"Prog punk with a classical touch"
photography by Ankit Narang
Square is a modern prog-rock band based in Vancouver that epitomizes the ethos of the Canadian middle-aged experience. Multicultural, overeducated, and ironically trying to justify art-making in our current (dis)information age, Square asks a unique musical question: what happens when you know all the rules, and where all the roads in life lead, and somehow still get lost?
Square began in 2017, after three well-established composers in the Canadian contemporary music scene, James Maxwell, Edward Top, and Alfredo Santa Ana, imagined a new creative output for their work. Together with Vancouver's indie-music scene legend Nathan Dillon, the songs they have created are powerful, complex, and uniquely wrought out, resulting not as an experiment of their combined musical lives but as a staunch statement of musical mastery.
Composer Edward Top (vocals, guitar, violin) was born in the Netherlands, and has lived and worked in London, Bangkok, and Rotterdam, before arriving in Vancouver where he served as Composer in Residence with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra from 2011-2014. His commissioned piece Helix recently opened the orchestra’s 100th anniversary season and is influenced by rock-guitar delay effects. In 2017, his thrash-metal inspired Eruption was commissioned and performed on tour in Eastern Canada by the Toronto Symphony and Toronto Symphony Youth orchestras. The work was supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage, for the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada in 2017. Now Top’s orchestral rock sound has turned full circle in the electric violin and guitar of Square.
Alfredo Santa Ana
Top shares guitar duties with Alfredo Santa Ana, a Mexican/Canadian composer who has been writing music in Canada since 2003 and whose post-classical compositions have been performed by a wide-range of artists across Canada including the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Orchestre de la Francophonie, Standing Wave Ensemble and artists like Veda Hille, legendary choreographer and dancer Margie Gillis, and Pulitzer-prize winning composer Caroline Shaw. He holds a doctorate in music composition from the University of British Columbia and his work in film won a Best Soundtrack award at the Next International Film Festival in Romania. Top and Santa Ana’s guitar work blends intricate contrapuntal techniques with a desire for sonic experimentation.
On drums, James Maxwell, holds a PhD in Computer-Assisted Composition from Simon Fraser University and a musical range borne out by commissions from the Ad Mare Wind Quintet, Ballet Kelowna, Music On Main, Standing Wave, Tiresias Duo, Vancouver New Music, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and collaborative work with choreographers Claire French, Helen Walkley, Simone Orlando, and Joe Laughlin, theatre artists Mallory Catlett, Alex Ferguson, Caleb Johnson, and Fight With a Stick, filmmakers Alex Williams and Alison Beda, and visual artists Kathleen Ritter and Hadley+Maxwell. Unlike Top and Santa Ana’s initial classical paths, Maxwell cut his teeth playing drums in the Vancouver indie music scene of the eighties and nineties with bands like 4th Floor, Coast 1040 darlings Rotorcloud, Belter, experimental Drum-and-Bass juggernaut Ottobon, and Jackalope.
Dillon’s raw vocal intensity, earnest lyrics, and electrifying live shows led A&M recording artist Another White Male to international acclaim in the 1990’s. Another White Male spent the ’90’s splitting genres and touring extensively with bands like the Rheostatics, NoMeansno, Fishbone and Mr. Bungle. His overdriven vocals for Square, shared with Top’s clean singing, create a wide sonic range, expressing lyrics that centre around pseudo-religion, man against nature, absurdism, and alienation from an immigrant’s perspective.