Les LouangesLa nuit est une panthère, Les Louanges’ first album released in 2018 after its presence in the grand finale of Les Francouvertes, placed pawns on a chessboard much bigger than that of his own career. From behind his Les Louanges moniker, Vincent Roberge embarked on a musical journey as a song steward who defines his style one song at a time, allowing each one influence the next. On Crash, he paints an immense fresco of all the firsts of adulthood: the nicer ones that pull us upward, and the sadder ones that transform us.

While his debut left a lot to the imagination, and let the listener take their time to make sense of it all, Crash is anchored in a sometimes harsh, but always undoubtable, truth. “That crash is basically life hitting me head on,” says Roberge from the outset. “The pandemic forced me to take a step back, and that allowed me to digest stuff I hadn’t digested yet.”

That stuff includes the early years of a career that rocketed upward at lightning speed, but also the life-changing experiences one goes through in their early twenties. “I lived a lot of extraordinary things that ranged from exceptional to utterly stressful, but, through it all, I also learned to become an adult, and I did it while burning the candle at both ends,” says the singer-songwriter. “Each of these songs represents a very important event that had an impact, positive or negative, like a crash.”

Any song can be born out of chaos, but the timing for Les Louanges to create his sophomore album was totally unbalanced. After making the Polaris Music Prize short list, and completing a successful tour in Québec, he was forced to return from Europe just as things were taking off there. “The foundation of the song ‘Facile was when we came back from Marseille, because the pandemic was declared,” he says. “We were in a depressing AirBnB on Iberville Street in Montréal. We couldn’t go anywhere and I felt fucking alone that day. I was lying in bed playing pads on my keyboard controller. I played stupid chords and I thought they were so sad.” Eager to bring a truth to which  his audience could relate more, he wanted to keep that bit of desperation – the demo he saved on his phone was titled “Fuck It” – and turn it into something touching later.

All of that is part and parcel of Les Louanges’ quest for truth, which permeates all of Crash. He believes that the poppier nature of his new music stems from his effort to be concise. “I was tired of hiding behind 2,000 metaphors, I wanted to show that I’m able to create complex arrangements that support clearer lyrics,” he says. “I no longer want people to have to think about it to feel an emotion when they listen to my music. But if you really want to look for deeper meanings, you still can.”

Right in the middle of Crash, Les Louanges borrows words from Gaston Miron as an interlude. The poet’s words are sketched among the lighter areas of the generally quite dark album. “I wanted to achieve a balance between sadness and light,” he explains. “What Miron says, ultimately, is that it’s important to keep your sense of wonder. It’s good for you, and good for your art. Plus, one can feel wonder even from pain. If something touches you, there’s a reason for it. I think it’s like he’s preparing you for what you’re about to hear.”

After jokingly talking about a duet with Corneille for years with his musical accomplice and producer Félix Petit, Les Louanges began seriously considering an actual collaboration. “I always struggle to explain my musical style and, one day, as a joke, Félix said I do conscious R&B,” he says. “I truly believe the king of that genre is Corneille. Then, one morning, I was at Green Room, right next do Planet Studios. I get out of my car, it’s 9:00 a.m. and I hear, ‘Bro, is that Les Louanges?’ This dude gets out of his car, with tinted windows, and it’s Corneille. I know the chances were higher to stumble across him there than in the parking lot of Canadian Tire, but I still couldn’t believe it. I wasted no time and suggested a collaboration for the song “Crash.” I think even the universe was tired of waiting for things to happen.”

Ever since his first collaborations with producer Petit, the latter has been very successful with other artists who asked to work with him. Still, Les Louanges isn’t afraid that his distinctive sound will spill over elsewhere. “Félix truly carries my vision when we work on my tunes,” he says. “He’s a major part of my equation. He’s the twin I never had, and the only person who knows what’s going on in my head. He’s always right where no one else would think of being. Even if we’re at Le Roi du Smoked Meat at 3:00 a.m., he’ll order a veal chop while we have hot dogs and, in the end, we’re all thinking we should’ve ordered the same thing as him.”

Like every other musician, Les Louanges daydreams about getting back onstage, and even considered that aspect of things during his creative process – by including downtime amidst his dance-ier grooves, so that the crowd can warm up for what’s coming. “I kept getting flashes of being onstage while I was in the studio,” he remembers. “But as much as you’d love to control everything, songwriting is savage. You need to be that National Geographic guy who takes a picture of the pelican. You have to manage your ISO, make sure you’re using the right gear, wait for the right moment, sometimes you have to go right to the fucking middle of the jungle, and that’s the only time you’re going to get that great shot.”

 



As a teenager, Amanda Rheaume scribbled feelings in her diary. Years later, these angst-driven dribbles ended up as lyrics to original songs she sang with her rock ‘n’ roll band – in between cover versions of other people’s music – to beer-swilling audiences at Ottawa’s Zaphod Beeblebrox. Playing gigs at bars five nights a week, the artist followed this muse, thinking that was it, but a pair of epiphanies told her otherwise: As an artist, she had a bigger role to play.

