Real Live Action



The Vancouver Playhouse; May 3, 2011

Review By Ming Wong

Within the eclectic mix of kids, grandparents, supportive friends and curious passersby who didn’t feel the need to watch the Canucks game, most were likely newcomers to Japanese Taiko, or “drum” music, and to the sort of electronic music that mainstream radio has yet to embrace.

Taikotroniks was promoted as a night bringing together the traditional Japanese art form of Taiko drumming with the new and experimental Vancouver Electronic Ensemble. Seven prominent yet distinct Taiko groups, along with the VEE, took their
art to the Vancouver Playhouse stage. Although the seats weren’t completely full, the audience still responded enthusiastically to the heart-pounding performances, with sprinkles of cheers throughout.

The Katari Taiko ensemble kicked off the night with an energetic performance, as they demonstrated the basics of Taiko: drumming, movement, dance and martial arts. The symmetry between the elements on stage kept their set tight and solid.

Each of the seven acts gave their distinct take on the genre. Sansho Daiko, for instance, integrated a saxophone and poetry into their piece.

Uzume Taiko, known for their humourous stage presence, had a set full of slapstick theatrics. Though they initially wore garbage bins on their heads, the two-person act soon removed the receptacles to bang on them, revealing their metallic orge masks. The ogres, or oni, are creatures from a Japanese folklore. They acted out a storyline of the two folktale monsters adjusting to the city environment with hilarious results.

Contrasting from the small size of Uzume Taiko was the ensemble Yuaikai Ryukyu Taiko, who took to the stage in large numbers, including several budding children performers. They performed a colourful display of drumming in their Okinawan style.

Age didn’t prove to be a factor in how the groups functioned, especially Sawagi Taiko. Some of the performers in the all-female group were probably already grandmothers. Still, the petite performers drummed with force and precision; their arms flinging gracefully as they danced to their complex choreography. On the other end, a young member of the Chibi Taiko, the first Canadian children’s Taiko ensemble, drummed in a speedy, wrist-bending fashion. His virtuosic display was impressive, to say the least.

Presumptions that Taikotroniks would be strictly composed of barrels being banged proved incorrect. Western instruments, singing, pre-recorded music and mood lighting were all used at some point to enhance the modern Taiko experience.

LOUD, a guitar-percussion duo opting for casual jeans rather than a traditional uniform, took a next-generation approach with their heavy riffs and melody, hinting at the VEE collaboration to come.

Aside from the brief, discordant interludes the VEE improvised in between, the night was more “Taiko” than “troniks” until the final piece: a collaboration between the electronic ensemble and the Taiko drummers. It proved to be an interesting experiment between the two styles. The curtain lifted, revealing a mostly darkened stage illuminated by glowing Macbook-mixing boards. Blips, bleeps and other nature imitating clicks whirred against the pounding of drums, creating an eerie, yet exciting futuristic forest in the Playhouse theatre. Looking up, there were many more percussionists playing in various corners of the theatre; up on the balcony and computer-mixing stations on the left and right. The glowing light boxes flashed manically as the blips and pounds sped up to a heart-racing conclusion. It was as much a visual experience as it was sonically.

The dedication and the new direction that Taiko is taking, along with the up and coming Vancouver Electronic Ensemble, proves that meshing the two art forms is more than just an exotic novelty.