After spending his teens in oddball indie-pop outfit Spiral Beach, this Toronto-born, Montreal-based producer is going worldwide with his Portishead-approved rave-inspired noise.
Who: Airick Woodhead a.k.a. Doldrums is a master of intensity. Equal parts rave, rock and psych-pop, Doldrums is the latest recording and performance entity of a Toronto-born, Montreal-based musician who has literally grown up on stage.
From 2003 to 2009, while in his teens, Woodhead sang and played guitar in highly animated indie foursome Spiral Beach, which also featured brother Daniel on drums, vocalist/ keyboardist Maddy Wilde, and bassist Dorian Wolf. (Daniel and Wilde now form Moon King, while Wolf is a member of Austra.)
Not surprisingly, Spiral Beach had a penchant for playing all-ages gigs in a variety of unlicensed venues, like galleries, loft spaces, and downtown parks. It’s an approach that Woodhead stuck to as he experimented solo under a variety of aliases while recording and performing at Everlasting Super Joy, the Toronto-studio-cum-DIY-venue he once ran with members of DD/MM/YYYY.
By late 2010, Woodhead had settled on the name Doldrums. Experimental sounds and colourful music video clips began to surface as he relocated to Montreal and become immersed in its collaborative culture. By fall of 2011, during which Doldrums’ remix of Portishead’s “Chase the Tear” was officially released and followed by a debut EP dubbed Empire Sound, it was clear that Woodhead had settled into his new skin.
“I’m far more stable in my life right now than I used to be,” he offers by email. “I guess that has been the point of Doldrums since the beginning: to find something that works for me.”
Work it does, and collaborative projects have popped up as a result. Doldrums has made music and toured Europe with Grimes; he produced Cadence Weapon’s “Get On Down” (the opener on the Polaris Prize-nominated Hope in Dirt City), and contributed heavily to the debut album by Daps Records duo Phèdre.
“I don’t really look for collaborators; I make music with the people around me,” says Woodhead. “Claire [Boucher a.k.a. Grimes] made Visions in the room next to mine, so she sampled some of my keyboard noodles. [Phèdre's] Dan [Lee] and April [Aliermo] are two of my best friends and we made Phèdre in one weekend of wine and lucidity.
“I have learned to jam on DJ gear with Guy Dallas, Flow Child, Copcar Bonfire, and Tropical Adventure, among others. Cadence Weapon lives down the street and likes hearing my beats to rap over. Keeping an open mind about what you do and who you play with is the recipe for magic.“
What: As a sum of many parts and influences, the music of Doldrums does not fit under tidy genre classifications. It’s electronic music infused with the spirit of noise rock; pop music that is equal parts psychedelia and polyrhythms; art-punk rinsed with early breakbeat.
Thanks to his sample-heavy approach and androgynous vocals, Doldrums is often compared to the likes of Animal Collective and The Avalanches, but Woodhead’s joyful, barely controlled chaos grows more distinct with each release.
June’s three-track Egypt EP, released on Montreal indie label Arbutus (Grimes, Braids, Blue Hawaii, etc.), has been widely heralded for its originality and range. Woodhead’s songwriting is growing in leaps and bounds.
“I used to think of my music as idea-based or conceptual, but now I’m just interested in writing good songs,” he states. “Some ideas that are still very interesting [to me]: do the opposite of whatever you would do; do whatever is easiest; don’t be original; never try. Process shmocess.”
As Woodhead gets to work on his debut Doldrums full-length, I wonder if he finds himself torn between his clear love of improvisation and the structure that comes with crafting pop songs.
“It’s the same as with any decision: You just have to walk the line, and find your balance. I am very attracted to extremes, which I think is more apparent in my tunes now than ever before. I’m playing more outdoor shows and micro-raves this summer, so my sets are pretty consistent tempo-wise, but there is wide variety of moods and sounds on the record.”
Why: Eyes and ears have been especially tuned into Doldrums since Portishead heard Woodhead’s interpretation of “Chase the Tear” and chose to release it as a B-side to their original. Within weeks, British indie No Pain in Pop released Doldrums’ Empire Sound EP, which turned heads and gained much blog support for the breakout surf-psych of “I’m Homesick Sittin’ Up Here In My Satellite” and the synth-driven mournful beauty of “Endless Winter.”
More recently, Pitchfork gave an early nod to the “epic trip of a new song” that is “Egypt” while the EP’s “Jump Up” has quickly become a fan favourite.
The Brits have especially taken to Doldrums, with The Guardian mentioning Doldrums as a highlight of The Great Escape Festival in Brighton, U.K. this past May, while Woodhead and band performed live on Huw Stephens’ June 28 BBC Radio 1 program. U.K. music and culture magazine DIY (a.k.a. This Is Fake DIY) has been a consistent champion of Woodhead, having followed numerous posts about Doldrums with an extensive interview and feature in their July edition. It’s well worth a read.
Last week, the great Ad Hoc website and blog collective posted 100% Magic, a new DJ mix by Woodhead that shows off his skills, love of weirdo beats, and two Doldrums remixes. As Woodhead himself notes, the mix highlights sounds created by noise musicians who have become increasingly interested in dance music, a transition to which the producer clearly relates.
“I am DJing more these days,” he shares. “Mostly at parties, but I’ll be at WEMF and Burning Man this summer. I’m stoked to see how it goes over with bigger crowds, and to walk around with giant robot spiders in the desert. I feel like my friends’ music, the stuff on that mix, is distinct and cohesive in tempo and attitude even if the styles do differ from song to song.
“I connect with it so much more than I do with the majority of dance music out there. I got my hazing in electronic music at Superjoy in Toronto and at the Torn Curtain in Montreal, and my jams naturally reflected that. People who love pure sonic defibrillation—or smoke a lot of weed—can be excited by both extreme noise and very hi-fi sounds, like what you hear in clubs.”
When & Where: Doldrums performs a live set—(with a band that also features Daniel Woodhead and Steven Foster—tonight (Aug. 2) at The Hoxton (69 Bathurst St.) as part of the Scion Sessions Week. Also on the bill are Los Angeles’ Nosaj Thing and locals Beta Frontiers, Jesse Futerman, and DJ Lucie Tic. This show is free for those who (subject to capacity) RSVP before 6 p.m. on Aug. 2.
Doldrums also opens for Australian band The Temper Trap on Tuesday (Aug. 7) at Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay St. E.). Tickets for the all-ages event are $26.50, available at Soundscapes, Rotate This, and Ticketweb.ca.
What’s Next: Doldrums’ debut album will see release on Arbutus Records early in 2013.
“Recording this album was like writing a novel,” writes Woodhead. “It took a long time. I was on the road most of the time. It took me a year. I had to drink a lot of tea. I did 90 per cent of it alone on a shitty computer with half the screen glitched out.”
In the meantime, Doldrums is back on the road, playing live in Quebec, DJing at WEMF on Aug, 17, performing in Los Angeles, and touring as opening act for Austra come September. All of Woodhead’s tour dates are detailed on Doldrums’ Facebook page.