Holy Fuck - Rad As Fuck
Canadian art rock ensemble Holy Fuck are getting as much press for their name as they are for the music they produce. But all press is good press, right- 3D’s Cyclone speaks with co-founder Brian Borcherdt about the revival of art.
Art rock is officially back in vogue. Even Australia is getting in on the act with Pivot. If the genre is traditionally associated with pretence and posturing, then the new 2000s strand is much more ironic and subversive. Certainly that’s the case with Canada’s Holy Fuck – their name, apparently controversial in prickly North America – speaks for itself. As Holy Fuck’s co-founder Brian Borcherdt has wryly said, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to play on many talk shows.”
Together with those neo math rockers Battles, the Toronto posse have redeemed one of music’s most stereotyped styles – and brought art rock back to grimy clubs and sweaty festivals. Fuck talk shows, indeed.
Keys and effects man Graham Walsh conceived Holy Fuck as “an art project” with fellow indie rocker Borcherdt, an established solo artist, in 2004. It evolved into a fluid collective but, with constant touring, a line-up has “solidified”, Walsh says. Today Matt McQuaid (bass) and Matt Schulz (drums) are virtually “full-timers”. (Second drummer Brad Kilpatrick remains part-time.)
Holy Fuck’s mission is to create the equivalent of IDM with live instrumentation – that is, without using a computer or programming. They harness obsolete technologies, abandoned toys, and random thrift store discoveries. Holy Fuck is a guitar-free zone.
That relentless gigging has also meant that, despite their belief in improv, Holy Fuck have, to some extent, had to embrace structure as musicians. “We have to keep an eye on that slightly because, yeah, when we started out, we wouldn’t have any set list – it was more like an art project where we would just go up [on stage] and play with no preconceived notions whatsoever,” Walsh says. “Then, once we started hitting the road, the more you play things, all these cool bits come out, and you start talking to each other and it’s like, ‘Well, that bit we played, we should do that again ’cause that was really cool.’ Out of all that, some sort of song structures came about. “Then we started playing gigs in front of more and more people – and that’s when we realised that we should plan things a little bit more.
“But we definitely keep things more improvised. There’s sections where we can stretch out, and we can take them as far as we want if we’re feeling adventurous – [if] one gig is going really well, we can take something off in a direction. Or if it’s Glastonbury, for instance, we’ll maybe rein it in a little bit and do what we’re used to. Especially at a festival, you have to be really concise and direct with the people, so maybe at that sort of gig we might be a little more reined-in.”
Holy Fuck are carrying this ‘loose’ structuring into the band’s songwriting, too, their approach still akin to that of improv jazz musicians.
The group issued an eponymous album in 2005, with a second, LP, last year.
They’re currently contemplating their third excursion. “We’ve started recording,” Walsh confirms. “We just started one last tour – we’re in the UK right now – so we’ll finish this up and then we’ll have a bit of time off to concentrate more on recording and working out ideas. Then we come on the Australian tour and, when that’s done, we’ll keep working. So we’re just [at the stage of] ‘new beginnings’ right now on the new record.”
Holy Fuck belong to what in 2008 is a diverse Canadian overground – an overground that includes MSTRKRFT, who, in trashing their live instruments post-Death From Above 1979, could be their philosophical nemesis. Nevertheless, Walsh maintains that Canada’s scene is fragmented and Holy Fuck don’t necessarily feel a strong affinity with even contemporary T-Dot artists.
“We’re friends with a few of the bands in Toronto, but there’s a lotta other bands out there touring that we don’t know. I think it’s just ’cause Canada is such a big country and there’s a lotta stuff going on. We’re a very multicultural country – I think Toronto might even be one of the most multicultural cities in the world – and so that might have a bit of an effect on that. There just seems to be a lot going on.”
Holy Fuck’s rise is proof that experimental music is again commercially viable. It seems strange now but Kraftwerk were once a chart act. In the ’80s Japan scored a top five UK hit with the ambient Ghosts. Graham is gratified by Holy Fuck’s success – and surprised. “I think that’s a testament just to how the industry is going these days with the internet and everything. A lot more people are open-minded to different types of music – and weird types of music. We find that people, like a Wolf Parade fan, are open-minded to weird electronic music. I think that it’s really good that those people are open.”
And Holy Fuck, who early on sat in as backing band to ex-Antipop Consortium MC Beans at Coachella, are embarking on an Australian trek. “Our fourth or fifth gig ever was backing up Beans at Coachella – and that was the first of many, many, many surprises that we’ve had along the way, including playing Glastonbury and then playing Glastonbury twice and touring in Europe, and now again going to Australia and New Zealand... I wouldn’t have expected that would happen, so everything’s been great.”
So what can punters anticipate- “Hopefully it’ll be fun and noisy,” a fatigued Walsh says. “Expect the unexpected, I guess.”
WHO: Holy Fuck
WHAT: LP through Young Turks / Inertia / Play Annandale Hotel
WHEN: Thursday 11 December