Last week, Edmonton musician Mustafa Rafiq announced that he would be putting his music curation activities as Sweaty Palms on hiatus while he takes some time off to travel and explore music scenes in Europe.
I met Mustafa this summer while preparing a two-part article on the sound art scene in Edmonton for Luma Quarterly (part one went live in August; my interview with Mustafa appears in November). I was impressed with his commitment to bringing local and international experimental acts to Edmonton stages. He’s presented hundreds of different kinds of shows in different venues, but as someone who doesn’t drive and has a day job, I appreciate his efforts to put on centrally located shows with early start- and end-times. I’ve been avoiding gigs because they just start too late for me, so I was happy to check out some of the venues I’ve been missing out on.
I managed to catch two of the last Sweaty Palms gigs of 2019. The first was on October 11, an electronica triple-bill at 9910. It was my first visit to this downstairs space under The Common. I liked the brothel-esque aesthetic! I sat in one of the banquettes along the wall, opting for comfort over better sightlines, but I am the type of person who closes their eyes once the music gets going.
First up was Matthew Cardinal, a member of nehiywak who also has a solo act. His set ebbed and flowed between being atmospheric and bringing in more of a dance beat. There were passages marked by notes that rang the top end of the hearing range, followed by booming sounds that we could feel through the floor: it was a head-to-toe experience of sound.
Next was Jonathan Kawchuk, who set up what looked like a ping-pong table. He stood on one end with his back to my side of the audience (my viewing angle actually let me see Kawchuk reflected in a mirror on the other side of the room); another musician (I didn’t get his name) was at the other end of the table. Instead of ping-pong paddles, they wielded iPads which seemed to control both the music and a bank of lights above the audience. The sound and light alternated between being soothing and being unsettling, which really brought to mind how little it can take to nudge a person (okay, me) out of their comfort zone.
The final act of the evening was Kara-Lis Coverdale. Coverdale’s set-up was minimal—just her, her sequencer, and a tight spotlight on her fingers—but the music she produced was maximal. Her set came in strong with complex, layered sounds. It evoked images of air travel for me. For the friend who accompanied me, Coverdale’s music specifically evoked Montreal, where my friend had recently vacationed, and where Coverdale is based. I’m sure everyone in the room had different thoughts. The point is, Coverdale’s epic set allowed listeners to dream or meditate on a huge scale.
Less than a week after the triple-bill at 9910, Sweaty Palms in conjunction with New Music Edmonton co-presented a special double bill at The Almanac on October 16. I’ve been to The Almanac for poetry readings. The front of the restaurant is a bistro; the back is a pub set-up where they hold events. This show was an experimental, noise gig featuring two “supergroups”. Opening the night was the duo of Allison Balcetis playing saxophone and Kelly Ruth operating a weaving loom equipped with contact mics running through a sequencer. I interviewed Kelly (also for Luma Quarterly) about her use of a weaving loom to make music, and this was my first time seeing her play. She used a weaving shuttle and her fingers to get sound out of the loom. Maybe because it was October, but the images their set inspired were of wandering through a mansion, exploring the biggest rooms and the smallest corners, and perhaps finding an egress to a batcave or to the outdoors in the end.
The visiting headliners at the Almanac gig were Montreal’s Sound of the Mountain with special guests from Japan, Tetuzi Akiyuma and Toshimaru Nakamura. This was a spectacular set with a reed instrumentalist and a guitarist on either side of two synth players. The synth and guitar evoked visions of machine-built cities, with the reed instruments evoking the breaths and voices of humans who design and live in them.
I feel really fortunate to have caught these shows, and only wish that I’d caught more Sweaty Palms productions over the past few years. I’m looking forward to whatever Mustafa will bring back from his travels.
Follow Mustafa Rafiq at https://www.instagram.com/familyinjera/