Made up of an assortment of non-conformist, rebellious creators from the Montreal and Quebec City music scenes, Alaclair Ensemble took shape in 2008 when Mash (Les 2 Toms), KenLo (Movèzerbe) and Maybe Watson (K6A) got together for an informal music project. As the collective’s youngest member, Ogden Ridjanovic (a.k.a. Robert Nelson, the band’s manager), explains, “In the beginning, there were no plans to start a group, or any other project for that matter. Guys would just wander into the studio from time to time and start writing songs for others to complete. Then, in the spring of 2010, we realized we had some 15 pieces ready to go and that, looking back, they were all pieces the same guys had been working on. Seeing as it was our casual working method that had allowed us to introduce a festive and comical element to our tunes, we decided to share the results with our audience with the same kind of informality.”

After selling 500 copies of the digital album 4,99 (at $4.99 apiece), the group decided to have 500

Many people see us as the “gentler” side of Quebec rap music

more copies printed and, once this batch was sold out, and the band had been joined by Claude Bégin, Eman and Vlooper, the album was turned into a free download on Bandcamp. The result was instant success.

“This is when we started seeing that there was definitely an interest for our band,” Ridjanovic says. “Basically, it was a playful project, nothing really serious. In the early days, the fact that people actually were listening to our music was enough compensation for us. Having realized the fantastic buzz that can be created by making your music available online for free, we could not turn back. We also knew that this was making it easier for music journalists. It gave them something newsworthy to write about us. I have a feeling that some of them were relieved once they realized that there was no big machine behind our band. The word got out, but we also got a lucky break as a number physical copies had ended up in the right hands.”

Emboldened by this positive public and critical response, the group embarked in 2011 on an ambitious and eclectic three-album project titled Musique bas-canadienne d’aujourd’hui (Lower Canadian Music of Today). The first section of that upcoming trilogy, the fun-packed Les maigres blancs d’Amérique du noir (a zany reference to the iconic Quebec novel White Niggers of America), ended up being the group’s actual second album “simply because we were all together again, which we were not for Musique bas-canadienne d’aujourd’hui,” Ridjanovic explains.

“We were hoping to recapture the devil-may-care, fun-and-games attitude of our first album, but we also wanted to do this over a creative period of a few months instead of two and a half years. What this ambitious project meant to us above everything else was a lot of enjoyment, period. We viewed this as a fun trip from the word go. We retired into a cottage in Coaticook to create the outline of several pieces, and this is definitely the album where the band’s trademark ‘old buddies’ dimension really shines through. You can hear it. The album is a perfect reflection of our mood in that cottage during the album’s creation period.”

Ranging in age from 25 to 31, the six Alaclair Ensemble members are a close-knit bunch in spite of their various backgrounds. This is reflected in their compositional approach, which is meant to be both collective and personal. “We will often get going from a beat contributed by a member of the group, and then someone comes up with a key word that sort of becomes the glue that keeps the song together as we move along.” Says Ridjanovic. “A case in point was “Mammifère” (“Mammal”), a theme on which all musicians worked individually. We ended up with three entirely different approaches and performances. Many of our songs work that way. Generally, the band member doing the rap is performing his own writing.”

Alaclair Ensemble’s creative and unsettling rhythms, festive energy, scorching political comedy and madcap attitude has delighted countless Francophone hip-hop music lovers since the group’s creation, but not everyone is a dedicated fan. “We have disturbed a lot of people, and we ended up being rejected by the Quebec hip-hop community,” says Ridjanovic. “But we don’t mind. We embrace it. Many people see us as the ‘gentler’ side of Quebec rap music, but we laugh it off. We consciously decided to dissociate ourselves from that scene, and our audiences include a very limited number of hardcore rap music fans today.”

Besides preparing for a series of fall appearances, the band is looking forward to going into isolation once again, and coming out fairly soon with new material. Ridjanovic believes that the group’s future is really looking up.

“The reason we keep going is that we are optimistic about finding a way of making a living with our music eventually. We see ourselves as pioneers, and we would like to show that there is more than one way of doing things. For starters, we don’t believe that you have to get signed up by a company to make a living as a musician. The thing I like is that we own our projects. We are not going down the beaten path. My philosophy is to build things up brick by brick. No victory is too small. Alaclair Ensemble is the opposite of a one-hit wonder. A mixture of fun, spontaneous pleasure, and more focused collective creation remains our ultimate goal.”

Ian Campeau will never forget the first Electric Pow Wow night. It was 2008 and he and fellow Aboriginal DJ Bear Witness had the idea to host a club event in Ottawa similar to ones held for the Korean and East Indian communities.

“We wanted to throw a party that was culturally specific to the First Nations people,” recalls

“We started adding pow wow vocal and drumming samples to electronic dance music and people went crazy.” – Ian Caopeau of A Tribe Called Red

Campeau, a.k.a. DJ NDN. “We started adding pow wow vocal and drumming samples to electronic dance music and people went crazy. It was obvious this was a big thing that was missing in the community.”

Campeau and Bear Witness then teamed up with Dan General, a.k.a. DJ Shub, to form A Tribe Called Red, and their Electric Pow Wow nights became even bigger events. Initially, their music was all mash-ups, mixes of styles ranging from hip-hop and house to dancehall and dubstep. But with the song “Electric Pow Wow Drum,” the trio created an original anthem.

“Right off the bat, it seemed like we’d hit a pretty big home run,” recalls Campeau. “ [U.S. DJ and tastemaker] Diplo heard the track, loved it and started blogging about it on his Mad Decent blog. Within days of that, we were getting tweets from MTV.”

