The Montreal artist argues for the cultural importance of dancing till dawn
MARIE DAVIDSON with DUST-E-1, PHÈDRE and ON EARTH DJS KEHDO, EFEMMERA and CEREMONIES at the Garrison (1197 Dundas West) on Friday (December 7), 9 pm. $18. rotate.com, soundscapesmusic. com, ticketfly.com.
Warm, hot, tired, sweaty, dizzy, confused. The sun is rising and you’ve been dancing all night. That point where ecstasy and fatigue become intertwined is a spiritual experience for many, and in Toronto it’s largely relegated to underground dance parties.
It’s also the subject of Marie Davidson’s slo-mo single La Ecstase, produced with Italian DJ Lasuma II when the pair participated in the Red Bull Music Academy in Montreal two years ago and released a couple of weeks ago.
“This nice, warm embrace happens. You’re not ready to go home, but you’re also feeling your energy fading and you start questioning yourself. Like, why am I here? But also enjoying it,” she says over the phone from Montreal just after returning home from a European tour. “It also talks about a profound want for change in your life.”
Davidson released the song on an EP that followed her fourth solo album, Working Class Woman (Ninja Tune). Her most ambitious effort to date, the album’s analog techno and industrial-strength Italo rhythms go from wryly funny and deadpan to chaotic and terrifying. After critiquing club culture on last year’s Polaris-longlisted Adieux Au Dancefloor, this record goes deeper into both the most ridiculous and damaging aspects of doing what she does – from awkward fan encounters at shows (Your Biggest Fan) to unadulterated pop bliss (So Right) and physical and emotional exhaustion from overwork (The Tunnel).
It’s a personal album that also holds wider societal systems to account in enabling workaholism. Her interviews tend to connect dots between topics, so it’s no surprise that talking about a purely emotional song like La Ecstase easily segues into a conversation on Toronto and Montreal’s cultural spaces. The lack of infrastructure – i.e., venues – is particularly apparent since Davidson just finished a European tour where she performed in a mix of big nightclubs, warehouses and other live venues.
“It’s good for people to have that 5 am experience,” she explains. “It’s a healthy thing for people to have spaces to go to and just dance and not worry about laws or what time will it close or if you’re allowed to do this and that or not.
“Everything [in Toronto and Montreal] is the same – the same hours, the same template you apply to any kind of show. It means [different types of] artists are not really integrated,” she says. “I don’t think it’s healthy to have some artists hanging out on their own in underground secret DIY places. That’s cool but does it have to be illegal? Why does it have to be hidden? At some point it gets discovered and shut down.”
If dancing at dawn is something that can be enjoyed responsibly, she argues, why not invite that kind of experience into the cultural landscape?
“It would give Canada a stronger cultural identity – at least for music,” she continues. “I mean, I love Céline Dion but she doesn’t represent everything we do.”
The last time Davidson performed in Toronto, she played an illegal warehouse space (that was sponsored by Red Bull). She went on after 1 am, alternating between dark and joyous rhythms on her all-hardware set-up. Standing atop a table, she belted out her usually sardonic spoken-word lyrics to a sweaty assembled mass in the windowless space.
She might be playing “proper venue” the Garrison on Friday, but expect an after-hours vibe. Although the album might be a cerebral exploration of workaholism, her shows – a mix new, old, unreleased and livespecific tracks – are designed for dancing.
And when Davidson calls herself a workaholic, she’s got receipts. Since 2010, she has released four solo albums, four albums with her husband, Pierre Guerineau, as Essaie Pas (including two for DFA Records), an album on Constellation Records via her experimental duo Les Momies de Palerme, plus a couple of singles through cosmic disco project DKMD.
All this work led to burnout, chronic health problems and a period of self-reflection. She created a live show called Bullshit Threshold inspired by the burnout that informed Working Class Woman.
Workaholism also runs in her family, she says, but it’s as much about nature as it is nurture.
“People are obsessed with performing and not just work like going to your job,” she says. “Performing in relationships. Performing socially. Earning more money and wanting to be powerful. Work is an addiction like drugs, sex, internet and pornography.”
In Work It, the album’s most succinct expression of her relentlessness and one her most accessible (and funniest) tracks to date, she concludes that we need to love ourselves. But she points out an insidious irony that comes when we finally acknowledge this and slow down.
“You have to perform at being healthy,” she says. “But how can you perform at being healthy if you’re broken inside? We’re trying to deal with symptoms without dealing with the cause. Just relax! Go home and watch something online! Then you feel worse because online is full of things that make you want other things. It’s about consumption and consumerism and this is also what makes us work more. It’s an extremely fucked-up vicious circle.”
Spending time alone figuring out what she really wants and needs has helped her identify the issues.
“It would be hard as a touring musician to stop using my smartphone, but I also know that my smartphone is the biggest thing creating the anxiety in my life,” she laments. “Most people are not even aware of these things. Try to explain to someone who has used a car all their lives that they don’t need a car. That’s like telling them they don’t need their left arm.” How is she doing now? “I’m still working on it.”