Outland: Toronto Synthwave Heatwave

In the early hours of July 6th, 2019, I boarded a plane flying straight from Boston to Toronto. The plane had propellers on it.

When a Boeing 747 hits turbulence the captain gets on the mic and calmly states, “We’re approaching some turblence. Please remain in your seat and fasten your safety belt.” When a plane with propellers on it hits turbulence the captain gets on the mic and screams, “PERHAPS TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO DIE! RAMMING SPEED!” and then you get a very Top Gun style experience complete with barrel rolls, Kenny Loggins, and I think at some point I heard someone shout “TALK TO ME, GOOSE!”

Why was I flying right into the danger zone just for a concert? Because Outland wasn’t just any concert. The lineup was packed with some of the best artists in synthwave: Mecha Maiko, Parallels, Timecop1983, Dana Jean Phoenix, Michael Oakley, Kalax, and FM Attack were all slated to play at the Mod Club Theatre in Toronto, Canada. Any one of those acts would warrant me driving a considerable distance to see them live. All of them together? I’m getting into this violently unstable herky jerky toy airplane and I’m going to hang on for dear life because I have to be there.

I arrived at Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop Airport and took a ferry into town. And by ferry I mean I travelled about 100 feet across Lake Ontario to get into the city.

I want that ferry driver’s job. It’s my dream job now because this is what it is, all day: Travel 100 feet in one direction, put a ramp down, wait until everyone gets on/off, then travel 100 feet in the other direction, put a ramp down, and wait for everyone to get on/off. Repeat. That’s it. That has to be the most stress free job on the planet. I could totally do that for a 401k and a pension. There’s no traffic and no confusion about what you’re supposed to do. Did you travel 100 feet in one direction? Good job! Now travel 100 feet in the other direction. Did you do that? Ok, now put that ramp down. You’re crushing it! I’ve completely changed my dreams, hopes, and aspirations because of this experience.

Right out of the gate, Toronto changed my life.

I was greeted at the ferry landing by none other than Neon Fawkes, the co-host of the synthwave podcast Nightride FM. I was out of my element and in his hometown, so he graciously gave me a lift to College Street where Outland would be taking place. It also happened to be where my hotel was.

I rang the bell to the Kaiser Guest House several times and a woman came out to greet me. I entered a building that had the most Gary Gygaxian dungeon architecture that I have ever seen in my life. It was like something out of an M.C. Escher painting—narrow staircases that couldn’t possibly fit two people abreast, not even small children, branching off into all directions all at once at impossibly steep inclines.

“Take off your shoes” the woman said, and a pair of flip flops were handed to me. “You want me to put these on?” She nodded. I get it, she doesn’t want people tracking shit in from outside. That’s decent… Wait, these flip flops fit. HOW DID SHE KNOW MY SIZE? I was dealing with a telepath. A shoe psychic.

Right off the bat, Toronto was magical.

I get to my room and it’s like the place knew I was into retro shit. BAM! MY ROOM HAS A CRT TV! Damnit, I forgot to bring my Colecovision. Keep that in mind, fellow travellers: If you want the ultimate retro gaming experience/meeting with a lesser known member of the X-Men that has the power to accurately fit people with articles of clothing (she’s in charge of all the costumes down at Professor Xavier’s school for the gifted)/enter a maze of staircases that likely hides a minotaur guarding a horde of gold pieces and 2d6 worth of magical items, then I can’t recommend the Kaiser Guest House enough. 10/10 would look for the minotaur and the golden treasure again.

I went outside and wandered around for a bit before I started to get tired. I suddenly realized that, due to my itinerary, the two hours of sleep I had the night before were not as refreshing as I had hoped. I tried to sleep on the propeller plan but it’s hard to sleep on a plane when someone is repeatedly shouting “MAVERICK!” I headed back to the Gygaxian Minotaur Maze House of Non-Euclidean Geometry for a nap.

This is where I made my first, and thankfully only, blunder of the entire trip.

