divine magic
Owen Pallett
WORDS: MISS AMP
PHOTOGRAPHY: SIMON FERNANDEZ

Owen Pallett calls himself Final Fantasy. He's a virtuosic violinist nerdfox. He fancies Link from Zelda. And he writes delightful string quartets about sex and death - inspired by Dungeons and Dragons. Prepare to meet Toronto's smartest game boy.


 

An envelope is torn open. A CD snags on bubble-wrap. The press release crackles as it unfolds. She calls out to me.

“AMPY, look!”

What?

“It’s a record by the boy who did the strings for
Arcade Fire!”

We put it on as she reads me the important bits from the press release. “24…Canada...Ooh, computer games, Ampy, you’d like this. Toured with Hidden Cameras –“

“Is he gay?”

“Dunno. Probably. Yeah. Gotta be. Listen to this music. It’s the gayest music ever made. In every sense of the word.

 

 

 

 

i bet he's hot

Violin loops are twirling out of the stereo, curling round our heads like something from some Classic FM advert. I’m expecting bluebirds with ribbons in their beaks to start flying in through the windows. The vocals are half-breathed, half-sung: the close harmonies glide over delicately plucked notes, over stuttering, quivering string sounds, the occasional restrained drumbeat.

“What does he look like?” I ask, cutting to the chase. “I bet he’s hot.”

(Oh please, don’t tell me you don’t think like this: yes, even you, readers of a family publication such as this one. Why do you all like Cat Power so much? Give me a break.)

She fumbles through the presspack.

“Nah, he’s not all that.”

I grab it off her, smooth it down, check out the boy in the photo. You can’t really see his face, just a smooth, blond wing of hair all flicked like Princess Diana’s; a mouth scrunched into a concentrating shape, half-hidden by the maple slash of the violin; and a waistcoat made out of some hessian, tweedy fabric, like something an imaginary blacksmith might wear, or a character out of a Thomas Hardy novel.

indie shagging music

The sampled loops of ‘This is the Dream of Win and Regine’ pummel up inside my throat with that opening/closing feeling you get when you’re trying not to cry. I stroke my finger across the dots that make up the picture of his hair.

“Not all that? Come off it. Please. He so is. The music is. The name is. All of it is. It’s beautiful."



'Constant goals, and total beauty.
That's all anybody really wants. '


You’re indie shagging music, you know that?

“How do you know?”

I can barely recall an indie fuck I had last summer where your record didn’t feature in the background.

“Some girl emailed me and told me she lost her virginity while listening to Final Fantasy. I was like… YES!”

You know what you are, Owen? (I glance at Owen’s thigh as he sits cross-legged next to me on Tomlab’s sofa. I could circle my thumb and forefinger around its tiny bonelike stretch.) 'You’re our generation’s Barry White.’

Owen laughs. “I think that’s wonderful. My music is all about sex.

'
boner central

No. Stop scowling. Wait. I’m just scratching the surface, exploring the superficial pleasures offered by the music of and persona behind Final Fantasy. This article isn’t all going to be about how ‘hott’ Owen Pallett is, I promise. You can relax. I’m not going to go into how good Has A Good Home is to fuck to, or how Owen’s going to pose for Butt magazine making out with his boyfriend while they’re wearing frilly shirts or perhaps swim trunks, or how he thinks the first two issues of Sweet Action magazine (a porn mag for hipster girls) were just ‘boner central’, or how his first appearance in Plan B involved him saying how he’d like to jack off onto a map of Northern Ontario, or how he’s in favour of what he calls ‘a new homo conservatism’ because he’d rather see a man in a nice overcoat or suit and tie than just standing around with his man-tits out, or how Owen’s whole being gay thing is maybe just about a desire for masculine camaraderie, because you just can’t shoot the shit with straight men, or how he thinks of his music as ‘pervert music’ rather than ‘homo music’ because he feels more like a pervert than a homo, because… because… because I’m just not.

Because for once there’s all this other stuff that’s just as interesting.

 

 

nerdfox

OK. Owen Pallett. Nerdfox. Geekboy. Violin virtuoso. Started music lessons at a young age, played in ‘crappy rock bands’ at school, went to university to study music composition, where he began taking the violin more seriously. Post-college, he found himself with no work as a composer, but in high demand as an arranger. He worked with local Toronto bands such as Picastro, the Hidden Cameras, and the Arcade Fire. He had no real prospects as a solo artist till touring with the Arcade Fire, who asked him to open for them, at which point he realised that if he was going to make any money from this music lark, he’d better have an album to sell. Young Marble Giants and Guided By Voices flung albums together in a week – why couldn’t he?

So he did, and Has a Good Home was ready to go a week later. Final Fantasy was born. The records feature strings, timpani, drums, horns, organs and choir, while live he prefers to play alone, using a looping pedal to sample his violin. He plays over the loops, accompanying them with fey melodies and yelps and shouts – it’s an awkward, intimate, beautiful experience to see him play.

don't let your cock do all the work

Owen mixes it up, that’s what he does. He takes classical music and brings it into the hipster domain. He takes an album of string quartets and puts the word ‘poo’ in the title to make people laugh. He explores grandiose themes of self-delusion, isolation, fear of death – using concepts derived from a game whose title has become a codeword for total geek inadequacy. (More on this below). He drops a graphic line like ‘don’t let your cock do all the work’ into a song that, musically at least, you’d be more than happy to play to your religious mother-in-law. And of course, the ‘high culture’ of classical music and the ‘low culture’ of computer games are inextricably intertwined throughout the whole Final Fantasy project. Luckily for me, low culture in all its forms are my speciality, so Plan B flew me to Cologne to meet up with Mr Pallett and all the charming men of Tomlab.

 

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