Electro-pop music surges in popularity

Thunderheist frontwoman Isis has always had a persuasive way about her.

TORONTO — Thunderheist frontwoman Isis has always had a persuasive way about her.

The same Toronto singer/rapper who implored dancers to “work it till your stomach hurtin’ ” thinks Canada has become an especially fertile breeding ground for new electro-pop acts — and as her group is beginning to blow up, she’s hoping some of her Canuck peers follow suit.

“It’s our chance, man, it’s our time,” she said in a recent interview. “I think we should take it, and go with it — milk it, milk it, milk it, as long as we can.”

Indeed, electro-pop — a broad, catch-all term that encompasses a variety of disparate styles based on a backbone of electronic flourishes — is burgeoning around the world, and Canada is in on the ground (dance)floor.

The list of Canadian acts flourishing in the genre is as diverse as it is lengthy, including groups such as Junior Boys, Lioness, Crystal Castles and a certain Polaris Prize-nominated outfit with an unprintable name.

And, of course, Thunderheist.

With their debut disc less than a month old, the group boasts an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a track (Jerk It) that was heard in last year’s celebrated Mickey Rourke vehicle The Wrestler and an upcoming world tour.

Isis theorizes that since widespread appreciation of the genre is relatively new, Canadian acts have the rare chance to set the trends.

“I think it’s because all the other genres have been around long enough that people kind of always have looked to our Southern neighbours for start-ups or ideas,” she said. “So what we started doing is picking up where they left off. This time, it’s a whole new territory.”

Edmund Lam of Montreal’s Hexes & Ohs agrees that Canada has a burgeoning electro-pop scene — “more so than the States for sure,” he says — but offers a different theory.

“I think it’s maybe because we generally tend to have more kinship with European esthetics,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think electronic is still, in general, the most popular in Europe, so maybe it’s that connection.”

Lam’s group — a duo with his wife Heidi Donnelly — released its second full-length, Bedroom Madness, last September. It’s an infectious collection of tender boy-girl synth-pop with a bittersweet nostalgic streak.

In other words, it’s not exactly difficult music, but Lam still figures that audiences in Canada might be a bit more open-minded.

“I guess there’s more of a variety of listeners in Canada as well, so people are more open to things that are not necessarily straight rock groups, so maybe there’s that as well,” he said.

But Nik Kozub of Edmonton’s Shout Out Out Out Out says the preponderance of good electro groups in Canada isn’t new, or necessarily exclusive to the country — it’s just that more people are paying attention now.

“My feeling is that it’s probably always kind of been here, it just hasn’t been as convenient to make it known that it’s existed here until recently,” said Kozub, whose band began a Canadian tour on Tuesday.

His group, which just released a second record, Reintegration Time, is composed of four bass players who also play synthesizers and two drummers, plus Kozub, whose bleak lyrics are obscured by layers of vocoder.

The band is preparing to release their latest album in the U.S. on May 5, and Kozub posits that it’s easier than ever for a Canadian band to overcome borders.

“Walls are getting broken down in terms of Canadian bands being able to expose themselves to other audiences, and I think it matters less and less where people are from to a global music audience,” he said.

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