Recording at Marsonic Studios

I’ve been involved in a secret recording project, spearheaded by Chad Watt and Dj Luv. They are both old school mainstays of the Montreal underground. The studio is located on the main floor of Marsonic Studios on the corner of Papino and Quarry, right where the train tracks divide the city in half. The album we are recording is a series of albums set in different musical decades and involving a group of 4-Dimensional beings called The Graffiti People.

Chad Watt, apart from being a recording engineer, is also a visual artist, and the walls of his studio are covered in his trademark graffiti depicting building blocks and maps of imaginary cities. The studio is also his bedroom and living space and when he starts smoking it can get stuffy and suffocating.

Last night, before recording, we warmed up with a short jam. Luv and Davada went crazy on the drums, playing funk breakbeats, while Eric played the bass. When my turn came to sit on the throne, I decided to go cling-clang, at a slow tempo, looking for Sun Ra levels of non-rhythm. Eric played a short bass riff repeatedly, and Luv found new sonority in the cowbell. I can’t remember what Davada played, but it was hypnotizing, noisy, and transcendent.

Cycling through different pre-recorded tracks, Chad settled on an electro-ambient hip-hop beat titled “Agro Gardens”. The format would be a rap song with four rappers, each taking turns to define life as they know it in the suburban slum of Agro Gardens.

I wrote a quick verse, referencing the beauty and desperation of the imaginary Agro Gardens. I couldn’t rap it on-beat, but Chad said he would fix it in post-production by shifting it to match the rhythm. Eric did a spoken-word piece, Davada went crazy with a zany verse, squeezing an innumerable amount of words in less than 30 seconds. Luv was the most poised and collected, flawlessly delivering an 80’s gangsta rap verse reminiscent of Ice-T.

I enjoy the loose way things come together at these recording sessions, although I’m pretty certain not everything is particularly “good”. I’m learning to disregard my own subjectivity. Looking only at the circumstances that made the situation of me being in a recording studio possible is enough to make me feel confident in any talent I may or may not have!

Ed Atkins at DHC/ART (Montreal, 2017)

The Skinny:
Video installations of Computer-Generated short animated films
Young, white, male characters in a state of desperation
Movie-trailer tropes, action-films camera movements (constant movement), musicals
Satirical look at substance abuse, emotional depletion, existential fear, in the context of consumerism

My take:
Walked into this exhibition after a night of heavy drinking. Could readily identify with the main characters, in various states of destitution, soul crumbling just like the architecture around them. Very funny use of Hollywood tropes to convey emotional despair.

However, showcasing digital-only work, on extremely large screens, is exactly the kind of invasive use of technology the exhibition appears to critique. The Brutalist coldness of the suspended screens, or the large blocks/walls acting as screens in the middle of the gallery space, evoke the very fascism that art is supposed to counter. The experience of watching remains alienating, and individualistic, and the only emotional catharsis is through self-identification, which is the tired Hollywood tactic. Guns, guts, gore, is a refrain we’ve all heard before.

Playing at DHC/ART until September 3
451 & 465, St-Jean Street

Nots – “Animal/Blackout” (2017)

“Animal” is a new recording of a song from their 2013 demo, before they added synth to their sound. It’s completely zany, KBD/Messthetics, and the addition of Alexandra Eastburn’s keys are droney/improv ambient synth. Reminds me of Urinals’ “I’m A Bug”, or Anorexia’s “Pets”, both “cult” releases proof of the unbridled playful creativity of punk’s beginnings.

“Blackout” is a new song. It appeared on the Live At Goner LP, but this here is a studio recording. The story is ominous, like it could be about alcohol, a lack of electricity, or a plain concussion. The emotional relief of screaming the word “Blackout!” follows other Nots anthems such as “Reactor!”, and “Decadence!”.

Limited to 300 copies, German import, purchase on Discogs, through Slowboy Records.

Sediment Club – Live In Montreal

Purveyors of underground rock noise, Sediment Club, performed a rare show in Montreal, on July 16, for Rock Fest (lol generic name). The bill also included Virginia weird-hardcore Buck Gooter, and local heavy noise quartet, Gashrat.

Jackie of Urochromes fame is also part of Sediment Club (with his childhood friends), and it was cool chatting about the underground scene for a short while. New Urochromes 7″ is out, it’s called Night Bully, and it’s terrifying noise, with a surprisingly New Wave remix on the flipside.

Neon – Neon Is Life (2017)

MRR Coordinator, extraordinaire curator, DIY activist, punk archivist, Grace Ambrose, has a new band called Neon. It’s a perfect mish-mash of 80’s post-punk and hardcore forms. The vocals are equally aggressive and playful, exuding timeless and eternal excitement mixed with desperation. In the same vein as UK’s Frau, with the ramshackle sound of Indiana’s CCTV. A really devolved Good Throb with no frills. Could be interesting to hear more recordings, or even a long-form LP.

