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Calgary Space Punkers Bridgeland Build Motorik Mazes

The quintet of veteran musicians descend with songs that sound like ominous dreams.

by Khagan Aslanov

There is a fundraiser that Calgary’s indie music festival, Sled Island, puts on almost every year called the Rock Lotto. The set-up is as simple as it is intimidating. Musicians sign up, names are drawn out of a hat, and then the randomly-assembled bands have 12 hours to come up with a 20-minute set-list. Results can vary, but if a documented account of these mutant coalitions is ever made, Calgary’s own Bridgeland will stand front and centre as one of its most fruitful and natural convergences.

“We had a sound instantly,” Bridgeland’s formidable frontman Chris Zajko tells RANGE. “Now we just needed to write the songs.” 

It’s in that sound, which lightly brushes shoulders with acts like Genesis P-Orridge, Alan Vega and Adrian Borland, that Bridgeland plant their feet and somehow find a niche that is all their own.

The quintet formed in February of 2020, and then, like so many music stories of today, the pandemic hit and everything ground to a sudden halt. Bridgeland took full advantage of their prolonged gestation stage; jamming, writing and preparing. Now that the world has re-opened, the group is itching to get out there and play as much as possible.

For Zajko, Bridgeland also represents a release from past obsessions. After a decade and a half of carving a place into the local scene, he no longer seeks to project the sound of his musical heroes or present himself as an author. Bridgeland is a four-piece puzzle, with songs built on the inimitable interplay between its members, and a focus that seems as cohesive as it is natural: writing a groove, stretching it to see how far it can go, and then re-compressing it into a five-minute shudder.

The band isn’t afraid to throw it all into the mix and see what emerges. Bassist Danny Baker and guitarist Dylan Gibbs both work as rope access high-rise window cleaners, and Baker describes the two hanging off opposite sides of a building, listening to playlists that include everything and anything from old and new: Aphex Twin, Gustaf, Scientist, Chastity, and more. Those gluttonous listening habits show results. Krautrock, prog-punk, industrial atmospherics, viscous synths, noise sampling, narcotized tape loops, touches of trap and doomgaze, and deep dense dub all find a place in Bridgeland’s spacey, elastic workouts. It’s an all-consuming listen, one that only grows in reach, decibels and menace at their live shows.

To locals in the know, Bridgeland’s eclectic pedigree is well-known. Its members’ past and current projects have included The Ostrich, Witch Victim, Melted Mirror and even Paisley Haze and the Weathermen Underground. Zajko, Baker and Gibbs, along with drummer Tomas Lobos and synth player Jamie McNamara, have dipped their toes into everything, from psych rock to electronica and countless genres in between. All of it has culminated in Bridgeland.

For a group of people who have been around the scene long enough to have paid their dues, there is little jadedness or contempt to be found here. Unlike many of their contemporaries, both in the mainstream and underground, Bridgeland see little point in a generational ‘us vs. them’ mindset. They adore the openness and access that young kids have to music, and think that the virtual world only makes live shows all the more intoxicating and vital. They are also old enough to have seen the punk scene buckle under the weight of white male anger in the hardcore era and beyond, and the diversity and inclusion that courses through the scene today has suddenly made their own city seem warmer, like the haven these strange, singular, introverted kids always craved.

“Young people from the audience sometimes come up to us and tell us that they were super inspired,” says Zajko. “And then we’re at a show and we see their new band and they inspire us. That’s my favourite thing.”

Bridgeland release new album, Automate, on July 9, 2024