Times Neue Roman, Kathryn Calder, The Gaslamp Killer

26 09 2010

Cough. Yep, I’m getting a cold. Double-cough—oh shit, my apartment is full of smoke! I had just put on some water to boil before sitting down at my computer to start writing—or so I thought. Turns out I lit the wrong burner and basically incinerated my big cast iron fry pan. Oh you would have laughed to see me fumbling to prop my kitchen window open with a woodblock, squinting through the thick smoke and cursing, while the fire alarm stabbed at my eardrums, then knocking over a glass of water, cursing ever-more loudly, and finally, gingerly and with towel-wrapped hand, hefting the red-hot skillet out onto the window ledge to cool off.  I swear I’m not always this stupid. Sometimes my plans actually pan out (ugh, pun I didn’t see coming, so it has to stay). Sometimes I get it right. Like when I decided to see Times Neue Roman (TNR) at Rifflandia, for example.

The moment I first heard TNR’s song “Roq Roq”, I knew these guys were up to something special. The more I dug into their story, the more intrigued I became. And so I made sure to meet up with Arowbe and Alexander The before their set last night at the Upstairs Cabaret. The following interview  took place outside the club, on a bench in Bastion Square:

Interview with Times Neue Roman

Alexander The:  What made you want to interview us?

Jay Morritt:  I was just sifting through all the artists involved in the festival who I didn’t know about, going through MySpace pages and YouTube, trying to figure out who I wanted to check out, and I found your video for Roq Roq. It was just so fresh. My ears perked right up and I thought “I gotta look into these guys.”

Arowbe:  Cool.

JM:  And then I dug around some more, and I found out that you guys did your first performance at the Vancouver Art Gallery, in 2008. I was hooked at that point. I wanted to know more. How did the gig at the gallery materialize?

Arowbe:  They had an exhibit there called The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art, and a friend of mine, Tom Cone, a playwright in Vancouver, recommended me to be involved in some way—he knew me as a poet and performer.  The timing was crazy, because we’d just finished recording twenty tracks for TNR, all this Nintendo-themed stuff, and so I got in touch with the gallery and they were really enthusiastic about what we were doing.  We did a few performances for that show—we worked with Candelario Adrade, who was doing live visuals and animation, and I also did a piece, a narrative poem with live animation called Orpheus, with Alexander The on keyboard.  Orpheus is about to be re-mounted, on Friday, at the TEDx conference in Toronto.

JM:  Awesome.  Not a lot of hip-hop artists start off in an art gallery, I don’t think. Then again, do you guys even consider yourselves hip-hop?—I’m kinda guessing no.

Arowbe:  Rap-Deco is what we’ve been saying lately (laughs), because it’s pretty decadent, a lot of art for art’s sake, but we’ve just finished recording our new album, and we don’t even know what it is. It’s not Nintendo-Punk-Rap, which we’ve been called before. It’s not necesarlily Rap-Deco—

AT:  We just sat down for Sushi and talked about this, and we’re a little confused about what to call our new sound. But that’s the best thing, I think, to just accomplish something and then move forward.

Arowbe:  The new record has a lot of horns, and a lot more live instruments. A lot less synths, but they’re still in there.

JM:  Something else I’m interested to know about is the U-Haul performances. Tell me about that.

AT:  That was a renegade idea I had for the Nuit Blanche festival in Toronto. I had a hundred dollars, and I got together some musicians and rented a U-haul truck. We drove around to different locations at the festival performing in the U-Haul. It was amazing. We did it again here, two weeks ago, in Vancouver. We performed at six different locations—we had Candelario doing projections—we did Granville St—-

Arowbe:  Outside of Celebrities night club it turned into this crazy dance party inside the truck, and in Gastown we had girls like go-go dancing on top of dumpsters. It was real wild.

AT:  Three times we had to pull getaways from the cops, which went really clean, so we have to thank all the kids who were partying with us for getting in the cops’ faces—

Arowbe:  The kids stood in front of the doors to the U-Haul so that they couldn’t get to us, and we could just kinda sneak away to the next spot.

JM:  Wow. That sounds like a super-big blast. You guys are doing pretty well for yourselves—you’ve got a song on EA Sports’ video game Fight Night Round 4, videos on Much Music and MTV, and lots of critical acclaim—what do you think it is about what you’re doing that is so compelling to people?

AT:  When TNR started, we took ideas of hip-hop, ideas of rock, ideas of punk, ideas of electronic, and we just went with it. Sometimes we get critics who come down on us for that, like “it’s not punk, and it’s not hip-hop” but that’s the kind of feedback we appreciate the most, because you can’t pigeon-hole what we’re doing, but anyone can dance to it. As long as you walk away all sweaty, we’ve done our job.

JM:  What’s next—what’s on the horizon?

Arowbe:  Final touches on the album, and we’re finishing this tour—next stop is Toronto, and then Montreal—we’ll be playing some huge venues opening for Radio Radio, we have an Iphone app coming out next week, Alexander The will be recording with his other band Styrofoam Ones, lots of stuff.

AT:  Overall, we’re just really pushing the future, man. We’re not staying stagnant!

