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Doldrums dreams of dystopia

by Mia Pearson April 10, 2015
Doldrums dreams of dystopia

The Montreal artist’s new album, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, is a chilling journey through modern chaos

Doldrums’ album release show will be at Bar Le Ritz on April 9 with opener, Moon King. Photo of Airick Woodhead by Mia Pearson.

Doldrums’ album release show will be at Bar Le Ritz on April 9 with opener, Moon King. Photo of Airick Woodhead by Mia Pearson.

“I want these hi-hats to sound like BONES,” Airick Woodhead enthusiastically told producer Shawn Everett, who responded with, “can you crack your knuckles?”

Woodhead wields wild sound samples that he’s gathered from the Internet’s ethereal reserves, or, like a kid in a kitchen, clangs pots together until he finds the perfect level of ringing reverb pandemonium.

Finely sticking-together a collage of sources that he expertly commands is the formula behind Doldrums; the electronic experimental project of this Montreal artist with a musical maven mind. Listen to “Industry City” off the new album, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, and you’ll hear a bone-bending chorus that marrow-ly escapes any percussionary mundaniality.

“You kind of curate an aesthetic using a sonic template … you want to hone in on a sonic template that makes sense, that’s cohesive, as opposed to just sampling. I used to sample punk rock and classical music, and mix it all together, and it didn’t make too much sense for the first couple of records,” Woodhead said. “I think there were maybe too many flavours. But now I think I’m honing in on what makes [my music] Doldrums-y, which is a combination of some exotica records—I like to sample lots of ‘60s stuff, and some industrial records, and make my own sounds in my studio—and then, of course, singing over top.”

Woodhead’s inimitable voice has a boyish quality that hangs high above the sonic pool of samples crashing together below, but the melodious current forces the samples to run in a clear direction. Since his 2013 experimental pop debut, Lesser Evil, the musician has shown that he can play around in the digital world—that analogue equipment has provided an entryway to—while also having a steady idea for expression.

“The title, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, elucidates this fantasy road trip through dystopia that I wanted this record to sound like,” he said. “I used to be really into this book called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. It’s kind of all about how we’re speeding up our processes to a point where we’ve lost control. The constant barrage of novelty and need for progress… a need for success is a huge contributing factor to anxiety and depression.”

Mirroring a dystopian world, the album seems to teeter on the brink of losing control. In the same manner, the dense foliage of synthetic sounds reflects life’s cluttered path to success. As the sweet-tempered artist trudged forward through the clutter, serendipity stepped-in. A major inspiration to Woodhead, Björk’s pixie dust travelled far and wide, and one day settled on top of Woodhead’s bleached-blonde head buried in a magazine.

“I was reading, like, a nerdy gear magazine, Tape Op, and there was an interview with this guy … and I was like ‘who is this guy? He sounds like a dream to work with. He’s worked with all these cool people!’”

The man in the magazine was Montreal-based producer and engineer, Damian Taylor, who has worked with Björk and The Prodigy on some of their grammy-nominated albums.

“And then, at the bottom there was: ‘[Taylor] works out of his studio on Van Horne,’ and I was like ‘that’s my street!’ It was a total shot in the dark to go over there and bring him my demos and play them for him,” he said.

Photo of Airick Woodhead by Mia Pearson.

Photo of Airick Woodhead by Mia Pearson.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare’s mixing was divided equally between Taylor and Los Angeles-based Shawn Everett, “who is a total mad genius—like a manic, amazing man,” said Woodhead. In keeping with the manic minds behind The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, Woodhead’s wish to capture cool sounds, applied to music with the same enchantment for chasing fireflies, led him to a clunky iron door. Levering the door open, pandora’s percussionary box revealed itself.

“It’s just like a 30-foot concrete rectangle, and the reverb in there was amazing. I was down there with Devon and Matt from Majical Cloudz, my friend Kyle and a few people, and we just sang harmoniously for a while; it was really fun. I later went back there and re-amped some of my sounds in that room, recorded the reverb. It gives [the sound] a sense of real space.”

Pitching real world sounds to the digital realm is how Doldrums projects his creativity—whether he’s sewing synthetic sources together or wailing into a microphone. His music reflects his psychic expedition to intangible spaces, because with a mind so adept for creating imaginative music, he couldn’t possibly confine himself to a mundane world.

“The idea of experimental music … sometimes, it’s associated with music that’s weird, but the reality is that experimental music can be a literal experiment. You have an idea for something, put-up some parameters you want to play with, you try out two things, and you see how they work.”

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare comes out April 7 on Sub Pop, and is composed of experiments gone completely awry in the right places. Just like cracking his bones to perfect a song, Woodhead pours his heart into his music.

Doldrums’ album release show with Moon King will be at Bar le Ritz has been moved to Theatre Fairmont (formely Cabaret Mile End) at 5240 Ave du Parc on April 9. Tickets are 10$ in advance and $13 at the door.

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