The Submissives – Live at Snack N’ Blues

If you ever happen to chance upon Montreal’s The Submissives, you will notice something is definitely off in their music. The longing and heartbreak sounds medicated, if not sedated. It’s indie-pop at a degree removed from conventional. Most important is the mood it evokes. Not quite country, not quite folk, guitars that sound like they are dying, and a basic rhythmic pulse that almost doesn’t hold things together.

Their concept is also visual. Dressed in white, they make their entrance sometimes with male ushers,  one by one, with two lead singers, reciting fragments of love letters, and handing out invitations like a mock-wedding.

When the stars align, their choice of venue is unusual and splendid. Snack N’ Blues, the old mainstay in the Mile-End neighborhood of Montreal, before it went hipster, was one of the only venues who refused to enforce the no-smoking ban a few years after it came into effect. The old man working the door, is also the owner, and he hands out free candy (and cigarettes) to patrons, decorates the walls with blues and jazz icons, and maintains a pool table in the back for the old guard who doesn’t care about the music. There is hardly any space for a band to play. In the realm of minimal and off-kilter, Snack N’ Blues is it!

The band setup their gear right by the entrance, as if arranging a window display. The place filled up fast and care had to be taken to not trip over the musicians. A new guitarist was premiering that night (member of Guy Madonna), and quite frankly, it was a success! Hits such as “Betty Told Me” and “Do You Really Love Me?” along with new songs, carried everyone into the atmosphere of an old Southern bar in Memphis. Blues, country, folk, with a psychedelic tinge. It was a sweaty affair, especially with the suit I was wearing, and I made my way out into the cool night immediately after their set.

Mr. Airplane Man – Live At Atomic Cafe

Tara, drummer for Mr. Airplane Man, approached me to ask if I was at their previous show the year before. I said “No, this is my first time seeing you live” I posted a picture of their soundcheck and suddenly the notifications started pouring in. Chris from KLYAM asked “Say hi to Tara for me!” So I walked up to Tara and told her we had a mutual friend.

When the opening act, Gravel Route, performed their brand of classic blues rock tunes, I was dancing next to Tara who was similarly entranced moving to the beat, stomping her feet, howling and hollering. When the time came for her to get on stage and perform, she took me to the side and told me what she really thought about me. “You are awesome. Your energy is great. Thank you for coming.”

I couldn’t have asked for a better compliment, given by someone I truly admire. It made everything worth it, the long nights blasting “Red Light” till dawn, the cravings and longing for love, the hangover depression bouts, and even missing all the other shows in the city that night. I felt like I belonged in front of that stage, wilding out to the fuzzed out garage tunes of Margaret and Tara. Sorry for all the yelling but I was drunk, and happy.

Nots – “Violence” (2017)

It’s already been four years since Nots stumbled out the gate into an unsuspecting garage/lo-fi/indie underground music scene. From podcasts to radio, bar basements to festival stages, and the much coveted Opening Ceremonies at Gonerfest 2016 (exclusive footage coming soon), they haven’t changed one iota, and their sound is still as raw and surprising.

While most bands are content writing songs about gobbling down fast food items (ahem, Burger Records), Nots’ latest offering is a direct indictment of our political reality, but without the trends of juvenile identity politics (ahem, Downtown Boys). “Violence” is like an anthem of Bush-era military spending that Michael Moore forgot to include in his “Fahrenheit 9/11” documentary. Sounding equally distant (the dystopia-world of Derek Jarman’s “Jubilee”) and unmistakably current (I hear the word Syria), it temporarily forgoes electric guitar for an eerie synth-organ loop that recalls Southern church services and nuclear alarm sirens in equal measure.

Nots’ lyrics have constantly explored the dichotomy of the personal and the social. It’s a subtle achievement to have remained so consistently original in a market saturated with apolitical face-value superficial music. Nots reinstate artistry in a culture that has been secretly on life support for decades. Let’s hope the shock revives it.

Sneaks – It’s a Myth LP (2017)

Sneaks sounds like a minimalist ESG, bass-driven jams with a sprinkle of a-la-Fall repetition. “Inside Edition” seems like an apology for commercial ambition: “You pay with resistance / just get a commission” as it validates the quest for cash. Her whispery rapping style sounds like secret instructions for a mystical quest. She brushes melody on “Look Like That”, approaching a Stereolab chorus. On”Not My Combination” she gets playful with her inflections around the cavernous bass booms despite its angular moves.

“Pnbj” submits to its dancefloor ambitions with a subdued new wave urgency. This is where Sneaks stretches the potential of her minimalist style, as in the keyboard fugue of “With A Cherry On Top”. She sounds at her most balanced when incorporating spoken-word bridges in between melodies. “Future” sounds exactly like its title, as Sneaks ups the funk ante, recalling classic acts like Parliament and Zapp, but defining her own wave of intimate DIY abstract depictions.

Modernity weighs on Sneaks like Sisyphus’ rolling rock. A serious artist with a lot to say regarding the plight of modern aesthetics. Gradually carving out her space in music’s collective consciousness, I would turn to her music for a study of the tensions between dance, poetry, and live performance.

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