X Avant Night Two: Elisa Harkins / Laura Ortman / Mourning Coup 918 Bathurst, Toronto ON, October 12

X Avant Night Two: Elisa Harkins / Laura Ortman / Mourning Coup 918 Bathurst, Toronto ON, October 12
Photo: Tom Beedham

Presented in collaboration with Revolutions Per Minute, the second night of this year's X Avant (and the second night of RPM Live's 2017-18 season) offered a radical showcase of Indigenous futurism.
At the helm of a vintage groovebox, Vancouver's Mourning Coup — the musical venture of Siksika Nation daughter Chandra Melting Tallow — led the night with a journey into deep-space darkness. Joined onstage by a bassist that hung out in the background tending to textural details, Melting Tallow debuted a handful of decidedly broodier entries that stood in contrast to the sounds she debuted on 2015's Baby Blue, booming vocals commanding industrial snares and dark electro arpeggios. She played a cover of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's "Shots," turning up its source material's sunglasses-at-night vibe with a throbbing gothic club update that swapped out the machine gun guitar for a cleaner, moodier mix of darkened atmospherics. It was arresting, reverb-on-everything sound at the height of its potential in the former church hall at 918 Bathurst.
Opening with a distorted blast of ebbing violin delay, a following set from Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) left her mark on every naked eardrum and took up residence radiating inward with a genre-bending set of expressionist release. Known for an impressive catalogue that bridges work in dance, poetry, activism and soundtrack work, Ortman's X Avant set explored the many angles of her solo violin practice, variously loop-based but occasionally soaring to lofty heights. At points, she dive-bombed into raging bits of string shredding noise, plucking at majestic orchestral samples with defiant glee — a real trip.
Then, the stage cleared of any remaining gear for the most extroverted set of the night. Elisa Harkins (Cherokee/Muscogee Creek, pictured above) tied the night off with hypnotic spells of sleek, glittery disco pop delivered in Cherokee and English. Unfussed with the technical obligations of summoning up her compositions live, Harkins was free to guide listeners into her world over choreographed dance moves, spinning and striking poses all over while gesture-triggered lights responded in kind. It was a hard right turn out of the avant-comfort zone Music Gallery and X Avant patrons are used to, but it was also the shortest set of the night, and Harkins played it up with gusto, playfully inviting listeners to take a chance as she delivered earworms about bear hunts and the spiritual applications of peyote: "Don't you worry, pow wow with me."

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