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© Photo Liam Maloney / Handsomefurs.com

From Montreal with synth

by Joy Neumeyer at 01/12/2011 19:37

Dec. 3, 11 pm at Solyanka, 11/6 Ulitsa Solyanka, bldg. 1, m. Kitai-Gorod, (495) 221 7557

Montreal electro-pop duo Handsome Furs hail from a country that churns out stellar indie rock groups like Russia produces natural gas. But they are surely the only Canadian band that draws inspiration from Vladimir Putin.

Frontman Dan Boeckner, who has long been “obsessed” with Putin’s persona, chose to feature a KGB-era photo of the Russian prime minister on the back cover of their 2009 album, “Face Control.”

But the picture “kind of backfired on us a couple of times,” Boeckner said in a phone interview. Once, a customs officer came across the album while checking their bags at the Hungarian border. “He looked at the back cover, said ‘katasztrófa!’ and punched the picture of Putin over and over again.”

Boeckner, who also heads the more established indie outfit Wolf Parade, formed Handsome Furs in 2007 with now-wife Alexei Perry. Their spare sound combines guitar, drum machine and dub beats in tunes reminiscent of the perestroika- era Eastern bloc. After Wolf Parade announced an indefinite hiatus last year, this June Handsome Furs released “Sound Kapital,” which garnered critical praise for its faster tempos and focus on keyboard.

Boeckner and Perry’s fascination with Russia came to a head during their tour stop in Moscow in 2008. The trip, which Boeckner called “one of the best experiences of my life,” inspired him to write “Face Control.”

An avid interest in history and culture belies their glam rock image

© Photo / Markus Voigt / Handsomefurs.com

An avid interest in history and culture belies their glam rock image

The album’s title pays homage to Russian clubs’ practice of refusing entrance to patrons whose appearance is deemed lacking. “I like the directness of the phrase,” Boeckner said, in contrast to Canadian venues that hide behind terms like “dress code” to grant or deny entry. “It’s great, you know, it’s just brutal.”

Posing for publicity photos in bondage gear, Boeckner and Perry can seem more into style than substance. But an avid interest in history and culture belies their glam rock image. Boeckner was inspired to write “Talking Hotel Arbat Blues” by the contrast he observed between the Arbat’s famed past and commercialized present.

After reading about the street’s place in Soviet history, “walking out there and seeing these guys with sandwich boards advertising tattoo shops and other things to buy, I was like okay, this is just turbo-capitalism,” he said. The song’s chorus is “everything little thing has been bought and sold.”

“Sound Kapital” was influenced by Handsome Furs’ recent tour through Asia, where they encountered “a lot of really abrasive highpitched ambient noise,” Boeckner said. “We recorded a lot of it and tried to kind of replicate that with the keyboard.”

The album’s centerpiece, “Serve the People,” was inspired by the time Boeckner and Perry spent with underground Burmese group Side Effect; one line honors local musicians “making noise with their generators on till the cops say, ‘move along.’”

After returning to Moscow, Boeckner eventually hopes to make it to the Russian Far East. But first, he’s looking to expand his knowledge of the country’s music.

“It still is a blank spot for me really in a lot of ways.”

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