The posting schedule continues to be a bit erratic around the ID:UD HQ; I’m back from Terminus but Alex is still out in the Maritimes (doing lots of boating and wine drinking, as I’m given to understand), and so this week’s forthcoming episode of the podcast is actually one we recorded a week back. Next week’s episode will be a bit more up to date, with plenty of random thoughts and anecdotes from our respective travels, plus some news on a cool upcoming Terminus-related project we’ll be having a hand in, but in the interest of getting some thoughts down while they’re still fresh, here’s a (utterly subjective and personal) collage of themes, performances, and highlights which stood out to me over the course of three days of Industrial Summer Camp in Calgary.
Agent Side Grinder
Sweden’s brooding post-punk act was the slow burn of the festival for me. Not in terms of their performance – from word go the band was crackingly tight – but in terms of their catalogue. Time and again they’d align walls of bass and synths and I’d remember how much I’d enjoyed tunes like “Giants Fall” and “This Is Us” from their most recent effort, Alkimia. Closing off with “Die To Live” (dedicated to Bowie) brought some of their earlier Suicide-like fire to an audience which I’d guess wasn’t wholly familiar with them, but throughout the whole set their deep-scrolling catalog spoke for itself.
Lotsa Canadian Representation, Eh?
The local side did pretty well for themselves at this year’s Terminus, from the pagan darkwave of Ghost Twin to the moody rhythmic noise of Wychdoktor to the candy-coated bounce of Ayria. Hell, on the last night of the festival, all of the bands save Kite were from the Great White North, with at least four different provinces being represented. Organizer Chris Hewitt also indicated that this year’s fest saw more people than ever coming into Alberta from BC, Ontario, and the rest of the country, so give yourselves a pat on the back, fellow hosers.
Them Are Us Too
The last time I caught TAUT they were playing for about a dozen of us gathered in a hushed semicircle around their gear in an East Van gallery on a Thursday night. It was an intimate and nigh perfect introduction to the beautiful yet elusive worlds their music conjures, but they were able to transpose their ethos over to a larger stage flawlessly. Their citing of Spivak’s understanding of deconstruction as “a radical acceptance of vulnerability” seemed especially relevant given the new, as yet unreleased pieces which dotted their set; far less reliant on traditional song structure yet still shot through with star-stuff.
A New Breadth of Sound
If you weren’t familiar with the very particular network (or diaspora) of sub-genres which make up the topography of Our Thing, you might be hard-pressed to identify how a plurality, let alone all, of the bands on the bill at Terminus Gravity were related to one another. What does a project like Venetian Snares have in common with the energetic new wave of Cygnets? How do you get from the solo, sober synthpop of Kindest/Cuts to the absolute shit-show (in the best way possible) that is a live Caustic set? Chin-strokers like Alex and I can opine endlessly about such matters, but the fact of the matter is that Terminus offers North American fans of dark electronics a wider range of sounds and flavours than any other festival experience, and that’s something to be applauded.
As our conversation with Brant Showers showed, there’s a whole lot of conceptual, philosophical, and theological thought underpinning his new solo project. I can’t speak to the degree to which those themes are communicated via the live SØLVE experience to those unfamiliar with the project, but I can say that Brant landed things just about perfectly with his first SØLVE show. Concise, blunt, and perfectly suited for sound systems far larger than the monitors I’ve been listening to The Negative through, it’s become a perfect perpendicular counterpart to ∆AIMON.
Dead When I Found Her
Although last year’s masterpiece All The Way Down didn’t feature especially prominently in their set at Gravity (though the version of the delicate “Expiring Time” which was included was marvelous), DWIFH felt like a band that had been substantively changed by the huge step forward that album heralded. While the core elements of their live show hadn’t radically changed (though thanks to the backing video I now definitely have to watch 1988’s schlockfest Dead Heat), they felt like a much more assured act than the one that played Terminus in 2013. Word is that their fourth album is just about completed, and we’ve locked Michael Arthur Holloway down to dish on it on this very website in the near future.
The Present Moment
Did you know that The Present Moment’s Scott Milton was the very first person ever interviewed for this site? It’s true! It seemed fitting that just a month after our five year anniversary, I was finally able to see The Present Moment onstage. Scott and co. were urbane and witty as hell, and the tunes struck that great balance of immediacy and shadowy suggestion that’s marked each TPM release. After getting an incredible amount of club mileage from spinning “The High Road”, getting to hear it played live was a treat.
An Audience Willing To Listen
As mentioned above, Terminus took plenty of gambles with its line-up this year, and if the audiences’ reactions were any indication, the majority of them paid off well. Whether it was Agent Side Grinder’s first North American show, the hypnotic build from soupy drone to analogue acid Borys crafted in his brief opening set, or a brand new project like Kanga, folks were ready to get on board with a whole panoply of new sounds. If there’s one cautionary point to be made here, it’s that this openness to new music doesn’t do us any good if we aren’t actually there to listen to the music; more often than not my favourite performances at festivals are from acts I’ve never seen before, and I do wish more people were willing to take a chance on a lineup with more than a few new names.
I was joking about which of the unsigned acts playing Terminus would be picked up by Negative Gain Productions after the label nabbed Mr.Kitty and Cygnets immediately after their Terminus sets in previous years, but it turns out that I was beaten to the punch with relative unknowns Strvngers having agreed to release their debut LP through NGP in the coming months. It was quickly apparent why the NGP clique and various Albertans who’d caught the Edmontonian act were impressed. Dishing out plenty of theatrics, samples, and general party vibes there was something of a scuzzier, more nu-goth reincarnation of Sigue Sigue or Information Society to the duo’s presentation, but the core tracks underneath the trashy glitz were solid, anthemic, and fresh. Looking forward to that LP.
It seems ridiculous to say that we sometimes overlook a band whose two LPs have cinched #1 and #2 spots in our Year End lists, but Encephalon’s deep cut heavy set reminded me of how many of their densely packed, conceptual wig-out songs I’ve grown to love over the years since the Ottawa group’s debut. Starting with “The Descent”, one of the most out-there tunes both musically and thematically from last year’s Pyschogenesis, Matt Gifford and Alis Alias toured through the trippier side of Encephalon, with only quick stop-offs at the club for “Rise” and “Illuminate”. Was also very cool to hear Alis take more pronounced turns on vocals to boot.
While the buffet-style “something for everyone” approach to curation is one of the great things about Terminus and we’re normally loathe to single out one set as the best, I’m just not being honest if I don’t come out and say it point blank: Kite’s performance was my undisputed highlight of the weekend, and probably the best performance I’ve seen at any edition of Terminus. We’ve written for years about the emotional depths Niklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s grandiose, melancholy synthpop can reach, and they were only magnified by the staging, lights, and vocal power which Kite brought to their first tour through North America. The last time a concert brought me to tears so readily was when I saw Kate Bush, so…yeah. As of today they still have West Coast shows in Portland, San Francisco, LA, and San Diego: if you live within driving distance of any of those towns, I categorically implore you to see this band play.
A Sense of Community
If there’s one thing that Terminus die-hards like yours truly and first-timers agree on, it’s that there’s no other festival like it in terms of the open friendliness the organization and layout of the festival promotes. No one’s in the area reserved for bands for more than half an hour, and that’s usually just to wolf down some dinner before performing. Artists mingle with fans mingle with staff mingle with DJs mingle with vendors, and it’s nigh impossible not to leave Calgary with a host of new friends. Despite its musical health, the community of Our Thing is still a relatively small one, but Terminus is the one place where that size is a strength, not a weakness. There’s nothing else quite like it, and it’s a pilgrimage I look forward to making again next year.