Culture | Emerging electronic

Kuhrye-oo and the Montreal music scene

Electronic artist Calvin McElroy, recording under the name Kuhrye-oo, has recently released his self-titled debut EP. Although he admits he doesn’t specifically know how to pronounce his project’s name, the Alberta native is quickly making a name for himself on the Montreal music scene and internationally.

McElroy first got involved in music at the age of thirteen, when he picked up a guitar and joined a band. He went on to university in Edmonton, and received a degree in jazz guitar. He has been involved in musical projects of many different genres, including a punk band. McElroy was previously associated with musical act Born Gold (familiar to some as the made-over Gobble Gobble) and has also toured as backup for Grimes. This year he performed at the Royal Phoenix as part of POP Montreal, making this his second POP show as Kuhrye-oo, and his fourth overall. Kuhrye-oo explains that electronic music has the special characteristic of always being performed differently through loose interpretation and improvisation. He often improvises during his live performances, making each of his shows a distinctive experience.

Kuhrye-oo’s self-titled EP was released May 1 on New York record label UNO. Consisting of four tracks and two remixes, the EP has a smooth and flowing pace, interspersed with strange and intriguing vocal samples. His tracks are very beat-oriented,  and though the left-field rhythms may sound a touch bizarre, they give the effort a strong backbone. Decidedly un-clubworthy, Kuhrye-oo’s arrangements allow the listener to delve into the layers that compose his electronic music as he plays around with various repeating samples. “Human Rights” illustrates this quality best with its rapid succession of staccato beats and swirling melodies. “Temple” and “Untitled” include more traditional instrumental samples such as piano passages, but these fold seamlessly into Kuhrye-oo’s otherworldly sound. “Give In (For The Fame)” is probably the most appealing track of the album, with an industrial rhythm and ethereal, echoing female vocals.

The difficulty of classifying much of today’s music into clear-cut genres has led to the widespread use of terms such as “genre-less” and “post-genre.” Much of the contemporary electronic scene is described in these terms, highlighting the convergence of many different influences in one-of-a-kind musical projects. McElroy explains how this applies to his EP, noting that “every track is unique.” He has dabbled in many genres throughout his musical career and draws on a wide array of influences. A part of the pleasure of listening to his music is discovering, through the kaleidoscope of sounds, the creative processes that brought him to these results. Kuhrye-oo always starts with a beat, and then builds onto it with various samples, a formula that allows for near-infinite possibilities. Other types of music often follow an opposite process, beginning with a melody and then incorporating a beat, creating results with a greater genre focus.

Recently, a lot of blog hype has been circulating about the video for Kuhrye-oo’s track “Give In (For the Fame).” The video features Claire Boucher (a.k.a. Grimes) and another friend of McElroy’s dancing in an abandoned Six Flags park and a nearby cemetery in New Orleans. The video was shot on the spur-of-the-moment with an iPhone. “People expect this kind of spontaneous video from emerging artists,” McElroy says. Although McElroy promises his video doesn’t have any obscure meaning, bloggers and YouTube commenters have been speculating about the artistic message behind the trippy dancing and rough camera work. One commenter even remarked that the video resembled “a meaningless high school art project.” As his Kuhrye-oo project expands, McElroy intends to create higher-budget videos, to meet the expectations of his label and  the public.

The relative quickness and ease of creating an electronic album is part of the appeal of the Kuhrye-oo project for McElroy. By using Ableton, a popular music production program, he can compress the multifaceted process of creating an album. The program allows Kuhrye-oo to compose, create beats, record, produce, and perform, all on a single platform. The use of samples previously recorded by other artists was another way McElroy eased into the project. For his next undertaking, Kuhrye-oo plans to record his own samples instead of using preexisting ones, promising an even more unique sound.

When asked to describe Montreal’s electronic music scene, McElroy stresses the distinctiveness of the city. Montreal’s pluralism, he said, permits a variety of different scenes to coexist, connect, and overlap. This diversity is especially salient when contrasted with his native Edmonton, where, he said, there is only one music scene where multiple genres cluster. McElroy describes Montreal as a centre for  “throwback music,” music that is heavily influenced by past sounds and genres. “Montreal is such a unique city,” he stresses, adding that “there are so many different cultures and musical histories to draw on.” This quality might help explain why, in McElroy’s view, Montreal musicians don’t suffer from the inferiority complexes that affect other Canadian cities, and tend to shy away from the general trend of inter-city musical competition.

Kuhrye-oo is leaving for New York shortly to grow in the larger electronic music scene there. “The bigger the better” is McElroy’s attitude toward his upcoming move to Brooklyn. Next week, he will be performing at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York, a festival showcasing new artists that is geared toward creating contacts for emerging bands.

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