Syntonics with freakdrvr and Chase23 at Nasa (609 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, January 27). Free. www.dialectro.com. Rating: NNNNN
Syntonics is a brand new electro-improv local four-piece that brings together players and producers from a wide range of backgrounds and influences. It's in many ways the sum of its parts, and an extension of all of the individuals' personal projects.
The band traces its origins back to Keyop, a larger electronic/live hybrid featuring both Barbi Castelvi and Steve Barber. After Keyop called it quits, they played some shows as a duo, and Barbi started working with Mitch Gomes and Daniel Lui in various configurations until the four of the them came together as Syntonics.
Very few people have actually heard this newest incarnation, but if you've caught any of the often unnamed projects that culminated in this, you'll have some idea of what might transpire.
Castelvi has been a fixture as a vocalist, DJ, keyboardist and bass player in both the rock and electronic scenes for some time. Lui has a solid record of making rich and textured techno, and has been performing electronic music live since the mid-90s, as well as running Chair Recordings.
Gomes used to make weird experimental guitar music but developed an obsession with electro and soon switched to turntables, drum machines and samplers. He performs electro under the name Cryogenetic, and ghetto-tech under the name Teezdale Playaz (hiphop a cappellas over double-time booty beats). Finally, Barber plays bass in hard rock band the Evil Doers but has played everything from pop to jazz to electronic improv.
Sitting in Barber's living room getting set to rehearse, they struggle to describe what Syntonics sound like.
"It's pretty much electro, but with a lot of weird eclectic influences and sounds - the theremin, the upright bass, turntablism," says Gomes.
"It's not traditional electro, if there is such a thing, but it has electro influences and elements," Lui interjects.
One of the reasons it's hard for them to name what they're doing is that they seem more focused on their method of improvising together than they are on the style in which they do so. The conversation keeps coming back to how their gear is used and what it means to come into a set with no songs prepared.
"All of us can be one-man bands," Barber comments, "so it's a nice opportunity to step back and be more minimal and just listen. The interplay is really nice, too, because when you're programming and making electronic music at home, it's really easy to get in a rut, and it's nice to have all these ideas bouncing around that you have to react instantly."
"I always get such a rush," Castelvi says. "I've been in bands my whole life, but the first few times I did this improv thing, I'd get so nervous I'd be at home the night before shaking. When there are four people, it's not quite as nerve-racking - at least there's someone there to inspire you and break that block."
They don't always use the same combinations of gear, but what you'll likely see is Lui on the 808 drum machine and the 303 bassline synth, Gomes on turntables and effects, Barber on electric upright bass, theremin and samples, and Castelvi on vocals, effects and synths. It'll most likely be kind of trippy and dubby, but with a throbbing robot breakbeat behind it.