Hilotrons go beyond the beat

ALLAN WIGNEY - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 5:51 AM ET

It has become a common sight at Hilotrons shows. Somewhere in the midst of one of the band's perfect pop numbers, vocalist Mike Dubue will stare down the crowd and berate stationary members of the audience.

"Why aren't you dancing?" the perplexed frontman will ask as fellow Hilotrons Paul Hogan, Mike Schultz, Philip Shaw Bova and Damian Sawka exchange bemused 'Oh that Dubue!' glances. The insistent, infectious music, meanwhile, poses the same perfectly reasonable question.

But Hilotrons, Dubue insists over lunch at his one-time place of employment the Manx Pub, are not a dance band.

"When people say, 'Hilotrons, you're a dance band,' that frightens me a little bit," Dubue asserts. "I never want to be pigeonholed. We have too many ideas to be just a 'dance band.'

"We've put together and performed tons or sets where all we do is slow tunes. I don't think we're a dance band. I don't think we're this or that. I think we can be anything, because that's how we think musically."

Listeners will find much to dance to on Happymatic, the third release from Ottawa's best and brightest. But they'll also find an entrancing cover of late local band Kepler's brooding I'm a Parade, which Dubue proudly states is "actually slower than the Kepler version."

And even where the music is upbeat, Dubue's lyrics delve into disturbing territory that belies the sonic sprightliness of a song like the violent dream sequence Deep River.

It's a dichotomous approach typical of Hilotrons' best work, and one more reason to think outside the dancefloor.

"Most of the time, if you were to investigate it, I don't think you would understand what I am talking about first-hand," Dubue says of his complex expressed sentiments. "I kinda like that. I like the aspect of interpretation.

"I think if people really knew what Deep River is about ... they might stop dancing. Really quickly. And call their lawyer."

Which might, but likely doesn't, explain why not everyone dances at Hilotrons shows. It does, however, confirm Dubue's claim there is more to his band than meets the ear.

This, after all, is a band of versatile virtuosos with links to the twangy Asiancentric instrumental combo Empiricals, the heavy-heavy Double Pumpers, the electropopsters Boycrusher and the happy-to-be-a-dance-band Hammerheads.

Hilotrons' range can further be gleaned from the eclectic cast of guest stars contributing to Happymatic -- among them Rhume rocker Jon Bartlett, Fiftyman Jeff Hardill, Million Dollar Marxist Luke Martin, Sarah Hallman, Miche Jette and Jim Bryson.

But it is better demonstrated via the music itself, which includes two numbers written and sung by Hogan as well as a pair of instrumentals -- the latter of which is a nifty Morricone-esque slow-burner that reflects Dubue's recent foray into composing a film-score for director Lee Demarbre.

That track, Feet First, dovetails neatly out of the peppy Big Plans, in the process deftly displaying two of the many sides of Hilotrons.

One of them, if we may say so, danceable.

"Obviously, that's what's going to happen," Dubue concedes. "Every review I've read about this record already says it. Any time you see our names it says, 'High-energy show, blah blah blah.' Whatever. I guess that's our pigeonhole. But that's not how we define ourselves. We wear a lot of different hats."

All of which will be on display Friday at Barrymore's Music Hall. Dancing will be permitted and, in all likelihood, encouraged.


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