With their second album, Beyond The Uncanny Valley, out on August 25 on the Halocline Trance label, Toronto producer, rapper and DJ Myst Milano is playing all sorts of parties and shows: Sapphic music festivals (early June’s Lavender Wild), Toronto Pride parties on the street (June 25, Wood Street Block Party) and at Chefs Hall (June 26, Circus party), at beachside raves (July 23, Promise Cherry Beach) and at barbecues (July 29, Bastid’s BBQ).
When we meet for coffee in Kensington Market, they’re getting ready to fly to Nicaragua for a three-hour techno set on the side of a volcano.
Myst Milano straddles punk, electronic and queer scenes like the barriers never existed.
You can hear it in their music, too, where Milano’s effortlessly charismatic bars glide through the pockets of adventurous beats.
“With the new album, the goal is for it to sound like one of my DJ sets,” Milano tells me on the patio of Moonbeam. “There’s house on it, there’s electro on it, there’s drum and bass, there’s some R&B sounding stuff.”
While their 2021 debut, Shapeshyfter, showed off their personality and humour, it was both vulnerable and hard-edged. Beyond The Uncanny Valley is consciously more danceable and lighter on its feet. Named after the feeling of creepy discomfort you feel when video game characters or AI becomes extremely realistic but not quite human, they’re grappling with what it means to become more easily digestible in their music.
“There were parts of [Shapeshyfter] that felt heavy or serious, and on this album I wanted to do something that was,” they look for the right word, “stupider.” That’s not derogatory, but reflexive and reflective of the scenes they draw from – partying as a powerful escape.
“This is music that was created by gay Black people in the 1980s during the AIDS crisis, like right at the beginning of a sexual apartheid,” Milano says. “As lofty as the music can be, it’s also a shield from the real world.”
Myst Milano lives every month like it’s Pride month, but since it’s June we decided to ask for some of their favourite artists to see live from the Toronto queer scene.
“What they do is true to them and really queer, but very on the pulse on its own. Teesh plays a lot of baile funk [a Brazilian subgenre of electro-funk and hip-hop], and Nino plays Jersey club stuff and all these really great remixes.”
“Litney is an incredible DJ. She’s Dominican, so she plays a lot of dembow [a Dominican subgenre influenced by dancehall and reggaeton] and a lot of Jersey club stuff too. We’ve played a bunch of shows together, which are always really fun. She’s a good friend of mine.”
“Slash Need are this really great goth/ dance/punk group led by Alex Low and Dusty. They usually have dancers, too. It’s always a spectacle to behold. It’s out of the box and creative in a way that I haven’t really seen Toronto do before.
“I went to this random all-ages goth show that they played [recently] at a community centre on the west end, and it was definitely something I would have gone to when I was 14. There were all these high school kids and younger, so excited to be there and really engaging with the show. That’s so great to see.
“I think Toronto has a really bad rep for bad crowds, where people are afraid of being judged and so they’ll just stand there with their arms crossed over their chests or talk really loudly during someone’s set. But because of the pandemic, there’s this whole generation of kids who just didn’t get to experience their first couple of years at the club at all. So for a lot of them, their first party experiences were outdoor raves, and those were so unhinged. So I think it’s changing, because the younger crowds are more open and present, more comfortable dancing really hard and enjoying themselves. They’re coming with this new energy, which is great.”
“Prado is a huge staple in the scene in Vancouver, but she’s getting into the scene here too now. She’s Black and Indigenous and she makes very modern trap, like sing-songy hip-hop music. She’s so talented.”
“Quarterback is a powerhouse singer. He sings some background vocals on my new album. It’s very gay R&B pop music, like a mix between Shygirl and Beyoncé. He’s a trained opera singer. He doesn’t sing opera in his music, but he has a very powerful voice in that classic ‘90s way where you had to be a good singer.”
“My friend Jay is a DJ in Toronto and has toured with Phèdre. I’ve known him since maybe 2016 or 2017, but we got really close after I became friends with Quarterback. Now, he’s my stylist. “I have this airbrush bunny suit that I wore last year during Pride that I also wore on CBC. He made this corset for me and a skirt out of denim that I wore for my Boiler Room set.
“I don’t look the same at most shows I play. I know how to become whatever a venue or a party needs. People who I’ve known for years will reintroduce themselves to me because they don’t recognize me. Depending on how my hair looks and how my clothes look, I can become a different person. I can be anyone.”
This article appeared in the 2023 Summer issue.