Review: High Tone at Montreal Jazz Festival

High Tone at the Montreal Jazz Festival

The first thing I’ve realized about the Montreal Jazz Festival is that this type of even will never happen in America.

In the US, you need big names on the bill to “sell” people into coming to an event, and yes, the big names came out to Montreal too. Stevie, Tony Bennett, and others made an appearance. But its the sheer love and appreciation for smaller acts on the bill that really sets this music festival apart.

Take the French electro group High Tone. I never heard of them, but in Montreal they are legends. They sold out the venerable Club Soda (a venue that’s a tad smaller than the 9:30 Club but larger than the Black Cat for you DC people) and had people hanging from the rafters in excitement with their combinaiton of dub, electro,  and drum and bass.

High Tone started in France in 1997 and have dropped 4 albums worth of material, giving them ample amount of tracks to play for the very appreciative crowd. The heart of High Tone rests in the drums, which take center stage. The drummer is supplanted by live bass, guitar, synths, and turntables. The setup takes the stoic DJ sets and flips it on its head, and the life instrumentation brings new life into an electronic genre that sometimes seems stale and too reliant on electronic production techniques.
High Tone at the Montreal Jazz Festival

The beginning of the set pulled mainly from their more experimental work, was a little too ambient for my tastes. They went in heavy on the dub and on what I can only call “movie soundtrack” music. Even though the music seems a little lackluster, the combination of live music and samples won me over.

The highlight of the night was toward the end, when the group goes in heavy with live drum and bass with a splash of jungle. Its one thing to do DNB with a DJ, but it’s another thing to experience it live with heavy percussion. The bass provided by both guitar and synths pulsated through the room, giving a sound that could not be replicated by mere turntables alone.

I went into this show with an open mind, and I’m glad I did. High Tone didn’t just crush the boundaries of electronic music, but they also proved that such music can be made beyond the scope of what we all consider to just be “dance.” Check them when they roll through your town.

High Tone at the Montreal Jazz Festival