Last Friday night, Sugar Nightclub was hands-down the coolest spot in town, as a who’s-who of the local hipsterocracy descended en masse to revel in the return of Dan Boeckner’s dance-punk trio Operators. The Cowichan Valley-born-and-raised Boeckner, who’s had his digits in several musical pies over the year—including Wolf Parade, Divine Fits (with Britt Daniel from Spoon), Handsome Furs (with ex-fiancée Alexei Perry), and Atlas Stategic—remains a tour de force in the Canadian indie rock/post-punk scene. And on a steamy Friday night in the dog days of summer, Boeckner cemented his ongoing legacy with a fiery performance that thrilled the home crowd, as Operators made their first appearance in Victoria since last September’s Rifflandia Music Festival.
Playing in support of the main attraction were a couple of local opening instrumental acts. First to the stage was Psychic Pollution, a longstanding ambient electronic project from Victoria’s J. Schuurman. Schuurman mixed droning keyboards with sequence-heavy beats while drummer Keenan Mittag-Degala punctuated the synth-laden din with some freewheeling, ostensibly improvised kit-work. At times reminiscent of a discordant 80s sci-fi soundtrack, we’ll settle on calling it a stranger version of Stranger Things.
Next up was former Zone 91.3 Band of the Month Astrocolor. DJ Neil Cooke-Dallin served up a signature selection of laid back, funky beats, while acting in his usual capacity as official frontman and head cheerleader for the jazz fusion ensemble. As expected, Astrocolor’s groovy vibe—including some sultry sax work from Anand Greenwell—drew the emergent crowd away from the bar and down to the dance floor, while simultaneously elevating us into the party-sphere.
By the time Operators made it on stage for the main event (about 45 minutes later than advertised), fans were champing at the bit, but as implied in the opening, they definitely did not disappoint. In what can loosely be described as a reimagining of 80s new wave for the post-post-modern era, Operators features Boeckner on vocals, guitar and keys, along with Divine Fits drummer Sam Brown (a monster on the kit), and Macedonian-born multi-instrumentalist and renowned electro-whiz Devojka managing the samplers and sequencers. The band’s extended set saw them rip through hot tracks like “Ecstasy At My House” and cuts from their 2016 album Blue Wave, including “Shape of Things”, and “Cold Light”. All the while, Boeckner basked in the enthusiastic response from the crowd, saying it felt like a homecoming. He briefly touched on his roots on the Island and let us know, “This song is about growing up here,” before launching into “Nobody”, and imploring us all to “walk the streets in the dark” and “let the system blow all night.”
The band rocked steadily for an hour before stepping off stage momentarily, then returning for a resplendent three-song encore, including a sought-after Handsome Furs track as a nod to long-time fans. All in all, one of the hotter shows we’ve seen this summer, and, as always, we look forward to our next Boeckner encounter, in whatever form it may take.