Red Deer hip-hop band Midwest Mindset has jumped from the Alberta bar circuit into the national spotlight.
The “empowering” rap group that plays with all-live instrumentation was selected into the Top 25 in the CBC 2016 Searchlight talent contest from 2,000 entrants from across Canada.
MC Travis Omen thinks it’s very cool to have been chosen the No. 1 band from the Southern Alberta region, including Calgary, where the group relocated two years ago for broader opportunities.
The judging panel (included CBC host George Stroumbouloupoulis and many music industry insiders), credited Midwest Mindset for crafting “empowering, thoughtful lyrics,” and for “playing with the (rap) medium and pushing it forward.”
The panelists loved the band’s “polished” mix of singing and rapping, as well as acoustic and electric sounds that are all created live on stage (instead of being pre-recorded).
Up to now, the Searchlight contest has been determined by on-line voting as well as judging scores, Omen noted his six-member group didn’t spend a lot of money for YouTube or Facebook ads to drum up votes. “We didn’t win the voting rounds… we were pushed ahead by the judging panel.”
Next week, the musicians will hear whether they get into the Top 4 of Searchlight. Since voting has closed, it’s now up to a new set of Searchlight judges — Maestro Fresh Wes, Sarah Blackwood of pop-folk band Walk Off the Earth, and Dallas Smith of country-rock band Default — to pick three finalists. (The fourth will be determined by vote scores).
The four finalists will vie for the $50,000 grand prize on a prime-time televised broadcast on CBC TV.
Omen hopes his group moves forward. But he believes Midwest Mindset is already benefitting by getting more social media attention from the contest. The band’s debut album, 1313 (named for a lot of ‘lucky 13s’ associated with the group) was released last summer. And Erasing My Mind, the first single, is getting played by college radio stations across the country as well as by CBC Radio.
Midwest Mindset was formed in Red Deer in 2011. Omen, who had graduated from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in 2007, got together to create music with his long-time school buddies, MC Danny (Epic) Atsbaba, and DJ Ben “Official” Larsen. They were joined by local guitarist Berkley Roth and keyboardist Jared Buote, as well as drummer Jordan Swanson of Lacombe.
Bringing various musical influences, ranging from punk to old-school rap, the six began collaborating on original material. “It all starts with the beat. The music pretty much determines that the song is going to be,” said Omen, now 27.
The band’s tunes tend to be inspired by either the personal or the political.
Erasing My Mind, with its video of televisions being smashed, takes a swipe at unrealistic media images that cause dissatisfaction. The song ends with a twist: “erasing my mind” becomes “embracing my mind,” which is about self-acceptance.
The next single, with a music video expected out at the end of the month, is Footsteps. “Without sounding too cliché-ed,” said Omen, it’s about starting on a positive path.
Midwest Mindset performed all over Red Deer before group members decided they had gone as far as they could in the local music scene and needed to expand their horizons in Calgary. But Omen and the other musicians regularly return to their hometown to play for fans, friends and family members.
“We have a soft spot for Red Deer,” he said. “We always get a great turn-out.”
The next local show by Midwest Mindset is at 9 p.m. Friday, June 10, at Bo’s Bar and Grill. There’s a $10 cover from the venue or Ticketfly.com