Beats, Breaks & Culture Festivalat Harbourfront Centre
Fri, Jul 4
PONI HOAX and LADYTRON Rating: NNN
You can tell dance music has changed when the two bands headlining the Friday night of Beats, Breaks & Culture have more in common with rock bands than anything related to dance clubs and DJs. Opening up for synth-pop heavyweights Ladytron, French dance rockers Poni Hoax faced an uphill battle winning over the crowd, most of whom were clearly there early to get a good spot to see the headliners. And the early evening sun didn’t exactly set the tone for the dark, moody vibe they favour.
In an effort to connect with the crowd, they showcased their most upbeat material, coming off as both more disco and more punk than on record. Unfortunately, their real strength as a band is that they’re not a straightforward dance-rock band.
Ladytron got the crowd on their feet the moment they took the stage.But as always, their light show was much more interesting than their static, stoic performance. You’d think, given the simplicity of their songs, they could occasionally look up from their keyboards.
Sat, Jul 5
THUNDERHEIST and CRYSTAL CASTLES Rating: NNNNN
Thunderheist came on fashionably later than 8 pm, but with the help of three kinetically supercharged uniformed dancers, MC Isis and DJ Grahmzilla struck the stage with feral ferocity. Despite microphone deficiencies, initially awkward lakeside acoustics and a psychotic superfan (who jumped onstage to dance but got body-slammed by security, causing much applause), the show consistently improved until the song I Know What Boys Like took control of things for good.
The crowd was ecstatic when the soulful staccato number They Don’t Love You oozed into the air, and Isis’s hilarious robot and running man dances permanently won over the audience.
The crowd had to wait an inexplicably long time before the digital bleeps and zaps of Crystal Castles sparked the closest thing to an outdoor rave Harbourfront has ever seen. The brittle cymbals and piercing live drums rang through the air above the urgent techno-throb as Alice Glass shrieked her way through each selection, stomping on equipment and dancing maniacally.
Ethan Kath remained relatively steady behind the keys and provided a more robust demonstration of 8-bit synth rock than when I last saw them at Circa. A thrilling tune-up of 50 Cent’s Ayo Technology worked wonders, and Crystal Castles’ three-song encore provided a satisfying finish to a picturesque night.
Sun, Jul 6
CALEXICO at the Mod Club Rating: NNNN
For a square-looking white guy, Calexico’s Joey Burns does a truly authentic-sounding Mexican yelp. It’s the kind of feral howl you hear when banditos attack the wagon in a Sam Peckinpah movie, and he pulled it off flawlessly when his Tucson twangers kicked up dust at the Mod Club.
Burns, along with drummer John Convertino, successfully transformed the Mod Club into a bordertown cantina with their Southwest stylings of indie folk and mariachi rock.
Revisiting their Feast Of Wire album won the crowd over early. Midway through their set, the group slipped into desert-road-at-night instros as Paul Niehaus’s smooth pedal-steel picking slowed down time, then brought the energy back up with their ripping cover of Love’s Alone Again Or.