What do we mean when we talk about a show having ‘energy’? We like to talk about energy as if it’s something incommunicable and completely beyond sensory experience. It’s a pleasant vaguery, a stand-in for a host of things you might like or dislike about a show. The discourse around music performance and energy could be plucked straight from a New Age health craze, yet somehow the appeal to energy feels undeniably intuitive and just so real. “It was the energy, right?”
Mint Records is most compelling when it prompts us to think about that performative energy. At their Sled Island showcase in Calgary, the label brought in seven bands representing a definitive Mint sound: five of those bands were on the label, sandwiched between two unsigned bands — TV Ugly and Fountain — who were being groomed or courted or just played a lot in the Mint office. That definitive Mint sound — which is also a distinctly Canadian sound — emerges from a definitive energy. At the same time, the showcase and the bands that were featured suggested different kinds of energy and different approaches to that definitive intensity.
Take TV Ugly, the show’s first act: a versatile four-piece with rotating vocalists and an impressive sonic range. They opened the Mint Showcase with a compelling internal tension — vocals and instrumentation perpetually on the edge of overcoming one another; TV Ugly’s energy was built in to their musicality. The band’s dynamism offered a lot to an early afternoon audience in a dark club haunted by the inconvenience of natural light from the outdoors. Depending on if you count the opening night, this was the fourth day of the festival and the outside light came with a reminder that the crowd’s energy was slowly being depleted. Despite TV Ugly’s internal energy, the band remained beholden to the unpredictable give-and-take between performers and audience. There’s a circulation of energy, and in that way, energy becomes something to be managed — an administrative task sometimes at odds from the music itself.
For the most part, that administrative task falls on the performers. Energy is labour. It’s the discursive point at which the labour of the performers becomes visible. If only momentarily, creative effort is recognized as work, and not just pure enjoyment or recreation. Tough Age, bopping around the Commonwealth stage, throwing themselves into the music, injecting juice back into surf pop, reminded us that energy is a metabolic process, with calories in and calories out. Stripping his sweaty shirt off mid-set, Tough Age’s frontman, Jarrett K., was a testament to labour, to the overheating body in work.
What’s funny is that for all it’s wild shakes and shouts, Mint isn’t particularly aggressive. It doesn’t purport to be, either. There’s a rawness, an edge, but the label’s sound is raw inasmuch as it approaches a certain low-fi type of energy. Mint’s latest signees, Heaven for Real, were on third, delivering an off-kilter pop that tapped into that low-fi energy through a process of delays and deferrals, postponing the easy satisfaction that we’ve come to expect from readymade indie. Sure, they were an adorable indie group — a set of unthreatening, attractive twins and a happy couple — but the whole thing reeked of Mint. By interjecting their set with a feeling of irresolution, they managed to twist the conventions of the grotesquely charming. A back line pairing of both an electric drum set and a standard kit added to the band’s unconventional spring.
The Halifax cuties were followed by Supermoon who played a precise, melancholic, and oddly life-affirming set. Fresh off the release of their second album, Supermoon’s music was airy and dark, translating a well controlled downward energy.
Measured intensity defined the next two acts as well. Faith Healer were quietly arresting, in that graceful, serious musician way that comes with the risk of being dull. And, for his part, Jay Arner’s set started off tepid but grew on the audience slowly, keeping the same smiley demeanor throughout. Arner gave the impression of knowing something you don’t know, without being condescending about it. He floats around another pillar of energy discourse: charisma. What fascinates me about Jay Arner isn’t exactly a fiery stage presence, but a self-assuredness; the audience is along for the ride with him, and he takes them wherever he feels like taking them.
Finishing off the night was Fountain, playing their second out of three Sled Island sets. The measured intensity of the last three bands gave way to the commanding, full-on engagement of the Victoria four-piece. Fountain’s energy took monopoly over the economy of attention. Their forceful set spoke volumes of the showcase’s curation. On the year of their 25th anniversary, Mint reminds us that energy, despite its shifting contours and lukewarm spiritual appeal, remains crucial as ever.