Isolation is nothing new for Adrian Sutherland. All his life, the singer-songwriter and frontman for rock band Midnight Shine has lived in Attawapiskat, a fly-in town 220 km northwest of Moosonee, on the shore of James Bay. No one is arriving or leaving much these days. While Sutherland doesn’t actually enjoy being “married to his monitor” in the COVID era, he also doesn’t really miss flying to Timmins, then to Toronto, and booking a hotel, and fighting big-city traffic, in order to work with collaborators on his upcoming solo album.

While growing up, Sutherland didn’t know any other serious musicians in his hometown, other than his mother. After performing solo for 10 years, while at college in Timmins and at various community events in northern Ontario, he formed Midnight Shine in 2011, with members from Fort Albany and Moose Factory. The band’s current drummer hails from Norway House, Manitoba. Rehearsals have always been tricky – usually at 3:00 p.m. the day of a show. But that hasn’t stopped them from touring Canada, releasing three acclaimed albums, playing in Germany, and getting a lot of mainstream attention for their 2018 cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” with powwow singing and a verse translated into Cree.

Midnight Shine is still a going concern, although Sutherland released a solo single in 2019. “Politician Man” directly addressed the empty promises regarding his community’s ongoing water crisis—a crisis that got national attention back in 2013, the same year Midnight Shine released their debut album, and culminated in a state of emergency being declared in 2019. Although the 43-year-old bandleader had often addressed social issues, like Attawapiskat’s epidemic of suicide attempts in 2015-16, he felt a need to be more explicit and direct – both lyrically and musically.

“Trying to be positive, trying to charm everyone as Midnight Shine’s frontman, you gotta smile and be as polite as you can and win everyone’s love,” he says. “It’s tiring, because beneath it all, I’m struggling with things I experienced and trying to heal. As a solo artist, I have the freedom to express whatever it is I want to say.”

Water is life
The 2,200 residents of Attawapiskat haven’t had clean running water for years. They have to truck it to their homes from a water dispensary, which was recently replaced. The city’s water plant draws not from the Attawapiskat River, where residents wanted it, but an inland lake where organic material reacts negatively to chlorine, creating unsafe water. That’s been the case for more than 40 years now. What made it worse for Sutherland was when he visited the De Beers diamond mine down the river – population 300 – where the drinking water “was as clean as the water in downtown Toronto,” he says. “They were out there in the bush, as are we. They had state-of-the-art everything there. It’s like a whole different world, a 20-minute flight away from Attawapiskat. If they could do it, why can’t we? I’m in the dark like everyone else – and I live here, which is crazy.”

Sutherland does have a lot to say. He’s lived several lives during his 43 years: as an EMT for more than a decade, as a Canadian Ranger, a MusiCounts ambassador at his local school, a business owner, a grandfather, and a community leader passing on traditional knowledge (our interview had to be postponed because he was on a moose hunt for a week). He lived in a boarding home while attending high school in Timmins. He only recently, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, heard his mother speak about her experiences at the notorious St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany.

“Music… has always been a way for me to find a way through some of those experiences,” he says. “Writing about those things and sharing them really helps me in my own journey to become a better person, to heal. We have to talk about those things; we can’t carry them. Music is my way of doing that.”

It’s not the only way. With encouragement from Tom Wilson, who he met while touring with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings last year, Sutherland recently inked a deal with Penguin Random House to write a memoir, due out in 2022.

“Attawapiskat has been in the media for so many years, and been portrayed a certain way by mainstream media, but never by anyone who actually lives here, who’s been grinding it out here for years,” says Sutherland, who has also blogged for the Huffington Post. “I bring a different perspective. I live and breathe everything about this place, good and bad, and I want to touch on all that stuff, as well as historical stuff, how the Cree see the universe, and the context of what’s happening today.”

Le CouleurThey’re the perfect counter-example to Rock et Belles Oreilles’ old hit “I Want to Pogne,” in which the five comedians made fun of Quebecers who sang in English to try and be more popular. With their vaguely tropical nu-disco sound and serious lyrics, Le Couleur’s popularity spills over even the invisible boundaries of the Francophonie.

The band has been doing its own thing for over a decade, far from the folk and pop-rock that still dominate the ADISQ Awards. They have much more in common with Patsy Gallant or Toulouse than with bands like Karkwa or Galaxie.

