Published Oct 01, 2005Who says you need laptops, computer programs and hi-tech gear to make wickedly dense dance music? Lo-tech Toronto improvisers Holy Fuck are everything a party-oriented instrumental dance group should be primal, rhythmic, flowing and, above all, exciting but they don't use laptops or computer programs to get their hip-wiggling results. Instead they use cheap keyboards, a barrage of beat-up guitar pedals, old-school toy instruments and a wealth of unconventional and spontaneous lo-fi approaches to produce their swirling, manic sound, which closely mimics the ideals of electronic performers.
Fronted by Brian Borcherdt, a rising indie darling as a solo songwriter in his own right, Holy Fuck have scored some points on the international tip in recent months when they were invited by electro-rap mainstay and ex-Anti-Pop Consortium member Beans to be his backing band for a brief jaunt across the U.S. Their collaborative spot opening for Devendra Banhart as part of the CMJ Festival in September undoubtedly turned a few more appreciative ears their way, and with their debut album slated for an October release, Holy Fuck are set to emerge amidst praise as enthusiastic and exclamatory as their name.
In addition to the dual effects-driven onslaught powered by Borcherdt and Graham Walsh, Holy Fuck involves an integral rhythm section in bassist Kevin Lynn (King Cobb Steelie) and drummer Glenn Milchem (Blue Rodeo, the Swallows). But, like everything on Holy Fuck's agenda, this line-up is subject to change from gig to gig. Such is their open-minded approach, which often cues some unexpected results.
"Sometimes all your gear will just start playing and you don't know what you're doing, it's just doing something really cool and you don't want to touch it. You just gotta go with it," says Walsh. "That's part of the fun every show is a new discovery, you're trying to figure out what is done and how you can make it work differently, like patching your pedals a different way."
Cheesy guitar pedals can be gateways to new dimensions of sound when they're used right. "Things like flange and bass synthesiser pretty much make your music sound awful if you're a guitar player," says Borcherdt, "but if you're gonna run it through silly little toys and keyboards, you might as well throw anything on there. Nothing's gonna be too ridiculous."
One of the many pedals Holy Fuck employ is the Total Sonic Annihilation Pedal, which "creates a feedback loop of your pedals. There's an effects [jack] and you just run your pedals through it, and it basically sends your pedals back onto your pedals," explains Walsh. "Brian and I both get the same things, just using our mixing boards, too. With the routing capabilities of the mixing board, you can send your pedals back through your pedals and they get even more fucked up sounding."
"The wah [pedal] sounds like a Theremin by the time you put a feedback loop on it," adds Borcherdt.
Borcherdt and Walsh also use old keyboards like the SK8 and SK1, which have sampling features and provide all kinds of interactive possibilities. "We'll sometimes sample the jam that we're doing live so we can just start triggering cool samples of it," says Borcherdt. "I actually split the output from my mixer so one of the keyboards goes into it, but the other part's going into my sampler, so I can sample a beat and pitch it down so it's like twice the length but matching the same wavelength. And then I can also sample [Walsh] he can give me a feed from his mixer into my stuff so we start cross-sampling what each other is doing live. Sometimes I put a microphone on the drummer, so when we're playing live I can remix his beats dub style."
Nothing is off limits when it comes to discovering new sounds. For unique, turntable-esque scratching sounds, Holy Fuck feed magnetic audiotape through a film synchroniser. They use toy radar guns, a toy Rap Band beat-box, a Hair Computer ("This computer from the '70s that salons have that makes crazy beeping noises," explains Walsh), run them all into their mixers and fuck with them endlessly. Walsh has even gone so far as to mic his metal set-up table with an acoustic guitar pick-up so that he can make noise by tapping on it.
"One of the reasons that we thought it'd be fun to do all these things this way," says Borcherdt, "is because we started observing the kind of music people were making with laptops and programming and sampling and looping and that's legitimate and we've kind of all dabbled and experimented with that, and we enjoyed it but we kind of thought it'd be fun to try something where you're limited by the capabilities of your gear."