POP Montreal Celebrates Two Decades of Music and Community Building

The iconic international music festival turns 20.

by Dave MacIntyre

Published on September 20, 2021

Over the past two decades, POP Montreal has given a platform for countless artists to perform in one of North America’s most musically vibrant cities. Each year, Montreal plays host to shows across many of its world-class venues during a five-day span and now they’re celebrating a major milestone.

“The cultural landscape [in Montreal] for music is really dominated by one overarching corporation,” says POP’s co-founder and creative director, Dan Seligman. “The fact that we’ve been able to build, grow, do cool stuff, and find our niche within the city is something to be proud of.”

After holding a hybrid festival last year, with shows available online and in-person at limited capacity, POP Montreal will again use a similar setup. Some major gets include Atlanta-based rapper Cakes da Killa, spellbinding Montreal-via-Guadeloupe chanteuse Malika Tirolien, Atikamekw singer/songwriter Laura Niquay, and local Polaris-winning rap dynamo Backxwash.

Veteran local acts like the DearsIslands, and Suuns are also on hand, as is Efrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor with his project ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT, alongside La Force’s Ariel Engle. RANGE is also presenting two showcases at this year’s POP: Alicia Clara at Clubhouse Rialto on September 25, and Antony Carle at Ursa on the 25th.

Beyond music, POP will feature visual art, film screenings, their famous Puces POP fair, children’s activities, industry conferences, and even a parade during the final day. Shows and events will also take place at their new Mile End outdoor venue, L’Entrepôt77—built within the space of an abandoned warehouse that had burned down a couple years prior. “It’s not quite as big or exciting or wild as a normal edition [because of COVID],”Seligman says. “But I’m pretty happy with what we’ve put together in terms of programming.”

With Quebec’s provincial government having officially enforced vaccine passports, proof of full vaccination must be shown by attendees. Tickets will also not be sold at the door, so all purchases must be done ahead of time. “There are still restrictions, but they’re not as bad as last year,” he adds. “We feel like we have a good handle on how to produce an event [during the pandemic] that’s safe and still enjoyable.”

Over the years, POP Montreal and its eclectic lineups have acted as a showcase for many of the city’s biggest musical success stories, including Arcade Fire, Stars, Wolf Parade, Grimes, and the Unicorns. POP has also played host to multiple international artists who’d go on to hugely successful careers, such as Interpol, the xx, Beach House, Franz Ferdinand, and the Black Keys. “I’m proud of helping build the scene and the fabric of the city’s cultural milieu,” Seligman says. “And helping build a community of artists and musicians who make their homes and livelihoods in Montreal, and look forward to the festival every year.”

2021 ARTISTS TO WATCH

Alicia Clara: Performing at a RANGE sponsored showcase, Alicia Clara is a Swiss-born singer/songwriter who now calls Montreal home. Having released her debut EP, Outsider/Unusual, in February, her hypnotic, guitar-driven dream pop will be on display on September 25 at the Rialto Theatre’s Clubhouse—providing an intimate live setting for her bewitching musical output.

Saturday, September 25th, Rialto Clubhouse, 6 p.m.

ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT: Members of GY!BE and La Force teamed up during the pandemic’s onset to form this super-duo, who’ll be making their live debut at this year’s festival. Their noisy-yet-ethereal tunes are based around vocals and, according to their POP Montreal bio, “electricity, buried lightning and very old scales.” In other words, quite a sonic experience!

Saturday, September 25th, LEntrepôt77, 8 p.m.

Antony Carle: Playing RANGE’s showcase at the Martha Wainwright owned Ursa, Antony Carle is a Montreal-based singer-songwriter with a big voice and an even bigger onstage persona. Their smooth, synth-drenched 2019 debut album The Moment would be followed up by last year’s The Bitch of Living EP, and most recently the single “Felicity,” a captivating duet with fellow Montreal-based artist Ouri.

Saturday, September 25th, Ursa (alley), 4 p.m.

Backxwash: From Montreal by way of Zambia, Ashanti Mutinta (better known as Backxwash) has taken the city’s scene by storm—and seduced both the Polaris Music Prize jury and Anthony Fantano along the way. Her third album, I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses, brilliantly fuses her dark lyricism and explosive delivery with industrial-heavy beats.

Sunday, September 26th, LEntrepôt77, 6:30 p.m.

Cakes da Killa: Initially slated to perform at last year’s edition, New York-bred/Atlanta-based rapper Cakes da Killa will be the only international artist performing at POP in 2021. Some readers may recognize him from competing on Netflix’s Rhythm and Flow, and he’s since made waves with his strongly house-inflected take on rap—most recently on EP Muvaland Vol. 2.

Thursday, September 23, LEntrepôt77, 8 p.m.

Dorothea Paas: With debut LP Anything Can’t Happen having garnered a nod on the Polaris longlist, Toronto’s Dorothea Paas has gone from backing vocalist to U.S. Girls and Jennifer Castle to an undisputed talent in her own right. Her smoky, gorgeous voice makes for a pitch-perfect complement to her eclectic take on folk music.

Wednesday, September 22, Rialto Rooftop, 6:30 p.m.

Laura Niquay: Hailing from the First Nations reserve of Wemotaci in Northern Quebec, Laura Niquay also found a spot on this year’s Polaris longlist with her sophomore LP (and first in six years), Waska Matisiwin. Performing in her native tongue of Atikamekw, she puts a unique and entrancing spin on her indie-folk sound, delivered through her trademark husky voice.

Thursday, September 23, Rialto Theatre, 10:50 p.m.

Malika Tirolien: This Montreal-based singer-songwriter comes by way of Guadeloupe (an overseas department of France), has a Grammy nomination under her belt, and had previously made her name by performing with Cirque du Soleil and singing with Texas jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy. Her sophomore album Higher, released in April, blends jazz, rock, hip hop, R&B, soul, and funk with her rich, dynamic voice to make what she calls “high soul”.

Saturday, September 25, LEntrepôt77, 5 p.m.

Hot Chiiild In The City

The synthetic soul artist finds his way in L.A.’s immaculate song machine.

