Last Night Toronto Calling
posted by February 27 at 12:24 PMon
Holy Fuck, A Place to Bury Strangers - Chop Suey
MSTRKRFT - Neumo’s
Chop Suey was dark and filled with smoke when I arrived two songs into A Place to Bury Strangers’ set. The first thing that struck me was that the trio was nowhere near as loud as I’d expected. I was expecting them to melt my face off, but instead I found myself able to casually carry on a conversation midway through the main room. For all the band’s noise and effects, and for all the attention those things get in their press, the core of their music is really pretty poppy—a sometimes noisy, sometimes shoegazy, consistently gothic mix of the Cure and Sonic Youth (and Bauhaus and My Bloody Valentine), simply catchy choruses and melodies emerging out of gentle washes of distortion or delay. The vocals were high and clearly audible in the mix. During the droning outro of one song, some crackling, electric static punctured the surface, the first hint of the band’s much-hyped but so far underused effects chain.
For the next song, a slow strobe lit up the fog, and Oliver Ackermann destroyed his guitar in disjointed slow-motion, swinging it around a mess of feedback. On the final song, “Ocean,” the noise finally peaked at the desired face-melting volume, erupting into high, squealing distortion. After their set, I overheard Ackermann talking to a fan about whether or not their band was “full-on ’80s goth.” APTBS is a little more ambitious and less anachronistic than that, incorporating as much instrumental noise as morbid (and, yeah, teen-angsty) lyrical mope, but the short answer is, yeah, they’re hella goth.
Toronto’s Holy Fuck were up next, and I was stoked to see them after having missed them at last month’s Super Furry Animals show. Their set began with some pinging sonar sounds, and it was immediately louder than A Place to Bury Strangers. The pinging gave way to a muscular motorik bass and drum groove, they adept rhythm section locked up tight while the band’s other two members warmed up their tabletops of electronics, pedals, and cheap keyboards. The next song added drum machine, fuzz bass, and vocal echoes and resonant chirps to the mix, with one of the hunching knob-twiddlers occasionally barking through a microphone and into some kind of delay.
Their mics were clearly not set up for clean signals—when they later paused to thank the crowd and talk about their last stop through town, everything after, “Thanks,” was more or less a garbled mess, as was everything after “Vancouver” when they tried to tell some anecdote about that town. For the next song, another mic provided stuttering vocoder vocals. The guy stage left pulled loops of magnetic tape out of some analog tape echo like taffy, occasionally turning a crank on the side of the machine, or else flossing the tape back and forth to produce almost-record-scratches. Their live rhythm section is incredibly hot, tight and taut in one place, loose and funky in another, casually shifting from propulsive stretches to cool breaks.
The band again and again built up these teetering, expectant moments that crested into seratonin-flooding breaks—it’s one trick, the central trick of so much dance/electronic music, but Holy Fuck totally nail it. It occurs to me that the band’s naughty name probably helps a lot of their fans get down with their more proggy and techy elements, but it’s the band’s stunning show that got the crowd dancing and bopping like total goofs (it was a joyously dorky dance floor). Looped 16th notes heated up into white-glowing noise, tinny tinkling turned into steel drums, the drummer switched from half to double time, backward synth sweeps and Future World synths mingled with strutting, walking bass lines. At times, it was like Tussle with more junk, at other times, it was like Black Dice or Wolf Eyes trying to make dance music, right down to the half-swallowed mics held in their mouths.
At one point during their closer, the gorgeous glissando-stringed “Lovely Allen,” the tape-tugging guy looked up across the table at his band mate, mouth agape, smiling, like even he couldn’t believe the awesome, triumphant sounds they were making. The crowd cheered them back out for an encore, a groovy jam that couldn’t quite eclipse “Allen,” but was fun enough on its own.
Down at Neumo’s, another brand of Toronto techno was representing. MSTRKRFT were on stage, spinning their song “Neon Nights,” openers on stage leading the crowd in a clap-along over the track’s squealing synths. And the crowd—damn! The all-ages floor was a near mosh pit towards the front, kids in neon shirts pressing up on each other, leaning over the stage, water bottles spraying everywhere (even on the DJ’s records), revelers grinning and clapping as the KRFTsman mixed in the vocal, “All I do is party.” Promoters, take note: these kids are pent the fuck up and ready to party (visions of the upcoming Justice/Diplo myspace music tour?) If you can find a way to make money from some all-ages new rave. Spent and satisfied from Holy Fuck, feeling a little feverish, and pretty confident that I could predict the course of MSTRKRFT’s fun but dependable tech-house set after having seen them twice before, I took off. We should’ve suggested both shows.