Onto the right radar

Toronto’s Off the International Radar experiment with heady sonic drone , creeping listeners out in the best way possible

Off the International Radar has evolved from “parties crammed with projected images and sweaty minds to sharing stages with Holy Fuck.”
Off the International Radar has evolved from “parties crammed with projected images and sweaty minds to sharing stages with Holy Fuck.”
The quartet’s latest release Hot Lips cover art by James Mejia.
The quartet’s latest release Hot Lips cover art by James Mejia.

“I’m a big record-collecting nutcase,” Don Kennedy told me over the phone. “Film, architecture, painting, the arts, all of it helps to inspire what we do.”

Kennedy is one quarter of Toronto-based band Off the International Radar, a group who have navigated in and out of the public consciousness since their inception a decade ago.

With a genre-defying sound, guitarist, vocalist and synth player Kennedy’s love of music and various influences trickle down into the foursome’s tracks.

Kennedy partners with Henry Sansom, Aaron Dawson and Aaron Roy in the band.

“I’ve seen the words ‘minimal techno,’ which was probably the strangest one, post-punk, post-rock, experimental, ambient, shoegaze … it’s kind of all over the place,” Kennedy said. “Whoever’s perceptions are what they’ll bring to it … I guess that’s a good thing.”

Though their probing sonic adventures haven’t ceased over the years, Kennedy said the constant practicing and touring has paid off.

“We’ve just become better musicians, we write better songs than we used to and I think we have a better understanding of what the project is all about,” he said. “In the beginning … we’d write these songs but didn’t really understand where it was going.

“Over the years with maturity I think we’ve managed to have a better understanding and I think it comes through in the stuff we’re writing now. It seems to be more cohesive and more succinct.” Kennedy said one of the most challenging aspects of being in the game so long is the need for constant awareness of staying inspired.

“Always look to keep learning, keep your eyes open and stay curious and not set in your ways, it’s something you have to be conscious of.”

In the last few years with their steady release of material like their latest EP Hot Lips, Off the International Radar have progressed from playing “parties crammed with projected images and sweaty minds to sharing stages with Holy Fuck,” as record label Hand Drawn Dracula describes. Kennedy said the band and label are on the same page.

“I like the idea that Hand Drawn Dracula is about community and collaboration rather than contracts and money and all that kind of crap,” Kennedy said.

The band is no stranger to collaboration, they put out a single called “Holy Radar” with like-minded experimental jammers Holy Fuck in 2009.

“It was this idea we’d talked about with Brian [Borcherdt] for a couple years and it just sort of came to fruition,” Kennedy said. “Basically … they took our track, sped it up and created a song on top of that. I was really really happy with the way it turned out and obviously really pleased we could do something with those guys. Collaborating with your friends is always the best.”

Hearing Kennedy affirm a love for collaboration was no surprise. He said giving collaborators free range on steering projects often leads to a great final product.

“We’ve always welcomed it, all the studio recordings we’ve done we’ve wanted to collaborate with people and we have,” he said. “I like the spirit of collaboration. I think it yields really really exciting results.”

The stunning visual elements that accompany the band’s live performance are all original, juxtaposing the signals and noise erupting and gurgling from the stage.

“We didn’t want to have this cultivated personality behind the band,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t want myself and the other guys didn’t want themselves as individuals to be out there in the forefront of what we were doing, we wanted the music to be in the forefront or say, the artistic expression, the visual compliment to be in the forefront.”

In addition to putting a greater emphasis on creation rather than creator, the group opted to add an engaging physical and attention-holding element to their performance.

“At the time we were kind of thinking we’re not very interesting to look at live because we don’t jump around and do kicks off the monitors and stuff, we just play,” Kennedy said. “So we thought lets do some video projection and that adds a nice visual compliment to the audio.”

The artistic and musical elements of the group are saturated in all aspects of their performance, from the writing to the recording process.

“We’re very visual people. I think we use sort of cinematic things to describe things to each other,” Kennedy said. “When we’re trying to write music, if we lack the music terminology, sometimes we’ll use a visual cue.”

The projections will undoubtedly be present at their gig at The Mansion tomorrow night. Despite the biting weather, Kennedy said they’re looking forward to the visit.

“Driving in the dead of winter across eastern Canada could be a very romantic notion,” he said chuckling. “It’s the unknown, you get to go out there. We’re really looking forward to our show in Kingston, that’s for sure.”

Off the International Radar play The Mansion tomorrow night as a part of the CFRC Funding Drive Showcase Concert with Mausoleum, Shotgun Jimmie, Megan Hamilton and Jay Baird at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8.

"Holy Radar"

“Holy Radar” (side B1. of Hot Lips) is a remix/reworking of OTIR’s “E bowl Of Iris” by Holy Fuck.

Having sped up the original OTIR song on a record player in studio, Holy Fuck played along and added their own layers. As a result the vinyl record plays as two versions.

A turntable tidbit:

Play at 45 RPM in the spirit of the remix and play it at 33 1/3 RPM in the spirit of the original recording.

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