Random Musical Encounters: XI and Jimmy Edgar

Here is XI’s “The Ghost” to start your week off right – and then hopefully no one can accuse you of having a case of the Mondays:

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It has been a while since Mink and I have gone to a concert, so a friend’s suggestion of going to a random DJ set downtown is a welcome change. We head to Twist Gallery on Queen Street West to see Jimmy Edgar (from Detroit, now based out of Berlin) and XI (representing Toronto hard).

Random Canadian celebrity encounter of the night: we stop to pay the cover at the door, and a grizzled man in a navy sweatshirt has come out of the neighbouring bar to ask the girls working the cash if they would like shots. They reply that they aren’t allowed to drink on the job, so he dutifully returns with two Sugarfree Redbulls for them. This guy looks familiar; turns out it’s Kenny Hotz from the classic Canadian TV gem, Kenny vs. Spenny. (Synopsis: Kenny and Spenny engage in various ludicrous competitions, and the loser has to do something embarrassing. The episode where they see who can wear a dead octopus on his head the longest is my favourite.) I hadn’t seen that show in ages, but it is somehow comforting to know that Canadian celebrities walk amongst us regular folk. And wear grungy sweatshirts to grungy bars on Queen Street. Just staying humble.

We venture up an unassuming staircase, and the room opens into a massive space with thick beams supporting the ceiling, stark cinder block walls and large windows that keep the whole place frigid. There are pop-up bars on either side of the room, metal racks in the corner for coat check. The loft is definitely bare-bones, but the DJ table and speakers at the far end of the room look like serious business – and the music, after all, is why any of us are here.

The venue has a handful of youngish hipster types milling around, but the bartender enthusiastically assures us that the place will be packed within the hour. And if not, he adds helpfully, “Come hang out with me, we’ll dance!”

Christian Andersen – not the Dane of fairytale renown – performs under the moniker XI, and he offers us a set that is essentially the telling of stories with a different medium. And the message is tempered and transformed by his every decision in constructing a song, not matter how minute. The story he tells and the method of its telling are inextricable. (Marshall McLuhan would be proud.)

XI’s dubstep/breakbeat selections – the ability to pigeonhole an artist’s specific genre eludes me, as always – and the seamless transitions between them slowly build upon the crowd’s energy, layer upon layer, until the entire room is filled with lush, delicious reverberations. It feels like sound might tip into the realm of the tangible at any moment. The crowd thrums with its unique frequency as another wave of sound envelops us. We are a room full of strangers connected temporarily through tempo, just one small pocket of energy and experience amongst the myriad others that occur in bars and clubs and back alleys of Toronto on a typical Friday night.

Next up is the headliner, Jimmy Edgar. He matches my stereotype of a Berlin DJ flawlessly, despite originating from Detroit. He wears a tight black button-up shirt; his head is shaved on the sides and slicked back on top; he’s chosen one crescent moon earring and one cross earring as his simple adornment. His face is a mask of sustained concentration that never slips into a smile.

Jimmy Edgar, Self Portrait.

Edgar is also a talented musician, as the varied content on his site attests. The site proclaims him a “purveyor of sexed-up electro-funk,” and he is the picture of precision as he bends over his laptop to cue up the next song. Edgar is entrancing in his own way – no argument there – but somehow XI’s set resonates more with me (my Canadian predilections, perhaps?).

Music as a universal language – there is nothing new to that concept. These are songs that tell stories without words. (As someone who has had the misfortune of having one phrase of that “Call Me Maybe” song playing on repeat in my head for days on end, I can affirm that lyrics can sometimes be tedious, horrible, maddening things.) A measure of true talent within any genre, from dubstep to classical, lies in the musician’s ability to conjure a phrase of music, to coax it through escalating mutations to that satisfying crescendo, to achieve that elusive, emotive connection with an audience, however briefly.

I need to do this more often.

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