On the margins of the main trends in Montréal, they’re perfectly in sync with the trends in Pigalle or Brooklyn. The band, fronted by Laurence Giroux-Do, is an international hit and they’ve made their way into a Netflix series soundtrack (Emily in Paris), and even onto the glossy pages of Playboy Mexico. And those are but two of a long list of surprising engagements that confirm the growing interest they generate abroad.

They were planning on reaping the benefits of their Spotify stats outside of Canada before the pandemic clipped their wings and paralyzed the live entertainment industry. “Our record launch was planned for April 18 and when this happened, we weren’t sure how true it was,” says singer-songwriter Giroux-Do. “We were supposed to play South by Southwest on March 8, followed by about 15 dates in the U.S. Everything was cancelled… We work with this incredible booker in South America, and we were also supposed to tour in Brazil, Mexico and Chile…”

In the end, Concorde, the successor to 2017’s P.O.P., which made it on the Polaris long list, was pressed on vinyl and released online this fall.

Released on Sept. 11, a date that will forever be linked to the 2001 terrorist attacks, Concorde seems to take on a slightly morbid twist because of that, and because it is rooted in the crash of its namesake plane in 2000. The words, written and sung by Giroux-Do, are in stark contrast to the cheerful and engaging way Steeven Chouinard keeps the tempo. Their secret recipe was inspired by the greatest electro-pop masters who defined the genre almost half a century ago.

“ABBA – they became gazillionaires, while being quite dark in their formula and lyrics, set to very dance-y music,” says Chouinard, the band’s percussionist, co-writer, and producer. “ABBA’s a huge influence for us, but not consciously. It really is at the unconscious level. But to be honest, when people compare us to them, it’s an amazing compliment.”

Opening with a verbatim transcript of the last words of the plane’s pilot to the control tower, a sinister exchange played by two actors with Parisian accents, the last chorus of the title song feels like an echo from beyond the grave. Indeed, Giroux-Do dug deep into the many documentaries on the Air France tragedy before she started putting pen to paper. “Yet, it kind flies under the radar because the funky groove behind it,” she says.

The three original band members have changed their game plan, while they’re parked on the tarmac, waiting to resume their take-off, alongside their new crew of four musicians. “The U.S. no longer exists for us, until there’s a vaccine,” Giroux-Do explains. “All our bookers have told us to forget about Europe too, at least for 2021, because bigger names and local artists will be favoured.”

Motivated by the promise of a return to normalcy, the Montréalers will focus on developing a market they’ve neglected up to now. “We’ve played New York City, like, four or five times, but we’ve never played in Lac-Saint-Jean, Trois-Rivières, or Gatineau. It’s time to change that,” says Chouinard, laughing.

Their music will travel for them, while they wait to be able to return to those exotic destinations far beyond the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve.

After five EPs and seven years of studio explorations, CRi is officially launching his first full-length album, Juvenile.

CRi“I see it as an accomplishment, a page that I’m turning, but also the start of something new,” he says, as if thinking out loud. “It’s a bit like the EPs were research projects, and this album is me turning in my final paper.”

To achieve this, the Montréal-based electronic producer had the support of Anjunadeep, the slightly more left-field branch of the British label Anjunabeats. “I made sure I waited to be well placed [before releasing the album],” he says. “I didn’t want to release it independently, with limited means. I wanted it to happen with people I trust, because it’s always quite challenging for artists in my genre to export themselves and advocate for Québec culture.”

The mother label, which is behind the immense success of Above & Beyond, is mainly known for its trance releases. It started its sub-label to be more audacious, and give a chance to often-emerging producers, from all musical horizons. “Frankly, I didn’t quite identify with their style, initially,” says Cri. “But then I understood that Anjunadeep was specifically to showcase young, new producers that make something other than the ‘deep house Ibiza ecstasy’ vibe. I changed my mind. I went to London, and met the human beings behind the company, and saw how passionate they are.”

Launched in the fall of 2019, the three-track Initial EP served as bait. “It’s a complete club-oriented electronic delirium,” says CRi. “A way to introduce myself top the Anjunadeep crowd. I made a slightly safer selection, [whereas on Juvenile], I was going for something more personal and authentic. I went to a place I’ve always wanted to go.”

