Keys N Krates b’day bash: where beatsmiths and fuzzy mascots mingle

The hometown electronic trio's second annual Birthday Party festival included sets by Mannie Fresh, Lunice and AraabMuzik

KEYS N KRATES with MANNIE FRESH, LUNICE, ARAABMUZIK and RIVER TIBER at Sunnyside Pavilion, ­Sunday, August 28. Rating­: NNN

Toronto electronic trio Keys N Krates’ second annual Birthday Party festival had the feel of a very extravagant kid’s bash, complete with clowns, cartoon mascots, amusement park games and balloons.

The kitschy concept was popular enough that KNK brought it back after last year’s inaugural event, but it made for a weird fit with some of the acts on their eclectic line-up.

River Tiber’s mid-afternoon set of sensitive indie pop/R&B was an odd soundtrack to watching gangs of fuzzy mascots accosting listeners. Playing with a full band, Tiber’s introspective crooning didn’t quite connect with the crowd, who were clearly there to party.

By the time producer AraabMuzik took the stage, Sunnyside Pavilion was busy enough that his lightning-fast finger-drumming on his sampler quickly filled the dance floor. Most of his set focused on the festival-trap sound, but towards the end he threw down a medley of classic funk breaks, which was a welcome reprieve from the relentless builds and drops.

Compared with Araabmusik’s virtuosic sampler workout, Montreal beatmaker Lunice did very little with his controller and laptop, and instead spent most of his set hamming it up for the crowd, dancing, and lip-syncing to his favourite tracks. Southern rap heavyweight and Cash Money Records veteran Mannie Fresh followed, with a crowd pleasing set of hip-hop anthems, delivered with a casual confidence.

By the time Keys N Krates hit the stage, it was dark enough for their fancy lighting system to be effective, although their live show is engaging enough that they didn’t really need the lasers and strobes. Their simple formula of live drums, keys and turntables gave the audience lots to connect to visually, and they’ve got a wide enough set of influences – hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, pop – to avoid the monotony of contemporary EDM. | @benjaminboles

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