Austra Mod Club, Toronto ON, January 20

Austra Mod Club, Toronto ON, January 20
Photo: Matt Forsythe
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A year and a half ago, the Katie Stelmanis-fronted Austra made a rare and relatively hushed local appearance at the farewell party for late Toronto record label and working co-operative Blocks Recording Club. Instead of keeping in line with the other classic label acts reforming for the occasion and revisiting Stelmanis's Blocks-delivered 2008 solo debut Join Us with a full band overhaul, they delivered a set of entirely new material. Assembling the early makings of Future Politics, it was a set that represented a kind of guarded optimism in the face of some presaged strife.

Stelmanis didn't conceive Future Politics with Donald Trump in mind, but as the group played its official release show to a sold-out crowd at the Mod Club on the night of his presidential inauguration last night (January 20), there was no denying what prescience the record offers.
 
Walking out to the reflective cascade of harps from the album's "Deep Thought" instrumental, Stelmanis, Maya Postepski, Dorian Wolf and Ryan Wonsiak proceeded to unpack the album's pulsing synthpop from the top, and as they successively unloaded the title single and "Utopia," they established an early hopeful, time-flattening mandate that put past, present, and future on the same plane and asked the audience to dance on it.
 
If Feel it Break was about feeling disconnection and Olympia was about feeling things come together, Future Politics is about taking stock, recognizing vulnerabilities and figuring out how to move forward (it doesn't explicitly lay out what the band thinks future politics are or should be, but the record does explore compassion and confrontation). A more reflective release, the album and its singles don't reach the same rapturous heights as Feel it Break or Olympia and from the audience, this makes for a more intimate, subdued concert experience.

But the band did eventually tap into more extroverted energy, visiting hits like "Home" and "Beat and the Pulse" later in the set, complete with some new, beefed up synth warps expertly engineered for the club. That they did it after setting the scene with some social prompts only further charged the atmosphere.
 
At a time when difference is increasingly being challenged in the streets and even underground art spaces are under attack, we need positive, radical voices in overground venues more than ever — and as Austra sets out on tour championing Future Politics and future politics, they're setting bodies and progress in motion, rearticulating the dancefloor as a platform for hope, warmth, and a place for dialogue about how we treat each other.