Thursday, July 23, 2015

Recording: Above Top Secret

Artist: Above Top Secret (feat. Lido Pimienta)

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Harbourfront Centre – Lakefront Terrace ("Harbourfront SoundClash" finals), July 11, 2015.

Above Top Secret - unknown

Harbourfront's SoundClash contest has always seemed like a bit of an odd beast to me. Stuck with the baggage of a million cruddy Battle of The Bands, the whole thing feels vaguely opaque. (Who's behind this, and why? What's being judged — a band's conceptual "talent", or this particular live performance? How are the winners picked? If the festival brags about the quality of its judges, why does it keep them anonymous? Does the online balloting really matter, or is it populist window-dressing? Should online voting count when almost no-one saw the actual competition? Doesn't that inherently favour the net-savvy, or bands with pre-existing and motivated fanbases, who will click on a vote link spread through social media?) I'd never gotten involved with the whole event before, but given the undoubtable across-the-board quality of the five finalists this year, I decided to check it out.

Another weirdness: given the not-insubstantial sum invested in prize money, one would have thought this would have been set up to garner as much attention as possible instead of being tucked away. Shuffled into the Lakeside Terrace on a busy weekend, the performance environment discouraged passers-by from stopping to check it out, and was more than a little sterile — but at least it was equally so for all of the bands. That said, it also gave everyone a chance to play in a technically-controlled environment, and the three sets I saw all sounded very good. (Note to Harbourfront: this is a really nice room to see a band in — why not host some gigs here on non-super-busy summer weekends?) Rather than a contest to win the affection of the masses, the vibe here was old-fashioned "industry" — a closed-off showcase for artists to impress a secret cabal. It's to the musicians' credit that they still managed to spark some energy and give good performances.

Something old/something new here, as this was the first formal gig for electro-dub feminist hip-hop crew Above Top Secret. But they're no newcomers, having been on the scene for several years as Abstract Random before a membership change led to a re-think/re-brand/re-launch. Debuting a full set of new material (only single "Ghost" has had a public airing), core members SunSun and Ayo Leilani were joined by Brandon Valdivia on percussion — and on this song by vocalist Lido Pimienta. There were "personal" songs about friendships lost and other emotional travails as well as some very strong political ones, including the stark electro-blues posted here. In a city where the police murders of Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby remain virtually unaddressed, the opening here ("this ain't a game / they're out for blood") feels raw and immediate before turning (with Pimienta's plaintive backing vocals) to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. This was powerful stuff, and a very worthy winner of the contest's first prize.

[As part of their prize, ATS will be given the chance to play on Harbourfront's big stage on September 8th. Before then, you can catch them next Thursday (July 30th) at The Piston, and also playing a late-night set at Camp Wavelength on Friday, August 28th.]

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

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