By Dave MacIntyre

Published on July 22, 2021

Packing up and moving to L.A. requires a giant leap of faith for any artist chasing their dreams. For Montreal-bred musician/producer Yonatan Ayal, it took plenty of behind-the-scenes work and sleeping in his car before he found success with his experimental soul project, Chiiild.

Composed primarily of Ayal and guitarist Pierre-Luc Rioux (also a Montreal native), Chiiild is known for his experimental, genre-defying take on soul music, with elements of indie rock, pop, electronic, jazz, and R&B. Fittingly, “synthetic soul” is the name of the genre often used to describe Chiiild’s music (it’s also the title of their 2020 debut EP), as it represents a dynamic mélange of influences with soul music acting as the guiding principle.

Debut album, Hope For Sale, is one Ayal hopes listeners will fully embrace and enjoy from start to finish. Additionally, making his lyrics and songwriting more conversational was a major point of focus after the Synthetic Soul EP. “With the first record, there’s a bit of a barrier between you and the listener. You don’t even know who’s listening,” he says. “After Synthetic Soul, I started to see who was listening, and how it affected people. I was like, ‘Oh okay, now we can have a direct conversation, because I know who I’m talking to.’ Lyrically, Hope For Sale represents that.”

Ayal grew up in Brossard, located on Montreal’s South Shore. When asked how his upbringing in the Montreal area shaped his perspective on music and art in general, Ayal mentions the city’s diverse palette of cultural influences, as well as its abundance of musical talent. “Montrealers have real taste,” he says. “What was playing on the radio growing up is what shaped me. There’s the music you choose, and there’s the music that finds you. Montreal is very eclectic in that way.”

Ayal, whose previous moniker was xSDTRK (pronounced “soundtrack”), saved up money and moved to Los Angeles with the goal of making the right connections with the right people. Having already known fellow producer and Montreal native Billboard (who’s worked with Madonna, Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Robyn, and Dua Lipa) in L.A., his path in the industry began to feel more clear thanks in part to their relationship. “I was like, ‘Okay, it seems like you can go here and all these records are made here. So let me just be there and see what I’m made of. That’s how I ended up in that song machine,” he says.

With influences as wide-ranging as Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, Tame Impala, Moby, and Craig David, it makes sense that Hope For Sale is similarly eclectic. Traces of The Beatles’ psychedelic baroque pop (“Wasting Time”), atmospheric indie rock (“Sleepwalking”), and haunting piano balladry (“Lotus”) are heard at various points, with Ayal crediting Bon Iver as a guidepost for its creative process.

Having worked on various projects for other musicians, Ayal eventually began craving the freedom to focus on his own musical endeavours. Starting Chiiild gave Ayal a greater opportunity for agency and creative self-expression. “You’re working on all kinds of stuff, and people are selling you everything left, right, and centre, until you’re just fed up and you’re like, ‘I’m going to do my own thing,’” he adds.https://www.youtube.com/embed/tOMFcO2JXlU?controls=0&rel=0&playsinline=0&modestbranding=0&autoplay=0&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Freadrange.com&widgetid=1

Part of finding success is in paying your dues first, which Ayal learned through living out of his car in an L.A. grocery store parking lot. The biggest lesson he learned from the experience about making your way in the industry? “When you have a house, you might not shower one day, and it’s no big deal,” he says. “But when you’re feeling really shitty, you haven’t had a good sleep, and you have to go meet somebody, be presentable, and feel good about what you’re doing, not being able to shower is the difference.”

Prior to Chiiild, Ayal would write and produce for artists like Usher, Jennifer Lopez, Jessie J, Chloe x Halle, and Jack Ü (Diplo and Skrillex). In 2015, Ayal’s first job in L.A. would be as a drum programmer for Rob Thomas’ third album, The Great Unknown—a gig he found in an online ad posted by producer Keith Harris, and won after competing against nearly 1,500 applicants.

“That job really helped me build a life here,” he says of working for the Matchbox Twenty frontman. The two did not meet in person, however, as Ayal worked mainly alongside producer Matt Serletic while Thomas sent voice notes with ideas for songs. “It was a really great experience,” he adds. “There was a programmer who also programmed [Jay-Z’s] ’99 Problems’. It was cool to be in a room with such talented people. The producer, Matt, also produced [Aerosmith’s] “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” I’m just soaking all this up. This is all music that I grew up on.”

Hope For Sale sees Ayal team up with British songstress Mahalia on single “Awake”, and Jensen McRae also appears on a remix of album track “Gone.” Furthermore, Chiiild’s music has been featured on TV shows like FOX’s The Resident and HBO’s Hard Knocks, received co-signs from Zane Lowe and Joe Budden, and he most recently performed “Sleepwalking” and “Pirouette” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “It was really great to be able to showcase what Chiiild is,” he says of his experience performing on the late night talk show. “We’ve been very reserved and kind of let the music speak for itself. In this particular case, people got to see what the full, finished product looks like. It provided context, and to do it on such an iconic platform, I’m super grateful.”

With plans to tour Hope For Sale this fall, Ayal hopes the album will be enjoyed and understood by listeners, particularly with lyrics that represent what it means to be human. “It’s hope for sale, because sometimes you’re optimistic and sometimes you’re losing faith,” he adds. “It’s the whole human experience.”

David Numwami Is Shooting For The Stars

The Belgian pop artist offers up his debut to the universe at large. 

by Dave MacIntyre


Published on July 8, 2021

David Numwami was on the verge of becoming a food delivery driver when he received a call to go on tour, performing alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg. Ever since, the rising Belgian artist has found himself on an upward trajectory, working and playing with other influential French music figures, including Sébastien Tellierand Air’s Nicolas Godin.

Numwami’s warm, inviting take on pop music  is informed by artists as diverse as Ariana Grande and the legendary Japanese artist Cornelius. After launching a solo career as frontman of the group Le Colisée, he dropped a string of solo singles in 2020. Now, he is celebrating the release of his debut EP, Numwami World. Across seven songs, the Rwanda-born, Brussels-based artist gives listeners an intimate, charming sonic experience in both English and French. 

