Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageFrom Quebec underground, a fresh take on prog rock

By Shaun TANDON (AFP)     Jul 16, 2017 in Music

If the progressive rockers who briefly dominated the cultural landscape in the 1970s were just getting started today, how would they sound? Perhaps like the band Atsuko Chiba.

The Montreal-based group played Sunday on the final night of the 50th anniversary edition of Quebec City's summer festival, which featured massive acts from Metallica to the Backstreet Boys but also aimed to give space to emerging artists.

Atsuko Chiba takes inspiration from prog rock, the movement that gained force in the early 1970s and treated music more as classical symphonies than as radio-friendly jingles.

But prog rock, as Atsuko Chiba's guitarist and synthesizer player Kevin McDonald noted, was itself an amalgamation of influences, and the Montreal group casts its net wide.

"Wasabi Hands," the opening track off its latest EP, "The Memory Empire," is dominated by a heavy bass as a whirl of guitar effects builds and the tempo switches gears.

In a clear departure from classic prog rock, Karim Lakhdar's vocals on the song take their cue from hip-hop and punk, delivering punches in a style reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha.

"Damonsta Titillates," another track off "The Memory Empire," floats with sci-fi electronica over 10 minutes before exploding into furious guitars and screams.

"For me, prog rock has always been about pushing boundaries and trying to do something a little bit different -- bringing a tasteful amount of technicality while also trying to write very interesting and evolving musical numbers," McDonald said.

All five members of Atsuko Chiba grew up listening to King Crimson, one of the pioneering prog rock bands.

"We are fans of prog rock for sure -- we will wear that influence pretty proudly," McDonald said with a laugh.

"But we're also fans of a whole bunch of other things, too, like hip-hop and punk and rock music and electronic music."

Atsuko Chiba, which sounds like the name of a Japanese woman, has no connection to Japan. McDonald chose the moniker on a whim as the band formed six years ago after watching the anime film "Paprika."

The group, which released two separate EPs last year, strives for flexibility in form and often lets its songs segue into one another.

Atsuko Chiba designed its own studio in a remote industrial area of Montreal where the band jams at night.

"We really wanted to build a space that would allow us to be creative and to do our own music and record it and release it on our own," McDonald said.

- Sensual punk from Madagascar -

Madagascar's Eddy (L) and Mahefa (R) Andrianarisoa of The Dizzy Brains perform on stage
Madagascar's Eddy (L) and Mahefa (R) Andrianarisoa of The Dizzy Brains perform on stage
Alice Chiche, AFP

The 11-day festival, known by its French name Festival d'ete de Quebec, draws some 90,000 people to its giant main stage but also features small stages across the historic provincial capital.

One of the more provocative acts to play was The Dizzy Brains, a group from Madagascar that transports the energy of punk rock to the island nation's politics.

Playing for a small but enthusiastic crowd, frontman Eddy Andrianarisoa wasted little time before casting away his T-shirt and triumphantly declaring that in Quebec City he had the freedom to show the sexuality of the music.

The Dizzy Brains -- whose rage-filled garage rock guitar is infused, like The Clash before them, with the rhythmic sounds of ska -- have found a growing audience overseas with protest anthems such as "Vangy," which takes on corruption in Madagascar.

"It's not easy living with all those cops ready to shoot at you/ If you bring it on too much, man, they bare their fangs," he sings in Malagasy.

The Quebec festival had one of its more experimental headliners Saturday with Gorillaz, the side project of Blur's Damon Albarn.

Envisioned as a "virtual band" of animated characters, Gorillaz in its stage version was clearly real with Albarn playing with guests including rising R&B singer Kelela -- but the "members" of the group appeared behind them as cartoon actors.

More about Entertainment, Canada, Music, Festival
More news from