Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Head Honcho september 2013

Elos Arma + Junior Bob + Oshwa + Head Honcho  |  Stack Your Roster

We Built This City  |  Marcello Ferrara

On St Laurent, in between a Portuguese novelty store and flashy Depanneur, there is an alley that seems ensnared by a supernatural shadow. Even in the day time, the alley is dim and narrow. It’s truly an alley only a drunk with an overflowing bladder could love.  But one sweaty summer night I crossed the void, took a right and ended up at the headquarters of Stack Your Roster, the home of the best underground music in Montreal. Created last February, Stack Your Roster is a Montreal-based label focused loosely on the genre of math rock.  For those whose eyebrows just rose, math rock is a style of music that deserves its own name. Math rock is a rhythmically complex music that fuses the counterpoint and odd time signatures of experimental jazz and the loud dissonant chords of punk. But beyond that, math rock just plain rocks.

“All of our friends are underrepresented,” Will Osiecki, co-creator of Stack Your Roster told me, “It had to be done and no one was doing it for us. So we did it.” And in such a short time, Stack Your Roster has signed seven bands, released seven albums, numerous singles, and is showing no signs of slowing down. With their website just recently launched, Will and his partner are building their business strategy, booking more shows, and recording new material for their bands.

On this particular night, Stack Your Roster invited three bands from Toronto and Chicago to play in their basement. And it was there under the grey foundations of the Stack Your Roster house, surrounded by spiders and exposed brick and drywall, that I experienced one of the best shows of my life.

First up was Elos Arma, a Toronto band, who played some of the catchiest experimental rock I’ve ever heard. Seriously, give Hey hands pockets, nice mouth a listen, and you’ll probably loop it for the rest of the day. Basically, they sound like the Killers if they read Adorno and loved John Cage.

Last on the bill was Junior Bob, whose drummer doubled for Elos Arma. The math rock duo played incredibly long and varied songs that often lasted for fifteen minutes at a time, and never became tedious or repetitive. Instead, Junior Bob played variations on one riff and transitioned from there. It was like listening to a spirited intellectual debate, in which each counter point the opponent brought strengthened the other’s arguments. This dialogue between guitar and drum left me with a sensation of pleasant calm to guide me out of the dark and back into the rowdy night of St Laurent.

Third was Oshwa, a band who drove all the way from Chicago to grace us with their presence. Led by the lovely Alicia Walter, Oshwa’s sound was described to me by their bassist Matt Noonan as “pop-like, but experimental.” Not the best sell, I know. I was not expecting much from their performance, and boy was I wrong. By the end of their set, the entire crowd was speechless and stunned. At first, I was disarmed by Oshwa. I thought the melodic sounds of the lead singer and guitarist didn’t quite match the counterpoint of bassist and drummer, but after the first song settled, I was submerged into their sound.  It felt like I was seeing Grizzly Bear’s early performances. I have no doubt that if Oshwa continues, they’ll end up in the Itunes library of every contemporary music lover.

It may be strange to you that I’m choosing to speak about the band that played second, last, but to me the whole night was anchored in Head Honcho. For the past year, I’ve attended every apartment, bar, or open mic these two McGillians have played, and I have never left disappointed. On the contrary, every show I've seen left me salivating for more. It is with a heavy heart that they’ll be taking a hiatus for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, they deserve more than a footnote for Stack Your Roster, because out of all of their incredible bands, Head Honcho is still my favourite.

I first encountered Head Honcho at a Plateau apartment party, where in-between crushing tall cans and sharing Jays, a few bands would play in someone’s cleared living room. Usually the music is either experimental or just plain mental, but Head Honcho, from their very first performance, had a sound and something powerful to do with it. "The moment I heard Man O Man, I was completely lifted out of my body, out of the bland coloured apartment, and jettisoned into the atmosphere. Just as Steven Whitely tapped on his guitar and Brandon Waldon banged his drum – the moment they jumped and sent the music crashing  I fell back down to the earth, right into my skeleton standing in the apartment, and I danced. I danced my fucking heart out." Any motion I could make with my body I did, and so did everyone else. When the two sing, “Everything is not going to change / if I want it,” I felt powerless, ethereal, but also at peace, allowing the music to express my weakness for me.

Head Honcho is a band informed by the legacy of emo and fringe hardcore. They’re grounded in a Midwest suburban mentality. Their music evokes a scene of sitting on a bench outside a convenience store parking lot, drunk. There are moments of nostalgia that feel as clear as the wind brushing your face as you ride your ten-speed past the mulched fields. One moment, you’ll feel as calm as you did back when you were floating in the community pool, and the next you’ll feel the uncontrollable youthful energy of pool hopping with a bunch of friends on a scorching summer night. Head Honcho not only has something to say, but more importantly they have something which can make you feel. There’s something in their small vision that’s visionary.

Even though I lament the loss of Head Honcho with all my being, speaking with Will and hearing Oshwa and the rest gave me hope for the future, and hope for Stack Your Roster. They may be having shows in the foundations of a house, but they’re on their way to building something much bigger.

Catch Head Honcho’s final show on the 26th of September, this Thursday at Quai Des Brumes with other great bands from Stack Your Roster.

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