork, where people could pour oil-based and water-based materials into a tub and swoosh them around as they projected onto the musical artists.

At 10 pm, Freeze Brain After Dark started with Loopstich’s second set, followed by Wite Rino, the Corner Brook-based energizing/danceable electronic pop duo consisting of fun buddies Aaron Rex and Joe Fowler, and a final set by It Could Be Franky, whose unflappable expressive performance with energy bordering on mania, was a standout, as she managed to give lead singer energy while also, impressively, controlling the rest of the music on a laptop and playing a keyboard. A fresh take on a Belle and Sebastian cover got the full bar of spirited listeners going, and I repeatedly spilled my drink from bopping around. 

All in all, it was really nice to see a spark of energy run through the town for the weekend, not only as an opportunity for community glow in an admittedly bleak month of endless snow and early dark, but also because it’s nice to see experimental music be made accessible in such a way, a genre oft-defined by opacity and avant-garde singularity met with a warm inviting atmosphere, an engaged audience, and a lovely balance of pensive and danceable musical sets. Fully sold out both times, Wash Brain and Freeze Brain are gaining traction and will certainly happen again, so follow @62broadway on Instagram or visit their website to stay informed about future festivals.  

Aley Waterman is a writer of fiction, poetry, and music from and living in Newfoundland. Her first novel Mudflowers was published by Dundurn in fall of 2023. She has had work appear in Border Crossings, Brooklyn Review, Bad Nudes Magazine, the Trampoline Hall Podcast, Riddle Fence, and elsewhere.