Black Tiger Sex Machine makes the sort of electronic dance music that's designed to liquify brains and bring the juice inside glow sticks to a boil.
It's dark, heavy and metallic-sounding EDM that draws from the extremes of Justice, Daft Punk and Nine Inch Nails — lots of robot noises, wobbly bass and hard drops in the mix. It's cinematic in the Michael Bay kind of way, and comes paired with appropriately apocalyptic 3D visuals — skulls and snakes, dark symbols of the atomic age, and scary robot cats.
The Montreal trio of Patrick Barry, Marc-André Chagnon and Julien Maranda formed BTSM about 10 years ago, and slowly developed into a proper pyrotechnics-and-lasers EDM act that has played at Ultra Music Festival and Lollapalooza.
After having its biggest-ever tour canceled about midway through because of COVID-19, Black Tiger Sex Machine began easing back into live performances at outdoor venues last summer and is currently on its first major road outing since early 2020. The 28-stop tour has been a major release of energy for the group as well as audiences looking to lose their minds to dance music once again.
"Some of the shows we've had so far have been some of our craziest energy so far — people are just going nuts and screaming and dancing and singing nonstop," Barry says. "This tour is what we were hoping we could do in 2020. We kind of redid it and took it to the next level, basically."
In 2020, Black Tiger Sex Machine released its second LP, Futuristic Thriller, alongside a live-action video with a central character, Naomi, and her robot-cat friend — which one surmises is the black tiger sex machine — fighting her way through a dystopian cyberpunk futurescape. The video was incorporated into the group's already-immersive stage show.
"We have this built up universe around our music," Barry says. "When people come to our show, our goal is to take them into our universe and create a different experience, to have the visuals tell a story so it's not just listening to music, it's a whole audio-visual experience."
The storyline continues with the same characters returning for more sci-fi action on the trio's third album, Once Upon A Time in Cyberworld, which dropped earlier this year.
"Growing up, we were big fans of sci-fi movies, anime and video games and all of that, and we've tried to bring those influences into our project," Barry says. "That's been the backdrop of our music since we started 10 years ago, from our simple cover art and then getting into music videos and now these much bigger shows that we're doing."
Unlike some DJs who simply hit the spacebar on their laptops and dance around the stage, Black Tiger Sex Machine uses an array of hardware — loopers and drum machines and synthesizers — to pull off their sound in real time.
"It's more interesting for the crowd and more interesting for us, too," Barry says. "There's three of us so we can have a bit more going on onstage. Since the beginning, we've been trying to do this hybrid DJ set where it's very fast-paced and there is a lot of energy we're trying to maintain throughout the whole show, but also use these live elements to add something more unique and organic to the show."
As always, the trio will take the stage in Spokane wearing robot-cat helmets, which are adorned with LEDs that sync with an elaborate lighting rig.
"We didn't start off with the helmets," notes Barry, "but at a certain point we were like, 'Hey, this could be a cool idea to add a little lighting element to our show,' and it kind of worked for some reason. People responded to it and we built on it not just for our imagery, but having that focus on bringing the best musical and visual production we can."
Putting on the robot-cat helmets also helps Barry and his bandmates get in character and lose themselves in their bone-rattling, mind-melting performances.
"It's kind of an athlete putting on gear or an actor putting on a costume," he says. "The last part of our stage outfits that goes on in the helmet and it puts you in that focused mode." ♦
Black Tiger Sex Machine, Kai Wachi, Hairitage, Vampa • Sat, May 14 at 8 pm • $30-$35 • All-ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague Ave. • sp.knittingfactory.com • 509-244-3279