Vague Terrain has gradually been establishing itself over the past few months as an intimate showcase of experimental electronic music with a strong emphasis on live performance and video art.
The most recent edition of the monthly party happened Saturday in the Gladstone Hotel 's Art Bar and featured special guest performers Sans Soleil and Polmo Polpo . Polmo Polpo had just started his set when we arrived, and was taking the opportunity to do a completely improvised performance, eschewing computers and sequencers in favour of an old Moog, a harmonica, a pile of battered guitar effects pedals and a mixing board.
While there's always an experimental edge to his productions, this was much more minimal and out-there than most of his recorded work. Occasionally, he coaxed something resembling a rhythm out of his pulsing synth, but he clearly had no intention of trying to make the crowd dance.
His strange, hypnotic, throbbing tones would've been almost relaxing if they hadn't been sporadically pierced with eerie, distorted shrieks and screaming delay feedback tones. More jarring, though, were the trips to the bar in the other room, where you suddenly found yourself in the middle of the usual Saturday-night karaoke party, which featured some unintentionally avant-garde performances of rock classics.
Arthur's analog action
Polmo Polpo wasn't the only one rocking an analog synth in a renovated Queen West hotel. Just down the street in the basement of the Drake , local techno producer Arthur Oskan was laying down some serious beats and also decided to leave the laptop at home in favour of an impressive collection of vintage drum machines and synths.
It could be argued that the main differences between software-based and hardware-oriented performances are psychological, and that audiences are simply more impressed because they're no longer worried that the person onstage is just checking his or her e-mail while a pre-recorded set plays.
It's true that software for live electronic performance has come a very long way in recent years, but hearing actual analog electronics after sitting through so many laptop performances made a strong case for doing it the old-fashioned way. It's not that it sounded so different, but there was a subtle physical quality to the sound that was tricky to put your finger on. The bass actually tickled my nose with each kick-drum wallop, which isn't as unpleasant as it sounds.
As a monthly techno event, Tempo is settling into the Drake surprisingly well. It still feels too bright for a proper dance party, and the system doesn't really kick you in the chest (nostril-tickling bass aside), but these are minor complaints at a time when there are very few venue options for this type of event.
Where's the party?
Late Saturday night found us travelling to the east end for an intimate warehouse jam called Dude! Where's My Birthday? , which, as the name indicates, was a birthday party for sometime DJ and promoter Cody .
Over the night, many local DJs stepped up to the decks to lay down a few tunes, including Dirty Dale Arsenault , Mike K , Andrew Allsgood , Mike Sitchon and others, bouncing from electro house to garage and even a bit of Nina Simone at one point. The mini-sets didn't make for a very focused or cohesive sound, but the variety kept it interesting -- good for those of us with short attention spans.