CONTROLLER.CONTROLLER with Tangiers and Hawaii at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, August 14). $8. 416-763-9139. while a broken kick drum pedal could be devastating to your typical indie rock outfit, local dark disco punks controller.controller escaped nearly unscathed when their drum kit blew out during their most high-profile gig to date. Barely flinching in the middle of the late-night NXNE set, cucumber-cool frontwoman Nirmala Basnayake bleated out the same hypnotically robotic coos while Ronnie Morris held up the tune's remaining musical skeleton with funky basslines and their bandmates frantically scurried to fix the fuck-up, all bathed in oddly satanic red lights.
The crowd, on the other hand, kept right on dancing, oblivious to controller.controller's instrumental gaffe.
That, as bassist Morris explains, is one of the benefits of playing this kind of music. Their gleefully, sloppily repetitive PiL-style post-post punk has made controller.controller a current scenester buzz band.
"People came up to me afterwards and said, 'Dude, I loved that psychedelic section in the middle!'" he recalls, chuckling. "They didn't even know we'd fucked up - neither did the sound and tech people who were supposed to help us out!
"We're trying to create an atmosphere without becoming too much of a spectacle, 'cause we don't want to create too much of a divide between the stage and the dancers on the floor. It looks cool, even if the spotlights are crappy ones from Canadian Tire."
Drummer Jeff Scheven, axeman Colwyn Llewellyn-Thomas and Space Elevator operator Scott Kaija have only been playing with Morris and singer Basnayake since last November, and it's only in the past month or so that controller.controller started recording their debut disc with Rob Sanzo.
So it's understandable that the self-described "death disco" quintet are a bit sheepish about the disproportionate amount of hype generated in the wake of in-the-know loft parties and small indie rock showcases.
From the outside, Basnayake and Morris admit, controller.controller could come off as one of those obnoxious out-of-nowhere inventions of an insular indie scene, but their proclivity for playing smaller off-the-beaten- path venues has more to do with a desire to break out of the cliques.
"People are really open to artist- and band-run venues," offers Basnayake. "I don't know if it's a question of being sick of the bar scene or being sick of established promoters, but I sense that everyone's desperately looking for a real community. I did like the loft party for its incorporation of art, music and weird activities in the parking lot outside."
"It put us in touch with more people beyond just the indie scene," Morris chimes in. "We got to hook up with visual artists and folks from the hiphop scene and tons of other people outside our immediate circle.
"People in other cities have been really good at starting up alternative venues, but Toronto's moved at a slower rate. Still, within the last few years when so many clubs have closed down, alternative venues are more of a priority."
While Morris acknowledges that the furor around his band is partly due to the current trendiness of danceable noise-rock grooves, he insists that the controllerfolk aren't bandwagon jumpers. In fact, he and Kaija wrote several of the band's songs years ago. "Back then, nobody but Arab Strap was doing this kind of thing. Of course, now we're kicking ourselves for not getting our act together sooner."
Basnayake, who's still trying to dream up a sassy stage name for herself, thinks T-dot audiences were desperate for a new live act they could dance to, in spite of our city's rep for filling clubs with cooler-than-thou hipster statues.
Still, the drawback to playing such au courant music is the inevitable anti-trend backlash.
"When you come from the indie rock scene," says Morris, "any kind of success seems like selling out. It's that whole 'eating our own' thing - if you have any desire to bring your music to a wider audience, the indie and punk kids are furious."