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Congas, timbales, drum kit, trombone, sax, trumpet, bass, guitar, guitar

Those are the instruments that power the Big Sound of Vancouver's Five Alarm Funk



Tayo Branston, the band's (non-conga, non-timbale) drummer and vocalist, says that after 10 years together power remains the operative word.

"It has been quite the wild ride," he says.

"We started off small, as a three-piece playing in my mother's garage and just rocking out, like kids do. Over time, we talked about where we wanted the band to go and what we wanted to play. Funk and Afro-beat was really prevalent at that time, and it was an inspiration for us. The only way to get that truly big sound was by having a big band, (so) we decided to go that route."

Their wall of sound makes Five Alarm Funk a natural for events like the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, where they perform a free concert in Skier's Plaza on Saturday, April 19, at 4 p.m.

They're no cover band, Branston says. All their music is original.

"The music is where we hit our stride. We're 100 per cent a festival band. We love festivals; they're our favourite venues and events to play. If I could travel the world and play festivals for the rest of my life, I would be the happiest man on earth," Branston says.

Five Alarm Funk played in Whistler during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"We've played for 7,000 to 10,000 people during the Games, it was just a sea of people. What we've been shooting for in Whistler these days is playing less often but having a bigger impact," Branston says.

The current lineup includes Branston plus Gabe Boothroyd, Tom Towers, Carl Julig, Nimish Parekh, Neil Towers, Oliver Gibson, Damian Walsh and Kent Wallace.

"There are always a few mistake around our names or what instruments we play, it's really quite funny," Branston laughs.

Five Alarm Funk is in the process of recording a new album, which is due out in June, backed by a national tour.

 "This music is definitely different. It was written in a different way this time. A lot of older stuff we wrote as a big band, we'd go down to the rehearsal space and get a groove going. The horns would start playing and we'd say 'that works,' and it was longer process of writing where everyone was writing it," Branston says.

"For this album it was me, Gabe and Kent. We sat down and came up with a groove, then we'd write the horns for it, get a vocal part and record it in I guess what you'd call a ghetto fashion. You could hear the whole song and then we'd go into rehearsal with it. The band can play and then we'd dissect it."

Branston said the record became an experiment, based on a fantastical epic adventure story they came up with — a kind of concept album for a new era.

"It means the sound goes more towards a studio recording. We were doing a live kind of feel before. Now we've got this almost metal-gypsy kind of vibe. It's a big winding story of an album," he says. "We wrote these songs to coincide. It's a concept album in its roots, but if you listen to it you wouldn't necessarily know that. It was exciting to write and exciting to play."

Whistler can expect a high energy and magical event, he adds.

"The World Ski and Snowboard Festival is such a fun event. I know there's tons of other great artists and all the events, we're super excited," Branston says.

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