Unsound at Luminato in the Hearn Generating Station


Loooook! Rocks!

In art, industrial spaces in disrepair are not new. There’s nothing left to wring from either the glory-of-human-progress, man-vs-nature thread, and the globalization-made-this-rubble anti-capitalist critique is so played out, the concept itself ought to be in a museum. And yet, wandering among the enormous hulking I-beams in the decommissioned Hearn Generating Station in Toronto’s port lands, hired and lit up for Luminato by European music presenters Unsound, I felt roughly the same way I did wandering along the Cleveland Dam in Vancouver, or looking down from the CN Tower for the first time: damn, that’s really big, and people made that, not nature.

Loooook! Rocks! And lasers!

So much for theory. I wouldn’t necessarily give the act of putting abstract electronic music in a big empty building the Turner Prize, but that doesn’t make seeing Robert Henke’s Lumiere II in an awe-inspiring space any less worthwhile.


Bringing in a performance involving lasers was an inspired choice for the venue; a little dry ice for the light to play off before hitting the screen heightened the anticipation, despite whatever comparisons to Cirque du Soleil it may also have invited. The music was, it has to be said, less inspired. Henke is certainly no slouch in the electronic production department, having written more software than most producers will ever use. But while techno and its offshoots don’t need much in the way of melody to move a crowd, the bar is higher in experimental/’listening’ music. Personally after living through the IDM thing, and having given far too many hours of my 20s to wilderness-years Autechre records, my feelings on extended metallic-sounding percussion workouts are about the same as a classic rock morning show host’s – indifferent, bordering on hostile. Still, I expected to like Henke’s performance anyways, and I’m surprised by how much I ultimately did. He’s an inventive programmer, and the interplay between the visuals and the beats was perfectly hypnotic. A series of fuzzy shapes flitting across the screen gave me a feeling of being on a merry go round, or looking at a rave siren revolving away, while rumbling bass prodded insistently at my insides like a nutritionist asking me how many carbs I eat in a day.

Lumière No 6 Excerpt II from Robert Henke on Vimeo.


I’m really glad I didn’t give up on the piece after its first few minutes, either, because the middle section managed to grab me and pull me back in with – wait for it – melody. Sounding like a piano’s strings being plucked, the second act made the Hearn space feel even more like a haunted house, a place where ghosts mourn their passing by throwing huge, post-corporeal-form raves and screenings of Blade Runner. It totally lived up to the potential of the evening, and I was swooning.


The side-room event, Ephemera, was more confusing, mostly in a good way. I’m not going to spoil it for anybody with too many details, but let’s just say that it takes place in a smaller, windowless space that purports to use smell (curated by “conceptual perfumer” Geza Schoen, whose business cards must be a hoot) as well as visuals by Marcel Weber a.k.a. MFO and sound by Tim Hecker. I enjoyed the post-apocalyptic disorientation of the visuals, felt the music was below Hecker’s usual standards thanks to some fairly aimless noise-drone sections, and couldn’t discern the smell part at all. Worth the extra $10, but not for claustrophobes. Nuff said.

Throwing events like these are hard, finding the right act for the room is harder, and using the space properly is harder still. It wasn’t quite an unqualified success, but Unsound Toronto was really exciting in ways I didn’t anticipate, and I would love for it to be an annual thing. Hint hint: Bitchin Bajas. Make it happen.

Unsound Toronto continues June 20 with Morton Subonick, Ben Frost, Atom TM and more. Click here for details.

Field Day: Day 2

Aaaand it’s time for Day 2 of Field Dayapalooza. (Still can’t believe they rejected my name suggestion. Assholes.)



I don’t think I’ve seen a band who look more like they were put together by a committee to revive classic rock since maybe The Black Crowes. Hey everybody it’s the next Kula Shaker!


