MANITOBA (live) as part of Glide at Gypsy Co-op (817 Queen West), Wednesday (February 6). $6. 416-703-5069 or email@example.com
his music relies on the same unfinished, honest charm that good singer/songwriters use to draw in their listeners. So you can't blame people for applying the folktronica tag to rising DJ Dan Snaith, aka Manitoba. Just don't expect him to be a spokesman for indie electronica."People here really believe in electronic music to the exclusion of everything else," says the T.O. transplant from his home base in London, England. "They think it's the future of music and it's going to change things. I don't see it in that context at all -- it's just another type of music. People listen to it and close their ears off to good hiphop or garage or pop music.
"There are people who like my album and like Boards of Canada (see sidebar this page) and like what comes out on Warp -- and not much else. I think to myself, "Why don't you fucking listen to some other shit, too?'"
Heavy talk from a guy who a little more than a year ago was an unknown in the world of electronic music. Actually, he was just another student tinkering around on his home computer instead of working on his homework. Through a series of flukes, he ended up getting signed to left-field British indie label Leaf, and his midnight doodling suddenly became the next big thing in artsy electronica.
His charming debut album, Start Breaking My Heart, clatters and shakes with spastic drum programming but also soothes the listener with gentle, wistful melodies.
There's a sense of playfulness throughout his catalogue, and although a dry humour comes out in song titles like Tits And Ass: The Great Canadian Weekend, he never sinks to the cynical irony favoured by so many wittier-than-thou electronic artists.
Snaith's first album received gushing praise from music critics the world over and play from key tastemakers like Gilles Peterson, Andy Weatherall and DJ Food. He co-headlined with Four Tet last August in a sold-out show at 93 Feet East, London's premier alternative electronic venue, shot a hilarious video for his small-town electro anthem, Dundas, Ontario (view it at www.posteverything.com), and has been travelling the world DJing, all the while continuing his math studies.
Last fall he relocated to London to pursue his PhD and to start work on the next album, causing some people to wonder if he's been cloning himself to keep his productivity up.
"I got the same talk from the school people as I did from the label: "Are you sure you're going to have enough time for math?' "Are you sure you're going to have enough time for music?'
"I made the first album when I was at school in Toronto, though. It's just something I got used to, splitting my time like that."
You'd think a math whiz who makes experimental electronic music would end up producing sparse, repetitive, minimalist soundscapes, but his songs are fluid, loose and human in a way that comes closer to lo-fi indie pop then to cold machine-music pulses. He's relaxed on the phone, too, much more easygoing than your typical nerd.
"I make the music totally by ear, just by fucking around and experimenting. It couldn't be less systematic and organized. Hopefully, the result reflects that, when it's sloppy and messy, because that's how I like it.
"I think a lot of drum programming in electronic music is really weak and boring. Everyone quantizes the shit out of everything so it all falls right on the beat, and every single hi-hat sounds exactly the same because you're just using one sample and drawing it hundreds of times across the song. My ears tell me that's something to avoid.
"It's better not to look at electronic music as a genre, (but) more as a way of working. My first album was electronic by accident, just because I have a computer and I don't have a studio or the money for expensive gear."
Although he promises that the next full album will be more folk then 'tronica, Snaith's most recent EP, the tantalizing Give'r, is closer to dance music than anything else he's released. This won't surprise anyone who's witnessed one of his schizophrenic but party-rocking DJ sets, known for their juxtaposition of hiphop, 2-step, classic rock and funk.
Wednesday's (February 6) gig at Gypsy Co-op as part of Glide will be Snaith's first Toronto appearance playing live, an experience somewhere between his recorded output and his DJ persona. He mixes up his own songs with bits of his favourite records, bringing his love of hiphop to the foreground while downplaying the sensitive indie electronica side.
"Hiphop's been going for more then 20 years, and it sounds absolutely nothing like it did even five years ago," he says, intensifying. "The people innovating are the people you'd totally expect to be lazy, sitting on their ass, collecting fat cheques. The people on the charts, like Timbaland, are making some of the most challenging stuff out there."
Snaith isn't completely sick of bleeps and tones, though. It's the ultra-serious, elitist crowd that comes with electronic music that he has a problem with. Even his moniker was devised as an anti-cool statement, a joke that's unfortunately lost on a world unfamiliar with Canadian geography and culture.
Growing up in Dundas, a small town near Hamilton, Snaith's record collection was based less on what was cool in UK music rags than on what his circle of friends had discovered. Naturally, his small-town roots were immediately jumped on as the source of the Manitoba magic.
"People are always asking, especially in interviews, what it's like being brought up in Dundas, Ontario, not in the centre of the electronic music universe. London is supposed to be this great haven for this music, and, sure, there's lots of interesting shit going on, but there's also a lot of over-hyped, boring shit.
"I met 10 times more interesting people in Dundas and Toronto than over here."firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the things that sets Manitoba's bleeps and blips apart from much of the laptop techno set is his focus on melody and his peculiar obsession with folk pop.
There's a decidedly musical element to the sounds Dan Snaith makes, the result of growing up in Dundas, Ontario, listening to guitar-heavy records by the Byrds. The complete songs on Start Breaking My Heart also have an idyllic, pastoral vibe, in stark contrast to the clinical beats and breaks of a lot of electronic music.
Manitoba's not alone in making what's been unfortunately dubbed folktronica. Pause, by Snaith's good pal Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet), is a masterful blending of chilled-out beats and pop tones strummed gently on acoustic guitars. Björk's collaboration with San Francisco cut-up kids Matmos paired real songs with sharply refined laptop programming, while fellow Björk collaborator Matthew Herbert did the same on his excellent Bodily Functions disc.
The acknowledged masters of the style are Scottish duo Boards of Canada, whose appropriately titled 2000 EP, In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country, is as close to an electronic folk record as you can get. The snippets of Boards of Canada's forthcoming Geogaddi album circulating online at www.boardsofcanada.com and elsewhere suggest that they've twisted the genre even further.
It's hardly club music, unless your idea of clubbing is 45 minutes sprawled in an easy chair -- but that's the point. MATT GALLOWAY