Appreciators of the pioneering lady spaceman Roberta Bondar may be disappointed that she hasn’t, in fact, embarked upon a second career in music. The Roberta Bondar that played, along with opening acts Wtchs and Couples, to a packed house at Café Alt on Friday night is instead a group of four Ottawa musicians who play what they describe as “steamy noise rock.” The show was to celebrate the release of their new EP Hiss, released on cassette by local label Bruised Tongue.
Roberta Bondar’s music is dense and rhythmic, full of tension that never quite breaks into catharsis. Lidija Rozitis’ vocals, usually distorted, are hard to make out as words, but easy to make out as sentiment, in turn vengeful, sensual and playful.
The group shows that you can play weird, noisy music without being dour or self-important. Their shows are energetic and fun, and show an appreciation for theatricality. They make liberal use of a smoke machine and multi-coloured lights.
They have also been collaborating with local video artists Hard Science, who created the video for the band’s song “Night Danger,” and also manipulate live video at some of the band’s shows. The sludgy, staticky neon abstractions of Hard Science’s video hearken back to the early days of video art and are a fine complement to Roberta Bondar’s aesthetic.
Hiss is being released on cassette by local label Bruised Tongue, but also comes with a download code, in case you got rid of your Walkman in a moment of short-sightedness. Releasing music on cassettes allows Bruised Tongue to produce very small runs of its releases, making the process more accessible for local musicians.
Roberta Bondar’s performance was also the culmination of Café Alt’s Concert Series, which has featured a number of local and touring bands and musicians. Café Alt is a student-run café on the University of Ottawa Campus. Difficult for the uninitiated to find, it is tucked away in the basement of Simard Hall. Alex Maltby, who plays guitar and contributes vocals to Roberta Bondar, is also the manager of Café Alt and helped organize the concert series, which has brought Café Alt to new prominence as a place where good music happens.
(As a side note, Café Alt actually has a storied history as a venue. Throughout the early eighties, an Ottawa fanzine called No Cause for Concern? documented the goings-on in our city’s punk and hardcore scene. The zine’s archives are now up online, and are an excellent testament to Ottawa’s musical history. They show that a number of notable bands passed through Café Alt in that time, such as the recently reunited Ottawa punk band Porcelain Forehead. Touring groups who have graced the Café with their presence included Chicago punk band Screeching Weasel.)
Café Alt’s weekly concert series has been wide-ranging yet well-curated, and its organizers do a great job in helping you forget that you are in the basement of a university building. The shows in the concert series have featured hanging art installations that make this institutional space more intimate. Their next concert series has yet to be announced, but it is a space to keep your eye on.
As for Roberta Bondar, they are currently on a mini-tour of Montreal, Kingston, and Toronto, and will be playing at Bluesfest this summer. I fervently believe that those of us who crowded Café Alt on Friday night to see Roberta Bondar play will, by and by, be saying “we saw them when…” – it’s definitely worth watching where they go from here.