Montreal-based audiovisual duo DF released their new EP abcdf this past week, marking the occasion with an evening of stellar local music at Art Lounge that featured sets from Justin Lazarus (Look Vibrant) and Joni Void, as well as DF themselves.
I was fifteen minutes late to the soirée; by the time I arrived the huddled audience was already seeped in the wooze of Lazarus’s characteristically idiosyncratic, adventurous songwriting. Lazarus and his two accompanists had a stripped down set up of vocals, sampler, bass and keys that glowed with analog warmth. He took the crowd to chord school, teaching us to celebrate mixing disparate colours in the same song. Whatever emotional arc Lazarus’s songs demanded, he always chose the sounds that were right for them. His set coupled this free-spirited vision with earnestness and vocal abilities bent to his will, making for an unfailingly exciting live experience.
Following Lazarus was Joni Void, who performed found-sound electronic music, backed by projections. For the most part, he kept a filter over the projector’s lens, lightly distorting the visuals so the audience had to recall them from memory. Void began his set with a dusky lullaby of a rarity from his side project, Boy With a Red Cap. Its serene sine blips were spare but not reaching for anything more, twinkling enough that the crowd could lock into Void’s vision. The set’s highlight was a song based on an ambulance siren that flashed before the audience, running to and from opposite ends of the stereo image. During this song, Void showed us video clips of city life, but never the ambulance itself. The siren passed again and again, suspending me in a daily moment I rarely otherwise think about. Off-kilter harmonies formed around the visuals and a discernable beat took me into a bizarre trance, where the sound and visuals of daytime were bent to rhythms typical of nightlife. Joni Void uses an impressively sparse set of sounds to command of the listener’s mind, and in this set he had me captivated.
Headliners DF performed next in front of their own massive light fixture, an array of panels that visual artist Dan Freder puppeteers in pulses and patterns, responding to Dustin Finer’s saxophone. Throughout the set, Freder hopped from dimension to dimension, switching between altering the patterns on the light fixture and projecting various visual mapping schemes against the venue walls. Prior to this show, I had only seen the duo’s music video for “She’s Great and All…,” which superimposes 3D animations against real life footage. When the two played the song live, Freder opted for alternate imagery, casting ripples on a set of delighted dots. Through innovations such as this, DF made sure the night didn’t feel like a playthrough of the EP, and Freder demonstrated versatile imaginations that paired well with his partner’s music.
On the music end of the set, Finer ditched the potential baggage of the solo-instrument-loop-pedal performance by making sure to get the most out of his tenor sax. Digging deep in the sax’s sound, he reached Hammond-organ-like bass tones and created mechanical glitchy percussion by tapping his horn’s keys. Finer had a family of hearty, triumphant tunes ready for the communal vibe, but he also made time to rip freeform solos through a yummy stacked-4ths harmonizer.
My personal favorite piece of the night was the manic “Hobgoblin,” where Finer squealed through his horn as Freder shook a piece of foil against a beam of light. The fact that “Hobgoblin” lasts only one second is further testament to its reckless creativity, and the duo’s broad, promising conception of art. The nature of AV shows demands they be experienced live, so DF are a group you should see for yourselves – and there will definitely be many more opportunities, as this duo’s future has plenty in store.
– review by Rian Adamian