Local electronic duo Humans is no stranger to the Squamish Valley Music Festival, having yielded one of the most memorable moments back in 2012, when a cluster of fans trampled a tiny tent stage during the band’s closing number, “Avec Mes Mecs”.
Though the excitable invaders ended up unplugging all of the equipment, community spirit was in full effect as the throng revelled in a last-minute sing-along.
Three years later, the two-piece is closing out the four-day party. To be fair, Mumford & Sons are handling the last marquee performance of the weekend, but one could argue Humans’ DJ set at the smaller Perrier Greenhouse stage makes it the true headliner at Squamish.
“I’m glad that you see it that way,” Robbie Slade says as an appreciative but skeptical smile stretches across his face, and a few beads of sweat trickle off his forehead. The towering musician has just hopped off his bike to sit down and share happy-hour drinks at off-Main eatery the Whip with bandmate Peter Ricq, and recalls how he was initially disappointed with the small stage Humans played in 2012.
“I had to have a little moment by myself by the outhouse,” Slade says with a self-deprecating laugh, though he notes that the crowd’s surprise ambush lifted his spirits.
This summer, the group has been promoting its recent Noontide album with multiple festival stops. Some of these have Ricq and Slade singing and hovering above a soundboard of samplers and keyboards. Other times, a DJ set will have the pair streaming out Humans songs, remixes of their material from the likes of A Tribe Called Red, and whatever dance tracks they’re into at the moment. The group admits, though, that bouncing between the two performance styles can often cause confusion.
“When we play DJ gigs, sometimes people come up to Robbie and say ‘Why weren’t you singing?’ ” Ricq reports. Slade adds, “Or when we’d be playing live, people would come up to us with requests. We were in Kelowna and this girl came up on-stage while we were playing and asked, ‘Can you play some dubstep?’ ”
Either way you catch Humans, you’ll be treated to Noontide’s mix of smooth but sweaty house rhythms and crooned pop vocals. Though comparable to older efforts, Noontide scraps the strictly digital treatment of past work to mix in-the-flesh sounds of piano and guitar with the electronics. It makes the record more, well, human.
“We went from using bad digital samples of the instruments we wanted, to using the real deal. So what is there feels a lot more juicy and real,” Slade says of the shift. Ricq notes that this meant Gay Nineties member Parker Bossley contributed wave-riding surf bass to “Watusi”, while his bandmate slid behind the grand piano for “Tell Me”.
Elsewhere, “Ennio” is a nod to famed film composer Ennio Morricone that utilizes canyon-echo snare hits and the Man With No Name whistling before evolving into an LED–illuminated club banger. Through it all, Slade sings a saddened and suspenseful “You just keep me waiting.”
“It was inspired by spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” he confesses. “I wanted to write a showdown song, like a faceoff. That’s kind of what it is. The vibe, it’s intense.”
After we wander from the Whip over to Ricq’s apartment with a few growlers of craft beer, the host offers a private screening of the band’s new video for the song. It’s a fantastic display of floppy, Muppet-esque monsters and skeletons ripping it up to the tune.
If Humans’ Squamish track record is an indication, the outdoor crowd will be getting just as wild throughout the festival’s closing moments.
Humans plays the Squamish Valley Music Festival’s Perrier Greenhouse Stage on Sunday (August 9).