A few months after releasing New Worlds, a sophomore album filled to the brim with ravaging sounds and an alarming social message, Montréal electro trio Black Tiger Sex Machine continues its conquest of the world.
Being huge sci-fi fans, Marc-André Chagnon, Julien Maranda, and Patrick Barry came up with a lively and fiery post-apocalyptic stage show for their lengthy tour, one that will see them criss-cross North America and Asia after making the rounds of the summer electronic music festival circuit. “We’ve always loved movies like Blade Runner and Mad Max, which happen in worlds that don’t exist, and where we wouldn’t want to live, but by which we’re still mesmerized,” says Maranda.
The three musicians and entrepreneurs founded Kannibalen Records, home to Apashe and Lektrique, among others, and they’re in complete control of their artistic offering, which is rooted in a sci-fi story with countless plot twists. Dressed in feline headgear, the characters they play onstage are the leaders of a cult, the “BTSM Church,” whose goal is to fight the evil forces of German doctor Kannibalen. Having come to North America to treat people contaminated by a bacteria, the scientist loses his mind when his entire family dies, and he proceeds to synthesize the original virus to better contaminate water sources, turning people into cannibals.
The video for “Zombie,” launched last spring, shows us that ever since the release of Welcome to Our Church in 2016, the “BTSM Church” rebels have lost ground, and the fate of the human race could hardly be less assured. That’s where the concept of this second album – an industrial electro-house affair with hints of dubstep – lives: in exploring the countless ways evil forces win over good ones. The song titles alone (“War,” “Madness,” “Artificial Intelligence,” “Replicants”) signal the issues that motivate their creators. “We’re interested in technology and politics, and hot topics like artificial intelligence, which can bring about both positive and negative changes,” says Barry.
“Just think about the impact that artificial intelligence will have on the middle class, soon enough. Some jobs will be robotized, and unless you’re a strategist or a creative, you’re likely to suffer from that,” says Chagnon. “Sure, humans have always come up with solutions, but right now our problems are bigger than ever, especially for the environment.”
New Worlds is the embodiment of the rather pessimistic worldview shared by the creative trio. “We write our music as the soundtrack to a movie where all our emotions are channelled. The more intense passages in our songs are clearly about what makes us anxious, but there are more ambient and atmospheric moments, too,” says Barry.
“It’s all about how we question the world we live in,” continues Maranda. “Being from Montréal, it’s easy to be more optimistic, because we do have a certain level of environmental awareness, but we saw something entirely different in China. There are way too many people and pollution is extreme. We’re not judging, but we gather information.”
Asian Boom and DIY Spirit
Luckily, their observations didn’t alter the trio’s Asian experience. In that booming market, where the number of fetivals double every year (they claim), these three – who’ve been friends since their early teens – were piqued the interest of many promoters, and a slew of new fans.
“Our set in South Korea was super-tight, with a huge LED wall behind us. Right after the show, we felt the impact; some bookers from Thailand wanted to invite us to the Full Moon Party. We had to decline because we were in China on that day, and playing Chicago after that… Luckily, we’re going in November, and our agent told us to be prepared to play in Asia five or six times a year. I think the very lively aspect of our brand is central to all that, as is our very cinematic vibe.”
Although Black Tiger Sex Machine has very little media presence in Québec, they can be proud of making it abroad without the support of a major record label. Founded in 2009, the trio started as a DJ team in Montréal, before exploding on the scene thanks to its first Kannibalen event at Belmont, a legendary club on the Main (as locals call Saint-Laurent Boulevard). “We were asked if we could organize a big event in that big venue in only 10 days, and we’d never done anything like that!” Chagnon recalls. “Against all odds, there were no other electro events in Montréal that night, and 500 kids showed up. It was a true home run! The energy was unbelievable, it was like a Skrillex show.”
After several more editions of the event, they had a brilliant idea: turn the Kannibalen brand into a record label. “I was listening to this BBC podcast where Pedro Winter, an agent to Justice and Daft Punk, explained how he transformed his Ed Banger event into a record label,” says Maranda. “On a smaller scale, we also had the opportunity to create a fan base that was aware of our brand, so all we had to do was find a way to connect all those people with our releases. Obviously, we had no idea how to get such a project on the road, so we relied on our background and our instinct to make it as professional as possible.”
Then, step by step, the guys found their respective strengths. Patrick Barry’s degree in finance led him to take control of accounting, while remaining the band’s keyboardist and main melodist. Marc-André Chagnon took the helm to create of their live shows, including the sound mix and visuals, while Julien Maranda became responsible for marketing, booking tours, and mixing and mastering their releases. He’s also in charge of controlling the lights in the feline helmets using his finger drum.
In short, this trio is a blazing example of what the do-it-yourself philosophy does best. “We made a few mistakes early on, but in the end, we managed to build an excellent work ethic. And I think our ethic is among the best in the province,” says Maranda, “because we’re one of the bands that tour the most internationally. Above all, we showed it’s possible to get into that game even without much experience. We simply grew any which way we could, organically, step by step.”