Ninja High School as part of the CBC Radio 3 tour with the Russian Futurists and Young and Sexy at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West), Friday (May 7). $10. 416-531-5042. Rating: NNNNN
Toronto's never suffered a shortage of the kind of lo-fi, high-concept musical projects that spring from the minds of those with a confused yet singular vision. Groups like the Barcelona Pavilion, Corpusse and the Boy Choir of Lesbos offer statements by their very existence.
Ninja High School, a project of Milton and Guelph exile cartoonist/musician Matt Collins, continues in this tradition.
According to Collins, Anna Cvitkovic and Steve Kado handle "backup vocals and dancing," while single-monikered mystery man Wolfgang "just dances." Matt does the legwork, rapping over and crafting the beats, resulting in an aesthetic combination of Public Enemy and the Happy Mondays, although NHS are probably more enthusiastic than truly happy.
This malaise-infused enthusiasm for changing things is best understood listening to their We Win! EP, recently released on the Kado co-run Blocks Blocks Blocks imprint. Matt lays down complicated lyrics via an uncomplicated flow over beats of his own, while the vox backers shout along gaily in a manner more reminiscent of Shrimper than of Ron G.
The lyrics tend to focus on things needing to be changed, the failures of the past and the lack of originality of most artists today.
"The Ninja High School mission statement is militant, radical acceptance," says Collins in the noisy Green Room.
"That's what we believe in, and by being indie kids playing rap music that has nothing to do with hiphop, we're forcing people to radically accept that. I want to play the music for everybody, because I'm into everybody's music. We're a rock group. We're just bringing the new."
The band began at a party in Guelph when Matt sampled and looped James Brown, pumped it at a harsh volume through a huge speaker and dropped lyrics. It was a local smash, and later shows in Toronto opening for groups like Grand Buffet have given them a reputation for rambunctious, chaotic, calisthenics-filled live shows and an encouragingly thrilled small following. Collins thinks it's because of the energy.
"There's a loss of control at our shows, and we revel in it. And then the audience revels in it. It's especially exciting because the music is so controlled. The beats are static. It's like being in a car that drives itself but can't turn. But if we all lean to the side we just might be able to make that stupid car turn."
He also wants to play more hiphop shows. But don't expect him to battle any other MCs - it's just not what he does. Battling is an element of hiphop, and NHS are not hiphop. The term I coined for their sound is "regressive folk."
"I think that although we're pretty integrated here, the Toronto hiphop scene and Toronto's weird rock people should totally be friends. Some bands, like Bush League, have bridged that, but we need more."