"The underground scene which we got started in is super experimental, with open mic nights having musicians wearing giant light bulbs on their heads or women who stand up and talk about their sex life," says Benedikt MacIsaac, one-half of the Berlin-based, Vancouver-born duo Rooftoop Runners. "It's a pretty crazy place, but I would say the musicianship is not super high."
The benefit, however, is the limitless opportunities for experimentation. Anything goes. Musicians take risks. It's a great place to start anything, Benedikt says, whether it is a new shop or another band looking to test their artistic limits.
And that is what this duo wanted to do two years ago. Instead of the characteristic downtempo electronic music associated with trip-hop, they wanted to explore what a friend of theirs called "trip pop." It carries a downtempo electronic vibe with darker lyrics and enough progressive rock elements to genre hop.
Rooftop Runners puts out a darkly experimental electronic rock EP.
We Are Here is anything but predictable, which is why it made for interesting emerging artist pick. With exception to one track, the EP is atmospherically dark and dramatically stripped back with with one foot in pop, one in rock, and a hand in electronic.
"We wanted to create something that had depth," says Benedikt. "We wanted to make people feel alive and raw ... to peel away the bullshit."
One of the best tracks on the record is Bang Bang, an emotionally charged brooder that throws daggers at the doubts people develop about relationships. More than that, it nails loneliness — the kind you still might feel when you're with someone but undecided if it's the right someone. They're all strangers, really.
Bang Bang is the third track down the album, but the opening is just as strong. Streets, a song that he composed while walking the streets of Berlin, is dark and heavy and thickly delivered. Benedikt says it's about walking on the right side of life, but the feeling it conveys also captures how easy it might be follow a different path — the one most people travel.
While both tracks carry a consistent theme, Rooftop Runners have more options than one direction. She Devil is an indie pop rocker with deep, steady guitar rhythm and sparse percussion. The song, packaged together as a duet, alludes to some pretty provocative alternative potential.
It has grown on me the most. But then again, it also suggests that it is anybody's guess what these guys might do next. And Benedikt says as much.
"The sound mostly came from the fact that the we did not perform with a midrange," he said. "It was quite a sparse arrangement, a weakness and a strength. Expect that to change in the next album."
The second track off the EP includes some midrange. But while Energize has its moments, it also serves up the most theatrical vocals. Too much theatrics isn't a good sound for them, even if it is an understandable part of their roots.
Both band members have had careers as dancers. In fact, Tobias was already working in Germany and Benedikt in the Netherlands when both decided to restart and focus mostly on music together. That's when Benedikt moved to Berlin, one of their favorite cities.
"We love the collaboration," Benedikt said. "Working with other artists is a highlight for us. We loved working with Angi Seserman, who produced our EP. We are just about to get into the studio with Martin J. Fiedler, who recorded Josh T. Pearson's album last year. We've also enjoyed working with director Kaleb Wenzel Fischer, EP illustrator Sarah Clement, and designer Allabelle Choi. All very talented people."
Rooftop Runners composes its music in much the same way. Either one brother comes up with lyrics or a riff and then they build it up together or they improvise songs on the spot. But no matter how it starts, Benedikt says they always work toward creating an authentic experience for people.
Rooftop Runners Here We Are Breaks Out At 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Rooftop Runners have engagements this summer in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. When they visit, they want to get a renewed sense of the Canadian music scene. Occasionally they talk about moving home, but with all of their energy focused on Europe with shows in Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (in May), Benedikt says Europe feels like the right place to be based.
Rooftop Runners definitely delivers up something different. Never mind that the name of the EP is awful; you can find We Are Here on iTunes. We Are Here is also available at Amazon. The band's full length is expected to be produced and released later this year. You can keep up on their schedule on Facebook.