MSTRKRFT: Ear-shattering tunage at Horseshoe Tavern

Chantel Ouellet 

June 14, 2016

“My ears are still f*cked but not too bad.” This is the text I woke up to the day after the MSTRKRFT concert. It was from my friend, who didn't bring earplugs to see the notoriously loud electronic duo. MSTRKRFT is composed of Jesse Frederick Keeler, who is one-half of Death From Above 1979, and Alex Puodziukas, who also goes by Al-P. The legendary Horseshoe Tavern was packed to the brim as the duo walked onto the stage. The photographers at the front were quickly pushed to the back as the eager and rowdy crowd thrust themselves to the front.

The need to get closer was lost on me because there was not much to see. The magic of MSTRKRFT lies solely in their unique sound—a sound that was projected throughout Horseshoe Tavern and spilled out onto Queen St. W and forced many (smart) concertgoers to put in earplugs. Even with earplugs, their collage of sounds pounded your eardrums, and as you let the sound take over, you found yourself bouncing along.

Toronto is known for its stoic crowds that think they are “too cool” to dance, but MSTRKRFT managed to shake up that archetype through shaking the whole building. People were going crazy bouncing off each other like pinballs in a very sweaty pinball machine.

What stood out about the set was the lack of laptops on the stage.  The duo, who formed in 2005, craft their music using an intense setup of synths and soundboards. You could see the concentration on their faces as they worked to create and mix sounds live for the audience. In an age where many electronic artists are dismissed for just playing music on their laptops in front of a live audience, it was fascinating to see just how much work goes into a live show of this nature. They are responsible for controlling each and every sound, which are layered to create their aggressive dance tracks. Rather than try to explain it any further I will direct your attention to the following video, which shows what is going on behind the soundboards: 

As for the overall feel of the show, it was amazing, yet at times repetitive. There was very little vocal sampling due to their set up, which meant that they didn’t play many of the tracks off their albums The Looks (2006) and Fist of God (2009). They did however feature a short vocal sample from their hit “Heartbreaker.” The concert was one of the most highly anticipated of the NXNE lineup, and it was clear to see why.

King Khan and the Shrines: A Wacky Political Dream at Horseshoe Tavern

Michaela Fuchs 

June 16, 2016

King Khan and the Shrines have been around for a while now, having formed way back in 1999. They have an impressive resumé from touring internationally and performing at notable festivals like Coachella, Sasquatch, and Pitchfork, to writing soundtracks for documentaries. The group consists of frontman King Khan himself (vocals, guitar), and the Shrines: Ron Streeter (percussionist), Simon Wojan (trumpet), Ben Ra (tenor sax), Big Fred Brissaud (baritone sax), Till Timm (guitar), Fredovitch (organist), Jeans Riddiman (bass), and John Adonis (drummer).

The opener, Tang Soleil, was interesting, which is a lot to say considering who the headliner was. The lead singer had a sample sound pad strapped to his chest, and it made his vocals super difficult to hear—kind of like a drunk robot. I personally loved the garage-rock music that was being played by the four members, however the vocals were completely lacking. The sound guy even turned the lead singer’s mic volume down low. The crowd picked up as the set when on, and by their cheer and applause, seemed supportive of the musicians.

By the time King Khan and the Shrines came onstage, the venue was PACKED—I could barely see the stage. The audience went crazy, cheering and clapping before the music even started. King Khan was quite the character, with a bleached-blonde wig, a bedazzled suit jacket, and a floral pink dress on. The rest of his crew were wearing all-black uniforms with silver capes. With a horn trio and an organ player, the group played soulful jazz music, mixed with some notes of rock. While watching this performance, all I could think about was how similar sounding they were to musician James Brown—even the lead man’s actions seemed to reincarnate the late musician’s screams.

King Khan and the Shrines provided many great one-liners, such as “it is finger-banging season” or “this is for all the feminists” before proceeding to play politically inspired songs. King Khan especially promoted a multitude of social rights. Two that stood out to me in particular are “I Want to be a Girl,” which focuses on women’s rights, and “Children of the World,” which focuses on police brutality in the United States. These two songs appeared to be crowd favourites, with lots of participation.

King Khan and the Shrines gave a night full of wacky, political music and the promotion of love, power, and sex.  

Escondido: Southwestern Invasion at Lee's Palace 

Michaela Fuchs

June 17, 2016

I have been a fan of Escondido for a while now, so when I had the opportunity to not only interview them but also see them perform, I was pretty ecstatic! Their alt-western vibes tie in perfectly with my obsession with the desert—and for the normal person, it is the perfect soundtrack for a summer road trip.

This Nashville duo is made up of Jessica Maros (a fellow Canadian, woo!) and Tyler James. Soon after meeting at a mutual friend’s home studio, the two released their first album, The Ghost of Escondido (2013), and then recently released their second album, Walking with a Stranger (2016) early this year. Escondido appeared here in Toronto for NXNE, and opened for Cold Specks. 

The duo walked onstage in outfits made by Maros herself; she wore a bright orange jump suit with bedazzled bell bottoms, and James wore a matching orange dress-shirt and pants—the two looked like ’70s superstars. Escondido started their set with singles “Cold October” and “Rodeo Queen” from their first album, before transferring to their newer tunes, like “Idiot” and love-loss ballad “Try.” They also played a slowed-down cover of the infamous Everly Brother’s song “Bye Bye Love.” Their music has the essence of spaghetti-western composer Ennio Morricone, but with more pop-rock melodies.  

Because they were pushed to play 30 minutes earlier, there was a lack of audience members in the beginning. However, as the set continued, people were running right to the stage as soon as they arrived. By the end of Escondido’s set, the venue had become a lot fuller and more alive. The crowd was mesmerized by the music, and by the last song, “Bad Without You,” people were dancing along to the upbeat tempo, including the friend I had brought along.

Escondido sounded like everything I thought it would be; like a southwestern dream. 

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