WE FEEL COOL BECAUSE DENISE BENSON WROTE ABOUT US IN THE GRID
What: The restlessly creative duo re-imagines their world, with a new album and fresh philosophies
Why: Like many, I fell hard for Phèdre when they released the decadent video for “In Decay” early in 2012, and followed it a few months later with an incredibly creative self-titled album. As I wrote last year, Phèdre referenced decades of pop music history while it borrowed liberally from hip-hop, noise rock and ’60s psychedelia, and re-imagined it all into an electronic whole. Phèdre’s Daniel Lee and April Aliermo—also of Hooded Fang—collaborated with Doldrums on that album, but return now as a duo to release sophomore album Golden Age. Out today via Daps Records on CD and vinyl formats, Golden Age picks up where the last, decidedly lo-fi, album left off, but with a slightly more polished approach and tighter songwriting. A colourful booklet is also included, containing lyrics and collage art pieces that Aliermo created for each song. While the duo currently tours across Europe, Aliermo took time out to tell me that this album will later be followed by a mixtape “and other material that we’ve been exploring. Some have a lot more live instruments—kind of a meld of Phèdre and our other old band, Tonka Puma. Classy but trashy.”
I also asked Aliermo about the inclusion of culturally specific references and imagery in Phèdre’s work. The new strobe-filled video for “Ancient Nouveau,” for example, features First Nations dancers and was inspired, according to the band, “by Chief Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation, and her fight against the apathy of the Canadian government towards First Nations communities in Canada.” Aliermo’s near-90-year-old grandmother starred in the video for Phèdre’s “Aphrodite,” while face paint, masks, and clothing such as loincloths are constants in the band’s visuals.
“We are definitely conscious of the imagery we put in our videos, and who and what are represented in them,” says Aliermo. “Daniel is half-German and half Chinese-Surinamese, and I’m a Filipina woman. I didn’t have any relatable role models growing up; I grew up mostly only seeing straight, white men in the media. For anyone who isn’t part of any of those demographics—LGBQT people, visible minorities, women—that can be really harsh on your self-worth. All our work, lyrically and visually, includes a lot of things—imagined worlds, alternate realities, expressions of love and lust—but they also include stories of people who aren’t always represented in a heroic fashion.
“All the loin cloths in our videos are wrapped in a way that is traditional in the Philippines. One of our dancers, stylists, and a close friend, Jodinand Aguillon, is Filipino, too, and is always so happy when he can incorporate the bahag into our outfits.
“It is true, however, that we like to wear costumes and make ourselves and our friends look as interesting as possible when presenting ourselves. Visually, we are inspired by everything from comic books to campy movies, our friends’ fashions and the styles of people from around the world doing their thing, old R&B and rap videos, and more.”
Where & When: True to form, Phèdre launches Golden Age in Toronto with a Hallowe’en-weekend warehouse party, Nov. 2 at 35 Strachan. The evening kicks off at 10 p.m. with a performance by Ken Park, followed by Datu, Petra Glynt, and Phèdre themselves, with DJ BennyBen in between. Phèdre pal Michaud Garneau, of Clay & Paper Theatre, is creating puppets inspired by the new album, and other friends will join the duo on stage. Cover is $7 for those in costume, $10 without.
“Dressing up allows people to wile out a bit more,” says Aliermo. “When the crowd is letting loose, it allows us to really go for it, too. There’s definitely going to be a mystical energy in the air.”