Unsound brought a live Stranger Things soundtrack to its Halloween Hangover show

Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein's performance of their Netflix score was the draw, but Wolfgang Voigt's GAS and the mysterious Polish band Ksiezyc stole the show


UNSOUND HALLOWEEN HANGOVER with KSIEZYCKYLE DIXON AND MICHAEL STEIN PERFORMING THE MUSIC OF STRANGER THINGS and GAS at Bluma Appel Theatre, Friday, November 3. Rating: NNN


By November 3, even Toronto’s spookiest residents have lint-rolled the cobwebs off our hooded capes and put our fake fangs to rest in water. So the second show of Unsound’s fancy, non-abandoned-industrial-space incarnation was aptly titled Halloween Hangover.

The three-act show was less challenging than the previous Friday’s live-orchestra-scored-horror-movie and dancer-choreographed-to-DNA sequences, though no less enticing. On the sonically diverse bill: the music of Stranger Things, the local debut of prolific German producer Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS and mysterious Polish fivesome Ksiezyc, who arguably stole the show.

As fog rolled in from the wings (I’d like to see Unsound’s fog budget), Ksiezyc’s two vocalists/enchanters of strange instruments Agata Harz and Katarzyna Smoluk stood before a table of assorted noisemakers (metallic items, toys, whirly tubes), while bandmates Robert Niziński, Lechosław Pola and Remek Mazur-Hanaj moved behind it with synths, fiddle, accordion and clarinet.

Above Harz and Smoluk hung a single bulb, glowing like a sentinel guard against the spirit world, as the women’s haunting voices moved between forlorn harmonies, shrieks and laughter. Light was key to Ksiezyc’s minimal stage show, with the women at times swinging the hanging bulb, playing catch with an enormous white balloon and pacing the audience carrying a strange lantern. Yet the theatrics never stole from the music’s hypnosis. Halloween Hangover became soothing November dirge.

Next came what many audience members were waiting for: Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, of Austin’s S U R V I V E, a darkwave synth band with humble beginnings on early-decade witch house forums, who’ve now found surprise fame with the instant success of Netflix horror series Stranger Things, for which they composed the theme.

The duo’s Stranger Things soundtrack work, composed into a set of ominous synth and gloom, debuted at Unsound 2016 in Krakow, and Dixon and Stein are now taking it on tour. One wonders if this show may have had a larger turnout had they been billed alone, especially considering the hype surrounded season two’s recent debut, but nestling the performance between two more far-out acts is typical of Unsound’s mandate of introducing fans to strange new sounds.

A creepy, blinking apparatus of fluorescent tubes enveloped Dixon and Stein and reached up toward the balconies. While I love the combo of overwhelming, pulsing electronics and light – a beatific Egyptrixx set is a perfect example – the performance was missing a driving idea, instead relying on references and nostalgia (a criticism that could also be lodged against Stranger Things itself).

Whether due to programming error or venue limitation (both final sets could have been much louder), by the time Kompakt label head Wolfgang Voigt began his exploration of his favourite things, minimal techno and trees, I wasn’t prepared for the drone trip I’d previously been eager for.

Set to eerie nature walk footage in the colour pallets of horror, nightmares and blood on freshly driven snow, Cologne, Germany’s GAS may be the original eco goth. The project has re-emerged after a long hiatus (2017’s Narkopop is GAS’s first album in seven years) in time for heightening global anxieties surrounding the Anthropocene’s unquestionable effect on the Earth’s changing biology: rising oceans, increasing heat, looming chaos of climate change-spurred famine, drought and mass migration.

Voigt describes GAS as his most personal endeavor of nearly forty projects. This bass-heavy ambient psychic inundation, much like that of disciple Tim Hecker, begs to be played so loud the molecules of the theatre are changed in order to store the music’s memory until, when humanity has wiped itself out, traces of it remain to hint at how we once turned our emotional responses into deafening soundwaves. If I may be a brat for one moment, it would have sounded incredible in the Hearn.

music@nowtoronto.com | @kristeljax

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