RANGE spoke to Numwami about his new single, “Milky Way,” and how the pandemic helped him overcome his reluctance to release his music—something he considers akin to going to the bathroom.

Congratulations on your new album. How are you feeling about the reception it’s gotten so far?

I’m super happy. It’s always weird for me to see other people reacting to what I do. I’m really not used to it. I feel like I’m the type of person that if I start to look at my Instagram comments, I’d just do it all day. I never check. For example, the reason I’m here [in this building] is because I came to collect some posters that we made. My face is on them. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen my face on a poster. It’s like I’m not able to realize it’s real. It’s the same when I release a song, like “Milky Way.” I see that people are reacting, and from what my manager says, most of them like it. But for me, I don’t understand it. If I release something, it stops having a connection to me. It’s just a song in the world. Once it’s out, it’s not mine anymore.

You’ve previously admitted to being afraid to release any music of your own. What do you think was the turning point for you that led to you deciding to release new music?

It was the pandemic. I felt like (releasing music) was just a way to survive. I was like, “I should start a career, because I can’t really just count on others to call me all the time and play guitar, bass, or keyboards for them.” One day I woke up, and I was in a studio shooting a video. I was like, “Alright, this is it, no turning back.” The need that I’ve always had was to record music. I can’t help myself. For example, “Milky Way” and all the old songs I’m releasing now, I recorded them mostly while I was touring with Charlotte Gainsbourg. Even if I was super tired after the show, I had to go in my room and record music. I feel like it’s a need, like an animal or something… It’s like going to the toilet. To me, there’s a lot in common between going to the toilet and making a song. You gotta let that out!

“Milky Way” is about your partner of 10 years. It’s not always easy to write an amazing love song that captures that feeling of being in love.

It’s almost a little bit about [that feeling]. On “Milky Way,” what I’m trying to say is, “what were the odds?” It’s a song where I’m thinking about the fact that we met, and that’s crazy! And I don’t know how to express how crazy it is. What you said about it not being easy to write a love song about that feeling is a bit meta, in a way. On “Milky Way,” I’m just struggling with it. How is it possible that we met? In a whole universe, we’re living at the same moment, in the same town? How crazy is that? At the end of the song, I’m like, “the answer’s gotta be somewhere in the Milky Way.” Like, how the fuck is it possible that two people fall in love? They have to be in the same place. So many parameters have to be combined for two people to meet and match.

What else can we expect from you for the rest of 2021, assuming we’re about to get fully back to normal?

A lot of hugs, man. As soon as I’m vaccinated. For the rest of it, I’m starting to tour again. I’m going to tour and  do quite a lot of dates. What else? I don’t know yet. It’s open. But a lot of hugging and fist-bumping. 

Montreal’s Bell Orchestre make a comeback with House Music

March 19, 2021

Montreal’s Bell Orchestre make a comeback with House Music

by Dave MacIntyre

Richard Reed Parry told us about his other band’s new album.

Though he may be known for being part of Arcade Fire since 2003, Richard Reed Parry has been making music with Bell Orchestre for even longer. Today, the instrumental six-piece released their fourth album, House Music

Completed pre-pandemic, the group’s first LP since 2009’s As Seen Through Windows is the byproduct of mostly one single improvised session that was recorded live before being edited, modified and divided into 10 separate movements. Essentially, the album is one long piece of music with elements of classical, electronic and experimental jazz sprinkled throughout.

House Music was initially meant for a 2020 release, but was delayed due to the uncertainty of the pandemic’s future during its onset. Although it’s their first full-length in 12 years, Bell Orchestre never took an official break. Instead, the band — comprised of Parry, Sarah Neufeld (also of Arcade Fire), Pietro Amato (of the Luyas and Torngat), Kaveh Nabatian (also a film director), Mike Feuerstack (aka Snailhouse), and Stefan Schneider (also of the Luyas) — continued making music together amid other life commitments, while convening five years ago for a handful of sessions to improvise and record music over the course of a year.https://www.youtube.com/embed/NE42rmI8k_k?feature=oembed

The album was recorded on separate floors of Neufeld’s home in Vermont. With each of the six members split in groups of two, the group would spend a week to 10 days at a time recording. Initially, they’d be playing for an hour and a half without breaks, though this became looser as time went on — for example, some members might be making music, while others are busy going for walks or having lunch.

“There starts to be this social ecosystem where not everyone is on the exact same schedule all the time, and that’s fine,” Parry says, speaking via Zoom. “You find great musical ideas when working in pairs. It’s where the magic happens, and where the juice comes from.”

After Parry brought a single harmonic loop as a starting point, this loop became the album’s centrepiece. For 90 minutes, the band played to that same, single-tempo loop — one that the multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer describes as “open, but focused, and really gentle” — and found themselves making plenty of music off of a single idea, even though the loop itself comes in and out of the record.

“It was really useful creatively, because it means you can run with things as far as you want, and the whole thing will still have a centre to it, even if you don’t hear that centre,” he adds.

Despite its title looking ostensibly like a pandemic reference (with Parry adding that it took on a “whole new resonance” in the context of quarantine), House Music was named for being recorded literally inside Neufeld’s house in rural Vermont. The title also doubles as an allusion to the influence of the house music genre on the making of the record, since it is one single 45-minute piece played at the same tempo throughout.

“DJs beat-match things so that there can be this endless stream of music at the same tempo,” he says. “That’s a standard way for house music to be listened to. The fact that we had done that — albeit accidentally, at first — and decided, ‘Okay, this is what we’re doing: we’re releasing this record that’s all at the same BPM the whole time,’ felt like a cool inter-genre relationship.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/C1c_WIbi_fw?feature=oembed

The group’s first album on Erased Tapes is also one with musical touchpoints that didn’t shy away from heavy improvisation: Talk Talk, Ennio Morricone, the Orb’s Live 93, and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew — particularly since the latter album’s creative approach was similar to that of House Music.

“There are these compositional ideas [on Bitches Brew] that were really distinct, but used in a very loose, explorative fashion. You hear that exploration and that group hive-mind going to work on these simple but really interesting, ideas,” he says. “You hear that happening live in real time. They’re just improvising like crazy.”

Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone in some form, Parry has been grateful to have a long stretch of time away from the touring grind — and one involving arenas and headlining festivals, at that.

“I’m very lucky in that I make my living in fits and starts, anyway,” he says. “I’ll make a couple of records and go on tour full-time for a year, finish that, and then not work for another year or two, because I’ll have just lived away from home from full-on touring.”

Even if it would seem like quarantine isn’t exactly conducive to finding musical inspiration, Parry says lockdown has been treating him well, adding that it’s been a “creatively fertile” period for him. While not going cross-country skiing in his spare time, Parry has been busy writing and recording new music for many of his musical projects — including Arcade Fire, who he linked up with for a month to work on the follow-up to 2017’s Everything Nowhttps://www.youtube.com/embed/ezkiWIazMdE?feature=oembed

“We’re going to do that again for a month soon, in the spring or maybe the summer, depending on how stuff goes,” he says. “We can’t just be together hanging out all the time. We all live in different cities, so that’s been severely limited.”

In the meantime, Parry is readying the release of House Music. Under normal circumstances, he says the album would’ve already come out, and Bell Orchestre would’ve already toured and played shows with orchestras. Post-vaccination, they intend on performing House Music in its entirety with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra this fall, should concerts be able to safely resume by then.

Disappointing as it was to miss out on certain opportunities, Parry appreciates how his life as an artist has allowed him to see quarantine as an opportunity to create music while being more or less left alone by the world. 

“It’s no big deal for me to only live in my studio for a long time and work on the stuff that I like to work on,” he says. “You have this creative wellspring that is actually inside of you, that’s like, ‘I want to just be left alone to create stuff, write music, record and do these things. And loving to do them.’”

For more about Bell Orchestre and House Music, please visit the band’s website.

Musicians fight back against music streaming mammoth Spotify

by Dave MacIntyre

December 29, 2020

Spotify, with its 320 million subscribers and CEO worth $5.3-billion, pays artists $0.0038 per stream, and payola is said to be routine.

Spotify’s history of under-compensating its artists is well-documented. Now, musicians are seizing the pandemic as an opportunity to fight back.

The Justice at Spotify campaign by the organization UMAW (Union of Musicians and Allied Workers) has brought further attention to the streaming juggernaut’s subpar royalty payouts, demanding that the per-stream rate be bumped up to a minimum of one cent.

Although Spotify operates on revenue shares for each stream rather than a fixed rate, its current payout rate is around $0.0038 per stream — just below four-tenths of a cent. However, this exact number varies depending on several variables, such as whether or not the listener is a paid subscriber, or which country the song is played in. A cent per stream would nearly triple the current payout rate.

UMAW is a coalition of American musicians and other types of music workers, such as roadies and producers. The organization formed earlier this year in response to the financial hit musicians have taken — and increased reliance on streams for income in lieu of touring—during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign is advocating for a bigger share of streaming funds to go toward the artist, and for a much more equal streaming landscape for musicians, rights holders, and record labels alike.

Meanwhile, the Swedish company continues to gain monetary value, their revenue and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek currently has a net worth of $5.3-billion USD (nearly $6.8-billion CAD). Ek came under fire earlier this year for suggesting artists unhappy with their compensation aren’t making music frequently enough. Spotify have also sparked recent backlash for offering artists and record labels more potential streams by influencing the recommendations of users in exchange for a “promotional recording royalty rate” — a practice critics consider as being payola.

As of Dec. 28, the petition has been signed by more than 26,500 artists. These include Guy Picciotto (Fugazi), Empress Of, Amber Coffman (ex-Dirty Projectors), Jay Som, WHY? and Ted Leo. Spotify have yet to respond to the campaign.

Although the movement initially aimed to put pressure on Congress to help musicians and freelancers receive increased financial support during the pandemic, it has since snowballed into focusing on three primary goals: Pay Us, Be Transparent and Stop Fighting Artists.

More specifically, they are asking Spotify to compensate artists via a user-centric payment model, reveal and end payola methods, end backroom deals with labels and make those contracts public, have all parties (eg. musicians, engineers, labourers) be credited for their work on recordings, and end lawsuits against artists.

UMAW also claims that musicians have been “underpaid, misled, and otherwise exploited” by Spotify and their current business model, have seen no increases to the payout rate, and that “only musicians already on top with extensive resources can succeed on the platform.” Clearly, this flies in the face of the company’s mission of “giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.”

The controversy over lacklustre compensation is especially pertinent when the pandemic has ground live music to a halt, and artists miss out on money they’d otherwise get from touring. Such a sentiment was well summed up recently (in a deleted tweet) by Stars’ Amy Millan:

“Don’t you think it’s a bit bananas that STARS had 10 MILLION Spotify streams this year but we saw nothing for it and still needed CERB because our only source of income which is touring was taken away? That’s some intense capitalist theft right there. Ooooof.

—Amy Millan (@amymillan)

With Montreal being a popular spot for musicians to live and focus on their art, how would earning a cent per stream affect local artists still trying to establish themselves? For Montreal musician Paul Kasner — who records, writes, produces and performs as Venus Furs — it’s a step in the right direction, but still not enough to make a significant impact for him.

Spotify
Paul Kasner (aka Venus Furs)

“It would be huge for artists who are getting huge volumes of streams,” he says. “For a lot of smaller artists like myself, three times of hardly anything is still hardly anything. It’s almost more symbolically nice for someone at my level.”

Kasner, who released his self-titled debut album back in July, praises Spotify for their algorithm and engineers, and thinks they can find a way to build a model where the artist receives a heftier cut.

“They’re already saying [to artists], ‘You’re going to be paid this much money per stream,’” he says. “I’m sure they can find some sort of way to go, ‘You had this many out of this many streams, so it’s this percentage of this amount of money that came in.’ That would seem like a much more reasonable model — and even at that, it would have to be something that makes sense as a reasonable split.”

Spotify is the world’s biggest music streaming service. The platform currently boasts 320 million subscribers, 144 million of whom pay monthly for Spotify Premium. This is more than double the subscriber base of competitor Apple Music, who have only about 72 million.

