Gangstagrass in Toronto

June 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm (Uncategorized)

If you’ve watched the excellent FX series Justified, you’ve probably asked yourself who does that arresting (sorry) theme music.

The answer is a Brooklyn-based rap-bluegrass outfit called Gangstagrass. Rap and bluegrass? Every person, I’ve spoken to has had that same reaction, and to be honest, if you’d asked me, I would have passed. Except…well, let’s leave it to the words of Elmore Leonard who wrote the stories upon which Justified is based:

Rench and his friends have done nothing short of creating a new form of music. Gangstagrass takes two types of music that are opposites and mixes them together brilliantly in a way that is natural and enjoyable.
— Elmore Leonard

There’s not much I could add to that.

And now, onto business. About three weeks ago I got a message  from the Gangstagrass mailing list announcing a free show, a private party no less, during the North by North East music festival here in Toronto. All you had to do was to RSVP. The caveat being only the first fifty people would be let in (in total over 175 people RSVPed). A quick email later and I was on the list.

I showed up early. About ninety minutes early,  but with the prospect of missing out on the band’s debut Toronto show and free food and drink on the pool deck at the Hyatt, I was taking no chances.

First up were Philadelphia-based I Am love. Border-crossing problems led to a slightly smaller version of I Am Love taking the stage a little after eight o’clock, but the band were no-less energetic for their reduction in numbers. it. It’s hard to pin down the style as they seemed to shift temp and sound from song to song. Sometimes garage, sometimes a more experimental sound which reminded me a little of Sonic Youth, albeit with less rock orthodox instrumentation. (I should mention they looked way cool too with a sort of steam-punky look)

Next came Brooklyn 35, a collective  represented at the show only by Tristan G. But even if Tristan was on his own,  he certainly tried to involve the crowd. Lots of audience participation raps and plenty of Toronto references peppered his set (though City TV’s Late Great Movies and Speaker’s Corner are long gone). When he said “Brooklyn” we all chanted “35!”

At about ten past nine, with the dying rays of the sun providing the perfect backdrop as Rench and his band mates took us the floor to lead us through an inspired hour of rappin’ and pickin’.

The five-piece burned through material from their new album Rappalachia along with the “hit” single and some old Carter family stuff (though AP may not remember writing that one)

As I said above, the idea of mixing bluegrass and rap doesn’t immediately sound like a winner. But the somehow the countrifed sounds including fiddle, dobro and banjo mesh with the raps to produce an extremely catchy, danceable sound.

Even though with the setting of the sun, the temperature dropped considerably, we didn’t seem to notice. Because of the capacity crowd Gangstagrass played another free show a few days later, which I was unfortunately unable to go to. Nevertheless,  I think I’m pretty safe in saying that those who attended became converts.


1 Comment

  1. fischerzed said,

    On their Twitter feed, I Am Love describe themselves as “an indie-folk/carnival-folk band from West Chester, Pennsylvania [ who] believe in free expression and organic living. be random. be kind. be love.”

    Better than I put it.

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