YAMANTAKA//SONIC TITAN with SEXY MERLIN and PINK NOISE at the Garrison (1197 Dundas West), Saturday (January 28), 9 pm. $8-$10. RT, SS. See listing.
Yamantaka//Sonic Titan purposely position themselves at the nebulous centre of multiple dialogues about identity politics, culture, genre, discipline and even what it means to be a band.
Co-leaders Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B started the musical/artistic collective as a way of challenging and complicating the cultural signification often assumed to be inherent in their mixed-race Asian Canadian heritage. That grand scope presented a grand challenge after they signed to Psychic Handshake and had to fit their maximalist, multi-faceted aesthetic into a unified 30-minute debut record.
"When we started [at art school in Concordia], it was all about recreating a feeling or moment, and we didn't approach it from a musical perspective," says Kato Attwood over breakfast in Toronto. "It was difficult to extract just the music and migrate it onto CD."
"We're not trying to encapsulate that complexity within the world of a rock band," clarifies Alaska B. "Instead, we're trying to express the rock band that lives inside that complex world."
Their impressive self-titled album not only presents that unique vision, but does so in a graceful, accessible fashion. Sure, it still resists tidy definition, but its mix of prog-rock, baroque rhythms, drone metal and Asian pop is full of depth and eminently listenable. That's surprising for a band so self-consciously experimental.
And while it features songs from their in-progress opera, Star, it's a unified, standalone album. The version they present live, meanwhile, includes homemade costumes, set dressings and performative, over-the-top delivery, all adapted to work in bars and rock clubs.
Yamantaka//Sonic Titan's ambitions still extend beyond the musical realm, though. They'll follow up their
January 27 January 28 Garrison gig with a February 8 to 12 stint at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in which they'll present their first full-scale narrative "Noh-wave" musical as part of the Rhubarb Festival.
Entitled 33, it blends Christian and Buddhist mythology, projections, numerology, pop art and Japanese theatrical traditions into a 21st-century tale of a drag queen apprentice with a murderous streak.
"Instead of falling in the middle all the time, we can do the touring band version of our show and the rock opera version," says Kato Attwood. "We can have it both ways."