by Darren Clarke, January 10, 2020
“I like the use of the table knife there in the first track…”
– KEXP host Stevie Zoom on the creative use of a table knife during Holy Fuck’s live performance in 2016
A little later on in the band’s visit to the KEXP studio band member Brian Borcherdt responded to a question about the band’s penchant for quirky sound creation with, “I’m a guitar player first and foremost… so when this band started I didn’t want to play guitar. I wanted to limit what I could do and limit it in such a way that even what I was playing was not only foreign to myself but foreign to other people as well… to try to just hotwire your brain into coming up with something a little different, kinda limit yourself to see where the creativity comes from…”
I love the idea expressed by Borcherdt about creativity sometimes being defined as much or more by limitations as freedom or virtuosity. But you don’t have to care about that to get Holy Fuck. Whatever pretence crafts their music the results are about as daunting as cheesecake. Yes, the chef may have been influenced by a book of Leonard Cohen poetry they read last night on a balcony while drinking in the city landscape and considering eternity. Yes, you can care about that or not care about that. In any event, it’s cheesecake and not only is it cheesecake, it’s, “Holy fuck that’s great cheesecake.”
Here’s how great Holy Fuck is- I was given the heads up on their work in a hockey dressing room. In a hockey dressing room. Bringing the total number of great bands I learned about in a hockey dressing room to one.
Thing is though, Holy Fuck is that rare, new-ish, creatively daring, band, that if it were played in a hockey dressing room might actually get the boys to consider working it in their playlist somewhere between their inevitable Tom Petty and AC/DC catologues. It has little in common with those bands but the rumbling drums, fuzzy electronica, funky bass lines and gleaming beads of abstract musical light that navigate that backdrop are just too infectious for anybody to deny.
Rarely is something that is so clearly not designed for mass consumption so damned delicious.
Holy Fuck is the band you should know but you probably don’t. And they seem to kind of know that, noting on the press release for their great 2020 album Deleters that in a world of algorithms, “We have to remind ourselves that there is music in the margins that can go missing and that that music is more important than ever.”
Formed in Toronto, Ontario, in 2004, Holy Fuck has undergone significant lineup changes since but nevertheless been unrelenting in their desire to create more space in the margins for their music to evolve. As timelessly fantastic as each Holy Fuck album is, each has indicated the desire to continue to grow the area they cavort within.
Watching Holy Fuck live informs so much of what they do and who they are. It’s a group totally immersed in creating dinner with seemingly little worry about exactly what you ordered. But you went there knowing this. You went there desiring that– to surrender yourself to the most self-absorbed imaginings of the chef.
Holy Fuck live on stage is a bunch of men who’ve appear to have forgotten about you in order to entertain you best. Adorned in headphones, the band is pulsating bodies bounding above tables full of knobs and switches. The two tables at the centre of the show have the lead performers frenetically rummaging about seemingly five hawk shops worth of lost, toy instruments and wires, all seemingly designed to alter every sonic input, to twist it, reinvent it as kind of the musical equivalent of pop rocks candy, sitting for a moment sweetly on your tongue before playfully, joyfully, lighting up your palette.
A 2016 Fader.com article on the band summarize the band as, “The group’s sound — an off-the-cuff electronic bliss generated with burnt servos — has received acclaim from the start. And it’s a noise still unreplicated, in part because of its tactile production: Holy Fuck works with non-traditional instruments like old toy keyboards and a 35mm film synchronizer.”
Again though, you can care about the unconventional use of a 35mm film synchronizer or the table knife or you can simply press play and dig the deliciously funky offerings being served up to you by Holy Fuck.
Cheesecake’s cheesecake after all. Never mind when it’s, “Holy Fuck that’s great cheesecake!”
(Photo Wiki Commons)