SHiNDiG 2004: Night 1

Last night was the inaugural show for SHiNDiG 2004, UBC’s annual battle of the bands, running 13 consecutive Tuesdays every fall. Ben, as for the last few years, is the host.

It must be said that all 3 bands were decent last night, although all were a little rough in patches. Speaking of Devils opened the night with a pseudo-folk set. A trio, whose main selling point were the lyrics and phrasings, they suffered from muddied sound. The band was clearly the lead singer’s in every respect, with little to no input coming from his backing musicians. Indeed, when the guitarist goofed up, the singer shot him a mighty angry look. Were I the manager of this band, I’d get rid of the electric guitarist. The keyboards were good for atmosphere & sound-richness, but the surfy electric just seemed to take away from the sound. A simple, soft drum-kit might make a better addition to the band, to fill in the gaps, as it were. A radical suggestion might even be for the singer to take it solo for a while.

Stuck in the middle was Automatic Fancy, and all-girl rock act. In this band, the backing musicians were the highlight – stellar playing, very tight and a clean sound. The singer, who, it must be said, brought terrific energy to her act, was probably the weekest member, shouting the lyrics to a point that they were no longer comprehensible. She did, on the other hand, have a nice touch on the keyboards, which were used sparingly but to great effect.

Rounding out the night was the evening’s winner, Dandi Wind, an east-side/German Industrial/Performance Art act. Think Rammstein meets River Dance, only in a good way. This is an act that will sink or swim entirely on the presence of the singer/dancer, who, I’ll admit, was scary intense during the set, thrashing and dancing (small quibble: ‘the robot’ popped out too often), shouting and singing over a tight, harsh techno beat hammered out nicely by her backing keyboardist (who also provided some surprisingly delicate backing vocals, a nice counter-point).

Which brings me to the last point of this review: Is it time to identify a “Lower East-side/Drive” sound? Or not so much a sound, so much as a school of music? I’ve seen now at least a score of acts over the past 3 years that all claimed to live/work/exist in either the LES or the Drive, and they all have striking similarities. Not so much in the sound (although they do all tend to the hardcore/industrial/techno side), but rather in politics and presentation. Universally, they rail against shitty jobs, shitty politics, fight for gender rights, worker rights, etc. But what ties all of these acts together is the the meeting of the musician and the artist. All of these acts don’t just play for you, they perform. They get into character, they dress up, they have props, they make you believe in something more than just the music. Perhaps it’s time for someone to group some of these acts together, promote them together, get them the wider recognition they deserve, but importantly, identify whatever it is that seems to be happening here in Vancouver.