Music connects people more than just sonically and linguistically to a smattering of ones and zeros or a flat black spinning piece of plastic polymer. It overlaps and intermingles with politics, geography, and art. It brings feeling and form to ideas and images and vice-versa. It permeates our time-based experience of culture, helping manifest creative outlets. It brings people of all sexes, ethnicities, and ages together into intimate spaces and begs us to forget our personal agendas in appreciation of the moment. Oh and it’s also just a great excuse to book a trip to another country.
I remember listening to Iamforest (Luke Forest Hartle) for the first time and immediately feeling drawn to his blend of ethereal vocals, midi infused melodies, and lovingly tracked live instrumentation. I had one of those, “man am I late to this party” moments. It’s the type of music that sounds accessible enough to pop up on your Spotify discover weekly and still unique enough to stick out from the rest. So you can imagine my surprise when I found Iamforest had only a modest fan following. Even with increasingly refined album artwork that’s only gotten more visually intricate with each new release, Iamforest is still a well-kept Vancouver secret.
If you had told me a couple months ago that I’d travel to Canada to see Iamforest in concert, I probably would have tilted my head, closed an eye halfway, and slanted my eyebrows in an effort to indicate extreme doubt. That is, however, exactly what happened. With the release of his new Bridges EP and music video, Luke also organized a release show at the Biltmore Cabaret in the heart of Mount Pleasant, East Vancouver. Having begun a small love affair with the city a couple years back, I thought it the perfect time to make a return trip.
Show openers Devours and Simple Machines (Amine Bouzaher) quickly set the tone for the evening: undoubtedly talented solo acts that have flown under nearly everyone’s radar—or at least this American’s radar. When it came time for Iamforest to take the modestly sized stage (for those LA natives reading, think the Echoplex), Luke opened his set by screening his new music video for Bridges, a moody masterpiece created by Seattle filmmakers Ben and Kyle Oman. As the video began, the nearly empty venue floor teemed with life. Very suddenly the Biltmore felt packed.
Opening with the reversed notes of a remixed version of Structures, Luke’s midi controller and keyboard sat atop his guitar case, his laptop only a few feet away. In addition to Luke’s adept ability at switching between his guitar and electronic setup, the crowd was also treated to Simple Machines reappearance on stage to play the violin for the rest of the show.
Midway through the set, Luke performed three of my favorite tracks back to back: Hollie, Goliath, and Bridges. While of course there was clapping and cheers between the songs, this part of the set, in particular, felt different than just three tracks played one-after-another. I could imagine listening to the studio versions of the tracks without knowing the titles and getting lost in the progression of one song into another. It reminded me of another electronic artist who works heavily with live instrumentation but with almost no vocals: Tycho. When listening to Scott Hansen’s work, despite knowing different track titles, the memory of the songs are often blurred together, especially during a live performance. It’s the mark of an artist whose work doesn’t always need to be viewed through the lens of a rigid album structure. You didn’t have to know the Iamforest top tracks to enjoy the show, it all felt like one hit track.
Aesthetically Hartle put on a tasteful, no frills show. His Iamforest logo sat projected on a black background behind him, swirling colors traveling through the text mask, evoking both an outer space-like quality and a microscopic view of nature. Finishing with another EP favorite, Atoms, Luke encored with Armies and Air Raids, Amine Bouzaher still by his side. The two played off each other effortlessly, which I attribute to an obvious artistic camaraderie between the two, most apparent in Bouzaher’s emotional violin performance during the encore. It felt like the two of them were giving their all and the crowd responded in kind.