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We Watched M.I.A. Storm the Sound Booth in Toronto

To kick off Canadian Music Week, M.I.A. played the smallest venue she's performed in in over five years, and the only problem was with the audio.

by Evelyn Kwong
May 5 2014, 2:59pm

The promise of the revival of summer gleamed in the eyes of all the baddest boys and girls in Toronto this Saturday as they crowded inside Tattoo to see Mathangi M.I.A. Arulpragasam perform. Strobe lights, finger guns, puncturing dancehall air horns, and full patterned jumpsuits were all bountiful as the 600-person capacity venue filled up early. The event kicked off Canadian Music Week and was originally planned to be a show at the town square, but due to a last minute change of plans, Canadian fans got to experience M.I.A. perform in the smallest venue she’s worked in the past five years. Last minute scroungers who were unaware of the guest protocol were turned away at the door, exchanging curses with the others affected. But the devoted fans who had lined up gleefully flittered inside to the dancehall tunes played inside by the DJ.

The rhythmics of the neo-rave-Bhangra-fusion music had the multicultural crowd dancing in place, mostly out of fear of having their spot stolen by an overeager music fan who wanted to be as close as possible. The show officially started when Swedish-born rapper Elliphant came out in tight leopard print leggings and a black cropped t-shirt to excite the crowd. Her untamed hair flew and bounced in every direction as she bounded across the stage, beer in hand, trying to rally the audience into excitement. She made a valiant effort blasting her neo-pop/trap beats and rapping powerfully throughout, and she even attempted to connect with the Toronto crowd by cursing out the bar’s high drink prices. Unfortunately, as with most Toronto concerts, the crowd was only there for one person: the headliner.

Fashionably late and arriving in a Moschino “bad girls” belt, M.I.A. came on after her DJ’s half hour solo set came to an end, and emerged from what seemed to be a beam of light. By her side, three dancers clad in all-white crumped onstage to the sparking intro of “Bring the Noize” as the crowd danced into a fever in front of the stage. M.I.A. played through a spectrum of her hits, from Arular to Matangi, and whipped the crowd further and further into frenzy with every song. Despite the smaller venue and crowd, she delivered an exceptional performance complete with requesting a shot of tequila, whipping the glass to the stage, and then performing on top of the bars that lined the perimeter of the venue.

The only issue with the smaller venue turned out to come not from the space, but from the audio, as M.I.A. repeatedly requested that her microphone be turned up. Despite the ferocious energy of her sonically lethal worldbeat, there were many issues of screeching mic feedbacks and low volumes, and at one point they proved to be too much for M.I.A. as she made her way over to the sound booth at the back of the crowd to check on things herself. “Take it back, rewind the track, I can’t do it like this.” Her continual dissatisfaction with the aural clarity and quality became apparent in the anticipated track: “I’m not going to play ‘Bad Girls’ if you don’t fix the sound.” And after continually rewinded the track, she decided to take matters into her own hands and performing acapella. Halfway through, the beat kicked back in, cleaner than before, and everything was right with the closing song.

Despite the technical difficulties, the night was deemed a success. Even though the audio wasn’t perfect, it was inspiring to see an artist give enough a shit about their craft to physically go and do something about it, and then seek an alternative when a solution couldn’t be found. The lazy alternative would have been to stomach the issues and work through them, but between the backup dancers, tequila shots, and the on-bar performance, it’s obvious M.I.A. doesn’t choose the lazy alternative often.

All photos by Jon Reyes.

Evelyn Kwong is a writer living in Toronto who is a card carrying member of the Bad Girls Club.

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