I haven't seen many electronic artists perform live. The appeal of live music, to me at least, is watching people recreate their music right in front of you. In some small way it is an act full of insecurity, that musicians have to travel the world proving to their fans that no "studio magic" was used, and that the music on the album is real and can be played at whim. It is disappointing for people to hear that their favourite artist is a studio band
and touring for them is impossible without some radical compromises. Fanatical fans of Hatebeak
, for example, will be undoubtedly crestfallen
to hear that the lead vocalist has ears far too sensitive for a live performance.
Electronic artists who work completely on a computer have been performing live for years. Their performance consists of them standing at a laptop, tweaking certain parts of songs in real time and doing a sort of live remix, like a DJ would. I don't want to see that. Don't get me started on chiptunes artists, some of whom just stand there playing Gameboy in front of everyone. The worst offenders would potentially be ones who just hit play on whatever media player they have and then shuffle around in time to the music. Please tell me I just made this kind of person up.
So I went to see Holy Fuck live.
Holy Fuck is an improvisational analog electronic band from Toronto, Ontario. They've gained global recognition in the past couple years, playing at The Mars Volta's All Tomorrow's Parties in 2005 and the 2007 Glastonbury Festival, as well as Austin's SXSW Festival in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Holy Fuck have been making a name for themselves as, for one thing, incredibly loud, as well as taking a whole new approach to electronic music with respect to live performance.
Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh form the core of the band, taking care of the various soundmakers and effects systems as well as keyboards. By analog electronica, I mean that a computer is in no way involved in the performance. In any given song are dozens of odd little sounds, all created by some kind of real, physical device, be it a toy ray gun or a child's keyboard. The sounds are fed through assorted effects pedals and synthesizers to manipulate the sound. Nothing is prerecorded; like a rock band, everything you hear is occurring right in front of you. Even the backbone of the music, the drums and bass, are performed live by actual drummers and bassists. Holy Fuck has two ex-bassists and ex-drummers so far, and the current roster includes Matt McQuaid on bass and both Matt Schulz and Brad Kilpatrick on drums. As far as I know, shows are restricted to one drummer at a time, not both at once. That would be ridiculous.
An amusing anecdote I read somewhere: Holy Fuck were touring in Europe, I believe. At some point before a show, one of the band members lost their laptop, or had it stolen from him. This came up when they were interviewed by a local paper, but due to a misunderstanding when the story was printed the journalist had entreated anyone who found the laptop to return it, for it was impossible for them to perform without it. This statement was totally untrue, and the amusing part is, with nearly any other band with a similar sound, this would be true. The idea behind Holy Fuck is to make music that sounds like it was made on a computer without touching one. From what I remember, the laptop actually was involved in the concert. They needed it for the video projector show they had planned.
Holy Fuck, surprisingly, have put out a few releases. For a band that was formed with the intent of providing a new kind of live spectacle, the first album isn't bad. It does give off an improvisational vibe, and most tracks are skilfully brought to climaxes and back down. In this way the music is a lot like GY!BE-type post-rock, building its own momentum and riding it. The album I'm talking about is called Holy Fuck, so it's a self titled album. They have a maddening way of naming their albums. This first one came out in 2005, and then was followed up in 2007 by a full-length titled LP and an EP titled Holy Fuck EP. As far as I can tell, this was done to invite the following confusion:
Bookish young CUSTOMER in a brown cardigan and glasses walks into a privately-owned record store.
CUSTOMER: Hey, you got any Holy Fuck in?
STORECLERK: Yeah, what are you looking for?
CUSTOMER: Their LP.
STORECLERK: LP? Right here.
CUSTOMER: Oh yeah, thanks! No wait, this isn't it...
STORECLERK: Yeah, this is LP. Came out last year.
CUSTOMER: No, I was looking for another one.
STORECLERK: Holy Fuck?
CUSTOMER: Yeah, don't they have another album?
STORECLERK: Yes, that would be Holy Fuck. Self-titled.
CUSTOMER: Oh, yeah, that's what I was looking for.
STORECLERK: Here it is.
CUSTOMER: Great, thanks. Um, how much is it?
STORECLERK: That one is... oh I'm sorry, that's not the right one.
CUSTOMER: Yeah it is, I remember now, it was the S/T.
STORECLERK: You wanted the LP though, didn't you?
CUSTOMER: No! I wanted this one.
STORECLERK: No no, not the album LP, I mean you were looking for an LP, right?
CUSTOMER: Yeah, this one.
STORECLERK: That's an EP.
STORECLERK: Yeah. You don't want the Holy Fuck EP, you want the Holy Fuck LP.
CUSTOMER: The first one you showed me?
STORECLERK: No, the S/T LP.
CUSTOMER: Do you have that one?
STORECLERK: All out.
They've also got a 2008 EP called Lovely Allen, which is much less confusing except that both LP and Holy Fuck the EP have a track with that name. Listening to them at home is pretty enjoyable, but from what I've heard, you have to see them live to appreciate it. I've seen bands play that didn't impress me when I first heard their material, but blew me away in a live setting. Holy Fuck belongs in that live setting. If you like them but are satisfied to just spin their records, I can't argue with you. I just think you're missing out. Meanwhile I'll be playing their stuff too, waiting for them to come back home, and probably investing in some earplugs when they do.
Regarding the name: in an interview, band members explain how the phrase "holy fuck" is a very Canadian one, and joked about children learning to use it properly by kindergarten. The name has come under criticism from people who think it serves to make them seem controversial or edgy. Recently the Canadian government stopped a program that provides funding to various performing arts groups because they felt many performances in question did not reflect certain values of the government and people, and may have been considered offensive. Holy Fuck was one of the bands that was identified, and some have taken to blaming them for the government's decision.