Oakville’s Allie Hughes built considerable buzz during her formative years in Toronto, as a must-see act who balanced performance art and theatrical sensibilities with a knack for infectious, melodic pop.

But it wasn’t until Hughes left for Los Angeles and transformed herself into Allie X that her career truly took off. Since 2014, she’s issued the EP CollXtion 1 – most prominently remembered for the song “Catch,” with its hip, stylish video, and for earning sumptuous praise from Katy Perry. Her new album CollXtion II is as beguiling a collection of synth-pop perfection as you’ll find this side of Ellie Goulding.

The buzz is still out there, but it’s now global. “It really wasn’t working in Toronto, partly because I didn’t have my sound figured out,” says X over lunch at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, her waist-length brunette mane draped over her shoulders as she tucks into a plate of scrambled eggs with thick slices of avocado on the side.

“I was friends with a lot of indie, experimental rock/electronic musicians, really talented folks, and I was always really inspired. What I didn’t really realize is that I was making pop music. I thought that I was sort of in the ‘these are all my cool friends’ camp, and I was trying to do something in that niche. I was always listening to artists on Pitchfork. I was friends with Born Ruffians, Tokyo Police Club, Broken Social Scene. But with the music I was making, nothing was happening. And what I sort of realized after awhile was, ‘You’re making pop music. Why don’t you just go for it?’”

X, who was part of the inaugural Slaight Family Music Centre residency at The Canadian Film Centre in 2012, used the connections she made there to finance a ticket to L.A. After meeting with such prolific score maestros as Academy Award winner Mychael Danna and “a bunch of his friends who are successful composers,” Allie X got permission to extend her stay for a week and set about hustling meetings. Eventually, she signed a publishing deal with Prescription Songs, overseen by Grammy-nominated and JUNO-winning producer, professional songwriter, and SOCAN member Henry “Cirkut” Walter (who co-wrote and co-produced eight songs on The Weeknd’s Starboy album, and with/for Britney Spears, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, One Direction, Kesha, and Miley Cyrus, among others).

“When I got there, all of a sudden stuff just started working,” recalls Allie X, who has placed a song in the upcoming film Sierra Burgess is A Loser. “I was being put into rooms with the right people for the kind of music I was writing.”

“Music’s been the thing that has given me a voice… I don’t know where I’d be without music.”

What does the “X” in Allie X signify?
“X equals the possibility of anything. It also represents anonymity. So for me, adopting the ‘X’ into my name was about wiping the slate clean and defining my own truth from scratch. It gives you permission to be in-between and figure things out.”

Hughes also signed to former Sony executive Nick Gatfield’s Twin Music label in time for CollXtion II, but before she finished the album, she worked with gay YouTube icon Troye Sivan on his first album Blue Neighbourhood, placing five co-writes on the project, including his breakthrough Top 30 Billboard hit, “Youth” (which has to date earned more than 75 million YouTube views).

“That was so positive; I made some money,” laughs X. “Troy’s, like, a really cool guy.  Out of all these young artists I’ve worked with in L.A., he has the most artistry behind what he’s doing. He’s so specific about what he wants. And we weren’t approaching those sessions from a radio-single perspective. It was more like, ‘Let’s just hang out and write about your life and how we relate to it.’ It was super-positive and then it did so well. We’re working on new stuff for him right now.”

X is looking to repeat the Sivan success story with her own album, especially now that she’s settled on a synth-heavy sound. She first started on piano when she was a child. “My grandparents gave us a piano and my Mom was, like, ‘Now you have to take piano lessons,’” says X, who’s gifted with long, slender fingers. Initially, she resisted because she wanted only to sing instead. “And much to my surprise – and I was a stubborn kid, always trying to prove that I was right – I loved piano. And I continued to play, all the way from Grade 4, when I started, to the end of high school.

