Monday, 1 April 2013

New Apple Taste at Casa del Popolo

New Apple Taste at Casa del Popolo

                               PHOTOS | MARCIA LAFORTUNE

For anyone interested in hip hop, fun things are happening nowadays. Like any genre of music, it has gone through phases since its birth sometime in the 80s. Evidently, as times change, trends shift and aesthetics evolve. For instance, when it’s time to lay a melodic element on top of hip hop’s typically fat rhythms, beatmakers are finally moving away from the sole use of funk, jazz and soul samples, and experimenting more
and more with other types of sound. Indeed, with the rapid proliferation of sequencing software, producers are more often coming up with beats that have a definite electronic music aesthetic, with thick synths poured all over the drums, glitches and laser sounds everywhere, even strange or punchy noises coming from an array of sources (like in M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, for instance). 

The results are often very fun, although, in my opinion, some of that funky, fast-paced energy has to remain for the rhythm to get under dancers’ skin. From my very personal perspective, hip hop has always been about using the musicality of the very language in which it is performed to complement the beat, and it is my belief that dropping floating, Soulja-Boy-like verses on ridiculously slow beats does not require much skill, neither does it encourage much dancing. I like when MCs ride quick-moving rhythms like surfers on tumultuous waves, not when they lazily half-talk like fishermen on an unnoticeably wrinkled lake. Frenetic beat and a flow that matches it: that’s the stuff, in my humble opinion.

However, although we can chat for hours about beats, hip hop is without a doubt at its most fun when the music is handled by a band.

Anyone who claims otherwise was probably home alone on the night New Apple Taste proceeded to brutally kill boredom within the posters-covered walls of Casa del Popolo. It was February 13th, the night was clear, and what was actually a Wednesday felt like a Friday. Using a lineup composed of two guitarists (Eliott Durocher Bundock and Charles-Éric Lavoie), two MCs (Luis  Rotondaro and Christopher Mancini), one saxophonist (Elyze Venne-Deshaies), one bassist (Vincent Lévesque) and one drummer (Julien Daoust), this rocking crew got everyone jumping as if someone had dropped House of Pain’s only hit song at a 90s high school party. And I really mean JUMPING. But let us start with the beginning.

The first band of the night was math-rock project Gulfer. The band’s fairly heavy sound relies on frontman Vincent Ford’s astonishing guitar skills and slightly raunchy vocals, and on strange time signatures very typical of math rock. The former frontman of Major House kept his delightful habit of playing his guitar with the fingers of both hands hammering the frets (Van Halen style!), thus creating juiced up, feverish riffs, seasoned with just the right amount of distortion. Not many people in this city can handle this technique like that man did it that night. He also sang with a grungy delivery, slightly screaming without overdoing it. Behind him, drummer Simon Maillé took care of the schizophrenic drumming with amazing precision, while bassist David Mitchell provided colourful, weirdly funky bass lines to support it all. 

In this trio’s very innovative oeuvre, the interaction between the drums, the guitar and the bass is often very unorthodox, but never to the point of losing even a drop of cohesion. I thoroughly enjoyed the unit’s sense of momentum, as well as its tendency to shift from one movement to the next effortlessly, thus taking the listener on an audio journey. The cherry on top of this already very tasty package was the well-dosed punk-rock grittiness it displayed, which had a lot of people (including yours truly) head-banging vigorously.

Then, after a short break, it was New Apple Taste’s turn to take the stage. The crew that used to be (unofficially, but undeniably) residents at l’Escalier looked fired up as it got set up in front of a healthily packed Casa. The vibe of cheekiness looming over that cheerful crowd did not take long to morph into sheer mayhem. Understandably.

I mean, picture it! A two-guitars-strong band playing funky rock songs, which were beautifully warmed up by thick saxophone melodies, while two MCs fired up verses with all the youthful energy you could possibly want. You would have had to be dead not to move to this. I believe it’s TIME magazine who spoke of Outkast’s hit song Hey, Ya! by saying, “If you don’t like this song, you don’t like music.” Well, similar things could be said about New Apple Taste’s ultra-enthusiastic, ludicrously fun funk-rock hip hop. It was unbelievable. Glorious. Mad. Wild.

Moreover, these musicians did not shy away from showing they have a decent musical range. Indeed, there were some Rage-Against-the-Machine-sounding moments in the midst of this otherwise funky set, and the MCs took part in the fun by vehemently screaming the lyrics on top of that delirious audio storm. 

Speaking of the rappers, something has to be said about their skilful approach to their art. Rich rhymes, amazing speed and enunciation, theatrical back-and-forth verses, crowd-prepping during bridges or interludes: the two happy campers showed they were worthy to be an official part of the band’s lineup (they used to be frequent guests). They did not spare any effort to make sure the crowd was aware that they meant business.

In fact, their involvement in New Apple Taste’s upcoming LP (September!) is very substantial, much to the listeners’ advantage. “They’re part of every song, says Venne-Deshaies. We wrote the songs for them, in a way. As we forged the instrumentals and the rhythms, our vision was to reach out to the MCs, to integrate them into all our pieces to turn them into actual songs [as opposed to strictly instrumental compositions].” It would be fair for one to wonder why the band decided to put their two rappers under the spotlight in such a way. Daoust explains that it’s largely due to the reaction of the audience: “As we were doing shows, we realized that the response from the public, as well as our own response were really super great.” Durocher concurs: “Songs with rappers usually work better than the other ones, that is, the pieces during which we’re just having fun as musicians. When everyone’s involved, it’s more of an entity, you feel it’s the band playing as one, rather than just a trip of the rhythm section.”

Since the band is first and foremost a live-performance-minded project, this upcoming LP is also an exploration of what New Apple Taste’s studio sound can be, as Venne-Deshaies explains: “New Apple Taste is really a live experience. Now, with the album, we’re trying to have a studio experience, to figure out what New Apple Taste can be in the studio, on a CD that works and that people listen to, and go ‘OK, yeah, that’s what New Apple Taste is!’ So when they come to ours shows, they’ll recognize them, but they’ll find out there is another dimension added to them, because of the physical performance of everyone on stage.”

“Another dimension,” she says. Speaking from the perspective of a guy who has been listening to this band’s recorded material for a while, and was seeing them live for the first time on that night, let me say that ‘other dimensional’ is a bit of a weak term to describe what happened at Casa. Just consider the night’s highlight reel, which goes as following: the moment when the MCs got the spectators to lower their bodies close to the floor, and then got them to jump like crazy as the jam exploded into total sonic madness; the guitar-off between the band’s two incredibly skilled guitarists, who were looking at each other daringly while trying to come up with the best solo; the never-ending jams where the saxophonist would truly steal the show, blowing smoldering notes like a 1950s Californian jazz star; and, of course, the mosh pit.

Yes, that’s right. There was a mosh pit at a hip hop show. Not some half-ass shoving, but a real, heavy, fun, sweaty, exhausting circle of mayhem, of the same kind you find at punk or especially rowdy rock shows. I’ll let you guess the kind of musical atmosphere that was reigning during this faithful instant.

I weigh my words when I say New Apple Taste is one of the most fun musical projects based in this lovely city of ours. Go see them live. You’ll agree.

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