Young Empires is a brand as much as it is a band
One could make a convincing argument that there are no new musical genres waiting to be created, just different ways of combining the ones that already exist. If we’re all lucky, we don’t have an unholy fusion of thrash metal, bluegrass, and dubstep to look forward to. As Young Empires has discovered, blending just the right ingredients can make for a pleasing concoction. On its debut EP, Wake All My Youth, the Ontario-based quartet has found a way to make electronic dance music, guitar-based pop, and tropical-sunset percussion sound made for each other. The band has described shimmering dance-floor anthems like “Rain of Gold” and “Enter Through the Sun” as “world beat haute rock”, a label that singer-keyboardist Matthew Vlahovich doesn’t disavow.
“The world-beat part is just about the fact that we really like including percussive elements to our music that are not necessarily found in normal indie-rock music,” Vlahovich says, reached in Toronto. “Using, like, African drums, congas, mallets, djembes, whatever. And then the haute-rock thing is kind of a homage to haute couture—this idea that you can take music and make it fancy, if you will, by doing something different with it.”
The fashion-world reference isn’t mere wordplay. The group has teamed up with T.O. label Handsome Clothing to release its own line of T-shirts and sweatshirts. That endeavour and others, including remixing and website design, fall under the umbrella of the House of Young Empires. In other words, Vlahovich and his colleagues have created a brand as well as a band.
“It is secondary to the music,” Vlahovich says of the House’s other activity. “The music has to be the first thing that someone sees, or hears.…I just think that young bands have to be incredibly innovative nowadays to be able to set themselves apart. There’s more competition than there’s ever been because of the proliferation of home-recording technologies that are unbelievably inexpensive. Interestingly enough, when you do segue out of the music world into the fashion world, you’re exposing your music, or your brand, to a realm of people that wouldn’t otherwise hear it. So it’s just another great way to expand your fan base.”
One of the best ways to do that is also one of the most time-honoured: touring. Vlahovich is eager to point out that, despite its use of samples and other synthetic elements, Young Empires has developed a stage presentation more akin to an old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll show than to a DJ set.
“For the first two years of the band we didn’t have a live drummer, so we were really relying on backing instrumentation and electronic drum beats for the live show,” he notes. “And we just found that that, for our band, wasn’t really working as well as it does for a band like Chromeo, for example. We wanted to make the live aspect a little more rockin’ than the record. So one of the differences between the two is that the live show has a live drummer, which is automatically going to make the band sound more like a rock band than the record does.”
Young Empires plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Thursday (June 28).