Although raising the payout rate per stream to one cent would certainly be a fairer deal, making it a reality is a bit more complicated than that. That said, there’s certainly no reason to think Spotify can’t refrain from suing their artists or be more transparent about their financial activity, and they most definitely have room to raise their payout per stream by at least a smaller amount when services like Apple Music offer artists a rate around $0.00675.

However, Spotify reported a net profit of only $1.8-billion USD out of the $7.3-billion USD they made in revenue this past year, the remainder of which went to either record labels or artists. If the payout rate were to be raised to one cent, this could set the company back billions of dollars per year in extra costs, perhaps enough for the company to fold and/or file for bankruptcy. Not only is the company losing money, they’ve also admitted that payout rates being lowered is “critical to Spotify’s future.”

One significant way for an artist to rack up streams is to be featured on playlists. But this can be difficult to accomplish without being connected to the right people, not to mention playlisting tools like Digster, Filtr and Topsify being owned by major labels. Montreal producer Ethan Barer — who makes beats under the moniker of Tibe and initially established himself on Soundcloud — says it’s important to be acquainted with someone curating playlists, something his peers wasted little time doing.

“When these independent artists were [first] making the switch from Soundcloud to Spotify, people were rushing to make friends with all these curators,” he says. “People that I knew were really on that in trying to secure their future. Maybe it was a good idea because they’re doing well now. But part of me didn’t want to just disingenuously befriend someone in an opportunistic way to later be put on a playlist.”

Spotify
Ethan Barer (aka Tibe)

Luckily for Ethan, five of his songs on the platform have reached stream counts in the six figures; the highest being his 2017 track “Hey,” with more than 475,000 streams to date. How did he get there? By unexpectedly getting playlisted, despite having zero connections to playlist curators or Spotify employees. Though it would never be enough for him to survive on, he still receives bimonthly royalty cheques for the track, which continues to get plays on the platform.

“At some point, I remember having maybe 200 monthly listeners,” he says. “One day I checked my stats and it was at 14,000 monthly listeners. I was like, ‘Okay, something’s different here.’ So I checked, and I was on the playlist.”

Despite the politics involved in getting on playlists, Spotify remains an excellent platform for Montreal-based artists as far as getting exposure beyond their scene. For example, Venus Furs has gained listeners in Moscow, Russia, while Tibe has received numerous Spotify plays in Brazil. This is in stark contrast to the pre-streaming musical landscape, which required artists jumping through hoops to find booking agents and publicists to help launch their careers in foreign markets.

“I’ve gone to [the page of] a Montreal artist, and just for fun, clicked on About, and see the first market being Paris,” says Geneviève Côté, chief Quebec affairs and visual arts officer at SOCAN. “For an artist that hadn’t been in Paris at all — had not tried to develop the French market, was not on that path just yet… They made it to a playlist, and not even a playlist by Spotify France. It was a Starbucks-type playlist on Spotify, but from a business that was really well-followed by Parisians.”

However, Côté says the downside of this is that most people are no longer buying CDs, and that Quebec’s music industry cannot enjoy the same windfall it would’ve received if they still were. Moreover, if all parties involved were Quebec-based, the profits from a CD sale would stay within Quebec. This is no longer a regular source of income in the streaming era.

“Only a small part of that comes trickling down — whether through [music licensing company] Re:Sound, through us, or through other rights organizations,” she adds.“[Streams] do come from all over the world, but not in the equivalent of a $16.99 sale at Archambault or Sam the Record Man.”

So what other options do musicians have for making money off their art during a global pandemic? There are services like Bandcamp and Patreon, where fans can directly support artists financially. There’s also Twitch, the video streaming platform where artists can host live streams of performances and monetize them, either through direct tips from fans, or through providing a link to their merch store.

Live-streamed concerts have become popular during this pandemic, and Bandcamp has even gone so far as to launch their own service for live-streaming performances where 80 to 85% of ticket sales go to the artist. Alternatively, artists can receive grant money, as well as financial support from SOCAN for live-streamed shows. SOCAN also has an emergency fund for those in dire need of money. In the meantime, Côté suggests that artists hang in there for the remainder of the crisis, as vaccines are on their way.

“It would be a shame if everyone who worked in the music gig industry went to something else,” she adds. “Not just musicians, but waiters at the bars of your local venue, technicians, tour managers, managers, bookers. There are a bunch of people who earn their living through live music, and that’s the part [of the industry] hurting the most.”

While the impact of a one cent per stream payout on Spotify might pay more dividends for the Stars and Arcade Fires of Montreal’s music sphere, it isn’t likely to be a significant source of income for lesser-known local artists. That said, artists should — and are — seeing this movement as an opportunity for cultivating change to the streaming ecosystem.

“I hope this doesn’t just stop there, and we go, ‘Okay, we accomplished that,’” Kasner says.“We’re in a position where we’re not really able to negotiate or bargain, which is why this movement is happening.” ■

This article originally appeared in Cult MTL.

Album Review: Whitney – Forever Turned Around

September 9, 2019

Forever Turned Around
Secretly Canadian

Three years after their acclaimed debut, Light Upon the Lake, the Chicago-based Whitney return with Forever Turned Around, a sophomore effort that expands on their signature duality of bluesy, cozy indie folk.

Acoustic guitars, trumpets, pianos and subtle electric guitars are central to the mix, paired with wistful, melancholic lyrics often discussing themes of lost love.

Evoking traces of Bon Iver, soul, Americana, and fellow Chi-Town dad rockers, Wilco, Whitney show once again how adept they are at tugging at heartstrings both lyrically and musically, even if the results as a whole sound almost identical to their debut.

Regardless, Forever Turned Around has some truly gorgeous moments. Warm, enfolding lead single “Giving Up,” as well as “Valleys (My Love),” the breezy “Friend of Mine,” and its sweeping closing title track are clear standouts, while drummer/vocalist Julien Ehrlich’s delicate falsetto remains the group’s calling card.

Though the album itself may not be a gigantic leap forward musically for Whitney, their collection of tender folk songs will fit the mood nicely as summer turns to autumn.

