concert review: Beats, Breaks and Culture @ Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, Ontario), July 4-5, 2008
If this past weekend's fifth annual Beats, Breaks and Culture festival down at Harbourfront proved only one thing it was that its main stage (Sirius Stage) is the antithesis of the physical environment that it really requires. In other words, dance(able) music requires floor space to dance which meant that the Sirius Stage seating was mostly a hinderance to our compulsion to move. But it seems people made due somehow, shuffling their feet within the rows, standing on the seats, or breaking out into anarchy (like during the Crystal Castles show) at the floor space at the left side of the venue. I made it out to the first two days of the festival to catch headliners Ladytron (July 4) and Crystal Castles (July 5) and that calibre of those artists drew the most massive crowds I believe I've ever seen for free Harbourfront shows. If the festival continues to book headliners of that calibre, it'll ensure the festival's success in the future, but it also makes me wonder whether the festival may just outgrow the facilities.
The massive crowds for both Ladytron and Crystal Castles created an atmosphere that was positively electric during both show. With their cool synths, sultry guitar, robust beats, and dead pan yet melodic vocals, Ladytron's show was accompanied by what was likely the biggest stage production I've ever seen at Harbourfront, with the back drop of the stage set up with big neon lights. Even from my vantage point near the back of the crowd, there was still a visceral quality to the whole production. Ending off their encore with "Destroy Everything You Touch" was as fantastic a conclusion to a show than anything I've ever seen. Musically, Toronto duo Crystal Castles (who were backed for the live show by a drummer) had a punkier quality, adding keyboard squelches, blips, and faster beats with the engaging vocal presence of Alice Glass who frequently confronted / immersed herself into the audience at the front of the stage. The stage effects which included disorieting flashing lights at times, added to the glorious ecstasy-pill experience that the Crystal Castles' live experience turned out to be, consistent with what I'd read about past Crystal Castle shows. Alice Glass took occasion it seems to stand on top of the drumkit, including it seems a fall off the drumkit and the drumkit toppling over which brought the set to a abrupt conclusion. But wow what a way to end.
Other acts I caught during the weekend included turntablist duo iNSiDEaMiND, and the social commentary downtempo groove of Lal at the Lakeside Terrace on July 4 as part of Public Transit Recordings 10th anniversary showcase. iNSiDEaMiND put on more of a playful showcase for their turntablist's skills, adding comedic and acting bits[they did a kung fu battle with turntables] to add to the experience. Though I was hoping Toronto's Laura Barrett would be there in person to add her ethereal vocals to the duo's recent track "The Tiniest Spy", it was still interesting to hear her recorded vocals during the band's live performance of the song. I highly regard their downtempo performance at The Music Gallery[complete with psychedelic visual projections on the ceiling] during last year's Nuit Blanche as one of the trippiest performances I've ever seen. But the scene at this year's Beats, Breaks and Culture was more about having fun, and that iNSiDEaMiND and the crowd did.
Lal straddled the line betwen downtempo electronic beats and organic instrumentation balanced nicely with the soulful vocals of vocalist Rosina Kazi. The live performance itself had a no frills visual element so it was thankful that Rosina kept things interesting between songs with some banter including insight into one of their songs touching on the group's South Asianheritage, and if I recall correctly, that South Asians should not be viewed as terrorists. Later on a b-girl came on to the stage to show off some fantastic dance moves.
Prior to Crystal Castles set at the Sirius Stage on July 5, opening the show was Toronto electro-rap duo Thunderheist. Don't let the electrobeats nor the skinny jeans fool you - the rapping is totally old school. A group of female dancers came out onstage a few times to add some flavour to the proceedings, an added bonus which turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining set. Even more fun to see a young dude try to rush the stage only to have security take his ass down forcefully.
Photos from the show: July 4/08 | July 5/08
MySpace: Public Transit Recordings
MySpace: Crystal Castles