The number of levels on which it was fabulous to hear the Ha dance blaring across the field would break your calculator. That makes it hard to describe why Nguzunguzu’s set was a bit disappointing. Sure, there was enough bass to put a hole up in yo neck, and you’d have to have a broken leg to keep yourself from getting down to beats like his. But my suspicions about some of these Night Slugs style drum workouts was confirmed by his (and his unnamed co-dj’s) set: it’s too dry. Tracky tracks are fine if you’re fucking with them and bringing different sounds into the mix, but if you basically just play them straight, the crowd don’t quite know what to do. It’s like some sort of interminable intro to them. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for them, but that place is probably not a dance tent on a very rock-oriented day of a festival. (Top t-shirts: 1. Pixies. 2. The Smiths. 3. The Brian Jonestown Massacre. WTF, I know.) Anyways, after a valiant head-nodding effort, I made my excuses and left.

Nzungunzu 1

The Horrors

So, I was wrong. The Horrors’ new album is a stadium rock masterpiece. I just had to hear it in a stadium sized space to understand. There’s something about that epic sweep that feels particularly earned when it matches the space, and Faris Badwan is one of the most magisterial front men of the modern era. Honestly I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how epic their set was. Look at the pictures, amuse yourself at the tightness of Faris’ pants, but otherwise I got nothing for ya. You had to be there.

Faris 1

Horrors 1

Horrors 2

Future Islands

I had no idea that Future Islands were a) American and b) basically a synth pop act fronted by Glenn Danzig. The singer cut a very Rollins-like figure, flexing in his black t-shirt like a hardcore singer who wandered into the wrong rehearsal studio by mistake. And yet, it kind of worked; cuts like “Caesar” couldn’t have been pulled off by the likes of Morrissey, at least not without the influence of steroids injected straight into his jugular as a pre-show ritual. Maybe not the most conventional approach to the genre, but not unwelcome, either.

Future Islands 1

Future Islands 2


I’m biased because I saw them with Kim Deal earlier in their reunion cycle, but it felt very much like the kind of headliner choice where the promoter knew they needed a name to close the show, and they didn’t especially care which one. The vibe was of a band taking the money and running, possibly aided by the preponderance of hits (“Wave of Mutilation,” “Velouria,” “Debaser,” “Bone Machine” etc) and the new stuff felt half-hearted at best. It was a bit like watching Simpsons reruns: pleasant, nostalgic but not worth staying up late for.

Pixies 1

Pixies 2

Until next time, sports fans.


Field Day: Day 1

Field Day Sat

London’s Victoria Park never looked finer than when it played host to a very solid lineup of electronica artists, many of whom I had never seen before. Read on, intrepid festival-watchers (and forgive my camera-phone pix).

Gerd Janson

Epic beard, epic sound, limited crowd. But a few bongos and some spacey disco edits don’t go astray at 2 in the afternoon. Also notable: he was spinning vinyl. However I suspect he was really looking forward to his set at the after-party. Not that we were spared the smoke machine.

Gerd Janson

James Holden live

I feel reasonably convinced that James Holden’s modular synth wizardry is already the best thing I will see all festival. It didn’t start out that way. Nothing sends chills down the spine of a grizzled jazz vet like walking into the dance tent to the sound of an auto sax player jamming to a “funky” beat played by a drummer in a bad hat, with a bit of synth squall unintelligibly roaring in the background. Horrible memories of fusion gone rancid soon left, replaced by some Deutsch rock throb, with Holden’s eurorack setup unleashing a full band’s worth of noise, arpegiatted melody caught in an infinite regression and the sax player actually fitting in for once. (He’ll be kicked out of the overplayers’ union, I’m sure.)

James Holden 1

Even a laptop malfunction that sent Holden scurrying backstage seemed to fold comfortably into the show, like a long drum solo that builds anticipation for the inevitable roaring finale. Holden was a pro through it all, grinning boyishly as the crowd clapped their encouragement. So far, so very very fucking good, Field Day.
James Holden 2

Omar Souleyman

I admit that my scheduling was a bit short on the hedonistic fun-o-meter but Omar Souleyman made up for it. Dec ked out in traditional Bedouin garb and sunglasses, despite the dark tent, Souleyman and his keyboardist – an adept synth performer, putting plenty of melody and feeling into his playing via some expertly controlled pitch bends and octave popping – got the party started.

