Sunday, 21 April 2013

Suuns at sala rossa

Suuns and Technical Kidman | Sala Rossa


“Suuns, c’est un band vraiment intense en spectacle,” Technical Kidman lead singer Mathieu Arseneault tells me about the band his own unit would support at Sala Rossa on April 4th. “Vraiment intense,” he emphatically repeats.

To be perfectly honest, such passionate words surprised me a little. At that point, I had only heard one or two songs from Suuns, and my limited knowledge of this local band’s oeuvre did not have me suspect it could be an especially memorable live act. Arseneault’s praise thus added to the excited anticipation that, admittedly, had already been sparked a few days beforehand when I found out the show was sold out. What to expect? I asked myself.

Then I went to the show, and I got it. A flood of light was shed on Arseneault’s enthusiastic comments.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let us try to explore the course of the night as it unfolded, one step at a time.

The evening started with local duo Rat Paws, two girls whose grungy sound reminded me of the most experimental stuff Nirvana put out, or of some songs from the IDS. Steady drumbeats, constant strumming of a twangy electric guitar with just the right amount of distortion, and raunchy vocals completely stuffed with delay. It was minimal and dry, but it was surprisingly solid. It warmed the crowd up nicely.

I was eager to see the next band climb on stage, because it had been a while since I had had the chance to see its three members in action. Moreover, after releasing a very solid four-tracks EP two years ago, Technical Kidman has let its fans’ impatience build up to a point near explosion. There is a very good reason for that: the trio has been working on its first LP, one that somewhat breaks away from the self-titled EP’s material, as Arsenault explains: “What we did in the past really had clear references to psychedelism. We used to listen to a lot of krautrock, a lot of repetitive stuff. We still like that, but for the two years it took to come up with this album, my interests were more focused on electronic music, on techno, on the information culture. The result is that we still make music that I consider psychedelic, but there is not a whole lot of rock references remaining. However, I still see us as a rock band, because of our energy, the way we play, and our intensity.”

The idea behind the album was apparently to create something very sincere, very close to what the three musicians consider to be their identity. They achieved that goal in the most unpredictable of ways: by digging in the advertising of their childhood. Indeed, they drew samples from an array of televised publicities that filled Quebec’s waves during the 1990s, and warped them out of recognition. Such a process was precisely what the band needed to feel authentic in their approach to their art: “I have an emotional report with the effect that [transforming such samples] creates. There is a sort of nostalgia that comes into play. The ad does not signify the product it attempts to sell, there is actually only a ‘trace’ of it remaining. Thus, what the ad says loses importance; the only thing remaining is the colour and the trace of an epoch. That’s what interested me, getting sonorities from a certain period, and sonorities with which I have an emotional report, because I grew up with them, because they had an influence on me, and left a trace somewhere in me. Now, I take this, and layer it on top of songs that are very personal, that are intense for me. What it does is double the intensity, it adds a certain amount of depth to the whole. That’s where we found the sincerity that we were looking for.”

When their turn came that night, the three solemn-faced guys had to zigzag amid the mountains of electronic gear piled on stage to get to their spot. Thomas B. Champagne got set up behind a selection of keys and buttons, Pierre-Luc Simon sat amongst his drums, and Arseneault grabbed a microphone. Without delay, they started delivering their new material to an utterly pleased audience. I was happy to hear how TK’s sound had evolved, from a soundscape-based, wall-of-sound kind of aesthetic, to what could be described as a very striking electronic blend of synths and heavy drums. The psychedelic element is definitely still there, but it relies more on melodies and on the visceral energy of Arseneault’s delivery than on piles of droning synths and ethereal guitar lines. The drums are sparser, the patterns in which Simon plays them are more original, the use of samples adds an interesting colour to the whole… In other words, it sounds pretty damn spectacular. No wonder it took them two years to forge such a sound. After the set, there was an unmistakable hype that took over the crowd.

That hype gathered some momentum during the interlude, and mutated into a mounting expression of jubilation when the lights slowly died. At the back of the stage, four televisions turned on, filled with slow-moving waves of white and grey.

Then, the gloomy quartet stepped on stage. Shortly afterwards, its members launched a slow, stout, steady beat into the atmosphere. A kind of dreamscape-y ambiance was thus forged, in the midst of which Ben Shemie started uttering creepy vocals infused with tension, a vocal package that reminded me a little of Placebo’s singer Brian Molko.

What ensued is difficult to put into words. Ultra-heavy drumbeats served as a basis for lingeringly progressive songs with an aesthetic very close to that of minimal techno. Every piece had long phases, and the band was not afraid to let them drag for a while before diving into another one in the slickest of fashions. Often, such audio odysseys would take the wide-eared listeners to tremendous sonic peaks, at which textures, melodies and atmospheres met in an overwhelming combination of epic, psychedelic and frantic. 

It really seemed like these guys weighed every single sound that their instruments divulged. I got the impression that, for every element, they took their time to find the precise sound they were looking for, and then had the patience to tweak it in just the right way, before finding the perfect place for it in their compositions. I was, for instance, stunned by one technique the guitarist used: he slowly slid his finger up one of the strings of his electric guitar, thus creating a crude, dirty continuous line. A simple, but incredibly efficient trick. One of many. Minimal means, for fabulously effective results. 

Midway through the set, the four televisions suddenly started displaying colourful animations: shapes that looked like they had been stolen from an 80s design catalogue were shifting and multiplying, adding a visual element that fit the vibe like a glove. The whole truly constituted a mystical experience, an indeed very “intense” one, to quote Mathieu Arseneault.

Suuns’ newest LP, Images du futur, is (unsurprisingly) receiving its fair share of praise at the moment. After seeing what the members of this tremendous unit have to offer in a live setting, it shall be hard to resist the urge to acquire such a finely tuned work of art, one in which the band is described as “using minimalist techniques to create maximalist works.”

Below, the video of Edie’s Dream, the album’s first single.

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