HAPPY TRENDY and Kumon Plaza are synth-born kin

By Laura Bardsley

Although age has brought Dylan Khotin-Foote, the indie artist formerly known as HAPPY TRENDY, to a trendier, albeit questionably happier stage in his musical career, his pre-2010 project Kumon Plaza has not been left behind. Instead, Khotin-Foote works malleability into his booking process — if the show offers more dance-pop acts, he’ll perform a Kumon Plaza set to match the mood. His upcoming performance, opening for Brooklyn’s synth-laden Class Actress at Commonwealth Bar and Stage, promises to be interwoven with improvisation, synth-y high-fives and video-game nostalgia.

When asked whether he feels that a Kumon Plaza performance would be retroactive or illuminating, Khotin-Foote finds solace in between the two. “I tend to put a new twist on the songs, like using different gear to perform or even going back to the original song and switching things up in the recordings/backing tracks.”

This technique allows Khotin-Foote to revisit old material without being dragged down by its placement in the timeline of his musical career, thus avoiding stagnancy — pretty impressive tactics for a young man freshly out of high school. Although he’s not very familiar with Class Actress nor has he performed at many upbeat, large venue shows, he is looking forward to the challenge. “I’m . . . used to the whole DIY thing with HAPPY TRENDY . . . I think this will be a good one, though.”

Freshly home from his European tour as HAPPY TRENDY with Toronto’s Foxes in Fiction, Khotin-Foote cites his best moments while playing a big-ticket festival in Lisbon, Portugal. Sharing the bill with the likes of Handsome Furs and Junior Boys, along with hanging out backstage with South Carolina’s Toro Y Moi, he played to an audience of 500. Compared to shows in Edmonton, where the usual attendance is “around 60,” this was obviously an overwhelming experience — especially during an interview after his Lisbon performance, when 60 people turned up just to hear him answer questions. But Khotin-Foote thankfully has not allowed this experience enlarge his ego. After receiving a review categorizing his HAPPY TRENDY album as anxious and over-thought, he typed that into the “Genre” field on his Facebook profile.

When asked what upcoming shows in Alberta he is most excited for, Calgary’s MTT Fest was his first, most vehement response, and understandably so. Held in Calgary over two days in multiple venues, this psych-worthy weekend promises similar excitement to Sled Island in the form of big names and good times. Khotin-Foote, who is performing on the second day as HAPPY TRENDY, is looking most forward to performances by Sonic Boom, Mac DeMarco, Damo Suzuki and Sun Araw. Calgary’s own will grace the stages, including gems like The Nancees, Faux Fur, Extra Happy Ghost!!! and others. It’s applicable, then, when asked who he would ask to play if he were to curate a festival, that Khotin-Foote’s reply is that he’d enlist the “MTT Fest dudes to do it,” as “they seem like they know what they’re doing.” In all seriousness, though, his picks comprise of musical pals both near and far away. “Coma Cinema to headline, Foxes in Fiction, Blithe Field, Trouble Books, Advance Base and King Krule.”

Khotin-Foote calls his Kumon Plaza tape a “piece of [his] sixteen-year-old self,” implying a definite growth and separation between his last project and his active one. Although somewhat interchangeable when booking shows, Kumon Plaza and HAPPY TRENDY are, as Khotin-Foote emphatically reminds me, “totally separate.” They do differ musically, but their shared creator weaves common elements throughout both. These elements include complex emotions conveyed in an honest, simple way — the track “Meet Me at Westmount” samples some heavy breathing, and whether these are in pleasure or in pain is up to the listener. Within both projects, Khotin-Foote’s self-proclaimed response to urban isolation rides the undercurrent, sending shivers down your spine as you zone out. Let’s hope he’ll sample something even heavier in emotion at his upcoming show in Calgary — you’ll have to attend to find out. Attendance guaranteed or not, download Kumon Plaza’s album “Cliff” — its instrumentals and remixes are too appropriate for the winter season to pass up, and endearing remixes about summer crushes are hard to turn down.

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