Steamwhistle Unsigned 28
Steamwhistle’s UNSIGNED concert series showcases young Canadian music talent with proceeds going toward funding various Canadian arts charities and non-profit organizations. Currently in their seventh year and featuring alumni like Hooded Fang, Odonis Odonis, and Fresh Snow – it’s definitely an event to check out.
It may only have been a 30 minute walk from my place to the Steamwhistle brewery, but by the time I arrived I felt as though I’d run laps around Iqaluit naked. Stepping into the heritage railway station-turned-brewery beside the CN Tower felt like entering a sauna by comparison, except everyone was wearing plaid flannel or ill-fitting sweaters and it smelled like malt. Regardless, the Roundhouse proved an excellent refuge from the cold on this particular night as it played host to three solid Toronto electropop acts: Doom Squad, Bravestation, and Ark Analog.
After the crowd had a chance to file in and get rid of a few drink tickets, Doom Squad kicked off the show. Recently signed to Toronto label Hand Drawn Dracula (home of excellent ex-UNSIGNED shoegaze act Beliefs), the experimental Toronto/Montreal three-sibling band set the bar high. Their sound exists somewhere in an alternate universe where Jim Morrison is a member of Trust and they have been forced to travel around the world, take in as many multiethnic sounds as possible, and transform them into some sort of catchy dystopian warning to humanity. They rely heavily on drum and synth loops with some swirling live guitar, with steady bass drum beats and the occasional grab bag wind instrument (flute, pan pipes, harmonica). A highlight was a chilled out, shuffle-along cover of “Riders on the Storm” off their 2013 self-titled EP.
Bravestation were next, a fun three-piece who label themselves “apocalypse pop.” That name is a bit hyperbolic; they do take their name from Aldous Huxley’s most famous novel as well as Robert Hastings’ inspirational essay “The Station,” so perhaps their identity is closer to something like “optimist-alypse pop.” Useless genre tags aside, the band ramped up the night’s tempo, with groovy tracks wailed by a lead singer who could barely contain himself, bouncing around the stage and enjoying himself to an infectious level. Very much in the vein of Work Drugs, they played airy dance pop that reminded the crowd of summer just enough to escape from the chilly evening for an hour or so.
Ark Analog closed out the night, with even more summery tunes to sweat to before trudging home in the snow. One half local pop staple Maylee Todd and one half Dan Werb of veteran electropop duo Woodhands, the pair provided perhaps the catchiest set of the evening, although the very Torontonian crowd was happy just to sway along, as per local custom. They played the first London UNSIGNED event in September, and Todd followed that up with a solo appearance at UNSIGNED 26 later that month, so the duo know their way around this event. Werb’s keytar combined with Todd’s powerful vocals filled what was left of the room with the kind of top-notch synthpop you’d expect from the two electro scene mainstays. Catch them at the Great Hall February 6 and at Sonic Boom for a free in-store performance February 16.
All in all it was a solid evening of electropop, and with the excellent atmosphere the folks at Steamwhistle were able to create coupled with the fact that it’s for a good cause, I will definitely be heading back for UNSIGNED 29.