The momentum kept building. A Tribe Called Red’s self-titled debut album became a candidate for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize and was included in The Washington Post’s Top 10 albums of the year. The trio toured across North America and Europe, thrilling audiences in Edinburgh and at the World Music Expo in Greece.

With its 2013 Polaris Prize shortlisted follow-up album, Nation II Nation, A Tribe Called Red has only

“With ‘Electric Pow Wow Drum,’ right off the bat, it seemed like we’d hit a pretty big home run.” – Ian Caopeau of A Tribe Called Red

seen its popularity grow, and they’ve performed at major events like Detroit’s electronic music festival and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Next up, the group is making an album for Pirates Blend, the label owned by Bedouin Soundclash’s Jay Malinowski, Eon Sinclair, Sekou Lumumba and their manager Dave Guenette.

Campeau says he and his bandmates are happy to be the face of the Aboriginal urban youth experience. “As First Nations people, we’ve always been seen as something from the past,” he says. “With this modern twist, it’s showing that we’re still here. That’s the message of our music.” – NICHOLAS JENNINGS

Track Record
• Campeau joined a First Nations drum group at the age of 10, and was the drummer of Montreal punk band The Ripchordz in his 20s.
• General is a two-time Canadian winner of the DMC Championship, the annual DJ competition hosted by Disco Mix Club.
• Bear Witness doubles as the crew’s visual artist, and creates videos that take racist portrayals of indigenous North Americans and re-work them into social commentary.

Publisher: A Tribe Called Red
Discography: A Tribe Called Red (2012), Nation II Nation (2013)
SOCAN members since 2013

PHOTO CREDIT: Pat Bolduc (colour photo)
Sébastien Roy (B&W photo)

In just 10 years, The Besnard Lakes have become the unchallenged masters of dreamy, soft soundscapes that lie somewhere between the progressive rock of the 1970s and the shoegaze wave of the 1990s. A flexible band in its early years, it’s now made up of four members including Jace Lasek on guitar and voice, Olga Goreas on bass and voice, Richard White on guitar and Kevin Laing on drums.

The result of a fateful meeting between two people – Lasek and Goreas – in a Vancouver art school, The Besnard Lakes have released four albums since 2003. Their first effort, the Pink Floydian concept (and somewhat untidy) album Volume 1, was followed in 2007 with the better-crafted and more sophisticated The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse and, in 2010, with The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night and its aerial rock-sounding psychedelic textures. Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, a fourth opus originally planned for a 2012 release, only came out in the spring of 2013.

“We had wanted to quicken the pace of our album releases – which normally is one every third year – but the more pressure we put on ourselves, the more we found that the stuff we were recording was bad,” says Lasek. “We’ve recorded a lot of useless crap! So we decided to forget about deadlines so we could work more naturally at our own pace. We had been too hard on ourselves. When you’re in the studio looking at one other for ideas that aren’t coming, you’re better off moving to a new strategy.”

A streamlined album replete with great layered guitar parts, Until in Excess’s space-rock is reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s harmonics and melodies. “When we started promoting the album, we toured it to Germany and France, and many people were saying that our new album was lighter, less dark and anguished,” says Lasek. “That took us by surprise, because this album has heavy connotations for all of us, as it deals, among other topics, with the death of Olga’s father. We used to be good at creating feelings, but I believe that those expressed in this emotional and introspective album are very real,” the fair-haired, 40-year-old guitarist and singer maintains.

Psychedelic Music
By turns aerial, dense, cinematic and slightly nostalgic, The Besnard Lakes’ new style, which relies

We used to be good at creating feelings, but I believe that those expressed in this emotional and introspective album are very real.

heavily on carefully layered guitar riffs, defies classification – although Lasek personally likes to use the word “psychedelic” as a general descriptor. “This work always connotes interesting things in my head,” he says. “To me, it means a degree of experimenting, freedom of action and a desire to push things to the limit. This is more or less our band’s philosophy – making incremental steps to take our sound as far as humanly possible,” says Lasek, who also happens to be the co-owner of Montreal’s popular Breakglass Studio.

Lasek and Goreas, who are man and wife in real life, and diehard fans of Slayer, Spiritualized and Yes, are perfectionists who feel the need to isolate in order to function more adequately. “Normally, Olga and I will lock ourselves up in the studio and work on basic arrangements,” says lasek. “More often than not, I will sing my own lyrics and she’ll sing hers. We talk things over for a while and then lay down the song’s basic structure, looking at what the finished product is going to sound like. Then we have Richard and Kevin listen to the result, and they come up with the finishing touches.”

Montreal Love
A Saskatchewan native, Lasek took immediately to Montreal and its music scene when he relocated there 13 years ago. “There’s an element of pride in being able to say that you’re part of that scene,” he says. “I didn’t realize this until I started travelling abroad. Everyone knows about Montreal. It’s even more relevant today, and there is still this energy. The Montreal scene got a real break in that it was never pigeonholed. This has made it possible for artists to experiment freely and try new things.”

At press time, the band was gearing up for appearances on the continent as well as in the U.K. this September, to be followed in November with dates on the U.S. West Coast. Otherwise, Lasek has his work cut out for him in the studio.  “There’s always something to be done,” he says. “Never any breaks. We will probably start concentrating on a new Besnard Lake album sometime soon. I hope we can get it out a lot faster this time! But you never know with this business – anything can happen.”