The basement of Mike Fong’s family home in Bedford is lit with lights shaped like chilli peppers. It is scented with patchouli and decorated with vintage posters, guitars and a stuffed fox. Flashes and beeps emanate from the numerous keyboards, amps, and pedals that cover the floor.
Fong, 24, and his bandmate, Eliza Niemi, 22, now use the moody room as a practice space for their band, New Love Underground.
But until recently, most of the synthpop group’s collaborative work was done online, from afar.
“We wrote the album by sending things back and forth on our computers,” says Niemi of their newest album, TBH, released on Bandcamp March 2015.
For the past year, Fong lived in Toronto, playing with the Halifax-born band, the Wayo, while Niemi stayed on the East Coast, studying at Dalhousie University and working on musical projects with bands Mauno and Loveland. In late August, Fong moved back to his Halifax roots.
While in Toronto, Fong wrote instrumentals and sent them to Niemi, who created lyrics and melodies to go on top.
The result was New Love Underground, which played its first show in the University of King’s College Wardroom last Friday.
“Being geographically apart demanded that we communicate more. We talked all the time, about everything,” says Niemi.
“Being in different places sort of allowed us to explore, to allow our imaginations and our fantasy realm to be unlimited. We were able to create our own visions of what this could be,” adds Fong.
Niemi and Fong credit their ability to collaborate and create a unique sound to being incredibly plugged into a number of technologies.
“We would be using guitars if the musical climate was different. But it just so happens that we’re using synths as today’s platform for expression,” Fong says of their highly mechanized setup.
Using effects to layer drum and keyboard sounds, guitar effects, pedals and vocals, Fong and Niemi are able to create a full and layered sound on their own, although sometimes they do play with a live band.
“You don’t need to buy other people’s time anymore,” says Fong of the opportunities that come with a move away from dependence on traditional acoustic band models.“You can just learn how to operate the machines and record songs yourself.”
They like to identify New Love Underground as neo-liberal. Fong explains: “Neoliberal in the sense that the same time as us being artists trying to express ourselves, we also function as advertisements for the devices we use.”
Technology has also allowed New Love underground to experiment with a wide variety of genres and play with sounds like 80s dance songs and new electronic beats at the same time.
“It’s romantic electronic neo-folk,” says Niemi, pinpointing New Love Underground’s genre: “That mixing is a product of wide access to information.”
Though technology plays a huge part in New Love Underground’s creative process, they strive not to lose touch with the raw human emotion that motivates their music.
“We are trying to find a way to be intimate via technology,” claims Fong, describing New Love Underground’s goal to use their digital platform to produce warm sounds and genuine lyrics.
“Instead of abandoning technology as something that alienates us and acts like a barrier to intimacy, we’re finding a way of being able to have an emotional connection within these mechanisms.”