Posted by: kaleidophonic | January 31, 2012

Sacred Balance (Tales From the Road Part 3)

Didn’t catch parts 1 & 2 of the epic road trip saga? Read them here and here.

For the rest of you, on with the story!

As our carful of sound-geeks hummed on down the highway towards Toronto, we were grooving to tUnE-yArDs and talking about new music. This led us to a discussion of the Juno Awards, which are basically Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys, i.e. the yearly awards ceremony celebrating the “best” in new Canadian music. I put the “best” in scare-quotes on purpose. Why? Because of the consensus we reached on our trip: The Junos are lame. Super lame.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking many of the super talented Canadians who garner nominations for Junos each year in a variety of categories. But it seems to me that the people who are nominated most often or who win the ‘best album’ awards each year are always the same sorry collection of people – people who have come to represent the ‘typical’ Canadian artist: Barenaked Ladies, Neil Young, Nickelback (uuuuugggghhhhh), Michael Bublé, Justin Bieber, or Diana Krall. These people sell lots of albums. But, as far as I’m concerned, they sell a lot of albums for one reason, and one reason only: they fall comfortably in the middle of the road, making them safe for radio play, appealing to the lowest common denominator. These artists aren’t pushing new limits in music, they’re not saying anything new or important or controversial. They’re not experimenting with new techniques or instruments or styles. They just appeal to people to don’t know very much about music, and would rather have some ho-hum background tunes in their stereo than listening to something new or shocking that they might not ‘get’ with the first listen.

Take, for example, last year’s awards. Fan choice award went to teeny-bopper idol Justin Bieber. Neil Young scored Album of the Year – – pretty good for a guy who hasn’t lived in Canada since the 1960s. Group of the Year was Arcade Fire, which is probably a decent choice, although I know many Canadians who have grown weary of Arcade Fire’s monopoly on Canadian indie cred. Not to sound like a music snob (although I probably am one) but nobody I know watches or gives a rats-ass about the Juno Awards. The whole thing smacks of typical Canadian-style elitism: firmly parked in the middle of the road, frowning at anyone who dares push the enveloppe, while patting themselves on the back for selling out to the suburbanites. Bully for you. I won’t be paying much attention when this year’s nominees are announced, coming up soon in February. Yawn.

So that’s my Juno Awards Rant. Onwards to other stuff.

The day after our arrival in Toronto I caught up with my younger cousin Christina, who is in her first year of studying clarinet in the music program at the University of Toronto. We talked a bit about how she was enjoying her courses, and in the midst of a discussion of one of her favorite profs she dropped a word I had never heard before: hyraulophone. “A what?” I asked. “A hyraulophone,” she repeated. “It’s an instrument that shoots out water through holes, and you make sounds by covering the holes.” Wow. This was just too cool for me to let go, so when I got back home I did a bit of research. Turns out there’s a public hydraulophone outside of the Toronto Science Centre, which I may have to check out next time I’m in town (it being winter up here right now means the hyraulophone isn’t working at the moment). Check it out:


.

Incredible.

Speaking of incredible – finally I’m getting to the whole reason the bunch of us were road-trippin’ to the tee-dot in the first place: to see Pouya Hamidi kick out the jams with his band, Sacred Balance. Pouya is a pianist, and a damn fine one at that. He is also studying sound engineering at McGill University here in Montréal. Sacred Balance is basically his brain-child, and he manages the six other members of the band with a gentle finesse. Sacred Balance was playing at El Mocambo, and celebrating the release of their first, independently produced, self-titled EP.

Pouya was up all night Friday, hand-painting the sleeves. Good work buddy!

I’d had a chance to listen in briefly to their rehearsal the afternoon before, which had only gotten me even more excited about the show. Sacred Balance plays stuff that I find hard to categorize – which for me is a very strong point for the band. They don’t sound like someone else, they aren’t just playing in a genre that’s been done to death. I guess the closest I could come would be to describe it as some sort of mix between mid-period Radiohead, world-music, and electronic. But the best way to understand what I’m talking about is to visit their website, where you can listen to songs from the new disc.

The show got started with singer-songwriter Carlo Meriano, who seemed strongest when it was just him and his electric ukelele up on stage. After having warmed the crowd, up stepped Sacred Balance, and they rocked the place! I was working the door all night so I didn’t get a super-close view of the stage, but it definitely sounded great, and I could see Pouya jumping up and down and signalling changes to his bandmates. The crowd seemed to really dig the music and the energy – I know I did. Closing up the show was John Kameel Farah, a pianist whose skillful electro-piano compositions and crazy intensity were amazing to watch. Its too bad that at that point, so late in the evening, not much of the crowd stuck around. I guess they were mostly there to see Sacred Balance.

What a great night! After the music wrapped up and the equipment was packed away a bunch of us headed out into the cold night for a chill little after-party at a communal house known as SHAH: The Super Happy Awesome House. Along the way we got involved in an impromptu rap-battle in the street, throwing down about the pizza-in-a-cone some of the crew had enjoyed just moments earlier.

And that was pretty much it! We made it back to our crash pad around 5am, and the next morning enjoyed a wonderful meal of Persian food cooked by Pouya’s beautiful family. Then it was back in the car for the ride back to Montreal. All in all it was an amazing weekend, full of wonderful warm people and great musical experiences. I’m still aglow with the ecstasy of it all. Thanks y’all, I love you, you beautiful wonderful beings! Can’t wait for my next road-trip adventure!

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