“It’s kind of my instrument, one that I know my way around,” X continues. “In my mid-20s, I got into synthesis, and started playing around on the Juno and the Prophet keyboards, and learned about frequency and all the different effects. I got really into that… That’s when I really started to find my sound. And also when I started to learn Ableton [production software] and learn how to produce. That was the turning point, where the sound we now hear for Allie X started to come.”

The 10 songs on CollXtion II are all co-writes, as X teamed up with Brett McLaughlin, a.k.a. Leland (Capital Cities, Hilary Duff), Mathieu Jomphe Lépine, a.k.a. Billboard, and a host of other individuals.  The songs that comprise the album – “Paper Love,” with its catchy whistle motif; “That’s So Us,” with its chugging synth-bass line: and “Lifted,” with its reggae feel, to name a few – demonstrate a sturdy sonic architecture that reveals more depth with each listen.

It’s a signature sound that’s earned Allie X more than 12 million streams of eight songs on Spotify alone. She says melodies come naturally to her, but words can take awhile. “I’m a slow lyricist, it takes me a long time,” she says. “If I’m doing lyrics by myself, it’s kind of abstract. I say words that sound right, and then I kind of figure out what the hell I’m talking about!”

Allie X’s career advice
“Persistence. Don’t stop. It’s all about connecting the dots. I knew I could get to this point 10 years ago… even though nobody else knew it. I didn’t even know how I was going to get to this point, but I knew that I could – and I did. I didn’t have the skills, the sound, the look – and I still have so much further to go – but I knew that I had something, and I really believed that I could get somewhere.”

Vocally trained in classical music, X says people should view her songs as a personal journey toward discovering her identity.

“I’m a fragmented person,” she says. “I’m confused about who I truly am, and how much of me is pure… How much of me now was around when I was a kid, and how much has been informed by experience and pain. Obviously, I’m not the only person to have been through difficult times; it happens to everyone. For me, I’m confused about how much of who I am now has always been there. I just don’t have it figured out.

“Music is the way I’ve always made friends. It’s been the thing that has given me a voice, literally and symbolically. It’s been the way I get out my darker feelings. I don’t know where I’d be without music.”

Montréal-based, by way of the Outaouais, trio Planet Giza is slowly but surely transitioning from producers to full-fledged artists. With the release of their single “Find My Way 2 Love” last May, they’re now pretenders to the throne as Montréal’s – slightly cooler, let’s be honest – version of PartyNextDoor.

“I found the Jaspects sample,” explains Planet Giza’s Rami, about how the group wrote the single. “I chopped it up, but we figured having Tony on it would be a good thing, because something was missing – and that completed it. He sent us his tracks, and released it the next week!”

Composed of MC Tony $tone, and beat-makers Dumix and Rami B, Planet Giza was created in 2012 when, at the time, $tone and Dumix were called The North Virus. In the wake of their captivating recent live performances, and the enthusiasm that their mixtapes generate on Soundcloud, Planet Giza will undoubtedly make its mark on dancefloors and in homes everywhere over the coming months. Using an irresistible mix of sampling, up-to-the-minute rhythms, and Caribbean flavours, their music is utterly contemporary, and bears a very distinct signature.

Planet Giza has built relationships with fans via Soundcloud, and elsewhere in the industry – to date, that includes Lou Phelps, Kaytranada’s brother, Kaytranada himself, and virtually the entire Montréal beat-making scene, to name but a few. Their performances have had considerable impact, especially those at the Artgang All Star, and their opening slot for Kaytranada at Métropolis last fall.

All that considered, it’s crystal-clear that Planet Giza (pronounced GEE-za, with a hard “G,” in reference to the pyramids at Giza in Egypt) will generate a lot of buzz throughout 2017, as the stars of the industry continue to align for them.

We have liftoff! Bob Bouchard and Lou Bélanger are in orbit! Six months after launching their first dancehall fusion album under their project named Di Astronauts, the two prolific producers from Québec City are charting their course, in the hope that their songs will circle the globe. First the FrancoFolies, then the Festival d’été de Québec, and tomorrow… the whole universe!