My alarm did not go off. In fact, my phone shut off for no fucking reason whatsoever. I still don’t know why it did that. It was at 100% . Before I left Boston I went to a Verizon store to get a plan that would include data usage in Canada. The person helping me out was like, “Huh. You have an LG Stylo 2. That was state of the art 6 years ago. Do you want an upgrade?” I responded, “TILL IT SLEEPS, MOTHERFUCKER!” vomited bees at him, and ran away, because I’m not spending extra money for your planned obsolesence, planned obsolescence salesman! Yeah! Stickin’ it to the man!

I guess the moral of the story is not to projectile vomit bees at people who are just trying to offer you friendly advice, because I slept through the screening of Turbo Kid and I guess Le Matos was there. Or so I heard. I don’t know, because I wasn’t fucking there. I adore that movie and that soundtrack, so fuck me, I ruined my own life. Turbo Kid is one of my favorite movies of all time. I own that movie on blu ray and I’ve seen it at least a dozen times. I had the Turbo Kid soundtrack stuck in the CD player of my car for the better part of a year. I really missed out on something special that will never happen again. All of this happened because I wanted to stick it to “the man,” but in this case “the man” turned out to be me.

I got up, put on my Cobra Commander uniform, and I headed down to the Mod Club Theatre. I arrived after the screening of Turbo Kid but just before the concert was about to go on. I entered the theatre and was instantly greeted by Glitbiter. What? Amazing!

Wait, how does she know me? Could it be from my incessant use of social media? The patterns of behavior I engage in on a daily basis that will inevitably be diagnosed in the future by a medical professional as a crippling addiction to posting nonsense online?

So here’s where I get into a detail about Outland that absolutely floored me: Some people knew me from online interaction and, in some cases, even wanted to talk to me.

I’m still in shock over it. Fellow synthwave fans and artists, for the most part, only know me from my online rantings. These wonderful people had so little to go on, and yet they still wanted to talk to me. I was thrilled. That night I met a number of people that I’ve only talked to online, and yet everyone was so open and inviting. It really got to me emotionally. I was a stranger in a strange land, and yet everyone I met opened up to me and made me feel right at home.

A lot of people in the synthwave fan community that I talk to online were there that night: Aaron from Vehlinggo , who I met once before at Neon Retrofest last August, Marco Meric, co-host of the Beyond Synth podcast (who I also met at Neon last year), Ashley, who traveled all the way from Ireland to be at Outland, and Brandon, a talented writer and lucky bastard who already lives in Ontario so he didn’t have to fly the unfriendly skies like I did. I’m probably missing some people so I’m just going to apologize ahead of time and say I’m sorry if I forgot your name. I met so many amazing people at Outland. It was truly overwhelming.

I also got the privilege to talk to people whose music I absolutely adore. Artists whose albums I have listened to and whose music has gotten me through the good times, the bad times, and the times in between. I don’t think anything I can say, will ever say, to any of these musicians will ever describe how much their music means to me. The fact that any of these people wanted to talk to me just blows me away. I still can’t believe that I got the opportunity to talk to a bunch of incredible producers who have touched my life in a very real and profound way. That meant the world to me and it always will. It’s something that I will carry with me forever.

Aaron already touched on this last year when he wrote about Neon Retrofest in his blog, but this is what makes events like Outland so special: The synthwave community is very active online. We share our thoughts about music, movies, video games, and anything in the Venn diagram of interests that unites us. We talk to each other online, a lot, but there’s often something missing from our conversations: A physical human connection. There is no substitute for analogue human interaction. Social media will never replace it. It’s not good enough. I want to look into people’s eyes (even if they can’t see mine through my mirror plated helmet) and see their facial expressions when I talk to them. I want to hear their voices. I’m grateful to modern technology for bringing us all together, but it will never replace actually bringing us all together physically into one room like Outland did.

The show itself was nothing short of mind blowing. I own at least one album, if not the entire discography, of every artist that played Outland that night, and their respective live performances did not disappoint.

