A dreary and rain-soaked Sunday evening capped off a week of gorgeous live, downtempo music at Montreal’s Metropolis. First, Ninja Tune’s Bonobo rolled into town on Tuesday with a six-piece band, transporting the packed venue to an alternate universe of serene melodies and deep sub-bass frequencies (reviewed here). Then, on Sunday, California-based Tycho sent the smaller, less-hyped crowd into dreamland with their atmospheric take on live electronic music. I don’t think I’ve heard chill-out beats executed so professionally by such talented, world class artists. Montreal is definitely on the global downtempo map!
First up Sunday were Brooklyn, New York’s Beacon, who released the album Escapements on Ghostly International last year. They set the stage for a night of futuristic sounds. Beacon consists of vocalist Thomas Mullarney, and Jacob Gossett on synths and drums. The moody and hypnotic sounds were relaxing thanks to warm analogue synths, deep bass, and Mullarney’s subtle and haunting vocals. It was great music for an overcast and gloomy night. Mullarney also came on during Tycho’s set to do vocals on their track “See.”
As it turned out, Tycho rarely features vocalists, and when Beacon’s singer made a guest appearance, it felt like we witnessed something unique and special. A band that barely works with vocals should make up for it with damned-good musicians, and the guys behind Tycho, led by Scott Hansen as main composer, songwriter, and producer, definitely had heaps of talent. The band had an uncanny ability to play their tracks not only with extreme precision, thanks to the ridiculously talented Rory O’Connor on drums, but also sound like a spontaneous and improvised jam session. Tracks blended together like a DJ set, making it difficult to tell when one song ended and the next song began. These seamless transitions, rarely broken by interaction with their fans, sent the crowd into a dreamlike trance that was only interrupted with a brief intermission between sets.
The dreamy atmosphere at Metropolis was enhanced by stunning live videos created specifically for Tycho’s performances. Hansen, an accomplished graphic designer who goes by the name ISO50 for his photographic and design works, also created Tycho’s distinct visual aesthetic. A collage of videos of surfers, sand dunes, and beach life played throughout the band’s set, while albums, posters, and t-shirts featuring Hansen’s instantly recognizable style were scooped up at the merchandise table by hungry collectors. The guy is a legit, one-man audio-visual taste maker.
I’ve heard comparisons between Tycho’s music with Boards of Canada. That’s fair, both bands share a love of vintage-sounding instruments and dreamy, ambient soundscapes. But the difference is in the approach. Whereas Boards of Canada’s sound is melancholic and a bit dreary, Tycho is more Zen and uplifting, like watching the sunrise at Burning Man (yes, I know that’s cliché, but they’re known for Burning Man sunrise sets).
Like Bonobo last week, Tycho’s performance blurred the lines between a live band and electronic music. In the end, I don’t think it matters how you get your music out there, be it via computer, turntables, or live instruments. What really matters is taste.
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by Thomas Gentil
*edited by Kate Erickson