—Jay Morritt

Times Neue Roman  took the stage shortly after our interview, and I must say that they did their job.  They started off with “Roq Roq”, loping nintendo-synth sounds over minimal house beats. On the Mic, Arowbe moved expertly from smooth flowing rhythm and rhyme to more staccato chanting-style passages  “What would we be good for if not giving you what you came for?” he asked the increasingly lively dance floor, jumping up and down and in general getting himself, and the crowd, worked up.  Arowbe dropped a mean free-style after that—the man has liquid lips.  On the reggae-mash-up cycling anthem “Hands No Hands” TNR encouraged the audience to follow along to some simple hand gestures, and before long people were happy to let go of their handlebars together.  After they left the stage, I went to reclaim the shirt I had tossed away at some point during the show. I had a good a sheen of sweat on. I got what I came for.

Melissa Auf Der Maur

From the Upstairs Cabaret I made my way over to Market Square to check out ex-Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur. The band was sounding mean, and they rocked pretty hard—for a few minutes my hunger for something dirty, loud, and indulgent (mostly dormant these days, but never quite absent) was awakened and satisfied. However, after seeing something as new and vital as Times Neue Roman, Auf Der Maur’s snarling metal-meets-grunge —all deep hip bends and hair flailing—became way too 1995 for me in a big hurry. I was no big fan of highschool, and although I get nostalgic for the drugs and angsty music every now and then, I don’t ever want to go back.

Whale Tooth

Having escaped the darkness of Market Square (doesn’t it always seem, just a little bit, like  there should be a few ragged-looking horse thieves confined there, withering away in the stocks?), I bounced over to the Victoria Event Centre to catch some of Toronto band Whale Tooth’s set, before headliner Kathryn Calder came on.

Whale tooth play tight, super-dancey rock tunes, with doses of punk, soul and classic rock in the mix. Singer Elise LeGrow is aptly named—this little firecracker of a gal seemed to get bigger and bigger behind the mike as the night went on. Dancing and shaking like a woman possessed, she really brought the noise, and her vocal chops are not to be underestimated. Great energy she had.  But it wasn’t enough to get the crowd (other than me and a girl I met named Claire) up out of their seats.  The Event Centre was not well suited to this act on a few fronts—the sound tech work was less than virtuoso in a venue that doesn’t need any extra help to sound bad, and the tables were pushed almost right up to the stage.  Let me emphasize:  Whale Tooth are a band to dance to!  I lost my mind on the small piece of dance floor I managed to carve out. It was easy for me to project their solid performance into a more appropriate environment and see the sweaty riot that would ensue.

Kathryn Calder

Ok, so here’s the truth:  after Whale Tooth got my booty shaking so hard, I was unsatisfied to sit for long through what was (for the four songs I saw of it) a fine set by Kathryn Calder. The arrangements of her pop rock tunes were interesting and idiosyncratic, there were lovely vocal harmonies (thanks to Victoria musician Megan Boddy, of Frog Eyes), there was nothing to complain about, for sure—but I just wanted to dance. I grabbed my crumpled Rifflandia schedule off the table, stuffed it into my pocket, crunched the last ice cube left over from my gin and tonic, and tumbled into the rain with one thing on my mind:  The Mutha#$*#’n Gaslamp Killer.

The Gaslamp Killer

For the first time in the festival I had to work my VIP status pretty hard to get in the door at Lucky Bar. Apparently, they were at capacity. One massive bouncer was like “we’re not honouring VIP wristbands anymore,” all cold and unsympathetic. But another guy had already assured me I’d be taken care of, and I waved him over to sort out his pal. While my man argued with his massive counterpart, he unhooked the latch and I waltzed through, feeling very important indeed. I could hear Dolf Lundgren protesting, but no matter—I was in.

Holy shit–what a scene inside Lucky! The place was packed, the dancefloor was on fire, bottles and cans on the floor, a furious foosball match somehow going on within the malestrom, extremely complex and ever-shifting clouds of odour swirling, two large video screens flashing bursts of pulsating colour and, on the decks, a man who looked either like an auto mechanic or a mental patient—let’s say both—rocking back and forth violently and doing something with his hands which makes me think he was imagining (or possibly truly seeing) lightning bolts shooting from his finger tips.  The Gaslamp Killer was the closest thing I’d ever seen to your stereotypical mad scientist—he was absolutely possessed by the frantic sonic experiments he was conducting.  Whatever he had bubbling in his beakers, the fumes must have been getting to the crowd, because people were going apeshit! Shaking like he was being electrocuted, and with that big mess of curly hair and his eyes popping out of his skull, The Gaslamp Killer really did look like an overgrown standard poodle having a seizure. Much like the Tunde Olaniran show, complete strangers were brought together by way of just not being able to believe how off the hook this fucker was.  The audience gaped at one another, gazes communicating something like, “Are you seeing this shit!? Is this shit for real!?” Yeah, it was for real.

Back out on the street, the rain was coming down hard. I felt grumpy about it at first, but then I got very Zen and all like “I do not mind the rain. I have no wish for things to be any other way than how they are.” Of course, after witnessing The Gaslamp Killer’s epic meltdown, it wasn’t very hard to feel good, even in a downpour.

And that brings me to tonight. Non-Rifflandia related writing will be keeping me at my desk late into the evening (yes, I do other things besides running around town swilling beer and freaking out on the dance floor), but at 11:30 I’ll head to Club 9One9 for Victoria’s favourite Gypsy marching band, Bucan Bucan. I can’t wait to exercise my all-purpose Eastern European party-guy accent. Everybody Happy!

I’ll be back after that to offer my final reflections on the festival, and to decompress and get ready for another week back in the ordinary world.  Who knows, maybe I’ll go to bed before 3am.

–Jay








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