Event Review: Steamwhistle UNSIGNED

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[In the darkly lit Steam Whistle event hall, blue and green lights wash over a stage rigged with amp stacks. As smoke rises up from the stage in front of a newly added video screen, ambient light pours into the hall from the production floor. Chrome vats, producing a product designed for good times, are clearly visible through glass windows behind the bar.] A rock concert in a brewery; what could be better?

Actually, it would be better if you used it as an opportunity to raise money for the Artist Health Alliance. Beer and music is unarguably a winning combination, but the added ingredient of supporting local artists makes it an all the more worthwhile pursuit.

With Steam Whistle Unsigned alumni including the likes of The Darcys (whose latest album is available through the Unsigned website), Dinosaur Bones and Young Empires, each show also promises to showcase the best of the Toronto indie music scene.

Here’s who kicked out jams at Steam Whistle Unsigned #26:

Paradise Animals

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This is a band that’s contemporary, full of energy and multitalented.

Let’s address that ‘multitalented’ statement first. This band changes arrangements on just about every song. About half way through the set you start to realize that you’ve lost track on who was just playing what. Take Kerry Silva. Through the set you’ll watch her bounce from electronic drums, to a traditional drum kit, to a left handed pink Telecaster; and she sings the entre time. It really is a hell of a spectacle to watch Paradise Animals play musical chairs at the end of every song. You’ll see switches from guitar to bass, drums to synths, synths to guitar. Some songs have electronic and conventional drums, while some songs have no drums at all. In some songs all three members sung, in others only one. It’s not only impressive, but also really exciting to watch. After every song you’re left speculating on what instrument arrangement is coming up next.

What’s best is that while the entire instrument switching fills you with the feeling that you’re just watching some friends jam out, Paradise Animals also puts a lot of effort into the visual elements of their show. Of course Steam Whistle’s lighting and smoke machines aided them, but Paradise Animals also had background visuals running on the stage screen. Most interesting was a montage of a Google search for the band name.

This bands had a sound that just seems bang-on with what’s going in music right now. There’s an essential blending of electronic and soft rock that give the band a very contemporary noise. You’ll get small hints at the “whup-whup” sounds of dub-step, but then the sharp tings of a high hat, fading into the soft synths and a gentling flowing melody.

The ingredients are very, very familiar. You hear a lot of bands trying the same kind of thing, but Paradise Animals do manage to package it all together much more neatly. Pulling it all off with only three people on stage is all the more impressive.

Maylee Todd

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Maylee Todd makes you question what decade you’re currently in. ‘Get Lucky’ has got nothing on this girl’s 1970s vibe. It sounds like the hippest porno music you’ve ever heard.

Todd initially took the stage with a harp (now that’s an ‘indie’ move) which had a lot of members of the audience initially cocking their heads in what can only be described as confused interest, but that soon subsided as the band eased into their groovy, dance-mix of a set list.

Psychedelic video played on screen as the crowd actually cleared a space at the front of the stage for people to throw down dance moves. It was like the end dance scene from Napoleon Dynamite.

On stage, Todd actually brought on background dancers (which I’m going to say is a first for Unsigned) whose moves resembled what ‘twerking’ would look like if it were invented in the 70s.

Here’s something to add to your bucket list. Invite someone over to your place for wine and fondue, then throw on Baby’s Got It by Maylee Todd and make out with them on a waterbed that is covered with zebra patterned bed sheets.

Also, there should probably be a lava lamp somewhere in the background.

Akua

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It was difficult to know what to make of Akua after her performance. Compared to the other performances, there was very little used of the visual aides. The lighting was simple and the video screen left blank. A minimalist at work. It was a much lower energy level than the previous two performances. She performed vibes that made you feel mellow and relaxed.

Akua utilizes a lot of drawn-out electronic melodies and feels like some of the darker sides of current EDM artists. The music is rhythmic and haunting with lots sampling and eight-bit sound effects.

Akua is music you can really get lost in. It’s nighttime music, the kind you want to drive down a dark highway to.

What makes Akua unique is that integrated into that dark EDM sound are naturalistic percussion instruments, soft background vocals and light chords. The combination sounds progress, but still very human and emotional.

Check out Akua’s "One’s Company" or "Gravity" for perfect examples of her work.

By: Chris D’Alessandro