Published May 10, 2016What happens when you bill a hardcore punk band, a cold-wave outfit, a dream-pop artist and an electronic duo all on a Monday night at Toronto's Smiling Buddha? The answer is a colourful sonic mosaic, full of juxtapositions that, while typically complementary, can occasionally falter, too.
While hardcore punk openers Straight Truth played to a small audience, which made it hard to get a pit going, they were followed up by STUKA, an electro-pop team whose performance was totally opposite Straight Truth's in most respects. While the former jumped around onstage, yelling lyrics with a burning passion, STUKA's vocalist John Pritchard sang over crystal clear synths and '80s pop beats by producer Brian Schirk, dedicating one of their tracks to "all the lovers."
STUKA's music can be described as a combination of lo-fi and new wave, bringing to mind Tears for Fears and Echo and the Bunnymen. "Thankful" contains a beat similar to that of New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle," infectious and poppy, while "Trust" introduced a sinister tone with industrial instrumentation. The contrasts of sickly sweet pop and cool, dark synthesizers made for an unusual yet compatible live sound.
Nicole Dollanganger was the most highly anticipated act of the night, so while it's odd she didn't headline, she didn't disappoint. The Whitchurch-Stouffville, ON native has gained a considerable amount of attention ever since the release of Natural Born Losers, an album demonstrating her trademark darling eeriness. The Grimes-approved artist's soft vocals and heavy, distorted guitar were crowd-pleasers, and she won the audience over quickly.
Fan favourite "You're So Cool" and set closer "Angels of Porn" provoked the biggest reactions, and found Dollanganger at her best, her high-pitched voice smooth as porcelain as she sang of domestic ruin like bathtub sacrifices and rotting food in bedrooms. The build-up of strings peaked at exactly the right moment, climaxing just before it seemed Dollanganger's lyrics might be swallowed whole.
And yet, she maintained the delicate stage presence that she is known for, speaking only to thank her band members and the audience, while praising the other acts and mentioning a song titled "Beautiful in Bed," the first song her and boyfriend/bandmate Matt Tomsai wrote together.
Toronto electronic duo Bad Channels closed the night. Their music is somewhat reminiscent of ice-cold electronic pop projects Purity Ring and CHVRCHES, but their performance proved to be somewhat indulgent. The room turned pitch black before elaborate lighting flashed fluorescent colours on the pair, as a tom-driven drum rhythm quickly became abrasive-sounding synth beats screeching out under their dissonant vocals. They had a hard time holding the crowd's interest, even if the passion — and ambition: they kicked off with a ten-minute epic — was there.