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Rifflandia 2022: ARC Stage Spotlight

Meet the graduates of Music BC's new artist incubator program.

by Johnny Papan

Photo by Natasha Dion

Rifflandia Music Festival returns to Victoria, BC Sept. 15 to 18. With headliners including Lorde, Charli XCX and BBNO$, the annual multi-genre festival is back in full form. Part of what makes this west coast destination festival so exciting is the discovery element, and one place discovery will be thriving is on the newly minted ARC Stage.

Featuring participants from Music BC’s new artist incubator program, these 15 emerging BC artists will be performing over the course of the festival’s three days.


Bridal Party’s sound harvests the essence of a dreamy beach-lounge. It’s bright and soft, danceable, yet chill. The type of sound that will have you bobbing your head as you melt into a velvet couch. Tracks are poetic in both a lyrical and compositional sense. 

“I tend to write very personal things using language that makes things visual and can mean more than one thing. It’s kind of the way I process the world,” says vocalist Suzannah Raudaschl. “Hopefully you have a good time listening to the music, but if you really take a minute to listen to it you might cry,” adds bassist Lee Gauthier. 

The dreamy five-piece indie rock group are heading into Rifflandia with a slew of new tracks from their upcoming album Cool Down, which drops on September 23. Together for over seven years, the band collectively agrees that this will be their most mature release to date. 

“I really wanted to be sympathetic to the other instruments,” says guitarist Joseph Leroux. “There are times where the guitar shines but also there are times where I think ‘what colours are already here? How can I help embellish the other rhythmic instruments?’”

“I think our new album is more sophisticated than the other stuff,” adds keyboardist Jordan Clairmont. “We tried to ground ourselves with this record.”

It’s clear that the band is not only maturing in sound, but maturing in their process. Cool Down was made with a purpose in mind, to be more than a simple collection of songs. There is intention put behind each track and how each instrument compliments each other. 

“It feels like until this next album it felt like we were making just for us,” concludes drummer Adrian Heim. “Now we’re thinking of our audience more and trying to make music that’s more fun and easier to connect with. Stuff you don’t have to think too much about.” 



The poppy multi-genre duo spearheaded by vocalist Dacey Andrada and producer Justin Tecson smack you like a glass of flavourful liquor-spiked fruit punch. Their music personifies youthful angst fuelled by heartbreak. Their most recent release, “Stepmom”, tells the fictional story of a woman who casts revenge on her elusive crush by developing a romantic relationship with his father.

“Although ‘Stepmom’ is just a stupid song that isn’t about anything in real life, a lot of our songs are personal,” says Andrada. “Songwriting is just letting out my feelings, it’s like a diary everyone gets to read. We write about our feelings, our environments, what’s going on, what we’ve done. Lovers, inner struggles. I tend to write about addiction which has been a main theme in my songwriting. I’ve grown up around addiction and I’ve struggled with my own vices.” 

Taking elements of hip-hop, indie, soul, R&B, jazz and more, most songs contrast upbeat, danceable instrumentations with dismal and sometimes vengeful lyrical themes. Alternatively, the group will also contrast cheerful lyrics with melancholic musical arrangements. 

“I love that juxtaposition because they kind of balance each other out which makes it kind of empowering,” says Andrada. “This is gonna sound so cliche but listening to songs like this are so comforting because it shows you’re not alone.”

“When I’m feeling down I listen to sad music. I know some people feel it’s not a good idea, but I like it so maybe other people will too,” concludes Tescon. 



Desiree Dawson’s soulful sound masterfully blends emotions of comfort and empowerment. Her soothing voice is often harmonized with an angelic chorus of backup singers overtop calming piano or guitar melodies. It’s no surprise that Dawson has already received prestigious recognition that includes: winning CBC Searchlight, performing at the Vancouver Folk Fest, becoming a juror at the inaugural Black Canadian Music Awards and receiving a JUNO Award nomination. 

Most recently, Dawson won Best Music Video at SXSW for the title track of her latest EP, Meet You At the Light. The song is an intimate tribute to her passed grandfather, inspired by one of the last photos they have together. 

“The song was meant to be a gift for my family. I never intended to release it,” Dawson explains. “The fact that some people came up to me to say the song helped them through their own grief… was simply amazing.”

Despite her impressive career thus far, Dawson gives off a down-to-earth, humble vibration. She is not shy to admit that she is still an evolving soul, using her music as a tool for empowerment of not only those who listen, but herself. She claims songwriting is a key for her own self discovery. 

“A lot of this journey has been about being true to myself as an artist,” Dawson says. “It’s about being authentic and empowering my community.”



This indie-pop three-piece’s name perfectly encapsulates their sonic output. Like glass, the group is transparent in their lyrical exploration, which follows the fading romance of vocalist Abby Wale and keyboard/vocalist Nick Owen. 