Mecha Maiko and Dana Jean Phoenix proved to be the most hospitable to collabs as they shared the stage along with many of the other acts, such as Timecop1983 and FM Attack. Mecha Maiko and DJP even played a song together at one point. I have to say, if you’re a great instrumental synthwave producer, team up with Mecha Maiko or Dana Jean Phoenix for a track or two. It’s never been a bad idea.

Dana Jean Phoenix recognized that a bunch of her fans had come from all over the globe to see her, and she mentioned that fact on stage. I thought that was really cool of her to acknowledge her fans. She’s awesome like that. She is also absolutely ferocious on stage. DJP is a natural born performer and she really puts her body and soul into delivering one of the most spectacular live shows that I have ever seen. I’ve seen her do this solo, but this time she had a percussionist. The two of them worked flawlessly in lock step with each other like everything had been meticulously planned and rehearsed—probably because it was, and it showed. Their performance was one of the highlights of the night for me, personally.

FM Attack’s live show had a really nice human touch to it. I have nothing against knob turning, but he was really showing off his synthesizer chops at Outland. The vocoder riffs he was dropping were absolutely next level. His performance was a fantastic way to end the show.

I danced my ass off. Since it has always been my personal decision to show up to every synthwave show in full Cobra Commander regalia I truly have become a victim of my own design. Toronto was in the midst of a rather severe heatwave over the weekend. It was hot back in New Hampshire where I live. Before leaving I foolishly thought, “It’ll be fine! I’m going to Canada, land of the perpetual Winter. Surely it will be an acceptable temperature in Winterfell during this time of year?” Nope. Oh, Canada showed no mercy upon me that night. I had the helmet and the pants and the heavy boots on. My sweat had sweat. My sweat was sweating. My skin made new pores that also grew new pores just so my body could expel the 2/3rds of it that is made of water. I drank around 2 gallons of water just to keep up with the fact that I was melting. I was like a reverse Wicked Witch of the West. Throw that bucket of water at me, Dorothy, or I am going to transform into a puddle made entirely out of Saturday morning cartoon terrorist.

Sadly I have no good pics from that night. Why? Because of the aforementioned LG Dingleberry 5000 that I own. “It was state of the art 6 years ago” translated from Verizon Wireless salesman into English means “You pay good money for a useless pile of shit in 2019. Fuck you, we don’t care, pay us for something better even though we talked that piece of shit up when we sold it to you two years ago.” Awesome, bro! So I have a number of horrible pictures to share, and some good ones that were not taken with my phone:

AHHHH!!! NEON FAWKES!!! Thanks for the lift, Julian! And for taking this picture with your phone, because it looks fantastic!

I MET VON KAISER! I actually reviewed their debut on this site. It’s one of the best synthwave albums of all time. Von Kaiser took this pic, because it doesn’t look horrible.

I MET HONEY BEARD! Their music is amazing and I plan on writing about it at some point. Check out their music here! Honey Beard took this pic, and that’s why it isn’t blurry and shitty.

Mecha Maiko! This one is one of the few pics that came out ok-ish. Mecha Maiko is one of the greatest singer/songwriters in synthwave, in my opinion. And she’s great live! If you can go see her live, do it! I’ve seen her live twice now and she was phenomenal two out of the two times! That’s a 100% perfect track record!

Parallels! Holy shit was their drummer good. Dude had a couple of solos that really tore the roof off of the fucking place. Everything they did was spot on: Singing, synth accompaniment, percussion. Everything. Brilliant performance! If you have a chance to see them live, do it!

I already went on and on about how Dana Jean Phoenix is one of the greatest live acts in the history of live acts. One of the greatest performers in the history of performers. You would never know that from this picture. It’s a blurry mess, unlike her performance, which was pixel perfect and truly a sight (and sound) to behold.

