Published May 06, 2016After quietly gaining momentum in the music blog world, Halifax-based producer Ryan Hemsworth started Secret Songs in 2014, a quasi-label he runs to promote like-minded, grassroots artists around the world. Here in Calgary for a quick two-date stint in Western Canada, Hemsworth brought Secret Songs-featured artists Harrison and Ryan Playground to Commonwealth on a chilly Thursday night (May 5). It was decided, because of the news about the tragic wildfires in Fort McMurray from the past two days, that proceeds for the show were to go to Canadian Red Cross.
After local DJ ROY LT warmed up the small, early crowd, Toronto-based Harrison Robinson, who goes simply by the name Harrison, took the stage and quickly lunged into a set of electro-disco and funk. The hard-hitting tunes might have been better suited for an outdoor summer stage, but by his set's end, he'd won the crowd over.
They were plenty warmed up by the time Montreal-based Ryan Playground (née Genevieve Ryan Martel) immediately came on and launched into her brand of subdued, dark pop/R&B with twinkling, soulful beats. She mouthed the words to almost every song, including warped versions of Eminem, Soulja Boy and a super slowed-down version of Blink-182's "All the Small Things." Ryan Playground's set was rapid-fire and mostly hip-hop, which led nicely into the main act's set.
Despite the late set times on a weekday, the venue was decently full and brimming with hopeful energy by the time Ryan Hemsworth stepped onstage at 12:30 a.m. Hemsworth isn't afraid to mix genres, collaborating with and remixing indie rock and R&B artists both well-known and unknown on his recorded tracks, and his live set is much the same. Rocking an Adidas zip-up, Hemsworth played his "Sorry Lol Version" of t.A.T.u's "All The Things She Said" from last summer's RYANPACK Vol. 2 mixtape, and the bright, child-like "Angel," a stand-out track from his EP with Seattle's Lucas.
After, Hemsworth's remix of Lorde's pop-hit "Ribs" and — keeping to the Blink-182 throughline of the night — his "Sees Aliens Too" version of "Feelin' This," the snapbacked and crop-topped crowd were fully into the beatsmith's set. Hemsworth finished the end of the main set with studio-faithful versions of "Surrounded" and "Snow In Newark," from his 2014 full-length Alone For The First Time.
Hemsworth's silky-smooth transitions, from his imaginative versions of popular hits to his original material, were admirable. Though not as energetic as a Friday or Saturday night might have been, Hemsworth spent the night jumping around and grooving along with the charmed crowd.
His two-hour set concluded with a welcome encore that included Rihanna's "Work," Torey Lanez's "Mama Told Me" and a perfectly cheesy rendition of long-forgotten Canadian classic "In Too Deep" by Sum 41.
For a middle-of-the-week DJ show, Hemsworth wrung out all the energy and stamina the crowd had until 2:30 a.m. No matter what your musical taste, Hemsworth finds a way to tease out the best in the songs he remixes, only to charismatically exhibit them for a welcoming audience.