“This project kind of came together from the emotional standpoint of relationship experiences. You can see through the arc of our songs that there’s a bit of a backstory between Abby and I,” Owen says. “The first couple songs are about being in love, going through this journey, this magical kind of spiritual awakening. As you keep listening through our music you’ll notice the songs kind of take a bit of a turn and we address the aspects that come after the relationship ends and continue the relationship in a different way.”

“Every song just speaks about a different part of life,” says Wale. “Different emotions, different feelings, different vibes. I think feeling one way about anything is not realistic and talking about these things through music helps us get through it.”

It seems as though their euphoniously mellowed and atmospheric sound shifted with the emotions of Wale and Owen through their breakup. 

I am constantly adapting how I write music. I let my subconscious guide me, which is directed by the experiences that life throws my way,” adds bassist/beatmaker Stephen Clarke. “As Nick and Abby’s relationship changed, the bed of sounds in which their voices rested shifted subtly as well. I could definitely feel the emotional energy change. It’s as if they were more sensitive, while also being careful to not offend each other during such a delicate writing process.”

“To say it was easy would be a lie,” Owen concludes. “Writing songs about breaking up with someone… with the person you broke up with… is not something people typically do but I think it’s a unique opportunity to get both sides of the story. You really get how both parties are feeling. It is challenging but I think it’s a beautifully honest representation of the full story arc of a relationship.”



R&B artist JJ Adrian discovered his love for music singing karaoke with his family during childhood, performing songs by the likes of Celine Dion, Backstreet Boys and N*Sync, but that was just the beginning. 

Patience plays a key role in Adrian’s musical career. While childhood saw him hold a karaoke mic, young adulthood eventually found him working with and receiving mentorship from industry legends Stevie Wonder and Kara DioGuardi. Now, Adrian is getting set to release his debut record As Soon As I Can, an album four years in the making. 

“It feels like a new beginning, like I’m rising up from the ashes after a tough couple of years,” Adrian explains. 

In the process of making this record, Adrian was forced to persevere through many challenges including breaking his hand, nourishing a long distance relationship and turning down an unfit deal from one of the world’s biggest record labels. 

“There’s a theme I explore on the record, and that theme is time. I think time is such an attractive thing for me because with time, you have to develop patience. The album is called As Soon As I Can because there’s a difference between saying ‘as soon as I can’ and ‘as soon as possible.’ ‘As soon as possible’ means to get things out as fast as possible. `As soon as I can’ means I’m waiting until I’m truly ready. I think time is such a valuable teacher. I think good things come to those who wait.” 



Kimmortal is a non-binary filipinx artist and rapper growing a strong following for their defiant social and political activism, powerful stage presence and diverse musical range. Mixing elements of hip-hop and spoken word with pop sensibilities, Kimmortal aims to be a voice for their generation and efforts have not gone unnoticed. To date, Kimmortal has received recognition from CBC, Breakout West, Polaris and their song “Sad Femme Club”, from the 2019 album X Marks the Swirl, got a shoutout from endeared U.S. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. 

“I am honest in my music. I feel like I have a fire,” they explain. “I do all kinds of vibes in my music. Empowering vibes, emotional vibes, sexy ‘I have a crush on you’ vibes. I’m really true to my experience.”

Although the conceptual and transcedental artist is known for their strong, anti-authoritarian fuck you attitude towards the modern social and political climates, especially here in Canada, Kimmortal isn’t afraid to show their vulnerable side, as is showcased in their latest track “K I’m Mortal”. 

“I wrote that track when I basically had a huge crush on someone. At the time I was in mental turmoil,” they say. “I really wanted to connect with someone but I had my limitations and I kept wanting to run away. The song is just like ‘K. I’m mortal. I’m gonna fuck up but I’m gonna keep trying.’ That song is like a hand on my heart saying ‘Hey, it’s ok. You’re gonna die one day so just, like, chill out.’”



This lo-fi R&B duo from Fernie, BC expels somber sonic vibrations with every track. Recording all of their work in a furniture warehouse out in the Rocky Mountains, the team of Canadian-born vocalist Sean “Chilli” Yunus and United Kingdom multi-instrumentalist Barry Jenkins eclectically take their pain and use it as fuel for something they love. 

“There’s pain in our music, that’s a reflection of what we’ve been through as people,” says Jenkins. We’re taking a complex mix of emotions and putting them into something tangible that we can experience. We’re pulling these invisible feelings into the music.”

“Sadness is a familiar emotion,” Chilli adds. “I felt a lot of sadness in my life so it’s comfortable in some ways. It’s shaped who I am. I mean, I’m fine, but the experiences you go through shape you as a human being and that is reflected in your work.”

It’s clear that Chilli and Jenkins are riding the same wavelength. They connect through their struggles and expel those emotions into melancholic audio frequencies.

