Want a great example of how to get hugely popular as a band without losing your soul? Look no further than Alberta electronic duo Purity Ring. The band’s 2012 debut, Shrines, was an instant classic, mixing dark Canadian electronic textures with essences of hip-hop, all graced by the soaring vocal prowess of Megan James. Corin Roddick’s infectious off-kilter pop production started a new wave of dark, electro pop stylings that hasn’t begun to slow, even three years down the road. Touring the record, Purity Ring went from being an obscure Canadian duo to a top tier festival player, dominating the stage with a unique light setup and James and Roddick’s surprising politeness and compassion for their growing audiences. With this year’s Another Eternity, it’s no surprise that Purity Ring have returned to the top of our pop playlists, dominating the sonic airwaves with another pitch perfect offering of electronic magic. But what makes Another Eternity special isn’t just contained in its forty minutes of airtime – it’s the expectation of a live show that the duo could only make happen with a record like this. This week, Purity Ring brought their Another Eternity tour to Seattle with a double header of events: a full setup live ensemble at Showbox SoDo, and a rousing afterparty at Q Nightclub. Strategically joined by fellow Albertan electronic groups and best friends BRAIDS and Born Gold, Purity Ring brought a sense of the organic to a genre that, elsewhere, might be losing its soul over time. But as Purity Ring have shown this week, that could not be further from the case for this astonishing group.
Cecil Frena has been making music as Born Gold since 2011, mixing electronic sounds in eclectic, jarring ways that can come off as brutal or open handed one song after another. Born Gold’s live incarnation sees Frena joined by guitarist Eric Cheng and percussionist Mitch Holtby. Holtby’s drum setup looks like something out of a Rube Goldberg machine, with empty birdcages and old microphones to bang on without a single traditional drum among the group. Cheng and Frena duel guitars and synthesizers in one sonic explosion after another. Frena warmed up the crowd with plenty of downer crowd banter (“Did you guys see Jurassic World? I hated it.”) and a charming self awareness (“Thanks for listening to another band you’ve never heard of before!”). But the band’s coordinated dance moves during “Wrinkle Carver” left an impression on the young audience that might see some returning customers should Born Gold come back to the Pacific Northwest anytime soon.
The crowd needed less of a direct introduction to BRAIDS as the band entered the stage. The band’s 2011 debut, Native Speaker, on Kanine has its fair share of devoted fans, as does its fantastic 2013 follow up, Flourish // Perish. On each of these, Raphaelle Standell-Preston leads a powerful sonic ensemble with even more powerful vocal renderings and an emotional lyrical gauntlet that challenges the audience as much as it engages. And yet, with every song, the crowd nods along, sings along, and enjoys every spellbinding moment BRAIDS puts in front of them. With new record Deep In The Iris, Raphaelle goes further than ever before, unabashed and undaunted by the institutional forces that stand in her way. Closing the set with lead single “Miniskirt”, she belts out “My little miniskirt, it’s mine, all mine”, taking full possession of her own sexuality and body in an industry and a society that predominantly tend to the contrary. It’s a powerful statement that resonates with the crowd and isn’t forgotten even deep into Purity Ring’s magic.
Here, I really feel the need to give a word of thanks to Purity Ring for the lineup they’ve assembled this tour. While it may look like they are just touring with their friends, Purity Ring have made a conscious decision for embarking on the this album’s tour. With Another Eternity, the band is jumping to the stratosphere of electro-pop royalty. They are playing large venues, selling out each night, lauded by fans that come at them from all sides, whether it be experimental pop or EDM. And yet, as the kids wander around the warehouse, asking each other for cheap party drugs and more concerned with capturing a feeling than living into the experience, they are exposed to something that they don’t get at any other show. Each night, before Purity Ring takes them to infinity and beyond with their light show and massive stage presence, the crowd softens for a moment to hear the incredible power of BRAIDS’ “Miniskirt”, a song that is needed desperately in the prevailing culture of the EDM genre. It’s a powerful statement to make when the light show is so often the only metric for the power of a live set these days.
Of course, Purity Ring aren’t lacking in the latter – once Corin hopped up onto his production throne/island, he queued up his infamous lantern setup and rocked it with no mercy. The one for this tour makes the Shrines tour setup look like preschool. It’s a beautiful and totally mind-boggling thing to watch each and every song. Meanwhile, Megan emerges from a forest of hanging lights, writhing around in the vines of color wearing a superhero costume for a strange electronic age. On the album’s closing numbers “Sea Castle” and “Stillness in Woe”, she utilized a bizarre light drum setup not too far off from Corin’s, except that she was wearing broken disco ball mirror hands (standard issue). The synchronized light forest on either sides of Corin’s mountain pulsed with every beat. There wasn’t a dull moment on an inch of the stage the whole evening.
Visual overload combined with the temperature in the room had the crowd feeling a bit woozy during the first half of the set, but once “Belispeak” dropped, Megan urged the crowd to ignore their internal thermometers and throw all hesitation to the wind. Dancing madly through “Dust Hymn” and “Flood On The Floor”, the crowd obliged with glee. The final quarter of the setlist was the phenomenal, massive dance party that everyone had come for, and closing with “Begin Again”, Purity Ring’s energy and presence on stage only built and built until they bid goodbye.
And yet, they didn’t really say goodbye – not yet. Megan encouraged everyone that could to head up the hill and catch the afterparty at Q Nightclub, where all three bands would be playing sets to close out the night (this is at 10:30pm, 4 and a half hours after doors opened, mind you). Born Gold and BRAIDS both kicked the evening off with house-heavy electronic sets, leaning towards the ethereal and atmospheric as much as possible. Daphni was heard, as was Jon Hopkins and Nicholas Jaar. BRAIDS set almost sounded like something you’d heard from Raphaelle’s other project Blue Hawaii – all great stuff and all big on the sweeping emotions. Plus, BRAIDS picked through tracks and bobbed along, Cecil danced furiously behind them. It was clear that moments like this made this tour of friends an altogether enjoyable experience despite the late nights and long hours. When Corin and Megan arrived from SoDo, Corin immediately hopped on stage and started in on a trap-pop set including Salva’s epic remix of Future’s “Shit” and some pre-Yeezus Evian Christ (who, fun fact, played his first live show ever in Seattle on a leg of the Shrines tour back in 2012). Corin’s set was hard and heavy and nodded to all of Another Eternity’s murkiest influences. After about thirty minutes, Megan clambered into the booth and queued up her own set. After the two played Jack U’s “Where Are U Now” (the Justin Bieber song) as a segue, Megan dropped an explosive Robyn remix and only went up from there. Here at Q, watching Corin and Megan both get to watch each other work in such different mediums, it was clearer than ever how the zenith that is Purity Ring exists in such astounding form. Here are two friends with massively differing loves and influences, combining them to form one of the most impeccable pop sounds on the market today. Couple that with an honest love for your friends and a desire to help the scene rather than just make money off of it, and you have yourself a true recipe for success. At 2pm, a full eight hours after doors opened at SoDo, Purity Ring bid farewell to Seattle with smiles, waves, and sincere gratitude. Purity Ring and their friends are keeping the pop vein pure – it’s a fantastic bar that I hope a lot of other acts continue to aspire to.
Purity Ring’s Another Eternity is out now on 4AD, and BRAIDS’ Deep In The Iris is out now on Arbutus. Born Gold also has a new record and video series out this year called No Sorrow out this past January, available on their Bandcamp.