As a creative director, visual designer, and artistic director, Marcella Grimaux takes over the stage in a way that makes us dream. Meet a woman who constantly lives on the artistic edge.

She gets to design the look and feel of eagerly-awaited new stage shows by Québec artists; it’s the story of her life. “We’re in a business where we have to put ideas and images to words. It’s not always easy!” says Grimaux.

She grew up in New York City, with her mother as a model and inspiration, before moving to California to study theatre and stage directing at the University of Southern California. Her first acquaintance with the profession was in 2009 with Dominic Champagne, who was then presenting the stage play Paradis perdu (with music by Daniel Bélanger). “As I was only there to shoot the rehearsals, there was no creativity involved, but I was thrilled to be working with him,” she says.

Marie-Mai

Marie-Mai. Photo by/par Patrick Beaudry

Grimaux began her career at Geodezik in 2010. She started directing in 2018. She now owns her own company, the Noisy Head Studio.

The same question keeps coming up during production meetings: “On what kind of trip are we going to embark? What kind of trip do we want people to experience, what will the visual signature look like?” In the case of pop star Marie-Mai, who had switched record companies to join Spectra Musique with a new sound and a new image, they needed to come up with a visual presentation that was worthy of the artist’s stage comeback. At the Bell Centre, of all places.

For the Elle et moi tour in 2019, Grimaux acted as creative director. “We designed the stage set and the video; the set list was done with her music director, David Laflèche,” says Grimaux. “In what direction could we steer that huge boat? Each song was telling a different story. We visualized the angles of vision in 3D from every Bell Centre seat. We added a staircase, and moving screens, providing us with additional stage entrances and exits. The show’s opening was spectacular. We pre-filmed Marie in the same outfits she would be wearing during the live show to achieve perfect continuity. In one song,  “Empire,” she asks, ‘Am I being re-born now?’ That sentence gave us the direction we needed!”

Marcella and her team won the Félix (ADISQ) Awards for Lighting Design and Projections at ADISQ’s 2019 Industry Gala for that show.

Loud

Loud. Photo by/par Susan Moss.

People are still talking about Loud’s entrance to the stage for his show at the Bell Centre. The striking use of an airplane cockpit was pure Marcella, in her creative-director role. She co-created the stage sets, and then a short number with Simon Cliche (a.k.a. Loud), besides designing the video content.

“At our first meeting, his manager told me, ‘We’d like to see Simon arriving onstage in a plane,’” she says. “That’s the kind of time when you raise your eyebrows, and write down in your notebook, ‘Arrives in a plane.’

“That was in early February of 2019, and the show was scheduled to open May 31…

“We started designing the stage, but still needed a plane by the middle of March. Building a cockpit from scratch, or even a set, would have been way too expensive. Did you know you can’t buy airplane parts? Each part has a serial number and an owner. It’s illegal, and the reason is, to curb the black market for plane parts.

“A month later, a friend spotted a nearly abandoned aircraft in a Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu yard! What a lucky break!”

Michel Rivard

Michel Rivard. Photo by/par Marc-Étienne Mongrain.

Michel Rivard’s Origine de mes espèces show, which won the Félix Aaward for show of the year at the 2019 ADISQ Awards, was a different story. Directed by Claude Poissant, this show (with the fateful moment when Rivard opens the letter revealing his father’s DNA, then blackout!), called for a more sober directional approach.

“How could we portray the memories Michel was talking about in his flashbacks?” asked Grimaux. “We had to scan some 350 photographs from his personal archive to create the video. We were looking for out-of-focus images, looking more like old memories.  The golden rule was that the video was only there as an accompaniment. Before, lighting technicians used to insert images themselves because that was their turf. Today, these are two separate operations,” she explains.

Then, there was a memorable solo show with Jean Leloup at Place des Arts in 2016, with a huge fibreglass cranium sitting onstage, complete with light beams. Grimaux was artistic director on that project.

“Jean kept talking about campfires,” she says. “He wanted a campfire feel in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier – and he’s so all-over-the-place that committing him to something too concrete would have been a mistake. My role was to bring in video universes that we didn’t want to be narrative or continuous: we had to design them in such a way that they would remain flexible, because Jean didn’t have a set list. He might decide to sing “Je joue de la guitare” before “L’amour est sans pitié,” and we had to adapt, we had to be super-flexible. We had four visual universes ready, to help us follow him on whatever musical path he would choose at the last minute. The biggest challenge was a technical one: the size of the background projection screen was nearly as big as an IMAX screen: 50 feet large and 32 feet high!”

The long pause created by the COVID-19 pandemic made it possible for Grimaux to co-direct the video of Patrice Michaud’s song, “La grande évasion,” with her creative partner Daniel Faubert, and then to direct Asteria, a daring new virtual-reality music project that was recently released by the La Maison Fauve and Studio La Fougue.

“At meetings, I’m often the only woman at the table, and I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by men who don’t care one way or the other,” says Grimaux. “But I know of no other studio of this kind in Montréal (Noisy Head Studio) being led by a woman.”

 



Two months ago, the family of Isaiah Faber (aka Powfu) moved from Mission, B.C., to a new house in Chilliwack. The place is going to need a trophy room to display all the platinum plaques the 21-year-old singe-/songwriter/producer is amassing for the international success of his blockbuster hit track “death bed (coffee for your head).”