Omar Souleyman 1

Omar Souleyman 2

The lack of a band wasn’t really an issue; Souleyman worked the stage like a pro, measuring every gesture to elicit the maximum crowd impact. And the tunes from his latest, Wenu Wenu, went down like a shandy on a hot day. (I noted the albums producer Four Tet getting down to the rhythm at side stage. Along with what I think was his mum? Cyuute.)


Oneohtrix Point Never

There’s that inevitable exodus of all the hot girls whenever someone like Daniel Lopatin announces his presence by emitting a volley of unconscionable noise. Amazingly, his set survived, and perhaps even thrived, thanks to his inventive textures, able Veejay providing flickering echoes of David Lynch-esque landscapes and freak 3D-rendered creatures being distended and torn before our eyes. There’s also his mastery of extreme volume – at times it.felt like a noise show and an ambient set flipping in and out of focus like two TV stations jockeying for the same frequency. And it was a lot more fun than I’m making it sound. Seriously, I would say Lopatin is doing for melody what Apex Twin did for drums, if it didnt make me sound like a pretentious asshole. (Too late.)

Oneohtri Point Never

Blood Orange

Dev Hynes can sing. He can also play guitar, damn well, and his band is formidable. But be honest – it’s all a bit Terence Trent D’Arby, isn’t it?


Evian Christ

After a quick chorizo sandwich and a not so quick queue for a Red Stripe, the train arrived at the set of this very talented, very young, and mercifully very American dj. I say mercifully because I hadn’t realized how much I needed to hear some cussing over trap beats (it had been several days) until that handsome white-t-clad gent started rapping along to a storming Weezy verse and I suddenly felt the bass hit me somewhere in the back of my throat. He showed some dexterity by dropping a couple of his own, distinctly hard and dry riddims, such that I saw the women in front of me convulse slightly. But when he dropped a fresh Young Chop beat there were right back with him. Sweaty trap party, yes please.

Evian Christ

Todd Terje

I was promised a live set, dammit, and all I got was this not lousy DJ set with cuts from his album (“Delorean Dynamite”) as well as some tasty disco selections. But where were the cascading keyboards, the odd-timed drum freak outs, the interminable bass solos? Nowhere to be found. Maybe Danny Brown had borrowed them. Few spinners are as adept at reading the crowd as Terje, and fewer still have crates as deep, which made his set pleasurable despite the crowded environs and the tilt towards deep house. If anyone’s going to go there, Terje is uniquely placed to do it, and while I was slightly sore about the lack of a live PA I can’t complain about the conflagration of fine sexy ladies in the RA tent that he brought. When in Field Day, do as the girls with the flowery dresses do.

Todd Terje

Until tomorrow, Vic Park…

Crowd Shot

Review: A$AP Rocky, Wiz Khalifa and more, Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto, Aug 10 2013

I tell you what: whoever booked the Under The Influence tour was on harder stuff than weed. You won’t find a stranger collection of MCs on a single tour this year, maybe this decade. I imagine the promoter’s short-term memory was so challenged that they forgot who they had booked while they were in the process of running down the confirmations; truth be told, the eclectic mix worked out fine because depending on who you were there to see (or not), there were ample opportunities to duck out to feed your monkey of choice, whether it be smoking, toking, or in my case, swilling a massive $15 Molson Canadian that I actually had to grip with two hands. Read on after the jump to find out which rappers drove me to drink, literally.

Continue reading “Review: A$AP Rocky, Wiz Khalifa and more, Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto, Aug 10 2013”

MUTEK Day 3: Git it in your soul

A day late and many miles away, but here nonetheless is my review of Saturday at MUTEK 2011. Would that it never ended.

Piknic 01: Floating Points, Simon Called Peter, Terry Lee Brown Jr.

Funnily enough, it took going to Montreal to make me really understand how British people feel when the sun pokes its way out from the neverending clouds. Stumbling into a sunny clearing in Parc Jean-Drapeau to find UK DJ Floating Points turning out a crowd with a funky edit of The Whatanauts� �Help Is On The Way� (you remember this one) scraped the residue of Toronto�s grey, miserable hell-spring outta my soul. I think the pictures pretty much tell the story.