“I feel like I feel a spectrum of emotions while I write. As a human, as a man, I always feel a lot all at once,” says Chilli. “When I’m writing I usually just feel the drive to create. I love art and I love our art. The love for that art is a different kind of love. Pure unadulterated love.”

“We feel like we have to keep creating,” Jenkins concludes. “We never had this kind of magic with someone else. We can just be vulnerable and create.”



Matt Storm has always felt like an outsider. Moving to various countries during his childhood, Storm always found himself being different from those around him. While living in Pakistan at 13 years old, Storm discovered his love for music and playing guitar, finally finding a sense of home in his life. 

“I think we all have feelings that we’re alone in this life and this crazy world that we don’t understand,” Storm says. “Art is something I can really lean into.”

Storm’s latest release Like An Old Tree in the City, finds the bluesy singer-songwriter coping with experiences from his life. He says the title is a reference to being unnoticed in the world. Trees provide us a fundamental need for human life, the air we breathe. However, in a busy, bustling city, trees are often ignored, blended into the noise as if almost non-existent. He compares this to, at times, the feeling of being an artist.

“Art is something you just do for your own well being,” he concludes. “Sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of modern society but people do art for different reasons. Life does not make sense and at its core we’re always searching for meaning.”



Mikey Jose’s mix of R&B and pop sounds both nostalgic and fresh, earning him global recognition. Locally, Jose has opened for international superstars, playing sold out shows at venues as large as Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre. There’s a very soulful overtone to Jose’s voice, influenced by his experiences going to Church. The overall vibration of his music feels uplifting, though lyrically, he is introspective. 

“A lot of my songs discuss things that I feel are underexplored. I look at it like digging dirt from under a fingernail, exposing things that really matter to me,” he says. “But a lot of my songs are also just fun and love-filled. At the end of the day I just want to make people feel something. Make them feel like they’re not alone in anything they’re experiencing.”

An interesting trait that separates Jose from most artists is his bridging of art and neuroscience. Jose is currently writing a PhD about the power of music in medicine, a journey inspired by his own family. 

“I have had members of my family with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurological diseases. It’s amazing to see the impact music has had on them,” Jose says. “My grandma would sometimes not even remember my mom’s name but when we played songs that elicit joy or happiness she would start dancing, tapping her feet, and even recall memories that she had forgotten about. I have so many questions about how music is able to do that. I think art and science are a continuum and really inform each other. My music experiences growing up informed the questions of how music has been so impactful to my life and the life of the people around me.” 



Missy D elegantly mixes rap and soul into an uplifting sound. Confidence is the core of Missy D’s musical venture. Born Diane Mutabaruka, the Missy D “character” was greatly inspired by Missy Elliott. Elliott inspired Mutabaruka  to be unapologetically who she is, something she admits she is still working on. 

“I think Missy D is the best version of myself. It’s who I want to be at all times,” she says. “I usually try to separate those two worlds but I know I can be bold, I can be courageous, a community member. It’s not that I necessarily want to keep Missy D separate but I just… turn it down. Hopefully incorporating more Missy D into my everyday life will help me be more confident walking into any room, getting over that imposter syndrome.”

Mutabaruka says she originally separated Missy D from herself partly because of her job, but also as somewhat of a defense mechanism. She wanted to make sure that people liked her for who she is, not the character she portrays on stage. But then again, the character is her creation, an extension of who she is. With that in mind, Missy D is and has always been Diane Mutabaruka. 

“The ideal balance comes in being confident in any space and knowing I do belong because at the end of the day, Missy D or not, it’s still me. Missy D has the same spirit, Missy D has the same heart, it’s the same thing.”



When jazzy pop-artist Nicky Mackenzie was cast to perform on season one of Canadian reality music competition show The Launch at the age of 16, she got a swift behind-the-scenes look at how the entertainment industry operates. Though she wasn’t chosen to continue in the competition, judges praised Mackenzie’s skill at her young age, leaving the young woman feeling confident. 

“I’ve always been super attracted to the razzle dazzle of it all. Obviously that was a very intense experience,” she laughs. “I was really young and didn’t know who I wanted to be as an artist. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing getting to sing on TV in front of Julia Michaels.”

The experience opened many doors for Mackenzie. She was getting calls about show bookings, festival slots and other opportunities that may have not come so quickly otherwise. After the television appearance Mackenzie continued to focus on her performance and songwriting, eventually releasing her debut album Honeydew in 2018. Now, it seems as though Mackenzie is evolving her sound.

“Chasing the game has always been what’s kind of driven me. But I think the thing that really drives me is chasing the feeling,” Mackenzie concludes. “Music is so wonderful, there’s something about it that just extracts any type of feeling and can also make you feel anything. That’s what I wanna do, make people feel things. To get kind of spiritual, it’s like a connection to source energy. Music feels the most real. It’s the most real window into who you are.”