“The first one [for certified U.S. platinum sales] arrived a week ago,” says Powfu. “It’s pretty crazy to look at that.” More are coming, as the single has officially gone double-platinum in Canada and Ireland, and platinum in Australia, Sweden, Mexico, New Zealand, Italy, and Norway.

“It was getting a lot of views on YouTube, and TikTok took it the rest of the way”

Originally released in 2019, the breakthrough track made the Top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, and has been streamed more than a billion times, and counting. Its success story helps illustrate the ways that such platforms as YouTube, SoundCloud, and TikTok can break a song.

Powfu recalls that “death bed” got started when it was uploaded on YouTube. “It was getting a lot of views [currently at 178M] and then TikTok found it and took it the rest of the way,” he says. More than a million Tik Toks have been made with the song, and that phenomenon was followed by mass streaming on Spotify, and other outlets. A recent remix of “death bed” by U.S. pop-punk heavyweights Blink-182 has continued its momentum.

The poignant lyrics of “death bed” have resonated deeply. “The thing to me that stood out about it was the story, talking about death,” says Powfu. “I’ve never heard a song with that kind of story. People like the melody and the rap, too, so I guess it all came together.”

It’s a Family Affair
Powfu’s father, David Faber, found national success with his rock band, Faber Drive, and now acts as his son’s manager. “Isaiah and I co-write all the time, since he was about the age of seven,” says the elder. “He co-wrote a recent acoustic song that Faber Drive released called ‘Payday.’” In turn, Powfu incorporated a Faber Drive song, “More Than Perfect,” into his song “Letters in December,” featuring Rxseboy. “In my opinion, he made the lyrics better,” says dad David. Powfu says, “Growing up, I looked up to my dad on everything. He taught me the basics of songwriting and playing instruments… He was doing pretty good, so all my friends knew about him, and they rather expected me to follow in his footsteps. I felt a little pressure to be as good as, or better than, him.” Powfu’s younger sister, Patience Faber (aka  sleep.ing), also contributes vocals to Poems Of The Past, and is releasing her own music, too.

Powfu initially came across the song’s beat, by Otterpop, on SoundCloud, and then used a sample from English artist Beabadoobee (taken from her song “Coffee”), though the song’s lyrical subject matter is his creation. “That was, and many of my songs are, written from [standing in] the shoes of another person,” he says. “My life is pretty boring compared to many people, so I like reading, and watching movies, about other people’s lives. “

The impact of “death bed” helped Powfu land a deal with Columbia Records, and his recent EP Poems Of The Past is the first fruit of that union. As with earlier Powfu indie releases, it showcases an eclectic style featuring hip-hop, punk, and pop elements. “I have different styles of songs, so that each of my fans will have a different favourite track, depending on the style they like,” he says. “I call my sound ‘lo-fi hip-hop punk.’”

Powfu’s do-it-yourself material is, literally, “bedroom pop.” “I have a desk in the corner of my bedroom and the computer set up there,” he says. “I’ve tried the big studios out, but recording in my room just feels more comfortable to me.”

He describes his songwriting approach this way: “First I’ll find  a beat I like the sound of, then I’ll freestyle flows or melodies on top of it. If I come up with a melody that I think sounds cool, then I’ll try to write lyrics for it.”

It’s heartening to know that success can be just that simple.



“[Casey] Manierka is readying another left turn for 2020.” That was the kicker to SOCAN’s Casey MQ profile  from January, and while babycasey — the solo pop album being referenced — only just came out, this year’s been one left turn after another.

“Things have been good. Like, the entire world has completely changed,” Manierka says, eight months later. “But I mean right now, things are really good. Today. When I’m waking up.”

Rewind to mid-March and Manierka was feeling the same pandemic panic as the rest of us when the world went dark. But he didn’t just hide inside. Instead, the electronic producer/DJ teamed up with friends and fellow creatives Andrés Sierra, Brad Allen, and Mingus New to offer some light in the form of queer digital dance party, Club Quarantine (aka Club Q).

“The first week we decided to throw parties online, and it really had a moment,” says Manierka. “It was a great way – it’s still a great way – to stay connected online in the midst of isolation [and] see a space where people can continue to express themselves. It stemmed from the local culture in Toronto, but quite quickly became a global club.”

The then-nightly throwdown started maxing out Zoom’s thousand-person capacity, with dancers often wearing costumes, and creating living-room art installations in hopes of seeing their feed spotlighted. Club Q’s Instagram account, which posts their now-weekly Zoom links, has 68,000 followers.

While early editions booked all locals, it soon featured everyone from Brazilian drag queens and European techno DJs to pop stars Charli XCX, Tinashe, and even Lady Gaga. “Thank you so much for being here tonight,” exclaimed a costumed, dancing Gaga, while DJing remixes of her hits at Club Q’s Chromatica release party in late June. “You’re all having so much fun together in the spirit of something so kind and beautiful.”

Manierka says the organizers are having so much fun, too, and will keep doing it every Friday. “The idea for us, at some point, is to do Club Quarantine IRL,” he adds. “But that might just take a bit more time.”