EVENT REVIEW: Steam Whistle’s Unsigned Vancouver

The Vancouver music scene isn’t quite like the Toronto music scene. In a way, the music scene out here is a lot like the city itself. Vancouver is simpler, easier, more inviting, but with so much less glitz and glam, for better and for worse.

So it stands to reason that Steam Whistle’s Unsigned Vancouver follows suit with the city’s cultural aesthetic. Out here, the show isn’t in a big downtown event space packed with upscale Toronto hipsters, boasting a concert hall-sized stage set-up compete with video and light shows.

Instead, The Cobalt is a rustic, dive bar that looks like it took a bath in recycled wood. It sports a modest stage, with no show effects, and hosts a crowd so casual, that more than a few of them still had their long boards tucked up under their arms.

So for Vancouver, it’s pretty much the perfect place to see bands like these;

Blank Cinema

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Jake Fox  (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Adam Fink (drums, samples) describe themselves as “Loosely organized punk cacophony or euphoria inducing synth pop textures.”

Another way to put it might be to say they sound like a darker, heavier, high tempo Tame Impala. They’re a melancholy punch in the face.

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The advantage of a two-piece is a simplification of arrangements. Two-pieces can create something pure, simple and raw. However the trick to a good two-piece band is that they can’t sound like a two-piece band. They have to make a big noise.

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Luckily, Blank Cinema makes a HUGE noise on stage. The dynamic range on these guys is insane. They’re like the soundtrack to a new-aged 80s kung-fu movie.

Fox plays his Telecaster like a puppet master operates a stringed marionette - deliberate, but masterful. Just when you think he’s given you all the tones you’re going to get, Fox will put the Telecaster down, and break out the keyboards for a few songs.

There is no reason that Blank Cinema shouldn't be on your radio, in your iTunes and in your festival line up.

Actors

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This is kind of band that you’d want to listen to while you drive home alone after breaking up with your girlfriend.

They sound like industrial, urban sadness, with what one might dare to say are, ‘Bowie-esque’ vocals over top.

Sticking with that dark, new wave synthy goodness, Actors is much in the same vein as Blank Cinema, all-be-it with a much calmer musical aesthetic.

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Actors really succeeds at doing the whole post-new wave thing without losing any weight to their music.

There are so many bands trying to make this kind of sound right now that it’s hard to keep track. They start to blur together.

But Actors doesn’t. Actors sticks out.

The reason might very well be in their choice of instruments and arrangements.

For example, when Actors hops on stage and their bass player is toting a Rickenbacker bass, you’re immediately intrigued

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That phunky, fuzzy, heavy ‘POP’ noise Rickenbacker’s are known for, is usually associated with the likes of early Rush or Death from Above 1979. So naturally you’re expecting to hear something either like 2112 or You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.

But Actors uses it for much a different purpose. It’s manipulated in a creamier, more soothing way. The bass sound melts into the background, but the gut-punch effect of Rickenbacker remains.

High Ends

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The kind of art that has the ability to hook you immediately is usually 90% familiar, 10% different. It makes sense then that Yukon Blonde’s John Innes and John Jeffery’s side project, High Ends, should be so familiar, and yet so not.

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Out of the gate, High Ends is something different and intriguing. They’re the kind of band that does hook you immediately, because they’re so reminiscent of something you think you've heard... but then you're not sure if you actually have.

The percussion section just lights up with kick drums, symbols and tambourines. And even though it’s asserted over the rest of the rhythm section, it’s never overwhelming.

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If you had to compare High Ends something (and you don’t), you might say that they have the overall feeling of something like K-OS. It’s very groovy, but rocky. Soft, but high-tempo. So maybe then they’re more like Vancouver’s K-OS.

And those are the kind of bands you find in this city. They’re just like the Toronto ones. Except so much more Vancouver.

Chris D'alessandro