Live Music : Emilie Kahn at The Drake Underground

Seeing Emilie Kahn perform at The Drake Underground (at The Drake Hotel, Queen Street West, Toronto) on Friday night was the result of a random lucky pick, and I choose the word lucky with intent, because the show was excellent and I feel fortunate to have seen it.

Being a lover of new music, I’ve found that a good way to get ideas for who to listen to, or go and see, is to regularly check the list of shows that the independent record store and ticket seller “Rotate This” keeps on their website (found here). They offer tickets for many of the independent acts that come to Toronto, at venues including the smaller ones: The Mod Club, The Velvet Underground and The Drake. While some of the performers coming to the city are familiar, there are many names that are new to me, so, every couple of weeks, I go through the list and pop names of the unknown-to-me performers into Spotify search, to have a listen.

That’s how I found out about Emilie Kahn — it took no more than a couple of minutes of flipping through the songs on her newly released album “Outro” to decide that I definitely wanted to see her live. I emailed my fellow-music-loving friend Andrea to see if she’d like to come too, as part of her birthday present, and she wrote back right away with a “yes”. (I later found out that she agreed to come without even hearing any of the music first. I appreciate her trust in my musical taste!)

I bought the tickets at Rotate during the first week of February, and between then and showtime on March 22, I listened to “Outro” quite a few times. It got to the point that a couple of ear-worms from the album became stuck in my head, particularly parts from the songs “Island” and “Three“.

Emilie Kahn is a young songwriter, singer, and harpist from Montreal, Canada. Yes, she plays the harp. Not to be narrow-minded, but had I noted that before listening to her music, I’m not sure I would have gone ahead and checked it out, not because I don’t like the harp, but because I don’t really know it. I’d associate it with classical, new-age or folk music more than I would with the indie-rock genre that I tend to prefer. Now, after having heard Emilie perform, I’m a fan of the multi-stringed instrument, especially as she presented it, mixed with keyboards, bass guitar and drums.

When listening to the recordings, I found myself wondering how the pieces would be performed live. There is such a rich and layered sound to the music that I totally expected some premixed tracks to come into it. Not so. Emilie achieved her complex multi-layered sound 100% live, with the use of effects pedals and looped recordings, which she dexterously controlled with her bare feet.

She also had a microphone placed into the wooden column of her harp, which she sang into, through a hole, giving her voice an ethereal echoing sound. This she recorded and looped, and then sang over using the regular mic. This technique was used in the song “Aquarium“, which she performed as a solo. I can honestly say that that piece of music was the richest, most spine-tingling thing I’ve ever heard a musician do by themselves. I imagine that it helped that The Drake has a great sound system, which was being operated by a skilled sound-person. It was simply mesmerizing.

↑ Going down to The Drake Underground, the venue for live music located within The Drake Hotel on Queen Street West. ↑

↑ Two pals, taken by Andrea (left) with her phone. There are strips of neon along the ceiling, that cast things in a purple light. ↑

The show began with a set by another Montreal based singer songwriter, Ada Lea. She’s a fun confident performer with really good banter.

Emilie Kahn

↑ She played a few songs as solos, including the aforementioned “Aquarium” ↑

↑ There she is, singing into the microphone hung inside the column of the harp, while controlling the effects/looping pedals with her feet. ↑

Emilie Kahn was in Toronto after returning from SXSW in Texas. From here she had/has several shows in Quebec and then in May she is off to Europe for six stops, performing her new and original indie music. The schedule is here.

Afterward, we went up and through The Drake Hotel lobby ….

↑ Plexiglass artwork by Roxana Azar

↑ Painting and wallpaper by Anna Valdez

… and into the lounge at The Drake Hotel for a drink. There was a full-on dance party going on it there!

↑ The coloured film on the window is an installation by artist Steven Beckly. You could only see it when looking through a camera. ↑

↑ A sculpture by Bethany Rose Puttkemery hanging in the lobby. ↑

Thanks for reading, xo loulou