But wait… Who exactly are Di Astronauts? Hunched over a speakerphone in their hotel room in Saskatoon, where they’re slated to accompany singer Marième , the three musicians talk over each other: Bouchard and Bélanger – veterans of Québec City’s rap/groove scene, and members of the Movèzerbe and CEA collectives – as well as Papa T, Québec City’s most well-known Jamaican.

Di Astronauts

Di Astronauts singers at FEQ 2017. Left to right: Dah Yana, Marième, Sabrina Sabotage (Photo: Marième)

“A polymorphous collective? I guess that’s pretty much it,” says Bouchard, adding that this first album, Lova Notes & Outta Space Poems, also features King Abid, Sabrina Sabotage and Marième. A bona fide tribe, as it were.

“Di Astronauts is our lab,” says Bélanger. “It’s our excuse for doing what we’d been meaning to do for a long time, now.” Which is to say, an agile mix of French, English, Patois and Arabic pop (thanks, King Abid!) in a dancehall and Jamaican new roots style, with accessible electronica sauce. This tasty, multi-chef melting pot is cohesive despite, or thanks to, the wide variety of musical ingredients that go into it.

“We love the idea of a collective project,” says beat-maker Bouchard. “Stuff like Major Lazer or Bran Van 3000 – you have no idea how big fans we are of Bran Van! That’s the concept: a core of in-house producers, who’ve given themselves the leeway to invite anyone to sing along. It’s a process that we’re comfortable with, the whole notion of giving a project a global musical direction, while incorporating the talent of a multitude of artists who bring their own flavour to the songs.”

Their project might’ve been lifted straight from Major Lazer, but it’s still quite bold for the Québec music scene. Reggae and dancehall aren’t exactly staples of popular music in the province, except on the rare occasion where a pop artist will dip a toe in that relatively exotic pool. Making what’s essentially an entire album of that sound – and managing to make it so catchy – is a tour de force that can only be fuelled by true passion.

“Like everyone else, we liked reggae after hearing albums by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh or even Gainsbourg,” says Bob Bouchard. “Marième is a huge reggae fan, and she got us to explore more of it. We were more attuned to hip-hop, through contact with the guys from Alaclair, Movèzerbe, etc. Then, as the rap scene grew whiter and more nihilistic, we realized that reggae was what we identified more with, the whole idea of changing the world together through a positive message… Which is what we initially liked about rap, in the end.

Di Astronauts

Di Astronauts singers at Francofolies 2017. Left to right: King Abid, Papa T. (Photo: Mathieu)

“But props need to be given where they’re due: Québec City’s ‘Captain of Reggae’ is King Abid. When he got here, he wanted to create a reggae scene.” And he pulled it off: there are now several community and college radio stations with dancehall-reggae themed shows, as well as several events organized around the genre. As Bob says, “there aren’t that many people supporting the reggae scene in Québec City, but those that love it really fucking love it!

We love reggae and we play it in a very contemporary way. We try to avoid playing in a nostalgic or ‘tourist-y’ way. And now, since music is being consumed through streaming platforms, our strategy is to create music that can travel and acting accordingly, such as going to Jamaica with Papa T to shoot our video and build relationships with local singers.”

Di Astronauts’s trick is to be active on all fronts: radio, thanks to an electro-pop ditty, “Feelin’ Better,” sung by Sabrina Sabotage on one hand, and on the other, streaming platforms and YouTube with the sunny dancehall grooves. Time and time again, the two studio rats will come up with a good groove, then shop it around to various vocalists so that it can see the sunshine.

“To us, it’s a long-haul project,” says Bélanger. “It allows us to launch singles whenever we want, EPs, videos, but always with that collaborative approach. Right now, we’re thinking about an all-female project that would be called Di Astronettess. We also plan on an all-French project, simply because we’re signed to Coyote Records. We believe that Di Astronauts is a platform which can easily carry us over the next five to ten years. It can be very poppy, but it’s very cohesive, specific, niche. It affords us that kind of freedom.”