South Carolina’s Chaz Bundick has certainly made a name for himself; two, not including his real one, to be exact. Around 2013, he began disc jockeying and recording electronic dance music as Les Sins, producing the critically acclaimed album, “Michael.” However, most people know him as Toro y Moi, a prolific multi-genre project that was instrumental to the emergence of a style of music called chillwave, which rose to prominence around 2010. If you’re not familiar with Toro, think Washed Out, Neon Indian or Youth Lagoon.
Bundick has steadily released critically acclaimed albums, about one per year, since 2010. He’s played at festivals such as Pitchfork Music Festival, Lollapalooza and Coachella. His most recent album, “What For?,” consists mostly of guitar-driven indie-rock detailed by some of his signature synth sounds and beachy vocals. Some have likened the album to his early work; however, the album is certainly more polished than his early recordings, which could easily fit into the lo-fi genre.
On April 30, Toro’s band stopped at Union Transfer for their “What For?” Tour. The show was sold out, which is an impressive feat for a Thursday show at Union Transfer, one of the larger Philadelphia venues. The floor and balcony were both packed front to back, and an air of anticipation was palpable.
Around 9 p.m., Toro’s opening band, Vinyl Williams, took the stage. The four-piece band is currently touring with Toro and is an excellent compliment. Vinyl Williams’ music shares many elements of Toro’s. Their steady beats, dancibility and fluid song structure allow them to comfortably fit the chillwave moniker. However, Vinyl Williams uses cloudy, distorted guitar tones and reverberating vocals to bring a psychedelic element to the table that is new to the genre. As interesting as their music was, it was clear to see that they were not seasoned performers, as their stage presence lacked the visual complementarity that a live band should provide. Nonetheless, Vinyl Williams pleased the crowd and built even greater excitement for the headliner.
After a long opening set and break, Bundick walked on stage to deafening applause. His four band members followed, and they jumped right into the set. They began with standout tracks from their new album, including “Empty Nesters” and “Buffalo.” The new material seemed to make more sense live than on the recording since the full band could now be visualized, which was previously not so easy for a group so strongly represented by its frontman.
They eventually moved into some of their past hits, including “New Beat” and “Still Sound,” staples of the chillwave genre that rely more on synthesizers than guitar. These songs were especially interesting live because the band had to replace very familiar electronic tones with those found on their live hardware (keyboards, guitars, etc). As the excitement continued to build, Bundick made a subtle humanitarian gesture by reminding the crowd of the riots in Baltimore and announced that the next song was a call for peace. After a long and energetic set, the band returned to the stage for an encore.
It would be hard to match the thrill and exhilaration in the room at the end of Toro y Moi’s performance. The managers at the venue could sense the feeling in the air and allowed the audience to stay for an impromptu dance party. Toro y Moi will continue to tour through August, bringing their eclectic music to both U.S. and international crowds.