Best Track – Valleys (My Love)

This article originally appeared in BeatRoute.

Nilüfer Yanya: Heavyweight Champion of the Year

Nilüfer Yanya

August 12, 2019

2019 has already been a banner year for Nilüfer Yanya. Not only has the 23-year-old English songstress already released her debut album, Miss Universe, to critical acclaim following several buzzed-about EPs, she’s also been booked at festivals like Glastonbury, Latitude and Primavera Sound, toured with Sharon Van Etten earlier in the year, and made her U.S. late night television debut on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in July — with even more shows planned for the rest of the year. Here’s our chat with Nilüfer soon after she’d completed her set at the 2019 Osheaga Music and Arts Festival in Montreal earlier this month.

Northern Transmissions: You just played at Osheaga. How’s your experience at the festival and in Montreal been for you so far?

Nilüfer Yanya: Well, I’ve only been in both for five hours, so I haven’t really experienced anything except for the golf carts!

NT: But you had a good time playing, though?

NY: Yeah, I think it was a good show! But I’m quite tired, so I’m probably a bit shaky. But the crowd was really nice.

NT: You played Glastonbury back in June, right?

NY: That was really good, yeah.

NT: What were your biggest takeaways from that whole experience?

NY: It’s too big of a festival, and it’s very badly managed! (laughs) But it was nice. We played on a Sunday, like today. It was chill.

NT: What’s been your most memorable festival experience to date?

NY: Maybe Primavera [Sound, in] Barcelona. That was really cool. There weren’t a lot of people at the start, and then literally as we were playing, there were swarms and swarms of people arriving. I couldn’t really hear anything in my in-ears — we had a really bad connection. But it was fun. I was like, “I don’t know what this sounds like,” but the crowd was really nice.

NT: You’ve said that it’s more interesting to just write a song and see what happens than go into it with some sort of plan beforehand for what it should sound like. With that, what’s an example of a song that came together in the most serendipitous way for you?

NY: “Heavyweight Champion of the Year”. I started it, and I was like, “Err, this isn’t very good.” But I kept going. Even when I finished it, I was like, “I don’t know if I like it.” Then, I kept rearranging it, and I just figured it out.

NT: Your album Miss Universe is your debut, though you’d released three EPs beforehand. Considering this was your first full-length, what mindset did you go into the process with when it started, and how did you end up feeling when it was ready to go?

NY: To be honest, I didn’t feel very present when I was making it. It was kind of the first year I was doing a lot of shows and touring, so I was trying to balance the two. It was really hard, and I don’t really recommend it. It didn’t feel like I was able to give my best to either. That’s why I feel glad that I’d already released music — I’d set my own mini-foundation of what my music sounds like, in a way. I guess with the album, I was trying to not worry about that so much, and just try and write my songs.

NT: Your album features interludes where you voice a Siri-type character for a company called “WWAY Health”, which sort of serves as a focus for the album itself. How did that concept come about?

NY: I had the title, “Worry About Your Health”. I had that slogan in my head when I was making the record. I wanted to call my album that, but… it’s a bit too complex, I think! (laughs) It might confuse people, I don’t know. I decided not to go with it, but I still wanted to include it somehow.

NT: Your album jumps between styles, from alt-rock to jazz to soul and other places in between. What were some of this album’s biggest reference points, whether musical or non-musical?

NY: I had this whole ‘90s vibe in my head for a lot of the songs. I don’t know exactly what it is… but I had that ‘90s pop/alt-rock [influence] in there, and maybe something a bit more current. I don’t really know exactly. Some of the songs were a bit older: one of them I wrote when I was 15, and a couple of them I’d started writing a year or two before.

NT: You’ve said that you’re not a “natural performer.” How do you feel like this has shaped the way you create music and perform live?

NY: I don’t know. I think the two feed into each other… but I don’t really know how. I don’t really like thinking about it too much, so I try not to think about it. I find that when I’m performing, it definitely helps when I have quite a rhythmical part [to play], and I think a lot of the main riffs of the songs are based upon something quite rhythmical and strong. I think I need something like that to make it feel like the song’s moving. When I’m writing in my head, I’m imagining the band already there, or something already there, behind it.

NT: How do you feel your comfort with performing has grown over time, especially with your debut out now and you being booked at major festivals?

NY: It’s a weird thing. It really depends on my mood. Today, I didn’t feel too worried, because I was just really tired, and you almost don’t care. You’re just like, “I’ve done this so many times.” When I was onstage, I could feel my body was very nervous — I wasn’t really comfortable. It’s a mixed feeling. Sometimes I really enjoy it, sometimes I’m like, “this is horrible, and I don’t want to perform ever again!” (laughs)

NT: You worked on this album with Dave Okumu, who was also your former guitar teacher. What was the dynamic like working with him in the context of creating music rather than learning from him?

NY: We did one song together, and it came out really well. But the dynamic didn’t really change that much. When he was teaching me at school, he was only there for a year or two. I didn’t really know who he was, but… he was such a wise guy, and he was so cool. Whenever he was talking about something, I’d be like, “Okay, focus. Try and pay attention.” But I couldn’t really, so I don’t know how much I learned! But it’s just so nice to be around people who are really good at what they do. They have that down, and they’re not worrying about if what they’re doing is good. They’re just doing it.

NT: You recently played on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. What was the experience like of playing late night American TV for the first time?

NY: It was actually pretty chill! My tour manager needed to get there at 8 a.m., or something ridiculous, to load in the stuff. We got there, we had to line check and record it, and that was it. Luckily, we didn’t have to do it for a live show. It was a lot more chill. I think if there was an audience there, we could only do it once. We got to do it three times.

NT: What’s on the agenda for you for the rest of 2019?

NY: I’m going to Miami tomorrow to play a show, and doing a festival afterwards on a cruise in Barcelona. We’ve got festivals in the summer still. I’m doing a west coast tour — we did east coast and midwest, and now we’re doing west coast in September and October. I have to go on a European tour in November — we’ve got a London headline show, which will be pretty scary. Then, I might go to Australia.

