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The Best Things We Saw At Rifflandia 2023

Split into two weekends, the Victoria festival boasted a diverse lineup of icons old and new.

by Ryan Hook & Ben Boddez

Photo by Jordan Chatten

Two weeks and six days of music later, and we’re yearning to be back among the chaos and excitement of Rifflandia. The Victoria, BC-based festival known for its truly unique lineup pulls, more than 80 musical acts and over a dozen comedians took over the city’s downtown core for six nights, first at the 19+ EDM-flavoured and neon-coloured Electric Avenue street party and finally in the open air of the all-ages main stage at Royal Athletic Park. These are the highlights from both weekends.

Weekend 1: Electric Avenue

Run the Jewels

Run The Jewels (Photo: Lindsey Blane)

This was the first weekend of the newly expanded 6-day festival—and according to Rifflandia, the festival hit its highest attendance on record. The festival reported 8,000 people on site Saturday, a single-day record for Electric Avenue. Our guess as to why? Run the Jewels. 

The Grammy-nominated trap-rap group, consisting of Atlanta’s Killer Mike and Brooklyn’s El-P, felt like the headliner of the whole weekend. The duo, and the crowd, were celebrating a decade of Run the Jewels this year, and this was their only Canadian stop. The tag team launched into an hour-long set of politically-charged hip hop. At one point, Killer Mike said he was about to read some new poetry, only to laugh and launch into ‘ooh la la.’ For fans of Run the Jewels, it was a night to remember. 

Run the Jewels hit hard—and thanks to Splifflandia (a one-of-a-kind on-site weed delivery service) everyone seemed to be hitting something—which the duo took note of, commenting on the festival’s “4-20 friendly” nature. The irony, as Killer Mike pointed out, is the fact he still has a hard time at the border because of weed (apparently, he tried to bring some in).

Read our interview with Killer Mike here! 

Big Night

BIG NIGHT (Photo: Zenon Kai)

Farthest from that stage, The Dome stole the night—and hilariously only listed one act: Big Night. That’s exactly what it delivered—despite the weekday booking. The Dome was a stage tucked and surrounded by a large jungle gym structure, a stone’s throw away from people huddled into the Camel-sponsored smoke pit and the beer tent (did I mention this was definitely a +19 event?). 

Big Night managed to pull Jesse Roper out from his Metchosin farmland for a solo, and Ollie Happyness from Victoria band Downtown Mischief grabbed his best mushroom hat to deliver some spacey guitar over funky bass music.

The Cult of Paris Hilton

While her DJ skills may not have been fantastic—that’s not what Paris is here to do. There’s a culture around the Hilton hotel heiress. It’s pink, it’s big, and it’s got a vocal fry. And that’s exactly what Paris brought to Rifflandia’s Electric Avenue: the vibes. For over an hour, Paris launched into every nostalgic 90s to early 2000s banger imaginable—from Nirvana and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, to Flo Rida and Lil Wayne. She’d grab the microphone and slay, and yell out classic Paris Hilton-isms, like “That’s hot,” or “Slivin’.” And she was self-aware too: at one point, after a DJing mishap, she joked that yes, she does actually mix and DJ live. After her set, she was gracious with her time and spent 20-30 minutes taking pictures with fans.


Comedian Julia Hladlowicz performs as part of Lafflandia. (Photo: Lindsey Blane)

Between all the bass music, Lafflandia was a great reprieve amidst a sensory-loaded weekend. Hosted by Victoria comic Dan Duvall, the small pop-up comedy club—with a red curtain and all—was a great chance to catch Victoria comics like Patricia Ellen, Dylan Williams, and Emily Woods. 

EDM crowds are, well, a lot sometimes. So, it was impressive for these comics to take a hyped crowd, such as this one, and calm them down long enough to provide a gut-punching set of original jokes night-by-night. 

The Drone Shows

Drone projections at Rifflandia Festival. (Photo: Laura Harvey)

From Chris Lake to Paris Hilton and Run the Jewels, each had one thing in common: a drone show. Rifflandia hired Pixel Sky Animations, which decorated the sky above the mainstage with digital imagery from 180 drones on each of the three nights. It was a marvellous addition to the already amazing visuals on Electric Avenue’s main stage. Truly, there was no bad seat in the house, and we can thank the Rifflandia production crew for that. 


Weekend 2: The Park

Marc Rebillet

(Photo: Laura Harvey)

Some call him Loop Daddy—his parents call him Marc. The finest purveyor of outlandish off-the-cuff, improvisational music hit the main stage at Rifflandia in full force. Starting the show in a branded Rifflandia robe—only to end up in his (and someone else’s) underwear, bra, and panties, Rebillet ran through an onslaught of electronica-funk which would get him so hyped he’d crowd surf, stop the show to comfort a crying child, take suggestions from the audience, and question why adults would be enjoying the show. 

