Montreal artists collaborate to go above and beyond
A constant sub-bass low frequency shot across the room from the Rialto’s stage throughout the night. The deep shuddering shook the elaborately-carved walls and extended up the wooden bannister. Had there been a chandelier, it probably would have wobbled off its hook.
The source of this sub-bass were small space-like analog consoles glowing above the audience. Opener Hraïr Hratchian was the ominous figure on stage, playing traditional liturgical Armenian melodies on his duduk (which looks like a wooden flute). The middle-eastern-sounding progressions Hratchian drew from the dainty instrument hung high above the sub-bass ravaging the venue—like a battle between light and dark. Despite the Rialto’s air-conditioning pelting the audience in the face, Hratchian’s performance was a direct flight to the desert where you could wander around solo, if you were willing to close your eyes and go there.
Hratchian bowed and left the stage to a second wave of applause. Soon after, more equipment was wheeled onto the stage: three kick drums, some percussion instruments lying on the floor, more analog, and finally, Radwan Ghazi Moumneh of Jerusalem in my Heart walked on.
Moumneh wore a suit and amber sunglasses, sometimes holding what looked like rosary beads. He began by admitting he usually never talks before a performance, but that his heart was heavy due to the refugee crisis happening in and around Syria. All the musicians who had taken the stage that night agreed to donate their profits from the show to a Syrian aid fund.
Moumneh then dove into his performance, singing in a way that was reminiscent of a call to prayer; rapid, high, but sitting on some syllables. The sub-bass kicked in again, but this time the low frequencies varied, sometimes pulsating, but always overdriving the speakers. Moumneh’s performance is difficult to describe; he’s got a feel for frequencies and electronics, and paired this with electric beats. He sang a cappella for the first song, and then he stopped abruptly with an exclamation from the bass and a “Ha!”
This jolted the crowd out from the desert and into a dystopian world projected on the backstage wall: an abandoned beachside hotel, a film roll of three young boys running, a half-constructed building. He played the buzuk, which is like a long-fretted lute. His buzuk-playing chimed psychedelically over the other layers. More members joined him onstage, banging the kick drums, keeping-up the middle eastern melodies that sounded so fresh to our North American ears.
Then the long-awaited collaboration took place. Psychedelic art band Suuns and Moumneh, who’ve been longtime friends, blended their musical styles together better and more uniquely than any other collaboration I’ve heard. The pre-existing commonalities between both artists were their overall tendency towards psychedelic music, their krautrock-like consistent and elongated beats stretching over entire songs, and their eagerness to get lost in the samples and sounds. Moumneh was the clear leader into the middle-eastern world of riffs; Suuns’ main contribution was to jump in powerfully to emphasize climactic points. The band’s’ loud samples and spectral outbursts created a wall of sound that turned viscous under the psychedelic rock riffs, sometimes Pink Floyd-ish, and often times Black Rebel Motorcycle Club-ish.
During their song “Gazelles in Flight,” Suuns’ drummer Liam O’Neill and vocalist/guitarist Ben Shemie brought a hi-hat downstage and started hitting it along to the pre-recorded sample beat. Shemie, after hitting the hi-hat at a rapid speed for a good 10 minutes, began to appear distressed and looked around at his bandmates for assurance. O’Neil, also hitting the hi-hat, did not see Shemie’s worried look because his eyes were calmly closed in concentration. Shemie did make it to the end without quitting, though. Keyboardist Max Henry, stationed next to Moumneh, manned the synths and equipment. Struck by passion and the deep vibrations of the pulsing sub-bass, he was leaning so close to Moumneh that his head almost rested on Moumneh’s shoulder. Their albums don’t even begin to convey the super supernatural sounds they achieved Wednesday night at POP Montreal, so, next time, catch them.