Skylar Spence Olympic Community Hall, Halifax NS, October 21
Published Oct 22, 2015I had no idea quite what to expect from Skylar Spence, the project of 22-year-old Ryan DeRobertis (formerly known as Saint Pepsi). DeRobertis is the architect of one of 2015's best pop albums, the delightfully catchy Prom King, but I didn't have a sense of how his disco-tinged, sugary sound would be mashed into a compelling live experience.
To my initial disappointment, this was not a live band show: Skylar Spence is in the midst of a west coast tour, and DeRobertis flew in solo for the night as part of the Ryan Hemsworth-curated Secret Songs showcase. At first, I was worried it was going to be entirely a DJ set of others' material, as DeRobertis mixed his way through hyper-spliced versions of Drake's "Worst Behaviour," Carly Rae Jepsen's "I Really Like You," Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" and others.
And yet, when he got to one of his own songs for the first time ("Can't You See") and grabbed the microphone to sing over the track, it suddenly made sense to me: DeRobertis had been essentially re-framing modern pop in his own image before leading the crowd — at this point, eagerly dancing — to his own contributions to it. Skylar Spence overdoses on the delirious side of pop music, the jittery rush that normally is fleeting, but which DeRobertis just keeps driving towards. By shoving familiar songs into that sensibility before introducing his own material to the crowd, it was as if he was staking his territory in pop's great continuum.
Admittedly, Skylar Spence's excessive tastes threatens to exhaust, but DeRobertis' enthusiasm is downright infectious. Boyish not only in looks but in theme and content, his songwriting sensibilities suggest someone who, in a different era 10 or 15 years ago, would have started an incredibly successful emo band. Today, in our post-poptimist laptop-music era, his hooks are digital, and the emotional neediness of songs like "Fall Harder," "Affairs" and set-closer "Fiona Coyne" is twisted into dance hooks, not guitar riffs.
The effect is the same, though: great pop for young hearts, regardless of how old those hearts might actually be.