Despite his billing as a lover of Detroit sounds�never the slickest aesthetic by any stretch�Terry Lee Brown Jr. was a little too smooth and �funky� for my taste. By the end of the weekend I was becoming downright snobbish about certain mainstream sounds�more on that in a sec. But Simon Called Peter improved things substantially with some necessarily techy roughness over at the second stage. I don�t think I was the only one who was spurred on to head down the gravel path to the GURU stage when Brown Jr�s gear conked out for a minute, letting Simon Called Peter�s mixing tempt our ears, Pied Piper style. Only a late-set cameo by an unnamed and unskilled keyboardist put a slight damper on things. Then again, a gentleman with no shirt and a rainbow choker gave me a welcoming smile during this interlude, so I can�t really complain.


A/Visions 04: Deadbeat + Lillevan, Pole

I came late to Deadbeat thanks to a line stretching around the block�the first of the fest, to the credit of the organizers�and left early from Pole�s set, so I won�t pretend to journalistic integrity in my assessment of either. Suffice it to say that Deadbeat isn�t quite my cup of chillout/downtempo/dub/what have you, and that while Pole is a lot closer, not least because he does spectacular things with noises that other producers edit out, I can�t imagine actually paying money to hear either of them. I�ve never agreed with Simon Reynolds� assessment of the likes of the Warp roster as being too refined for the dancefloor yet too laid back to be truly exciting. And yet, the description seems to fit both acts. The only caveat is that Pole sounds better the louder his music is played, and this was very loud indeed. Who needs a melody when you find yourself with a pattern of syncopated white noise stuck in your head?


Nocturne 04: Rocketnumbernine, Four Tet, James Holden

I don�t want to fault Brit duo Rocketnumbernine for not being exciting, not least in a venue where the sound man was almost certainly focused on the wholly or mostly electronic acts that were to follow. The fact that the drummer and synth-ist had an actual dynamic range seemed to confound the venue, such that when they kicked things up a notch volume-wise, the drums seemed to turn into an unpleasant roar that overwhelmed whatever groove they were developing. Still, it wasn�t quite magnetic stuff. That said, and not to pat myself on the back, but I think I did hit on something with my theory that Four Tet is a remarkable collaborator because he listens to people; when he joined Rocketnumbernine for a collaboration, things improved enormously. Evidently, he heard what was needed and provided it in spades; in this case it seemed to be artfully constructed washes of static and bursts of samples, which mingled deliciously with Rocketnumbernine�s resident synth player�s blips and barks to form something like music.

Praising Four Tet himself is almost beside the point. His own performance was so seemingly effortless, spinning the already-hypnotic gems from There Is Love In You into epic dancefloor throwdowns, that you forget he probably works just as hard at it as the others. He really does know exactly what he�s doing, while giving the impression of making it up as he goes along. The breakbeat behind �Love Cry� was a boulder, starting an avalanche that eventually took the mountain down with it, all while this grinning head of thick hair bobbed and weaved over the gear like it was all part of his plan. The only disappointment of the set was the encore, when �Angel Echoes� seemed to cut off just as it was getting going. Pshhh. Festivals.

When James Holden came on, I felt the same as I do at this very moment: I wanted to give up and go get a sandwich, but something made me keep going. Whatever it was, it wasn�t the description of Holden as a purveyor of progressive house, as misleading a genre tag as ever I heard. Anyone faced with the Teutonic synth barrage and hard but still fairly spare drums nudging them along throughout the beginning of his set would call them tech-y, if not techno outright. Holden doesn�t need more cred, given his DJ Kicks and general reputation, but the man does deserve his due for being smart enough to select tunes right on the borderline of various subgenres, and fiendishly patient enough to fool whoever writes bios into thinking he�s not after the same brain-melting relentlessness that your Surgeons or your Dettingers win tech-purist plaudits for. By the time Holden�s wave of sheer intensity started to crest, dear reader, I could hardly leave, even though I could hardly stay. Or stand. So I meekly swayed, grinning, until there was no other option but to crawl home and hope I didn�t miss too much. As I thought then, I write now: There�s always next year.

