More than just a cheeky name and the scapegoat for a trigger-happy, art-funds-slashing conservative government, Canadian low-fi electro-rockers Holy Fuck have earned their notoriety simply by their way of making music.
Sans staple electronica tools, such as laptops and loops, the band creates music layered with beats and riffs that fly fresh off the stage. Live drums and bass accompany Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh as they hunch and bob over boards, tinkering at knobs and smashing pedals amidst a frenzied web of wires, toy keyboards and other miscellaneous items. The result is a symphonic rock electronica channelling funk and bringing about a dark new age of disco. It’s no surprise audiences at home and abroad love dancing and rocking out at Holy Fuck’s concerts. The loosely assembled band with a rotating bass and drum section have brought their improvised yet organized chaos to the grand stages of Coachella, POP Montreal, Glastonbury Festival and Lollapalooza, to name a few, and opened for M.I.A this year.
In the face of their upcoming slew of dates in Europe, it was a pleasant surprise that Bocherdt and his crew of merry noisemakers stopped by in Kingston last Friday night alongside Smothered In Hugs and Sebastian Grainger. But then again, Kingston seems to harbour a whole lot of love for the band whenever they come to town, getting us out of shells enough to let loose and dance.
As the streets witnessed rolling paddywagons, stumbling revellers and flocks of patrolling police Homecoming Friday, The Grad Club began to fill up slowly for its sold-out show.
The first act, P.E.I. exports Smothered In Hugs played their high energy, down-to-earth rock tunes to a demure crowd. They sustained a tight but not overly varied set that almost veered toward the realm of anthem rock, especially during “Money Came Through” with its upbeat and well-harmonized vocals. But for one song, frontman Ryan Crane introduced it as being about “hating your family” then proceeded to grungily growl his way through what may have actually been a grunge-parody with all of its angst—except he candidly exclaimed afterwards that the song, perhaps, sounded a little grungish. Despite this divergence, Smothered In Hugs didn’t stray too far from motoring happily along as a guitar-keyboard powerhouse. The more sultry moments of the evening were courtesy of the former, percussive half of Death From Above 1979, Sebastian Grainger. Sweet and snarling, Grainger’s new sound lacks the experimental edge and grit of Death From Above but still packs a little bit of the dirt.
Self-described as “fuck rock,” Sebastian Grainger and the Mountains, signed to the American label Saddle Creek Records, have a more meat-and-potatoes approach to rock, complete with keyboard and a qualified guitarist who bore a kind of appropriate resemblance to Andrew W.K.
Grainger brought a sort of one-man party as he shimmied on stage and stumbled into the audience. It wasn’t long into the set before he whipped off his snug, white, American Apparel v-neck shirt in favour of sweat and skin. Ballads and more muscular rock songs alike made an appearance as Grainger wailed whole-heartedly through both the softer “Ways To Come Home” and the driven and angry “American Names.”
The band struck up a few tongue-in-cheek bars of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” before resuming Grainger’s grimy antics. Although the band produced a sort of conventional rock sound, Grainger’s vocals soared and scratched with a sort of sullied grace.
Finally Holy Fuck took to the stage as audience members fist-pumped and zealously yelled their name—the plight of any band with a swear word in its name. With hardly a word, Holy Fuck exploded into “Lovely Alien” and a tangled blur of songs ensued. Staccato jolts and squeaks and circling arpeggios wove in and out of the set while underneath, the bass and drums oscillated from rock to funk. The crowd didn’t need any encouragement to start dancing or swaggering or whatevering to the music. From the first bar, Holy Fuck blew the room away. It’s the kind of noise that envelops. The four-person outfit creates the fullness found in Sigur Ros’s music but with more bite. It’s hard to be passive while watching the band live, even without dancing you can still feel the breadth of the sound literally vibrating in your body, especially in a small space such as The Grad Club. The sound is so large and visceral, it’s a little humbling.
The most striking thing about the performance was the artistry with which the band played. Borcherdt and Walsh manipulate their boards as lovingly as if they’re playing acoustic instruments; you can tell their hearts lie with generating live sound.
Intently focused on the task at hand, the band wasn’t particularly chatty. The few communications Borcherdt did have with the audience during the performance were obscured by the distorted effects of his mic.
The tracks began to blend as the band jammed and improvised on stage, just keeping the seams together as difficulties became technical. At one point some of the stage lights shut off and emergency lights came on. A concerned Walsh inquired about the P.A and fuses as Borcherdt jokingly muttered what may have been an instruction to keep calm through his garbled robot voice. Whatever the problem was, the lights returned and Holy Fuck dove quickly back into the music.
As the set came to a close, Borcherdt bowed down to his board and kissed it—perhaps he was gesturing to the music gods, thankful for not being electrocuted on stage. A very tired and sweaty band returned for an encore and the rowdy crowd was treated to one last dance.
As Borcherdt began to dismantle his music workshop, he let out a sarcastic Homecoming cheer to which about a quarter of the audience responded with an awkward enthusiasm. But appreciation on both sides was also felt and cheers for the band’s music and not just their name erupted. Stunned and sweaty, audience members came back down to earth and departed. The enclave Holy Fuck dug out in The Grad Club main floor dissipated. The rain outside had died down and the Homecoming parties were still roaring, streets crawling with police.
Ears ringing, I wondered when I’d get my next fix.
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