Published Jul 10, 2016Upon entering the huge, open space of Toronto's Brickworks, I was immediately greeted with the flamboyant antics of French producer Rodriguez Jr. Bouncing around his live gear with a big, friendly smile on his face and finger wagging, he was having a visibly good time. It was great to see such levels of enthusiasm, especially from someone doing a live set, a craft that all too often invites a certain amount of moodiness on the part of the performer. Though Rodriguez Jr. was dishing out pounding gems like "Petropolis" and "Sulfuric State," though, the many draws of Senseless made it difficult not to wander.
Though it was quite obviously the main element, music wasn't the only thing on offer at Senseless. Billed as an immersive experience, the day-long event was supposed to have something for each of your five senses (hence the name). For one's taste buds, there was a great selection of local food, but food at a festival is kind of a given, really. As far as smells go, there wasn't much past the odd waft of greenery from the Brickworks garden market and a few unsavoury ravers. The tactile aspect of the event was either well-hidden or incredible subtle — many surfaces were stroked but none seemed particularly like art. Fortunately, the visual portion of the show was marvellous.
Along the corridor behind the main stage, patrons were treated to digital projections like TV Scum by Rob Feulner, which was an array of gaudy bright colours and static, a piece by Shaheer Zazai, that was not unlike Tetris-meets-kitchen floor tiling, Simon Falk's delightful amorphous blob of shape-shifting colours and a rorschach of psychedelic zebra patterns by Niki Sehmbi.
If those weren't doing it for you, there was always some interactive virtual 3-D mapping to be done, which was entertaining to partake in and even more entertaining to watch, as everyone inevitably looked incredibly foolish waving their arms around with a huge set of goggles on their faces. Adjacent to that was the SubPac desk, where one could rent a backpack that was connected to the main speakers via... science, allowing anyone wearing it to have an extra boost of bass vibrating straight into their spinal cord. So, after donning the subsonic loveliness, it was back to the music, and just in time for Frank and Tony.
The duo, who also run Brooklyn label Scissor and Thread, seemed to be connected via the limbic system, never missing a beat even though the two were constantly twiddling each other's dials. Despite being on at 5:30, they were cut from a tougher cloth than some of the more headline acts. Their set was rife with dark yet somehow lovely house music. Their bass lines were chunky, their grooves were subtle — they very much killed it.
All the while though, lingering in the background was Canada-born, Berlin-based Frivolous, who looked like a coy child about to do show and tell. As soon as he took centre stage, he went into overdrive, careening around the desk like a mad man. He was an absolute pleasure to watch, and the fact that he was whizzing around an M-Audio keyboard and singing all the vocal parts too made it all the more enjoyable. There was one bizarre part of his set in which he proceeded to rub what looked like a hunting knife with a cable jutting out of its handle against his mixer to create delayed washes of sound; to say it made him look like a murderous villain might sound crazy, but that's exactly the sight that the Senseless crowd was treated to. With tinges of jazzy house in tow, however, he soon returned to normalcy and ended up being one of the unchallenged highlights of day.
Immediately following Frivolous was German duo Tube & Berger. They might be in that rare category of too cheesy to be good yet too good to be cheesy, but if deep house is your jam, then these guys were pretty on the ball. Deep house requires a fair amount of volume in order to truly reveal itself, however, and Tube & Berger were given some restrictions by the Senseless sound engineers in that regard. Still, it didn't stop them from rolling out a plethora of airy vocal tracks. "Set It Off" and "Set Free" were met with oohs, aahs and hand claps from the crowd, but it was nothing like the eruption from the festivalgoers when the first acoustic notes of "Imprint of Pleasure" soared across the grounds. That was to be their last track, and they pretty much just pressed play and bathed in the warm reception they got from the crowd, who were happy to just hear it untouched.
Considering the diversity of his recordings and his Rinse FM shows, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs' headline set at Senseless could have contained anything. So, when he launched into a barrage of acid techno it wasn't really a surprise, but if it was to some, it was a welcome one. Perhaps it was the sun's descent or a desire to set himself apart from the flowery set of Tube & Berger before him, but TEED kept things decidedly dark throughout his show. Yes, it did get jazzy with St Germain's "I Want You to Get Together" and that classic of classics "Take Me Up" by Ralphi Rosario, but even they were coated in acidic filth. Needless to say, with an onslaught of four-to-the-floor techno and some incredibly tight mixing, TEED earned his spot on the top of the bill.
The real star of Senseless, though, was the venue itself. The industrial backdrop for the festival added much to the overall experience of the day, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither dirty nor clean, neither out of place nor totally fitting. With Luminato and Unsound taking over the Hearn Generating Station, the It's Not U It's Me crew utilizing The Power Plant, and now Senseless transforming the Evergreen Brickworks, Toronto is seeing a well organized revival of cheeky rave spots, something the city has been crying out for since the late '90s.