EWAN DOBSON at Supermarket, tonight (Thursday, August 30), 7:30 pm. $10. 416-840-0501. And at Free Times Café, September 14, 8 pm. $8. 416-967-1078. See listing.
Toronto instrumental guitarist Ewan Dobson's homemade YouTube videos have amassed well over 10 million views over the past few years, but you rarely see his name in the club listings, and few local bookers have any idea who he is.
Unlike local synth punks Crystal Castles (who also first made their name on the internet and whose sound is also often compared to video game music), Dobson has little hope of crossing over into the hipster world, unless that crowd suddenly develops an appreciation for mind-bogglingly complex acoustic guitar fingerpicking.
"Some people think that just because something is big on the internet, it's big everywhere, but when you travel you realize that it all depends on where it lands," Dobson says.
"Touring the U.S. can be hit or miss, but when I did the UK it was bizarre because some of the shows had a rock-star feel. It kind of caught me off guard."
It was the quirky video for the song Time 2 that caught the net's attention. It features Dobson, wearing what appears to be a lampshade on his head, playing an awe-inspiring acoustic impression of electronic trance music. Thanks to its novelty, it got posted everywhere, which led to viewers discovering the rest of his unique heavy metal/video game/classical/bluegrass-inspired compositions.
Considering that Time 2 is currently sitting at over 9 million views, you have to wonder why he doesn't focus completely on reworking big-room dance music for acoustic guitar.
"I've considered that, but from what I've seen, when artists deliberately try to milk something, it doesn't always get the most favourable results, especially if the purpose is to generate sales."
Nevertheless, things have been going well enough that he's been able to cancel his ODSP benefits, which he's been relying on for most of his life after being diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD and schizoaffective disorder in his teens.
While originally reluctant to talk about his struggles with mental illness, he realized after playing a Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada event that being open about it might be helpful to others.
"There's a lot of stigma about mental illness, but people have no idea what it really is. There's so much fear of the unknown. Sometimes people's minds just work differently."