Friday at MUTEK: Sweet relief


“Bon weekend!” Don’t mind if I do, mister bus driver man. My MUTEK kicked off in fine fashion on Friday, after a quiet bus journey to Montreal punctuated only by extreme hunger when the fine people at Coach Canada refused to let us off at Kingston to get food, asking us instead to purchase their sandwiches from the smiling man kindly blocking the rear doors. Somehow this struck me as distinctly Ontarian. On to Quebec.

A/Visions 02: Sutekh, Comaduster, Murcof + AntiVJ

Since I came here expecting to dance, I was amused to note that the first gig I’d be taking in was a sit-down affair. Even more uncharacteristically, there was a piano at centre stage. When Sutekh a.k.a. glitchy experimental vet Seth Horvitz came out in vest and tie and stood next to the piano, I assumed this was the prelude. No, it was one of Yamaha’s digital player pianos, and after he left, we never saw him again. It wasn’t hard to imagine why — if the crowd had tomatoes, he would have been a target once we realized we were being subjected to an interminable piano suite that consisted of cascading patterns that clearly weren’t being played by a human. Unfortunately it was clearly written by a human, one who failed to exploit the possibilities, or present a more edited version of the few successes, of what was a pretty nifty idea to start with. As I said to my friend, I preferred the single edit.

After a generic set from Comaduster � seriously, if you wanted to put ‘minimal experimental tech/glitch’ in the dictionary, get a sample of this guy’s set, complete with a visual backing of still photos of globs of stuff going in and out of focus � we got Murcof, whose album Cosmos made quite a thing in recent years. Of that, we got a short but powerful blast, namely some astonishing orchestral drone that I would have loved to hear more of. Not being hugely familiar with Murcof, I enjoyed his recent stuff rather than a sampling of his older material, which sounded dated to my ears. But major praise is due for improving with time, a rare and valuable thing. What he could do with a cello sample, twisted and distended but still recognizably alive, is remarkable. And an even huger bit of praise is due for AntiVJ, whose computer-generated latticeworks and bubbles leaped handily over the screen-saver-wank of novice VJs and into genuinely interesting, arresting, moving art that I would pay to see on its own, even.

Nocturne 02: FaltyDL, Anstam, Modeselektor

We had to miss Siriusmo and Jacques Greene in order to see Murcof, but a balance is important. And we definitely caught the other side of MUTEK when we turned up at Metropolis to see FaltyDL taking the stage and dropping some seriously swishy garage (and here I don’t mean the UK version), complete with some rave-y breaks and… yes… bongos. The crowd generally ate it up, being of a more Euro disposition than you might get in Toronto at, say, Wrongbar; in fact it was when the man born Drew Lustman threw in some more characteristically dubstep and heavy stuff that the dance machine ground to a halt. I think he was pissed off, in fact, since he ended his set on Squarepusher’s fun but aggressive “My Red Hot Car.” Whatever, guy — I liked it.

I did not like Anstam, however, at all. “Industrial dubstep” is not a genre that needed to exist, in my opinion, not when you have Benga pushing out stuff that’s both speaker-chewing and funky; taking away the groove and making it harder and more painful is like taking a cupcake and replacing the icing with toothpaste. Too loud and painfully dry.

I knew Modeselektor would provide everything Anstam didn’t, but even I was shocked by just how fun and populist they would be, even here at MUTEK. They dropped french rappers TTC in an obvious sop to the crowd; they threw in some dancehall; hell, I was surprised they didn’t break out the beach balls and confetti cannons. But quickly they got into some rubbery bass business that hit like the first warm breeze of summer, and all the tension of sitting in a desk chair for months, as well as sitting on a bus all day, melted into air. The duo cockily rewinded their tunes until they were satisfied; no complaints here, either.

Tomorrow: reviewing Plastikman, hopefully catching some of Tomas Jirku, and telling you how much I like sleeping in. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.