But, as a band, Holy Fuck--an electronic-music four-piece from Toronto that plays with the zest and fuck-all dynamism of a live music fan's wildest dreams--is bound for glory. Their shows are frantic, exuberant realizations of time and place, extemporaneous music-making sessions more open to the possibilities of improvisation than most American acts toting a jam tag. At this year's South by Southwest in Austin, Holy Fuck stole every stage it played, wiping smiles across the faces of mid-afternoon hangover-patients and late-night revelers alike. It is a billowing, danceable sound, huge rhythms married to a billion electronic blips and ostinato figures, painting futuristic Technicolor soundscapes as loudly as possible.
Trying to genre-tag it, though, is futile: Every description comes up bland compared to the band's metabolic stage show.
Sitting in a studio north of Toronto, where the band is recording its second album, one of the band's two keyboardists, Graham Walsh, tries his hand at self-identification. He considers "electronic post-rock" and "hard rock with weird electronics on top," though he eventually dismisses both. "It's just this fun little weird monster that we've all become a part of," he says, truly at a loss for anything more apt.
But Holy Fuck's aesthetic is, in several ways, that of organic electronica, a paradox realized by four musicians making complex electronic music without the tools of the trade. They never practice, and they forego the series of loops and laptops that often become normalizing crutches for some of electronica's most prominent. Instead, Holy Fuck pulls from 20 or so toy keyboards, an array of pedals, a four-string bass, a drumkit and a film synchronizer, which supplies the squalls and scratches of a turntable.
The band plays it all in real-time. Graham Walsh and Brian Borcherdt--sharing the front of the stage and facing one another across tables covered with wires and knobs and keyboards--are constantly moving, bouncing at the knees to rhythms rooted by bassist Kevin Lynn and drummer Glenn Milchem.
Between songs, Borcherdt rushes to a side-stage stockpile of keyboards, rummaging through them to find the right one, plugging it in and slapping a few plastic parts to make sure it still works. During songs, Borcherdt is leaning heavily on his keyboard one moment and stretching across the table the next, feeding yards of film from a 35mm reel through an old film synchronizer, applying a turntable needle to the grain of the fast-flying film.
None of this is rehearsed: It's all improvised, four players going off of each other and the crowd. That relationship emerged from the beginning, shortly after Borcherdt played several solo shows of the primitive techno he was making with keyboards. He couldn't afford samplers or drum sequencers, so he went with the stuff he had in his apartment--keyboards, delays, distortion pedals, anything else that could make or manipulate sound.
But Borcherdt was unsatisfied with his own work and bored with his lo-fi vocal material as The Remains of Brian Borcherdt. He recruited Lynn (of Canadian mainstays King Cobb Steelie) and Milchem (Loel Campbell is behind the kit when Milchem is busy with his other band, Blue Rodeo).
Walsh finally joined the group just in time for the Pop Montreal, a booming Canadian festival that's emerged as an important outpost for some of the most creative acts in today's indie world. Holy Fuck's appearance transformed its career: Beans--a popular, venerable Canadian emcee--happened to be meeting his friend for a drink in the bar where Holy Fuck was playing, and he immediately fell for their energy.
Beans recruited the band to serve as his backing unit for several larger festivals, including Bonnaroo's Las Vegas offshoot, Vegoose, and All Tomorrow's Parties in England. Since then, they've toured with Metric, stunned Austin and recently hit the road with Wolf Parade.
Along the way, they've broken more keyboards and pedals than they care to remember. Walsh says no one has looked at the gear they used in Austin yet. No one knows what still works. He just laughs: "It's liberating to open your mind up to make a sound with whatever you can find when you can find it. You don't have to worry about nailing the guitar solo after the third verse. We all have those kinds of bands, too, but this isn't it."
Holy Fuck plays with Wolf Parade and Besnard Lakes on Friday, April 14. The show is sold out.