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.”

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.”

Ebony “WondaGurl” Oshunrinde may be the Queen of the Beats, working with everyone from Jay Z to Drake to Don Toliver to Killy, but don’t ask her where they originate. It’s a bit of a mystery, even to her.

“It can come in so many different ways,” says WondaGurl from Los Angeles, her home for just over a year. “It could be an idea that I had in my head the whole day; it could be something I voice-noted. Or maybe I’m just going through samples on the computer, and I start a beat from there. Or it could be that I’m sitting somewhere, out for dinner, and I hear some sample in a nightclub in the spot that I’m in, and I go home and make a beat out of it.


WondaGurl, receiving a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award in 2017, for co-writing Travi$ Scott’s “Antidote.”

“It can happen in so many different ways for me, and it’s not really one thing that I’m looking for. And I can’t really explain it – it’s hard for me to explain the technical side of that.”

Seriously though, WondaGurl isn’t in a position where she necessarily has to explain her magic: at only 23 years old, the native of Scarborough, Ontario, is still enjoying the momentum she’s generated since unexpectedly landing one of her beats on “Crown,” a last-minute addition to Jay-Z’s 2013 million-selling album Magna Carta Holy Grail.

With hip-hop visionaries Travi$ Scott and Matthew “Boi-1da” Samuels in her corner as mentors (her “WondaGurl” moniker is a female twist on Boi-1da), Oshunrinde has apprenticed on the front lines, providing beats for rap elitists like Drake (“Used To” and “Company” on If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late), Travi$ Scott (“Antidote”), the late Pop Smoke (two songs on Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon), Quavo, Lil Yachty, Killy, and Big Sean. Most recently, she was responsible for half the tracks on Don Toliver’s Heaven or Hell, including the three-million-selling single  “No Idea.”

There’s also been some pop spillover, most notably as a co-writer and co-producer of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” Mariah Carey’s “Caution,” and a remix of Maroon5’s “Girl Like You.”

It’s this enviable track record that drew Sony/ATV to WondaGurl, signing a global  co-publishing deal through Travi$ Scott’s Cactus Jack publishing, and allowing her to establish her own label imprint, WondaChild, to which she’s signed Toronto rapper Jugger.

“Still, to this day, I’ll learn about a placement literally the day it comes out”

WondaGurl, who prefers FL Studio software when composing her beats, probably figures the prestige would have earned her some breaks when dealing with the music business. But apparently, that’s not the case. “Still, to this day, I’ll learn about a placement literally the day it comes out, you know?” she laughs. “It really happens.”

Even interested artists sometimes keep her in the dark. “Usually, you don’t hear from them for awhile,” she explains. “If they listen to it right then and there, they’ll tell you which beats they like and what they want to hold. Usually, you don’t hear from them for awhile, though.”

Although WondaGurl obviously receives requests to supply beats, but she also still chases certain artists when she thinks she has a beat with a good fit for them. “Usually, I send out a whole [sample] pack of beats,” she says. “But if I have a beat where I hear this person on it, I’ll just send it straight to them, that one beat. It goes both ways – a lot of people approach me, and I still approach people the way I did years ago.

“When I start the beat, I may not have someone in mind, but after I make it, I can kind of hear who I want to send it to.”

Lockdown Slowdown

You’d think that enforced isolation might stir the creative juices, but even WondaGurl is feeling vulnerable while living in L.A. “COVID-19 has been better for my creativity, because it’s been a little nerve-wracking on a daily basis,” she says. “And then with everything that’s going on in the world today, it’s been a little hard to just focus on creating.”

As a woman who’s constantly experimenting behind the console, it would make sense that WondaGurl might be close to inventing her own software, or series of loops. But if that’s the case, she’s keeping it close to her vest. “There’s definitely a lot of different things – mainly technology stuff… I just don’t like talking about things,” she admits.  “Especially where it’s just an idea, and I’m trying to figure out how to do it. I want to get to a point where I’m an executive, and just a boss.”

One project that she’s willing to talk about is her own album, that she hopes will clarify and define her own sound for her peers. It’ll involve singers and rappers Savannah Ré, Baby Rose, and Yung Baby Tate, among others.

“It’s just something that I wanted to do for everybody, where it’s all produced by me, and you can just hear how something would sound as if it was completely released by me,” says WondaGurl. “I always wanted to really show people what my sound is, in my opinion, because I still feel like people don’t know. But I plan to have features on it and different producers.”

As for trade secrets, WondaGurl says there a number of things that ensure her creative and professional happiness. “Kind of keeping the right people around me and making sure that I’m in the space that I need to be in is the most important thing that I’ve learned recently,” she says. “Obviously, staying humble and just knowing how to act in the studio are other things I’ve learned. But probably the most important thing is just the people that you keep around you.”