CMW: Nothing cheers you up like some vocoder


by Elena Gritzan

Earlier in the evening, I was beginning to understand a lot of the cynicism floating around about Canadian Music Week. Let me qualify that. I’m often the type to be full of wide-eyed enthusiasm when faced with a slew of shows. Maybe it is the fact that there is such a thing as too many shows for one person to see, or maybe it confirms that there is a kernel of truth behind the idea that CMW is a corporate event primarily and a venue for supporting music in the city as an afterthought. Whatever it was, I was feeling a little disillusioned with the process of hunting through showcases in the search of one elusive amazing band.

Spoiler alert: I did end up making such a discovery. But in the name of honesty, disenchanted was the headspace I was in when CMW night #2 began. Not to discredit the interesting ideas and talent I witnessed early on. A band can be effective without being magical.

My Wednesday night began with Techromancer descending on the Annex Wreck Room like a pair of space aliens emerging from a UFO. Otherworldly synth wobbles led into driving 4/4 dance beats punctuated with keytar, drums, and unison vocals. “We brought presents for you!” they declared before handing over balloons filled with colour-shifting LEDs. This inspired one audience member to put a flashing balloon under his shirt like he was pregnant with a glowing alien baby while he danced around.

For the first couple of songs I was all for it, but the time signatures, tempos, and general feel of each song remained the same throughout, which by the middle hit a saturation point. The loud stutter-y repeated note chorus of “Heartbreaker” sounds like it was intended to make you want to hit the dance floor, but it did not achieve that reaction. Techromancer have some interesting ideas percolating around, though they often failed to take hold due to a lack of range.

Next I zoomed on down to the Garrison to see Shiny Darkly. CMW is the perfect time to see out-of-towners who do not come through the city often, so seeing this Copenhagen post-punk band seemed like a good chance to take. All were dressed in black and their keyboard player wore sunglasses despite the dark cave atmosphere of the venue, which fit with gloomy style of their music. More in line with the second word of their band name than anything else.

They were technically tight and were great at creating a mood, but I just didn’t get excited, you know? I was looking for magic and was starting to wonder if my expectations were too high.

Apparat Organ Quartet.

Turns out that I just needed to wait for the right band. Apparat Organ Quartet hail from Iceland, but they might as well have been from the moon. The mostly instrumental group engulfed the room with their intricately layered, propulsive textures. There were elements of metal in the driving drums, rock in the chord progressions, electronica in the variety of blippy textures, and something experimental in the feeding of all vocals through a vocoder, effectively turning the human voice into something distorted and filtered enough to give me flashbacks of the pre-sets on my childhood keyboard. And of course, there were multiple organs involved.

They were more than just a combination and culmination of a variety of genres. They filled much of the room with shock-faced awe, or at least enthusiastic head bopping. There was one word on my mind as the last song finished with a three-part vocoder harmony: “amazing”.

I guess there is still some of that wide-eyed musical enthusiasm in me yet.


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