After consuming a full bottle of Les Fleurs du Mal Rosé to myself, I, accompanied by two stone cold sober friends, strode unevenly through the shadowy alley just off of Kingsway to the Toast Collective’s back entrance. I found myself pulled inexorably through the doorway and into the show space as if I were being beamed up into the belly of a space ship.
Amanda Anderson’s dark head was bent over her control panel and she was surrounded by stars, some visual magic that I had a hard time separating from the music as the night went on. She was part way through her debut set as Gran Am, and I was mesmerized. I can’t help but compare her sound to Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien. Like the movie’s visual and aural atmosphere, the soundscape was both terrifying and intoxicating. It sounded as if we were moving through the organs of the Nostromo — fans clanked and whirred, ducts crashed, with insidious alien blood leaking through the hull and the cold scream of space assaulting our ear drums. The sheer sublimity of sound sent shudders through my soft, tipsy body and when the music subsided, I felt as if I’d just come out the other side of hyper drive, in a different solar system entirely.
The memory of Gran Am slid away into the next act: Pavel. Again, a single occupancy set up, this time with Alex Cooper, instead of Anderson, manning the electronics while half whispering vocals into a microphone that he held to his lips. I couldn’t quite make out his lyrics, but there was a moodiness to them. Coupled with his bowed head, it reminded me of the emo acts of my early adolescence.
I closed my eyes and let myself dance, a tormented jolt, my limbs missing beats, following the wrong sonic rabbit. The sounds I made note of, those that set Pavel apart from other dancy electronic acts I’ve heard, were the expertly used cow bell and that sound cop cars make before they go full siren.
I’m not sure how cognizant I was of the third act, Prison Hair. At this point in the night I entered a dream state. Looking back, there is no doubt that Prison Hair’s ambient echo chamber music facilitated this degraded lucidity. I floated on synth and reverberating guitar — it was like a noisy lullaby. The three-piece kept making eye contact with one another, like they were weaving something ethereal and had to keep passing the shuttle to one another. No one dropped a stitch.
Full disclosure: I went for Plazas. Savana Salloum’s performance was intense and reminded me of both Lorde and Grimes. She looked out into the audience with a single-eyed stare, half her face obscured by a lock of black hair. Inside Plazas’ bedroom electro-pop, there is something a little disco, a little Cindy Lauper, a little techno — all of this washed with shrouded vocals, sometimes reaching an eerily low register.
When the set was over I clumsily introduced myself like a drunk girl in a bathroom. That was beautiful, you are beautiful. I tumbled back out onto the street, ravenous and exhausted. The show had taken all of my energy and it was time to climb back into my sleep pod.