Ever since trolls relocated to fetid corners of the internet, beautiful things can happen beneath bridges.
For 14 years now, the annual House of PainT festival has been bringing the beauty of hip hop, in all its forms, to the spaces under and around the Dunbar Bridge in Brewer Park. This year’s festival, which runs Aug. 24 to 27, will bring more than 200 artists to the site for DJ and MC performances, dance and — the art form that started it all — graffiti.
“I think our venue is one of the most unique places in the city for something like this,” says general manager Sami Elkout, of the bridge and the park, which are nestled between Old Ottawa South and Carleton University. “We’ve been hosting it there since we were allowed to paint, and it was really set up as a celebration of being able to present art like that. We’ve just constantly tried to improve it.”
The festival begins Thursday with the OG 500 poetry slam at La Nouvelle Scene (333 King Edward Ave), and the DMC DJ championship at Kinki (41 York St.)
The dance schedule begins Friday as attention moves “Under Dunbar Bridge.” In addition to the usual dance competitions in “breaking” and “popping,” this year’s HoP includes the Ottawa debut of the Bazaar Dance Showcase.
“This is very much focused on the choreography side of dance,” Elkout says, of the annual bazaar that was founded in 2008 in Toronto. “We have groups that are going to be performing five, 10, 15 minute pieces that they’ve created and are looking to showcase. Usually we have the dance competition. This is not a competition format, this is just a sharing format.
“We have groups from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa and the Yukon who are going to be performing choreography dance sets on Friday night. We really wanted to show that dance is more than the freestyle stuff that you’ll usually see in the competition, and really give credit to people who are putting on those kinds of performances.”
Saturday has more than 12 hours of dance, music, poetry, visual art, food, competitions and showcases beneath the bridge, including a 9:15 p.m. set with Ottawa’s world-renowned Souljazz Orchestra.
The festival wraps Sunday with another full day, including, the festival website says, “an array of amazing skill-building and thought-provoking panels, workshops, talks and classes, including a keynote address by the (Canadian DJ) A-Trak,” during the Knowledge Conference in the Seeds Tent.
The Seeds Tent, Elkout says, is about “workshops for all ages” and “planting knowledge. It’s about pushing the next generation of youth in all that.” The Knowledge Conference is “an opportunity for artists to develop themselves professionally through workshops, as well as discussion panels and keynote presentations, from some of the artists who are involved in this year’s festival, and people in our community.”
The headliner among those artists is A-Trak, a Grammy nominee who’s toured with Kanye West and been a force in EDM for 20-odd years. A-Trak leads a long list of performers taking to the stage, starting at 3 p.m. Overall, the lineup ably demonstrates the diversity of hip hop in ways that are rarely seen in more commercial outlets.
“A lot of stuff that’s played on the radio is not the best representation from time to time, so I think with our event we really have the chance to showcase stuff in a different light,” Elkout says. “We’re really trying to shift that so they understand it’s bigger than that, it’s a bigger culture than that. There’s a lot more depth to the community, to the artistic side of these things. We really try to give people the opportunity to experience those moments first hand.”
A weekend pass for House of PainT is $45 plus fees ($30 youth), though day passes are available, and the Saturday festival and dance battles are “family friendly” and free admission. Tickets and more details at houseofpaint.ca.