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Doldrums

May 12/2015
WORDS Roland Pemberton PHOTOGRAPHY Neil Mota

“The combination of mess and chaos has been one of the things I’ve been most interested in,” says Airick Woodhead, the primary songwriter and producer behind Doldrums. The freewheeling Montreal-based electronic pop group is freshly signed to the iconic rock label Sub Pop and has just released its new record, The Air Conditioned Nightmare, on April 7, 2015. “With psychedelic music, it’s often what you read into it rather than what it tells you. So even though there’s more information, it leaves more up to the listener.”

Named after the 1945 Henry Miller book, The Air Conditioned Nightmare brings to mind the image of a dystopian present where even temporary discomfort is an inconvenience to be avoided at all costs. But for all the technological conceits of the title, Woodhead’s lyrics revolve around human interactions, romantic entanglements and the uneasy dynamics of contemporary urban life.

We’re at this time where a lot of music is being really explicit about its themes. I still like the idea of the songwriter addressing issues thematically [but] still having a romanticism in whatever themes you’re addressing.

“We’re at this time where a lot of music is being really explicit about its themes. I still like the idea of the songwriter addressing issues thematically [but] still having a romanticism in whatever themes you’re addressing.”

Woodhead’s previous effort, 2013’s Lesser Evil, emerged from the backdrop of a burgeoning loft party scene in Montreal that found musicians of various genres playing mixed bills at all-night gatherings and drawing inspiration from club music, like a 21st century version of Manchester’s rave scene. Airick Woodhead lived in one such venue, the legendary Le Rideau déchiré (the Torn Curtain).

“I still jam at Torn [Curtain]. I definitely reminisce about that one summer that was fucking crazy every weekend, like 500 people,” says Woodhead. “Having a setting for your music is the most important thing. Having a venue especially makes for the most fertile ground for creativity because you have people [performing] and you have an audience. There gets to be some communication there. It sets the parameters for necessary creativity.”

A jumble of distorted samples, ethereal vocals and electronic noise that sounds like the damaged laptop it came from, Lesser Evil figured amongst the second wave of physical releases to come from Montreal’s Arbutus Records, a cadre of Mile End pop futurists with divergent sounds but a similar ethos and aesthetic. But since that time, the principal figures have been largely absent from the city, be it due to touring obligations or relocation.

“I don’t think I would’ve been able to make records at all if it hadn’t been for the support of people like Seb [Cowan, CEO of Arbutus Records] and Claire [Boucher, of Grimes]. I don’t think the music would’ve sounded the way it did if it wasn’t for Kyle [Jukka, from Pop Winds and Flow Child], Tim [Lafontaine, from Cop Car Bonfire] and Sami [Blanco].”

The Air Conditioned Nightmare is a deeper listen than Lesser Evil, a distinctively more mature and organic statement that draws from the considerable mixing talents of Damian Taylor (Björk, Arcade Fire) and Shawn Everett (Julian Casablancas, Weezer). The Air Conditioned Nightmare occasionally sounds like the soundtrack to the after-party at the end of the world. This shift has a lot to do with Woodhead moonlighting as a DJ in recent years.

“I have so much respect for having a honed, cohesive DJ set,” says Woodhead. “It’s more about learning about genre in general, in terms of electronic music… Getting into tools a bit more in that way, drum sounds and patterns, things like that. Deconstructing techno has been the most creative thing for me.”

Album opener “HOTFOOT” is the closest Woodhead gets to replicating the frenetic live energy of the afterhours events he arose from – a raging storm of digital screams, cymbal crashes and skittering techno rhythms.

“I would love for Doldrums to sound like the house band at the Montreal weird loft party. That’s all I care about.”

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