Radar Band Of The Week – No.41: Austra

Austra: the dark-hearted electro trio bringing joy and beauty to gloom pop

In the darkness comes another/Hold her by her thumbs the other, the other…” Halt! What creeps on the blasted heath under cover of night? Fear not, traveller; Katie Stelmanis, singer of Austra, means you no harm. Dance music has taken a turn to the bleak and witchy-woo of late, with the likes of Cold Cave and Zola Jesus taking the chill of ’80s synth pop and adding to it the thrill of big beats.

Ominously sexy cold waves emanate from this Toronto three-piece (bassist Dorian Wolf and drummer Maya Postepski complete the trio), but they’re not here to bring you down; the likes of the alternately robotic and euphoric ‘Beat And The Pulse’ and the glittering incantations of the Bat For Lashes-esque ‘Darken Her Horse’ have a strangely sombre joy that betrays Katie’s background in choral music and opera; it’s uplifting like cathedrals.


“I don’t want the music to seem depressing or doomy,” she says. “I do tend to write in a minor key. Operas are all such tragedies, it’s in my bones… But rather than being dark there’s more of an element of fantasy that I’ve always been drawn to, theatrical-sounding music.” Live, that drama manifests strongly, the trio fleshed out with dancing and backing vocals from twin sisters Tasseomancy, and a Kate Bush-in-Logan’s Run costume vibe.

Austra: The Choke
Katie has been a mainstay of the Toronto music scene for a while; after training for a career in opera, she ditched music school for rock’n’roll, and with three years in a shouty girl-punk band under her belt, released her solo album ‘Join Us’ in 2008, just before her appearance on Fucked Up’s ‘The Chemistry Of Common Life’ album. Recognisably the root of Austra’s sound, it’s a sternly beautiful album where unforgiving electronics give stark background to Katie’s richly melancholic, aloof-empress tones.
“I think the difference with Austra is more use of bass and drums,” says Katie. “A lot of the time with my solo stuff it was very cerebral, with a lot of high-end. We made a conscious effort to make music you could dance to. We just wanted our live shows to be more fun.” You heard: fun – now swish that cape like you mean it.

Emily Mackay

Need To Know

• ‘Austra’ is actually Katie’s middle name. It’s Latvian in origin, as, partly, is Katie herself

• Of all the choral music and opera
she performed in her youth,
Katie’s favourite things to sing were Christmas carols

• Austra drummer Maya Postepski and Katie were in a riot grrrl-style band called Galaxy together for three years

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