To fully immerse in the multitudes of Indigenous rising star Nimkish is to honour the past, look ahead to the future, and bask in the resplendent present all at once. The Vancouver-based marvel-in-the-making is fearless in her lyricism, confronting anti-Indigenous racism and colonial violence alongside other hard subjects like anxiety, grief, and heartache. To the great tradition of singer-songwriters healing through their music, Nimkish brings a bright-eyed aim to flourish in all she has experienced. 

* This bio was taken from a recent press release.



The progressive indie-rock group consisting of members Tega Ovie, Georges Nasrallah, Steven Lin and Cam Wilks are making it a point to push the boundaries of their genre, exploring a variety of styles, structures and ideas in their eclectic and diverse sound. 

“A lot of modern music is very formulaic. It’s all predictable, we’re seeing it in indie music too,” says vocalist Tega Ovie. “When something becomes popular it becomes easily replicable. We’re trying to bring in more of the core elements that made indie music unique in the first place, tapping deeper into jazz chords and odd time signatures, things like that.”

“There is an element of progressiveness to our music,” adds guitarist Georges Nasrallah. “Whether it’s lyrically or structurally, or technically, we’re always exploring.”

The group’s 2021 EP Clustered Umbrella certainly packs a lot of exploration in only five tracks. Tunes flow from bright, upbeat indie rock to bluesy bops and psychedelic landscapes complemented by the intricate infusion of violin in every track, a unique choice that deepens the group’s individuality from others in the indie-rock genre. 

“That’s the idea behind the name Post-Modern Connection,” concludes Ovie. “Postmodernism is a movement that rejected all the older forms and structures of art. It’s saying ‘you know what, we don’t have to do it this way or that way.’ It’s about doing what we feel works best. It’s about not limiting yourself to a particular style or form.”



Pop artist Serena Sun wears her heart on her sleeve. Her Spotify bio simply reads “Hey, thanks so much for being here. Writing is my therapy. I hope these songs are as healing for you as they are for me.” Her warm energy is matched with an openness to speak about her experiences, including those that are dark and painful. One of her latest tracks, ‘Body’, openly talks about taking her power back after being sexually assaulted, a secret she held onto for many years, holding onto shame, guilt and self-blame. 

“In my case it was a friend. I was close to him, I trusted him, so it’s easy to blame yourself because you think ‘How did I not see it? How did I not see the signs that he would have done something like this?’” she says. “With ‘Body’ I really wanted to empower those who have shared similar experiences,” she says. “This song is meant to talk about something serious but also uplift people. It’s been healing to release this song and finally get a chance to talk about this.”

Sun confirms she is working on new music covering a range of topics including mental health, breakups and other encounters journaled through lyrics. As Sun evolves, it seems her purpose does as well. Sun hopes her music can be a means of comfort for listeners who share her experiences.

“I definitely started out making music just for myself and to express exactly where I was at,” Sun concludes. As I progressed people started reaching out to me saying my songs were relatable to them and made them feel heard. I’ve always had the intention to be as aggressively honest as I could be so those who hear it would feel something. I hope it’s a good thing for them.”



Adulthood can be dealt with in many ways. For 21-year-old indie-pop multi-instrumentalist Zoey Leven, she uses music to cope with teenage nostalgia and the awkward drags of growing up. 

“Entering adulthood has been kind of crazy,” she laughs. “Graduating high school was a big moment for songwriting, so was graduating music school. Moving out of my parents house was the biggest one lately. Now there’s like taxes and paying bills. If music isn’t paying the bills, you have to make sure you have enough time for it while having a day job. Luckily, I’ve had a great support system so It’s not like I’m writing from this dark, dark place. I mean that works for some people but for me it’s more of an anxiousness, but there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel. ”

Songs like “Closer,” “Messy,” “Somebody Else,” and the recently dropped “I Feel Like A Loser” shows maturity in Leven’s songwriting output. Raised in a musical family, Leven has been playing music in some capacity as early as three years old. She expresses gratitude for having support from her family, not only when it comes to her music career, but her personal life as well. Leven came out as gay in high school. 

“It’s nice having a place where you can be yourself, you don’t have to hide it,” Leven explains. “Going into the music industry I wasn’t sure if I should be like, super out in the open about or not. I didn’t want people to listen to my music solely because I’m LGBT. Obviously that’s a part of who I am and that’s a great way to connect but at the end of the day you want it to be about the music. I am very lucky to be where I am, Vancouver is a very accepting place and the music community is as well. Coming out has been universally positive.”

Leven concludes with some advice for up and coming LGBT artists: “The music industry can be hard at first and a little intimidating. Seek out like minded people and make connections. Having that support can make things a lot easier. Every industry has its issues and not everyone you meet is going to be 100% cool with it so you really have to navigate that and not let it bog you down because eventually you will find your group.”