There’re a few things I love about reviewing concerts in Montreal. Discovering new and interesting artists is, of course, great when you’re in a city that’s as stacked with talent as this one. But what I love most is writing about the dark underbelly of Montreal music culture, the so-called underground sounds that permeate the city’s electronic music scene. The shit that goes down in the dark corners and basement nightclubs here is often unpredictable, weird, and totally fun.
Newspeak is one of the best places to witness some serious underground vibes, and Friday’s event with Plaid, hosted by I Love Neon, was one of those nights. I arrived early for a set by local producer Ouri, and I really liked what I heard. Ouri occasionally DJs around the city, but she dropped a live set for the occasion. Consisting of dreamy techno, breaks, and eclectic beats, it was the perfect warm up for Plaid. The last tune, a surreal, ambient breaks track, was accompanied by a live vocalist. I will be checking out Ouri’s future sets, but in the meantime her 2015 album Maze should give you a good introduction.
Like clockwork, Plaid came onstage at 9pm sharp and dropped a mind-bending and memorable set. The UK duo opened with the deep, dark “Do Matter” from their latest album The Digging Remedy. Plaid have been making other-worldly electronic music since the early ‘90s, releasing a string of albums on the iconic British label Warp under various aliases including Plaid and The Black Dog. The Plaid sound, along with other early Warp artists like Autechre, is often referred to as IDM (intelligent dance music). It’s a ridiculous name for a sub-genre that most people reject (you don’t need a college degree to enjoy electronic music!). “IDM” artists, however, love experimental beats and odd time signatures. As a DJ I can tell you that this is a nightmare for mixing, but in the hands of skilled masters like Plaid, it can be a mind-bending musical journey.
I reviewed a disappointing Autechre show in 2015 at the Fairmount. That night, the music was, in true Warp style, weirdly eclectic and avant-garde, but it was the uninspiring stage show and lack of lighting or visuals that made the experience forgettable. Plaid, however, nailed the audio-visual stimulation with on-point videos, animation, and an engaging stage presence that included live guitar. The video, like the music, changed styles so frequently that even the most jaded electronic fans with A.D.D. were mesmerized. Early in the evening, the sound-system was quiet and lacked bass. But towards the end of Plaid’s set they suddenly found the low-end frequencies, sending waves of bass so deep I could finally feel it in my feet.
It’s easy to compare Plaid with another popular Warp band, Boards of Canada. This is fair because both groups have a dreamy synth-pop sound. But Plaid is a colder, more electronic beast that reminds me of early Warp music like the seminal Artificial Intelligence series. Sadly, the show only lasted about two-and-a-half hours, but Plaid and Ouri packed in so many inspiring beats that I could have listened to hours more.
Written by Rob Coles
*edited by Kate Erickson