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Making the Breaks

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The New Deal driven by progression

Who: The New Deal with Mat the Alien

Where: Garfinkel’s

When: Friday, Dec. 5 & Saturday, Dec. 6

Tickets: $15-$25

Critics of electronica dismiss it for being impersonal. They’re on shaky ground, however, when it comes to Toronto trio The New Deal, who put a face to the breaks. Three faces, to be exact. Three hearts, three brains, six eyes, 30 fingers, you get the picture.

On their latest release Gone Gone Gon e, tracks are driven forward by recurring synth riffs, glazed with ethereal vocals and punched up with the odd voice modulation. But instead of coming at the audience via a record spinning middleman, it’s all courtesy of the three musicians on stage. No samplers, no DJs, just pure, 100 per cent human-generated groove, created before your very eyes.

"It’s live dance music. It’s definitely organic," says keyboard player Jamie Shields whose dextrous claws are responsible for most of the tripped out electronic elements over bassist Dan Kurtz’s sexy grooves and drummer Darren Shearer’s beats.

"Our music’s been called ‘live, progressive, breakbeat house’, which is a little long for my liking, but we are live."

Of course, trying to pin down The New Deal is, to borrow a phrase from Mother Superior in the Sound of Music, like "trying to keep a wave upon the sand." If they had to liken the sound to an X-Men character, the easy choice is shapeshifter Mystique. Sometimes they’re more jam band than funky house, sometimes more acid jazz, sometimes more ambient. In fact the only constant that can be pinned on The New Deal is their focus on progression and their unwillingness to sink into one career-defining sound. They’re the polar opposite of the one-hit-wonder.

While fans may recognize what Shields calls "themes" from their albums, the music is constantly changing. It’s a characteristic further encouraged by the band’s complete autonomy over the production of their music, something they gained by splitting from label Jive/Zomba in 2002.

"It’s great to have that kind of control," Shields confirms. "Our stuff’s pretty esoteric. We need to be able to be pretty distinct in what we want to come out, and if we don’t have that then the whole thing gets lost.

"This latest record ( Gone Gone Gone ) that we just put out definitely shows that we’re interested in progressing with our sound and with our ideas," he adds. "It’s an incredibly different style from what we put out before, but it still has elements of New Deal style in it, so it didn’t sound like a different band, it just sounded like a band that’s taking another step."

True to form, the instrumental collective wasn’t against adding vocal elements on several tracks either.

"It’s not because we’re bored or tired of what we’re doing," Shields is quick to point out, "but we just want to try and progress a bit, you know?"

Their cyborgesque combination of live performers turning out mixable electronic-sounding grooves allows the band to integrate easily with DJs. It’s something Whistlerites can check out for themselves since local DJ Mat the Alien is slated to spin funk and soul sets to open both shows. The band often plays alongside turntablists says Shields, since New Deal sets actually unfold more like DJ sets.

"Part of the concept of our live shows is to kind of have a smooth flow like a DJ and not have too many breaks," confirms Shields. "Our sets are about 70 minutes long and usually we’ll only take two or three stops."

It’s not surprising that The New Deal has toured in the past with the legendary Herbie Hancock, another musician whose jazz-funk-electronic œvre defies classification. Bands like the New Deal are the spiritual offspring of the man whose career has turned out everything from traditional jazz to the robotic beats behind the ’80s breakdance craze.

Progression, innovation, unpredictability, it’s the New Deal credo.

"We’re not interested in maintaining the status quo, for sure," Shields emphasizes. "We always want to try to make it different. That’s why we improvise every night. We can’t really sit in one place too long."

His rapid-fire delivery drives the point home – he doesn’t sound like he could play the same song twice in his lifetime, let alone night after soul-sucking night on a multi-date tour.

"One of the biggest pleasures in playing music is getting to play what you want," he emphasizes. "So many bands go out there and are hemmed in to a style; they’ve got to play the same thing night after night after night. With The New Deal we’re able to not do that. We can go and change it up every night."

The New Deal plays the GLC tonight and Saturday. Tickets for tonight’s show are $15 in advance from Blueballs Boutique, The Electric Daisy Internet Café and the GLC, $20 at the door. Saturday’s show is a part of the Whistler Film Festival’s Passion Party. Tickets are $25, available through the Film Festival box office in the Blackcomb Lodge or by calling 604-938-3323.

Whistler DJ Mat the Alien opens on both nights spinning funk and soul sets.