NT: Australia?

NY: Yeah, maybe. Southeast Asia, maybe.

NT: Do you know where in Southeast Asia?

NY: I don’t know. I’m hoping Japan. None of this is confirmed, but I’m telling you anyway. (laughs)

Words by Dave MacIntyre

Festival Review: Osheaga Day 3 Highlights

August 6, 2019

Mac DeMarco | Photo: P Beaudry

Sunday, August 4, 2019
Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, QC

Osheaga saved the best for last. While the Chemical Brothers put up one of the festival’s best headliner sets in the festival’s recent history, it was poised for an even grander finish in the form of Childish Gambino. With other acts like Kaytranada, Boy Pablo and Tierra Whack rounding out the impressive roster of talent on the final day, Osheaga’s final bow of 2019 closed things out with a confident roar.

NILÜFER YANYA | Photo: P Beaudry

NILÜFER YANYA

Between her recent appearance on Colbert and her critically-acclaimed debut, Miss Universe, it’s a shame that Nilüfer Yanya was relegated to an early afternoon set on the main stages while people were still flowing into the park.

Yanya’s skill at jumping between jazz, soul, grunge and indie rock without it feeling jarring was on display on Sunday afternoon. Although Franklin Electric’s soundcheck on the adjacent River Stage threatened to drown her out, she played a solid, well-rounded set for those fortunate enough to make into the park early.

Sigrid| Photo: P Beaudry

SIGRID

This Norwegian pop songstress has been riding high off her debut LP, Sucker Punch, released earlier this year, and a visibly excited crowd showed up to watch her mid-afternoon set. Blending trademark Scandinavian pop music, Sigrid isn’t your typical pop star, but her songs are catchy and easy to sing along to. Jumping from 80s inspired cuts like “Mine Right Now” and “Never Mine,” to eerily Adele-ish piano ballads like “Dynamite” and synth-pop slappers like “Strangers,” the 22-year-old brought dance moves, confidence and a bubbly attitude to an already warm and sunny afternoon.

Mac DeMarco | Photo: P Beaudry

MAC DEMARCO

Mac DeMarco recorded his 2012 breakthrough album, 2, while living in Montreal and he’s still treated as a local hero of sorts. His local fan base was swelling in the large, packed-like-sardines crowd. Immediately following Normani (of Fifth Harmony fame)’s absolutely nuts set on the Mountain Stage, DeMarco re-staked his claim as indie rock’s resident class clown in front of a fresh-faced audience with multiple mosh pits breaking out in the crowd. With an old school EarthBound video game playing as his backdrop, DeMarco and his bandmates ran through unique arrangements of songs from throughout his career, giving him a chance to showcase his consistent songwriting capabilities alongside his infamous gap-toothed grin.

Tame Impala | Photo: P Beaudry

TAME IMPALA

Sunday was the day most people bought one-day passes to Osheaga this year, and it’s in large part because of Tame Impala. Despite giving fans no new music aside from previously-released singles “Patience” and “Borderline,” the Austrailian psychedelic pop masterminds put on a colourful, kaleidoscopic show full of fan favourites that spanned most phases of their career.

The general area around the stage was packed from top to bottom, but no matter where you were standing the group put on a great show, reminding the crowd of band leader Kevin Parker’s already brilliant songbook, providing optimism for whatever is next.

Childish Gambino archive photo | Photo: Greg Noire

CHILDISH GAMBINO

An epic showman and performer, Donald Glover is one of the most multi talented people in pop culture, and his Childish Gambino set closed the festival in incredibly satisfying fashion.

Glover took the tens of thousands in attendance to church and doubled down on his desire for a communal experience by asking everyone to put their phones away — even though he did wind up taking selfies with a couple fans regardless.

Opening with newer songs, “Atavista” and “Algorythm,” Gambino and his incredibly contagious charisma carried the set on its back, while continuing with songs from Because the Internet and 2016’s psychedelic funk-driven Awaken, My Love! before launching into an emotional performance of “Feels Like Summer” and later making the crowd go batshit insane with “This is America.”

Glover had fireworks, Marvin Gaye wails and pure spectacle on his side, making his show well worth the hour-long wait it would take many festivalgoers to get back to the metro at the end of the evening.

 

This article originally appeared in BeatRoute.

Festival Review: Osheaga Day 2 Highlights

August 4, 2019

Osheaga crowd during Young Thug| Photo: Tim Snow

Saturday, August 3, 2019
Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, QC

Montreal’s Osheaga Music and Arts Festival is Canada’s answer to Lollapalooza. Both festivals happen on the same weekend and book many of the same artists. It’s a fantastic three-day experience full of great music, atmosphere, amenities — and Torontonians. You literally couldn’t go anywhere without seeing at least five Toronto Raptors jerseys.

Now that the capacity has been expanded to hold 65,000 people per day — the festival was held on a temporary site for two years prior — it’s not only a more wide open atmosphere, but the event itself is as exciting as it’s ever been, and that’s all thanks to the music.

MorMor | Photo: Pierre-Bourgault

MORMOR

Toronto artist MorMor attracted Internet recognition with his song “Heaven’s Only Wishful” after being discovered by an associate of fellow Toronto export Daniel Caesar, and he showed off his impressive musical chops early Saturday. His moody, somewhat psychedelic style of indie rock and R&B was a nice touch to the afternoon, and a big crowd turned out to hear him play. Although he jumps back and forth between styles, channelling Prince on “Whatever Comes to Mind” and even a little bit of Arcade Fire on “Outside,” his style is versatile and blends together nicely.

Young Thug | Photo: Tim Snow

YOUNG THUG

Young Thug is as out there as popular hip-hop stars get, but he’s also one of the genre’s most confident and charismatic performers. Combining extreme swagger with solid stage presence and his trademark chaotic flow, Thugger drew a huge crowd out for his mid-afternoon set, playing a wide range of tracks from his prolific musical output, from “On the Run” to “Digits” to “The London,” as well as features like his excellent verse on 2018 headliner Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone.” This is one set fans are surely glad didn’t get saved to the end during the Chemical Brothers — more on them later.

