The Soft Moon indulges East Van in apocalyptic sound

The Soft Moon at Boy Harsher at the Biltmore Cabaret, 4/8/18

Photo by Dennis Shoenberg

In the remaining rain and fog of Sunday night (April 8), the Biltmore Cabaret was reminiscent of a dark Berlin evening. Fashionable goths, determined techno heads, college kids and other black-clad Vancouverites emerged from the shadows of Kingsway in order to see The Soft Moon. Red velvet decadence set the scene in the Biltmore as the underground cabaret filled in step with the well curated entrance music.

Before long, the dark-wave duo Boy Harsher opened to a full dance floor—entrancing the crowd, some of whom had come for them, with August Muller’s driving loops accompanied by icy wind synth melodies and Jae Matthew’s spectral vocals. The Massachusetts electronic duo has been traveling through the states on the recent leg of the tour promoting The Soft Moon’s release of their 2018 album Criminal.

Criminal is the fourth full length album from The Soft Moon—the emotionally charged post-punk electronic project of California producer Luis Vasquez. Sunday night’s show consisted mostly of tracks from the new album, and the crowd did not seem to mind.  The mood of the new album expands Vasquez’s vocal contribution and adds layers of driving guitar to the more stripped down aesthetics of his initial albums. Backed up by a drummer and a bassist/keyboardist (who went unnamed), Vasquez withheld nothing, going into tracks from the new album including the up-tempo “Burn.”

What Vasquez lacks in crowd interaction or complex lyrics he makes up with raw emotion on stage; he contorted and leaped through the softly illuminated fog, switching from guitar to keyboard to vocals and at one point bringing out a literal trash can that he played with drumsticks. People loosened up and danced to the percussive breaks that punctuated and blended with the dark, industrial rock. Vasquez stepped up to the mic after the break-down, panting a few words of thanks and enthusiasm before diving back again into the bass-heavy abyss of his sound.

The performance moved through the eclectic repertoire seamlessly. After the powerful entrance, Vasquez pulled back to his roots by playing the Joy Division-esque “Dead Love” from the first, self-titled album. Other stand-out tracks were the emotional techno-ballad “Give Something” where the vocals opened up the dark heart behind the machines in a pained lyric that reminded one of a young Thom Yorke.

As the flood-lights phased into strobes throughout the set, Vasquez’s silhouette flashed in and out of view like a fevered procession of half-thought images creating a hazy yet nightmarish aesthetic to match the music. The crowd nodded and twisted, magnetized by Vasquez’s singular Californian Krautrock.

The set ended almost abruptly at what seemed to be the least energetic part of the night, but the encore reinvigorated the still-full cabaret. The Soft Moon re-emerged into the neon smoke and played “Black” from their third album Deeper, a spectral cyber punk build-up with whispering lyrics and apocalyptic timbre.

This exploded into “Want” from Zero, a steel-drum jungle techno tune that incited post-apocalyptic dance from the audience as it reached fevered percussive zenith, as if everyone was letting it all out after some future dark event, crying up to the Soft Moon.