After a stint in Feuilles et Racines (Leaves & Roots), a Québec City band that enjoyed a certain niche success in 2011– thanks to its organic and harmonious rap, with philosophical lyrics – Cri (aka Christophe Dubé) has always been attracted to the pop aesthetic and “any melodious and emotional music.”

Influenced by his studies in digital music, his first forays as a producer didn’t take him in that direction. “It’s my mom who pushed me towards music after seeing me on the verge of a nervous breakdown and a serious alcohol problem,” he says. “I moved to Montréal to complete a program which you could define as a mix of electro-acoustic composition and computer programming. I released Eclipse [his first EP, in 2013] as soon as I started university. I didn’t understand what I was doing, but I very quickly realized I wasn’t edgy, and all I wanted was to give people goosebumps. University taught me to intellectualize my practice, but it truly is when I tinkered in the studio, spending a whole day fine-tuning the sound of a kick drum, say, that I found my own voice.”

Juvenile marks the peak of his sonic quest so far. Located somewhere between progressive house and future garage, CRi’s signature is made of raw emotion, expressed with sensitivity, through cold and enveloping layers of synths, cavernous basslines, and intense rhythms. “Never Really Get There” and “Faces”, songs he co-produced with his longtime collaborator Jesse Mac Cormack, set the tone of the album.

“After that, my intention became clearly more pop,” says CRi. “I adapted the album to my live shows by relying on massive drops. But to achieve this, I had to accept that side of me; just a few years ago, I thought pop was corny and was for douchebags. I was thinking like a Mile-End hipster!” he says, bursting out laughing. “Now, I’ve emancipated myself into something lighter and dancier.”

And rather than complicating his structures, CRi stuck to the essentials. Even the album’s short title says a lot: “Juvenile is a state of mind, a demeanour, a lifestyle,” he says. “It means running towards things without over-thinking, and embracing whatever comes your way. It’s instinctive and in the now,” he explains, before feeling the need to nuance it a bit. “But even though emotions are through the roof, it’s a controlled chaos.”

He created this “controlled chaos” with excellent artists (and friends) such as Robert Robert, Sophia Bel, and Bernache (of Men I Trust). “My main motivation to create is to be in contact with people,” says CRi. “Music is almost an excuse. It’s so much fun to hear the feedback of people I love, to be able to rely on their sensitivity. Otherwise, I end up feeling ridiculous,  dancing by myself in my slippers, alone at home…”

CRi had the privilege of working with one of his idols, Daniel Bélanger, on Signal. “Rêver mieux was the soundtrack of my teens,” he says. “To this day, that album still moves me. I cry every time I listen to it.”

Alongside Charlotte Cardin, his house remix of “Fous n’importe où,” one of the standout tracks from Bélanger’s third album, had seduced the ears of the veteran singer-songwriter. “I was convinced he’d hate it when it came out! Even I thought it was too pop,” says Cri. “I was even reluctant to put my name on it,” he says about the cover, which crept into the Song of the Year category of the 2019 ADISQ Gala.

“I finally found out he really liked my remix, and that gave me the courage to write him a short message on Instagram,” says CRi. “I proposed a collaboration and not even five minutes later, he replied: ‘I only see good in that idea.’ We met in a café in Little Italy, and it felt like we’d known each other for 15 years.”

In and of itself, this new alliance is the symbol of CRi’s new ambitions. Aware of his international potential, the composer still wants to conquer his home province first. “I used to want to move to London or Berlin, but now I want to reach a wider audience here,:” he says. “The script has flipped. There was a lot of ground covered, in recent years, to democratize hip-hop, and it would be nice if the same happened to electronic music. Producers like Kaytranada, Jacques Greene, and Lunice made their mark internationally, but they’re still relatively unknown here. I want that to change, so that we can have electronic music tours across Québec. I’d love it if Monique from Baie-Comeau listened to my music.”

Writing Tips
CRi says he’s most creative when he’s got nothing on his agenda. “Those when I have no engagements, no interviews, no meeting in two hours,” he says. When the context is optimal, his songs take shape progressively. “I’ll start with chords on the piano and I’ll tinker with those after a spliff and coffee,” he says. “Once I have my chords, I move to the studio and transcribe those into MIDI. Then I send that to synths and try to find the song’s colour. Then I move on to the percussion. To be honest, I see myself much more as a songwriter than a producer.”