Held at a converted warehouse space in the heart of Griffintown, Red Bull Music Academy's drone showcase yesterday evening (September 30) was an ominous and expertly curated onslaught of the senses. Consisting of a lineup of Quebec's most prized and subversive noise, metal, and ambient musicians, Drone Activity in Progress demonstrated just how doom-laden a concert can be.
Walking into the venue, attendees were immediately pulled down a long, dark hallway extending towards the two performance rooms. Black curtains and grey brick led the way, as white strobes flickered behind whirring industrial fans. The surging crowd made their way towards the large room where the sounds of thisquietarmy droned on, the cement ground vibrating under the weight of it all. Working his way through his extensive discography, solo artist thisquietarmy (a.k.a. Eric Quach) had the entire crowd in the palm of his hand as he guided them through an aural séance.
When the set came to a natural end, the drone carried into the next room where duo (and leaders of grindcore band Fuck The Facts) Melanie Mongeon and Topon Das took the stage. Despite it being their first-ever performance as a duo, both artists moved seamlessly through a heavy set, beads of sweat falling from Das onto his pedals, as Mongeon's muted screams clung to the walls of the foggy room. Rays of white light shot from the ceiling into the crowd intermittently throughout their performance — bringing the crowd out of their reverential daze, but never taking away from the music itself. As she sipped her tea from a portable mug, a dim, yellow light rose from the ground, casting an eerie shadow over her face, and the duo's palpable synchronicity pulsed through the room. The pair were mesmerizing; it was a shame the set had to end.
In the next room, Montreal darling Kara-Lis Coverdale graced the stage just before midnight. Her playful, classically-influenced chamber drones served as a beautiful respite from the otherwise post-apocalyptic event. Small pools of blue light bloomed behind her silhouette as she enchanted the crowd in front of her—half of them lying on the floor, eyes closed.
Continuing on, Pierre-Marc Tremblay (of Québécois black metal outfit Akitsa) presented his project Âmes Sanglantes underneath a red glow. The lights that were white for Mongeon and Das flashed blood red and shot down like poles; as people's hands danced in the glow, photographers in attendance went wild.
When last minute addition Stephen O'Malley (of Sunn O)))) came to the stage, the night crossed into a different realm. Everything became heavier. The dissonance coming from O'Malley's guitar shook organs as he created a soundscape of crashing, abrasive sounds. The nearly pitch-black room was filled with heads tilted back in awe.
At twenty-minutes to one o'clock, Venetian Snares took over the main stage in the adjacent room, drawing the crowd away as O'Malley was winding down. His long blonde mane hovering over his deck, solo artist Venetian Snares came in like a bulldozer, jolting anyone still lying on the ground to their feet. His set sent the fluorescent ceiling lights flickering, as if in a panic. Bright red police lights went off at the opposite end of the room, as he worked his way into the core of his set. A thunderstorm of light erupted, assaulting the audience, possessing them entirely. As though a harbinger of doom, Venetian Snares finished his set soon after and much of the audience vacated the premises, some even out of breath.
But good things come to those who wait. At two o'clock in the morning, (almost) all of the lights went out and the fog thickened, making it nearly impossible to see. Blue lights pulsed around the perimeter of both rooms and the sounds of Tim Hecker, who was somewhere — though he could have been anywhere, and was seemingly everywhere — oozed through the venue. Working with songs of his latest release Ravedeath, 1972, Hecker built a dreamscape in which the ambient drone drew prime focus.
In short, it was a set — and an entire evening—pulled from some of ambient music's deepest and darkest imaginations.