“Did I see someone that wasn’t a kid enjoying this music?!,” he yelled to the vibrant Rifflandia crowd. “Adults—sit this one out. This is for the kids!” While literally saying that, we’re taking it more figuratively: Rebillet made us feel like a kid in a candy store.

Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop (Photo: Lillie Louise)

He’s still got it. Even the kids were having trouble keeping up with the godfather of punk. At 76-years-old, Iggy Pop still commands a crowd like he did in the 70s and exudes an energy only a frontman could. The man has crowd work down to a science, and like a conductor, Pop ushered the crowd through over an hour of his punk poet catalogue: “Raw Power,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and “Lust for Life,” to name a few.

In classic fashion, Iggy was shirtless, gyrating, dancing, and rolling on the floor, although the classic “The Endless Sea” gave him (and us) a chance to take a breather. The moshing was to a relative minimum, save a few middle-aged men. But the crowd was receptive to anyone who dared keep up the stamina with the punk poet. 

Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples (Photo: Tom Power)

While this year’s Park Stage was filled with some living legends – like the aforementioned Iggy Pop and Herbie Hancock, whose jazz piano skills were something to behold live – the festival’s oldest performer at age 84 truly showcased why Rifflandia’s bio of her included a quote from Stax Records’ Al Bell: “All respect to Aretha, but she’s no Mavis Staples.” 

Bringing a level of personality that was just as big as her iconic, raspy belt, full of enough soul to shake her entire body, Mama Mavis came prepared to soothe her vocal cords with a mug of tea emblazoned with her own name and got a round of laughs when she accosted the technical difficulties plaguing most of the weekend by emphatically exorcising Satan himself from her malfunctioning microphone. 

Staples delivered quite a few songs with an enduring message of social justice, which were all the more poignant coming from a woman who was a major voice in early civil rights movements and broke out at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival – otherwise known by many as “Black Woodstock.” 

Melanie C

Melanie C (Photo: Tom Power)

Paris Hilton wasn’t the only titan of pop culture unexpectedly taking to the turntables at Rifflandia, as the organizers somehow blessed Royal Athletic Park with the presence of a Spice Girl on short notice. Taking the spot vacated by Afrobeats star CKay, who dropped out unexpectedly only days before his set, Sporty Spice’s arrival made for what was easily one of the most surreal, abundantly fun sets of the entire weekend. Although Diplo took up residence in the festival poster’s upper echelon, Melanie C genuinely fired the crowds up even better – mostly due to her eclectic mix and the cheeky faces she was making while building up to some well-timed drops.

Mixing up aspects of Spice Girls tracks with both bass-heavy tunes dominating the EDM festival circuit and left-field pulls like “Mambo No. 5” and System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” – which was hilariously and oddly masterfully blended with Charli XCX and Tiesto’s “Hot In It” at one point – Melanie C often left her DJ booth in order to pull off some classic girl-group dance moves to the rapturous response of the audience. Closing out with a singalong of “When You’re Gone,” her duet with Ontario’s own Bryan Adams, Melanie C certainly demonstrated the kind of star power that once made her one of the world’s most famous people. 


Salt-N-Pepa (Photo: Lindsey Blane)

If you were in the park as early as 2 pm on Saturday to catch one of the earliest acts – local veteran singer-songwriter Lindsay Bryan, who killed it in her own right – you’d already hear the lasting influence of the First Ladies of Rap. Bryan closed her set by expressing her excitement for the duo, leading the crowd in a chant of their Grammy-winning, proto-feminist anthem “None of Your Business.” 

Warming up the crowd with “Can I Kick It” worked wonders before Salt-N-Pepa took the stage, preparing listeners for a set full of old-school hip-hop that simply functions differently than most of the rap shows you might see on a platform as large as the Rifflandia main stage today. Meaning, Salt-N-Pepa were the consummate MCs – there was little ego involved, and it was a lot more about having fun than looking cool. Supporting each other with ad-libs (“Do you got a good man?” “No, I DON’T” stood out during “Whatta Man”), Salt often punctuated her syllables with a powerful kick.

With some of the Park’s only pyro displays accompanying the ladies blazing through all of the hits – Pepa ran off stage to grab a sparkly hat for “Push It” – they signed off by thanking the crowd for keeping them “alive and relevant for 38 years.” It was a meaningful sentiment for a weekend where the crowds got to witness so many history-making festival rarities.