by Eric Smale | photos by Eric Cairns
Having gone into CMW with the sole purpose of seeing as many bands as possible, we spent a lot of time jumping from venue to venue, looking for that awesome new thing with a fairly clear idea of where to find it. Wednesday night proved to be one of the easiest and steadiest nights of the week. But then again, it’s only Wednesday.
MTT, Netherlands, at The Painted Lady
The early days of Canadian Music Week were off to a good start with MTT, a synth-pop band from the Netherlands, at The Painted Lady.
The band has a distinct ’80s vibe, similar to the moodier side of Depeche Mode, but there’s also a more contemporary side to their music, vaguely reminiscent of Deep Cuts-era The Knife. The performance itself was brooding and energetic, hitting a balance between electronic soundscapes and pop immediacy.
LIINKS, Victoria, BC, at the Gladstone Hotel
LIINKS is a collaboration between Georgia Murray and producer/DJ DWhiz. Murray’s passion for music was quite obvious as she tried to inspire the nearly empty ballroom into a little dance. Murray’s vocals are gentle, overlaid with clean solid beats from DWhiz. Having played a few of their own tracks and a Lana Del Rey cover, LIINKS seem to have a little something for everyone in the room.
From the cover song to some slower, indie vibe tracks to the most recent, “The Break”, each song seems to dabble in a different genre lacking overall band focus. All things considered, however, LIINKS’ most recent collaboration with Datsik on Let It Burn and the very possible future hit “The Break” seem to be an indicator of their new solid direction. We’ll stick around and follow these two through because if they keep going on the new found ways of clean synth pop/trip-hop with a touch of dub they will make waves.
CON VOS, New York, at the Drake Underground
CON VOS is a New York based project of the New Jersey hip-hop duo Fortunate Ones and Irish folk singer Sorcha Richardson. The music they make is a kind of mellow hybrid between pop and hip-hop, with retro-leaning ’80s production courtesy of Genetics.
CON VOS took to the early evening stage for a small, attentive crowd and kicked off the evening with their laid back, melodic sound. With Richardson musically and physically front and center for most of the songs, it’s fair to say that she (along with onstage producer, Genetics) is the dominant presence in CON VOS. The two MCs, flanking the singer on both sides, stood completely motionless with their balaclava-clad heads down for the majority of the set, each one coming to life only for their individual verses. The effect was striking, especially at first, as Richardson’s voice draws the audience in until the rappers become suddenly animated, interrupting the smooth, beat-driven lull.
While the individual musical elements worked fine, something about the overall performance seemed a little disjointed, which in all fairness could have been due in part to the low energy crowd. It could also be that CON VOS just haven’t quite found that magic recipe for their musical fusion yet.
Yeo, Melbourne, at the Gladstone Hotel
After sidestepping some technical difficulties with good humor, multi-instrumentalist and producer Yeo took to the stage, accompanied by a drummer on an acoustic/electronic hybrid kit.
All the way from Melbourne, Australia, Yeo makes music that is difficult to classify, using a mixture of electronic instruments, sequenced sounds and live accompaniment to create a shifting pop tapestry. From deep synth tones to funky basslines and soaring keytar solos, Yeo’s live set infused a palpable, human energy into his brand of emotive electronic pop. Songs like his recent single “Kobe” came off surprisingly well on stage, but given Yeo’s obvious instrumental chops, it’d be nice to see his detailed production skills deconstructed even more in future live sets, perhaps with a full band.
BROODS, New Zealand, at the Drake Underground
Down the street at the Drake, Auckland’s BROODS took the stage for their highly anticipated set. This brother-sister duo is in perfect sync in a perfect band relationship. While their music might seem somewhat sad on record, when they play live the darkness of their lyrics comes alive in an incredibly cheerful way, mostly due to Georgia’s bright and cheerful personality.
The overwhelming energy bursting from the stage evolved the originally dark “Coattails” into an anthem song, the kind of track you make big decisions to, while marching into…well, wherever it is these new decisions take you. The room, filled from corner to corner, danced, cheered, clapped, and whistled, there was no shortage of fluttery to go around. If anything is an indication of talent, it’s live show success. These two are undoubtedly a band to watch.
Slaughter Beach, Denmark, at The Dakota Tavern
Slaughter Beach are a band from Denmark that play hazy, melodic guitar rock with vaguely psychedelic undertones. Mining sounds as diverse as ’60s pop and ’90s indie experimentalism, their music is a dreamy, nostalgic collage, borrowing from the past, but rooted firmly in the present.
Leisurely taking the stage, the band opened with their debut single, “Made-Up True Love”, a brilliantly lo-fi song built on a bed of melodic, interlocking guitars and a great, sampled beat that sounds like it’s been excavated from a dusty box in your attic. Distant organs and old keyboard sounds abound, creating a warm sonic foundation that the band’s pained, sweetly androgynous vocals and sunny melodies push off from.
Throughout their set, I was reminded of bands like Deerhunter, Tame Impala and The Bends-era Radiohead, guitar bands that manage to somehow convey something new and vital the old-fashioned way, through emotional songcraft and inventive arrangements, while relying mostly on that tired old six-stringed tool so often pronounced dead on the scene. This is music that feels like it was borne from genuine chemistry, from the unique dynamic that comes from five different people actually playing together in a room.
The band seemed perfectly at ease and nonchalant about the whole thing, running through their set at their own relaxed pace. It was a breath of fresh air in an evening dominated by colder, more synthetic sounds, electronic solo fliers and enough backing tracks to make you wonder exactly what it means to play live music in 2014. Here’s to hoping that they stick around.