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Volume 91, Issue 14

Friday, September 19, 1997



Unconventional monarchs

©Gordan hawkins/EMI
"AHHH SHUCKS..." Lead singer, Kevan Byrne (with curly hair) feels Canadians are afraid to support the eclectic.

By Mark Lewandowski
Gazette Staff

A wise musician once said the only thing that does not change is change itself, but the majority of Canadian music seems to have left this paradox in their philosophy manuals. That being said, it would be grossly ignorant to say the industry does not contain small, but significant pools of musical development and ideological integration.

"People in Canada are, on the whole, conventional and seem reluctant to do anything that can't get played on modern rock radio," decrees Kevan Byrne, songsmith/lyricist of King Cobb Steelie. "We (in Canada) seem to be happy in rewarding mediocrity by being afraid to support people who do things that seem eclectic at the time," he adds prophetically, in light of recent successful British crossovers.

In an industry where the walls between rock, techno and hip-hop culture seem firm and unyielding, KCS does not want to topple off the balance beam into one of these predetermined camps.

"We create popular music with a wider source of influences," Byrne says modestly, while pointing out that KCS has a much broader view of pop music than most bands. Basically, this band is not afraid to dub it, mix it, flip it, sample it and then play it live in a five-piece, unconventional rock style.

"We are trying to look for the perfect interface between all the creativity of the technology that has come with club and DJ culture over the years, like the sampler, the sequencer and synthesizer. Then we mix with all the best parts of a live rock band, like live percussion, bass, keyboards, drums and guitar," explains Byrne. "A musician has to be excited about music in general, not just 'can I get on the radio. Can I get a gig, can I make some money?'"

"Club and DJ culture has been sampling from bands for a long time, from the earliest days of hip-hop until now and it's developed into this wonderful creative fruition," Byrne acknowledges in a heated flurry while battling the effects of hay fever. He pauses to take a breath, "but at the same time rock bands have been reluctant to learn from those people who sample."

Until now.

The new KCS album, Junior Relaxer, originated as a band pseudonym, a la Ziggy Stardust, which the band played under when in Toronto. Now it's developed into a hot album of heterogeneous sounds and rhythms that are densely packed with jazz and reggae flavor.

Produced brilliantly by Guy Fixsen of Laika and My Bloody Valentine fame, the album is thick and layered, but crisp like KFC and clean like spring water. A veritable cornerstone of music integration and a platform for further Canadian musical evolution.

"The kid with the sampler today is like the kid with the guitar 20 years ago – who was trying to be as creative as possible," Byrne points out. "Now it's time for a little cultural exchange. There are very rigid boundaries between the two, for example you can't play a guitar at a rave." And with the lone exception of bands like the Guelph based KCS or Monteal's Bullfrog; rock, jazz and turntables would remain virtual strangers in Canadian music.

Lately, the band has been collaborating with Mad Professor and hip-hop producer, Spectre. It has also been nominated for two Muchmusic Video Awards, including "Best Video." Clearly this band is ready to move forward.

An opening gig for Blur, a European tour starting in November and feature songs in Pitch and Planet of Junior Brown (two films highlighting this year's Toronto Film Fest) are just some of the band's future plans. It's a step forward for a band that is diffusing itself, but fusing Canadian musical culture.

COOL FREEBIES!!!!!! Come up to Rm 263 of the UCC and name a famous king. We'll reward your smartness with one of two pairs of tickets to see King Cobb Steelie tonight at the Embassy.

To Contact The Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997