Friday May 5, 2017
@ The Imperial
People constantly romanticize the past. Whether or not we have a personal connection to an era beyond our understanding, recreating a particular aesthetic or art form lets us bridge the gap with our own perception of that time and space. It allows us to live vicariously through immersion in that artwork.
Seth Haley, better known as Com Truise, performed at The Imperial on May 5, but did more than just play his music live. I lived vicariously through sine waves and 80s-esque modulation, in a dark room filled with a multitude of other devout fans swaying to every blip and bleep of arpeggiated chords – the setting overscored by a phantasmagoric haze. Bright LED panels lit up behind the stage, erratically shifting graphics cutting through the darkness.
There was something wonderful and eerily dystopian about the whole scene, which had an atmosphere that I can only describe as ‘period correct’ for the entirety of his performance. For this I blame my genuine love of the retro-future genre; it’s not difficult to understand where Seth’s inspiration comes from, what with most tracks in the mix echoing Vangelis’ Blade Runner opening sequence and employing flat and distorted 808’s to update and simultaneously degenerate the overall sound to preserve the dark 80s-drenched ambience.
It probably only hit me halfway through “Futureworld” that the reason for myself and all these other individuals being in the same room in front of Seth as he, through his calm demeanour, gave us what we wanted to hear, was because we all found something special about his unique sound. It was surreal. There was a modest yet ecstatic excitement that could audibly be heard prior to tracks that struck a chord with listeners, something so fantastically calm and laid back about the overall scene that had me shook from extremity to extremity. I’ve listened to his album Galactic Melt (2011) countless times, and the flat yet geometric texture of this album is what has me hitting play over and over. Despite its stereo-concentrated two dimensional nature through headphones, hearing it live (and I know I’m gushing about this) sounded tenfold better. The usually flat and sharp edged geometry of each synth was so rounded by the space and speakers that every track felt almost remastered. It’s usually the opposite with artists but this was an exception.
My only qualm with the set was the general passiveness of the sound. Seth’s music is so ephemeral that upon one listen the music exists for a moment, but fades subconsciously. Despite enjoying it, I found myself trying to figure out “How do I dance to this? How do I connect emotionally with a track that has no emotion, only condensed binary?”
Between the mixes, the room swayed sparingly; there was an awkwardness that filled the gaps. It didn’t detract from the experience, but it did disrupt the audience’s immersion from time to time.
That said, I can’t think of another electronic set that I’d rather have attended. Seth’s tracks are individual love letters to both a retro-futuristic 1980s and the niche sounds that echo that era. His unique sound design is what makes every new album release that much more compelling. Experiencing his music live, I felt like I had come to terms with why I find his style so appealing. I can’t fully explain it, but with the combination of the atmosphere and music, I’m just very content that artists like Com Truise are keeping synthwave going – niche, but alive.