Published Nov 03, 2013For those unfamiliar, 35 Strachan is an artist-friendly warehouse tucked between makeshift bridges and railway lines down by the Toronto docks. On approaching the venue for Phèdre's Toronto homecoming, there flicker ecstatic scenes of a mystical costume party. The windows that aren't painted white or boarded up reveal dim visions of colourful mist floating towards exposed planks and piping. A munificent doorman greets us with a warm glug of whisky. The entrance is never not crowded; nobody minds the step.
Inside we meet: ninja swordsmen, Greek monarchs, Native warriors. Teenagers pop and jerk in foil and neon. There are employed dancers, underpriced drinks, and attendees wearing golden fleeces and boiler suits, devil horns and jellyfish crowns, Tudor masquerades, tinsel scarves, Viking horns, indoor shades, manic grins and bearskin-style hats made of LCBO bags. There is an open-door ethos that neatly mirrors Phèdre's outlook: all are welcome, but those not dancing are less welcome.
Helmed by Daniel Lee and April Aliermo of Hooded Fang, the cosmic party-pop trio start as they mean to continue. "Daniel needs a piss!" yells MC Aliermo, clutching bottled champagne. "If you want him to piss in your mouth, just meet him outside." The set proper begins in euphoria and disarray. A disastrous megaphone and mic delay combination adorns the opening song with massive feedback, which nobody dancing registers. As Aliermo and Lee crab-dance to "Supernatural," masked dancers with diced curtain toupees decorate the stage, two of them staying the set's duration to throw shapes and demand you follow suit.
Musically, Phèdre fuse dated pop with alien disco to fuel a journey someplace light years from day jobs, sobriety and conventional notions of cool, where good-time vibes trump virtuosity and the sprinklers sprinkle champagne arcs. "Aquarius" ruptures the terrifying middle ground between Vengaboys, Gwen Stefani and M.I.A.; "Too Many Lashes" is introduced as a song for people who "love kung fu and hate rape," Lee and Aliermo fronting and falling in each other's arms like rum smugglers who've plundered the cargo. While the onstage bacchanalia might leave a sour taste were it not matched in the audience, you can't help feeling that, given the occasion, a more professional performance would sorely miss the point.
At a time when laptop screens and internet communities midwife a surrogate mass music culture, the Phèdre experience is indispensable proof that outsider glamour can thrive in flamboyant colours among glamourless communities.