Austra, the synthpop project of opera-trained singer Katie Stelmanis, has hit the ground running in 2017 with a new album and tour. Future Politics is the third full length from Austra, following 2013’s Olympia. For this outing, Toronto-based songwriter and producer, Stelmanis wrote and produced the entire album on her own. Future Politics presents a vision of a dystopian future filtered through a current world of confusion and unease. Driven by swelling synths and carefully sculpted dance-floor beats, the songs are ultimately guided by Stelmanis’ soaring vocals that are both powerful and delicate. Future Politics was released on January 20th, and Austra hit the tour trail for a run of North American headlining shows the same day. With the tour just starting to pick up momentum, the band stopped at Motorco Music Hall in Durham NC.
The evening started off with local area band Foxture playing through a set of atmospheric indie pop that included songs from their 2015 EP, Circles. Their performance was well received and set the mood for the evening. Next up and celebrating her final night on tour with Austra was Ela Minus, the solo project of Brooklyn-based Colombian musician Gabriela Jimeno. Ela Minus was a one woman band who sang and generated a big full sound standing center stage behind a makeshift travel case desktop of synths and sequencers, generating loops and beats by hand. Jimeno’s songs balanced a beat driven and effervescent synth soundscape with light, almost childish, vocals delivered in both English and Spanish. Her set definitely resonated with the audience and fans were still buzzing after she left the stage.
With anticipation building and smoke swirling around the stage, the lights dropped and the current four piece incarnation of Austra took the stage. Katie Stelmanis, dressed in a flowing green gown, glided into the light at the center of the stage and the band kicked off with “We Were Alive,” the opening track from Future Politics. They would continue to play through the next three songs from the new album in order before stepping back and playing “Forgive Me” from the previous album, Olympia. The setlist was heavy with songs from both Future Politics and Olympia. Despite the dark and somewhat brooding themes, the new songs were given a harder edge in the live setting and delivered with more of a pared down throbbing dance club vibe. Katie’s authoritative vocals were every bit as impressive live as they sound when captured in the studio. Her voice soared through the room mesmerizing the crowd. By the time they closed the set with a trio of older songs, “Beat And The Pulse,” “Lose It,” and “The Villain,” the room had evolved into a full-blown dance party.