I was recently watching a music video with some friends when one of them said, with disdain, “that looks so Canadian.” This comment quickly morphed into a somewhat heated discussion of what she meant by the term, which, as she put it, boiled down to a bad imitation of an American style. Most of us have heard it before, particularly in relation to TV shows like Canadian Idol and Canada’s Next Top Model. They’re bad covers of something that’s so well established, unique and loved that they can’t be replicated to be as good, let alone better.
When I heard Toronto duo UKAE cover Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’, I was surprised by the light and folksy spin they had put on the dark and electronic-heavy hip-hop track. UKAE is made up of Taylor Whittaker and Nickie Minshall, childhood friends who have been performing covers together since the third grade. They reunited a year ago and celebrated their year together by playing two sets at the Free Times Cafe near College and Spadina Streets in Toronto. They also played at the recent opening of portraiture artist, Sherie Meyers’ work at 2186 Dundas.
Along with performances at major Toronto music venues like Lee’s Palace and The Drake Hotel, they are putting out a debut EP very soon. While the band has also covered the David Guetta hit, ‘Titanium’, they have a roster of their own songs which are nicely balanced between both Taylor and Nickie’s voices. In ‘Civil Love’ Nickie takes the lead of the ballad, singing the first few lines of the track – “Ask for a soldier, / I’ll give you an army” – with a sweetly sharp timbre backed up by Taylor’s raspy vocals and folksy guitar riffs. In ‘Winterlion’ Taylor sings the lead portion of the song with Nickie cooing or echoing him. It’s amazing for a band that started out relatively recently that their vocals complement each other with such balance rather than compete to be heard.
Sometimes flattery isn’t all that can be found in imitation.