If you happen to be attending Phoenix Comicon this weekend, its safe to say you're going to encounter geeks in masks. That being said, there ere's one group of costumed geeks who might stick out from the crowd. After all, they'll be the ones wearing robotic-looking black tiger masks.
We're referring to the members of outlaw electronic dance music trio Black Tiger Sex Machine, who are scheduled to perform at Monarch Theatre on Saturday night and might just wind up at Phoenix Comicon taking place nearby.
“I think we might be making a special appearance there during the day,” says BTSM's Marc-André Chagnon.
For those who are unfamiliar with Black Tiger Sex Machine, they're an EDM act is an electronic music trio that favors live performances, tiger robot helmets, darker electro styles and visual performances. They’re also considered by some to be sort of the black sheep of mainstream dance music at the moment.
According to Chagnon, BTSM features a superhero-like backstory involving a trek into outer space and back again.
“We kind of had this storyline … where we were like superheroes that had come back to earth to save it," he says.
Their more earthbound backstory is just as amusing. Chagnon says that the “sex machine” part of their moniker stems from a James Brown reference that came up during their early days of sampling music. Around the same time, one member of BTSM was trying to end things with a girl, which also helped inspire the act's name.
“We just kind of put these words together playing soccer on a Saturday afternoon,” says Chagnon. "It was actually something one of the other group members was texting to another person to get rid of communication.”
BTSM roots go back even further as Changon and Patrick Barry met at age five (“At first we were basically just friends"). They met the third member of the group, Julien Maranda when they all were in high school.
“And then we all started converging together towards music at the same time in our late teens, early twenties," Changon says.
As is the case with most EDM acts in their formative years, they all had mutual interests. "All of our friends were getting more into the electro movement [like] Justice and Boys Noize," Changon says. "We would go to all of these events and really become captivated, find new music and DJs, and really kind of submerge ourselves in discovery.”
And what they discovered sort of changed everything.
“Me personally, and I know the other guys feel like this: when we started discovering blogs and all of this kind of underground world of electronic music — all the distortion, the new bass lines that were coming out with Crookers, Boys Noize and The Bloody Beetroots — that really kind of hit a point with all of us,” Changon says.
Hard and heavy sounds of the darker variety aren’t the only thing that BTSM’s members share a mutual interest in, as Changon says that they all “really like the sci-fi world but [also] really like the dark side of music.”
Both factor into BTSM, which has been performing as a collective for seven years, and its music, as does the aesthetics of obscure and underground music they discovered.
“I think it really comes back to when we discovered electronic music it was such a dope period for us. There was something new every week. It was all about music discovery,” Changon says. “Our side of electro, orchestral and dark electro, hasn’t shined in the main light since like the late 2000s. So as we were building, fans were really becoming super fans.”
BTSM has created a cult-like following, as evidenced by the fact its fanbase is referred to as the “BTSM Church.” It was going to be the name of their debut LP until they consulted with their fanbase, who voiced their support for the album’s eventual title, Welcome to Our Church.
“We have a core group of fans that are so dedicated, that the term church kind of just started coming around,” Changon says.
The tiger masks they wear during live gigs didn’t come into existence until about three years ago, after the group started going full force with their music careers and they randomly met a designer at a party in Montreal.
“We always wanted to have a very strong visual identity,” Changon says. “Helmets add to the visual experience of the live performances.”
Unlike other “press play” DJs who go off prerecorded sets, BTSM’s performances are partially live in nature.
“It’s pretty cool, it gives us a lot of flexibility and it stays very dynamic and fast,” Changon says. “But also there’s more artistry and work behind it.”
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Their live performances are set up between three stations: Maranda runs the master tempo, sound and vocal samples and vocal loops. In the middle Chagnon is the “architect” of the who operation.
“I’m doing a hybrid of live structure and DJing,” he says. “So sometimes I’ll be doing more fast-paced, DJ transitions to keep the energy up. Then sometimes I’m just sending the guys the structure of the song to add more live elements on top of it. Then, on the right, Patrick is running a two-synth that he’s running through the mixer.”
The trio has only been touring America for six months and previously played at Phoenix Lights in April. As for tonight’s performance at the Monarch, Changon says they plan to test-out a few of four to seven new singles expected to drop throughout the remainder of the year.
“The perfect show for us is like a show where people actually enjoy it as much as a show where people know all of the songs and they’re all singing. But they don’t actually know the music. They’re just vibing with the show, and the energy is so present, and we’re able to maintain them in the space where they’re really excited about the next song, and they’re really enjoying how the next song flows together, how the show progresses,” Changon says. “Obviously now we’re adding more and more visuals, the helmets are improving. It’s all about creating this kind of like trance, but not in the musical sense. Just a trance over the whole show and fluidity between genres and textures. That’s the most interesting and brings the most energy out of everyone.”