Black Atlass Drake Underground, Toronto ON, July 18

Black Atlass Drake Underground, Toronto ON, July 18
Photo: Stephen Carlick
"Lights out, please," requested Black Atlass (a.k.a. Alex Fleming) at about 11pm last night. Toronto's Drake Underground, already filled with a thick hazy cloud from the venue's fog machine, which began churning near the end of Max Mohenu's quality DJ set, went black. "Ways," from his six-song Black Atlass EP, floated from the speakers as Fleming emerged from the back of the stage wearing a black Bombay jacket over a white t-shirt, a chain dangling from both his neck and wrists. His hair is perfectly coiffed; a single earring glints from his left ear.

At just 19 years old, Fleming has yet to embark on a full tour, so his stage presence evinces slight nerves: he's still unsure of where to place his arms, and he's noticeably reticent to return the gaze directed at him by his already-adoring fans. It's a modest crowd gathered around the stage, but Fleming has earned their adoration; he's got just the Black Atlass EP — recorded in his bedroom and released for free on his SoundCloud — to his name so far, but his penchant for gothic R&B-noir (think the Weeknd, but an octave lower) has earned him a single with Fool's Gold records and a sizeable following.

That single, "Paris," provided an early highlight in his short set. While his DJ, Scott Pilgrim, manipulated his voiced, Fleming popped his shoulders to the beat and crooned in his smoky tenor, which is as good live as on record, if not a little withheld (presumably on account of nerves). He'd loosened up considerably by Black Atlass highlight "Castle," and by "Black Dog," he was eliciting loud cheers from the audience for his slow shimmying to the song's bleary-eyed refrain. Despite projecting an icy exterior, Fleming's big, genuine smile when the crowd expressed their appreciation added a touch of humanity and sincerity to the proceedings.

Fleming closed with two new tracks, the first of which featured a stuttering, funk-indebted beat punctuated by sliding, sighed vocals. Along with the second, a slow dirge that ruptured into emphatic synth warbles that conversed back and forth, Fleming proved that the quality of his EP was no fluke. He's got the talent and vision; all he needs is a little more experience and the right song to turn him from the best kept secret into the next big thing.