Janelle Monáe | Photo: P Beaudry

JANELLE MONÁE

Janelle Monáe was the best pure performer, so far, and might prove to be the best throughout the entire weekend. The R&B chanteuse is multifaceted, confident and musically gifted in equal measure, with a live band, backup dancers, multiple costume changes, and even a throne to go with it. Performing a variety of fresh, vibrant tunes from her decade-spanning career, wearing outfits seemingly inspired by toy soldiers, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation era, and even vagina-shaped pants during “Pynk,” Monáe staked a solid claim for why she should eventually headline the festival herself. One of this year’s best sets.

RÜFÜS DU SOL | Photo: Tim Snow

RÜFÜS DU SOL

This Aussie alternative dance trio was back at the Green Stage, their multidimensional, pristine spin on deep house music translates effortlessly to a live setting — and without a need for DJ decks. Between frontman Tyrone Lindqvist’s smoky, arresting voice and the group’s heavy use of hi-hats and synths, they played a strong, mesmerizing set for several thousand attendees who made it over and bounced up and down throughout, along with an equally captivating use of lighting. This especially came through on songs like “You Were Right”, “Underwater,” “Treat You Better,” and set closer “No Place.” Electronic acts should try full live setups more often.

The Chemical Brothers | Photo: Pat Beaudry

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS

This booking may have seemed like a gamble considering Osheaga’s largely millennial demographic, but it turned out to be a home run. The electronica/big beat legends came through for their first Montreal show since 2003, and it was utterly perfect for a festival setting. Combining exquisitely-mixed tracks from throughout their extensive career (including “Star Guitar,” “Hey Boy Hey Girl” and closing with “Block Rockin’ Beats”) with colourful and eerie backdrops, along with heavy use of white light, the entire set was entrancing, euphoric, freaky, and incredibly fun — sometimes all at once. It even tops any of Travis Scott, Arctic Monkeys or Florence + the Machine’s headlining sets from last year’s edition. Donald Glover, you’re gonna need luck topping this one.

 

This article originally appeared in BeatRoute.

“ANIMA” – Thom Yorke

June 28, 2019

Thom Yorke is one of music’s most meticulously-crafted fine wines. Regardless of project he’s attached to – RadioheadAtoms for Peace, solo or otherwise – Yorke is an ever-present figure in modern music, and his ability to create and test his own musical limits seems to only get better and deeper with time. With his previous two proper solo albums, 2006’s The Eraser and 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Yorke proved he could step out on his own from one of the world’s biggest bands and carve a distinct identity as a solo artist without simultaneously risking alienating listeners. On his third solo album ANIMA, he underlines once again how much of a knack he still has for making mysterious, experimental-sounding music memorable and groovy without really compromising, and it’s a big component to why he’s maintained his longevity as impressively as he has.

Written after a bout Yorke had with anxiety and writer’s block, ANIMA is a sonic journey with multiple twists and turns, though without ever truly losing its focus. Things begin with “Traffic”, an immediate standout that starts rather modestly and eerily before synths and other effects enter the mix. Though Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich both create a paranoid vibe to much of his material (and Yorke’s come a long way in that regard since “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here?”), it’s often pleasant-sounding nonetheless, and “Traffic” is no exception. “Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain)” continues very much on that wavelength, though it’s a much more ambient tune in comparison to “Traffic”’s more house and UK garage-inspired feel. It’s an ambitious project in some ways – Paul Thomas Anderson even developed a short film for the album to be seen on Netflix and in certain IMAX theatres. It’s by no means overly extravagant, however: the album’s only nine songs and just under 48 minutes in length, and with a fairly focused musical narrative, as tracks frequently bleed into one another.

The heavy emphasis on loops and ever-changing introductions of parts isn’t a surprising one – the album was inspired in part by Yorke seeing Flying Lotus live and observing how he’d improvise during his set. Traces of FlyLo’s idiosyncratic production style can be heard throughout various points in the album, as can Brian Eno, Four Tet, and Boards of Canada – in fact, the latter’s style in particular can easily be heard during the analogue synth intro of “Dawn Chorus”; a hypnotic number with monotone vocals, warm synth effects, and lyrical themes of regret over a failed romance. The track concludes Anderson’s Netflix film, and acts as the album’s ballad of sorts.

Despite the album’s cohesive feel, Yorke’s never quite satisfied to rest on his laurels stylistically: “I am a Very Rude Person” is a very bare-bones track sonically with little more than a bass line and a drum loop guiding things along before shifting its focus to vocal harmonies, while “Not the News” evoking an eerie feel both through its vocal purring and its themes of paranoia (case in point: it literally opens with him singing, “Who are these people?”). On “The Axe”, Yorke waxes lyrical about his frustration with technology (“Goddamn machinery, why won’t you speak to me?/One day I am gonna take an axe to it”) while skittering drums and nonstop, one-note synth patterns form the song’s bedrock. “Impossible Knots” sees Radiohead drummer Phil Selway link up with his bandmate by contributing sped-up drumming to the track, and fittingly enough, it’s probably the song that feels most like a Radiohead outtake. However, it’s the largely instrumental closing number “Runwayaway” that feels like the most appropriate note for the project to end on, with somewhat muted guitar licks driving much of the song while also being defined by effects clearly indebted to those of past collaborator, Four Tet. The almost computerized-sounding delivery of the line, “This is when you know who your real friends are,” is as appropriate a moment as they come in an album defined by themes of anxiety, dystopia, and being in a frazzled, chaotic state of mind.

By letting the project flow nicely and with a dreamlike tone to it (Yorke has a fascination with dreams, after all) while also providing enough intrigue musically and lyrically to keep the listener engaged, Yorke’s third album is an intriguing next step in his glittering music career, and one with fantastic end results given the album’s infancy as being largely unfinished tracks by Yorke that were then chopped up and spliced together by Godrich to have new vocal parts from Yorke sung over them. With ANIMA, Yorke takes his already well-built solo repertoire and adds a dash of colour, detail and mystery.

Rating: 8.5/10

Words by Dave MacIntyre

This article originally appeared on Northern Transmissions.