The backlit bravado of Toronto's controller.controller
Mar, 31 2005
Hey Canada, we have the makings of a pretty serious indie scene in our country. Last night I ripped the Rapture pins off my Members Only jacket, hung my Chucks, burning, over a telephone wire, and danced up and down on my collection of rare British post-punk ‘45s. Thumping over this mess came the sound of controller.controller, a five-piece based in Toronto, who, since 2002, have been making rock music we can dance to. Surfacing prior to the (near) popularity of the dancepunk genre, controller.controller is founded on the disparate influences of members Nirmala Basnayake (vocals), Ronnie Morris (bass), Scott Kaija (guitar), Colwyn Llewellyn-Thomas (guitar) and Jeff Scheven (drums). Rather than formulating a contrived, conscious effort to create a genre-defining sound, controller.controller play music they stand behind, artistically – backlit with red spotlights, and propelling the raw emotion of Joy Division through a serious disco rhythm; dark, and punctuated by visceral female vocals. “We all listened to harder music,” says Scott Kaija of their influences.
Signed to Toronto’s Paper Bag Records, the band has now inked distribution deals through the States, and Australia. Following a series of UK shows supporting friends Death From Above 1979, and New York’s The Fever, controller.controller returned to Toronto briefly, before heading out - again with DFA1979 - for their current North American tour. Sold out shows have helped the band gain recognition in preparation for the fall release of their first full album.
History, controller.controller’s debut EP, was well received by the music press. With an excellent 8.3/10 from indie-rock’s famously jaded Pitchfork Media webzine, and glowing reviews in the UK from high-profile outlets like The NME, the band recognizes they have a lot to prove with the upcoming album.
When prodded about the trendy dancepunk genre pigeonhole – a question I hate asking these bands, but love hearing the answer to – Scott elucidated his thoughts on rock music. He brought up the fact that rock and roll was, in essence, a form of dance music, and that the purportedly “revolutionary” concept of (gasp) mixing dance and rock which came about a few years ago, is, in fact, nothing new. Agreed -- and supported by the recent revival of post-punk (dance?) legends Gang of Four. I suppose we could also bring up Elvis and The Beatles, but it seems the entire history of music is currently being dated back no further than 1981.
Live shows are dominated by – according to the band’s press release – the aforementioned “dark red backlight” which “shields them from view, [and] lends them a quiet confidence.” With an unusual tendency – unlike many of their musical brethren - to NOT mention things like guestlists and club lineups, offer fashion tips, or talk about burning some club/bar/house down (although a city does burn up and there is a disco blackout), controller.controller singer Nirmala Basnayake is known for strong vocal delivery and understated presence. “Audiences choose to participate,” intones the press release again, and if past shows on this tour are something by which to measure success, it seems to be just the way it works.
Controller.controller aren’t alone in Toronto; their local contemporaries (DFA1979 included) are also producing solid music, and developing a strong, dance-friendly indie music scene. Paper Bag’s roster alone is impressive, including Magneta Lane, and the techno-rock outfit Uncut. With bands like The Two Koreas, and No Dynamics also making an impression on the city, the normally stoic Toronto crowds are starting to hit the indie-rock dancefloor. This will be the first time Vancouver gets to see what it’s all about.
Controller.controller play two shows in Vancouver supporting Death From Above 1979. Catch them on Friday April 1st at The Red Room, and on Saturday April 2nd at Mesa Luna for an all-ages matinee performance. Locals Elizabeth will be opening the shows, and continuing on the tour to Victoria.