Did you know that Timecop1983 has very distinct facial features? You would never know it from this pic! It was so cool to see him working with Dana Jean Phoenix live. Sadly I do not have a shitty picture of that happening. Wait, is that sad? The quality of these pics is sad. That’s what’s sad. I hear Timecop1983 is on tour. Go see him live if you can! He’s easily one of my favorite instrumental synthwave producers of all time.

Did you know that Michael Oakley is a devastatingly dapper man? You would never know that from this pic! If Oakley was accused of a crime during Outland and this pic was the only evidence of that crime then the state would have no case and all charges would have to be dropped. That’s a shame because Oakley KILLED on stage! He really SLAYED the audience! Seriously, I think he should come out with a live album. Does he have a live album? If he doesn’t he should release one. He has a very tight live show. Go catch him live if you can!

Did you know that Kalax is a person? Made of flesh and blood, just like you and me! He’s not an amorphous blob of pixels and multi-colored neon clown vomit like this “photo” that I took of him. He had a killer bass sound during his set. It made my helmet rattle like it was a ’64 Impala with a copy of “Cars that Go Boom” by L’Trimm in the tape deck. Go see him live, lazy fucks that don’t go to live shows!

FM Attack closed the show and crushed it with his synth playing! Man can he play. And sing. And do everything. Also, unlike this photo, he is not a mass of hair in a white suit. He’s actually a person. He’s not Cousin It dressed like Crockett from Miami Vice. That’s not true. Go see him in person and witness this true fact that is 100% true at an FM Attack concert!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. There was a DeLorean out front of the Mod Club Theatre. 88 miles per hour. Serious shit! Wait, sorry, we’re in Canada. That’s 141.622 kilometers per hour. THEN, and only then, do you get to see some serious shit.

So there you have it. I had the time of my life and I took what appears to be a bunch of blurry photos of Bigfoot. I now have definitive proof that Bigfoot exists. I want to thank Outland for putting on a show that will live on in my memory forever, and for giving me proof of Bigfoot’s existence. Everything about the show—the graffics, the lighting, the sound, the lineup, the cryptozoology, all of it was just so perfect. I had the time of my life and I will never forget it!

On top of being one of the greatest dance parties of all time, Outland taught me a lot of lessons about life. Here’s what I learned over the weekend:

  1. I need to have a talk with myself. Here it goes: Put your fucking LG Dingleberry 5000 away and enjoy the show, you dingus. Did you know that they hire professional photographers to document these events? Your turdburger phone that only films in Bigfoot resolution isn’t beating a professional DSLR camera that can be used to count the hairs in each performer’s nose no matter the distance or lighting. Put that crapball phone away and enjoy the goddamn show.
  2. Canadians call the shitter a washroom.
  3. Canadian customs doesn’t care if you bring a marijuana into the country but, by God, if they catch you with nuts or dairy products they will stick you into a hole and you will never see the sun again. Bale of the Devil’s Lettuce? Come on in! Enjoy your jazz cigarettes! CASHEWS? GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR AND LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS! NOW! ON THE FLOOR MOTHERFUCKER! DON’T MOVE!
  4. All propeller planes are flown by Klingons eager to meet Kahless the Unforgettable as soon as possible. RIP Goose.
  5. Someday I hope to live in Toronto in a house designed by Gary Gygax, owned by a shoe psychic, making my living by driving a ferry 100 feet, sorry, 30.48 meters, in two different directions.

If there is ever another Outland event anywhere in North America I am there, but hopefully it will come back to Toronto. I truly fell in love with that city and I’m so glad that I got to see it for the first time in the context of one of the best concerts that I have ever been to in my life. And, to top it all off, I got to meet a ton of wonderful people and forge new friendships in person rather than online. Thank you, Toronto, and thank you, Outland. For everything.

2 thoughts on “Outland: Toronto Synthwave Heatwave

    • July 11, 2019 at 5:38 am
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      Rad to meet you guys, too! Hope to see you guys again… Maybe at a show you’re playing?

      Reply

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