The first one occurred in the early 2000s. Rheaume, crammed into a van with a group of aspiring musicians, played house concerts across the Southern U. S. One night, while performing in front of a group of strangers in this intimate setting, her heart spoke. The singer-songwriter realized that she was wasting her gift singing songs with little substance.

The second epiphany came not long after. Rheaume travelled to Afghanistan to perform a series of concerts for Canadian soldiers; again, her heart sent a message. Though she rocked out, and the men and women in uniform enjoyed her shows, what meaningful words had she given to these heroes?

Ever since, Rheaume has turned inward – and outward – in her art. She now writes from a personal space and comments on universal themes. As a citizen of the Métis Nation and a proud member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, she knew she could no longer ignore her truths.

“I want to say something that matters,” says Rheaume. “I believe I have a responsibility, when I’m onstage, to make a positive impact on people. After those two epiphanies, I made the decision to stop singing about my broken heart and write more about deeper things: my identity, my family history, and how that translates into my lived experience. As an artist, it’s critical for me to sing my truth, and the truth of the Métis Nation.”

Rheaume has released five albums over the past 15 years. Keep a Fire (2013) was nominated for a JUNO and won a Canadian Folk Music Award for Indigenous Songwriter of the Year. This search for truth and deeper meaning continues with Rheaume’s latest, The Spaces In Between. Produced by Hill Kourkoutis, It’s set for release May 27, 2022, on Ishkōdé Records, the label she co-founded, and co-runs, with Shoshona Kish, to foster and amplify Indigenous voices. “I’m so proud of this record,” she says. “It really feels like my favorite. Stylistically, it’s my most personal, and really reflects who I am.”

The first single, “100 Years,” is a rallying cry inspired by the words of Louis Riel, one of Canada’s most famed Métis leaders, who said, “My people will sleep for a hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists that give them back their spirit.”

The Spaces In Between also includes four spoken-word interludes from Tony Belcourt — a Métis leader, activist and founding president of the Native Council of Canada. Throughout the record, Rheaume retrieves more of her spirit, which guides her muse to find the right words. On the title track, she sings,

I’m just trying to find my place
Trying to find some empty space
Where I’m comfortable enough to say the things I need to say

The song was co-written, via Zoom, with Kourkoutis and Serena Ryder. “A lot of the songs are about identity, and how I fit into the landscape around me and tying that thread back to the history of the Métis Nation,” she says.

During her formative years, Jagged Little Pill was a touchstone. These days, the songwriter is inspired by Lucinda Williams, Ani Di Franco (her lyrics more than her music) – and more recently, Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate in the U.S., with whom Rheaume took a masterclass.

“As artists, we’re already living on the fringes … carving our own paths and going against the grain,” she says, addressing the overarching theme of The Spaces In Between. “We’re making and finding our own spaces to create, succeed, grow an audience. and connect with people. None of that is laid out for you… You need to just do it and find your own way. To sing about, and to express, the spaces in between, you need to first love yourself, and come to terms with the fact that you don’t have to live in this one place. You can continue to grow and re-define who you are.”

Searching  for Songs: Rheaume’s top three tips

1) “Write a minimum of five (timed) minutes stream-of-consciousness every single day. Keep your pen on the paper, or fingers typing. Doesn’t matter if it’s nonsense. As with a pipe in the winter, you’ve gotta keep the water running! Ten minutes is even better, first thing in the morning is best… It’s the discipline that encourages greatness and mastery of a craft.”

2) “Keep a list of titles and ideas, either in your phone, or in a notebook you carry with you. Ideas flow into our consciousness all the time. As much as we try to remember, it’s much easier to keep track of everything.”

3) “Finish the song. Not every song is going to be your best. Sometimes we need to write one to get to the next one. Creativity and ideas are abundant.”



As a complement to our annual review of five “Queb” rap rookies to watch, here’s a portrait of five beat-makers who’ll break through on Québec’s hip-hop and electronic scene in 2022.

Gene Tellem

Gene TellemRaised to the sounds of ‘90s British trip-hop and Daniel Bélanger’s downtempo explorations on Rêver Mieux, Gene Tellem was attracted to the piano at a very young age, before switching her attention to the guitar in Cégep.

“I studied jazz guitar [at Saint-Laurent cégep], and around that time I started going out, and discovered after-hours clubs. That’s where I was introduced to electronic music,” says the now 30-year-old, Montréal-based beat-maker. “I started tinkering with machines, buying vinyl records, and mixing. I also grew interested in producing music. I bought Ableton Live [software], and all through my twenties I experimented with it a lot. Took quite a while before I produced something decent.”

It was in 2017 that Tellem unveiled herself with a first physical release, the EP Who Says No, on Montréal’s dance label Sounds of Beaubien Ouest – a subsidiary of the iconic Arbutus Records, which gave us Braids, Grimes, Blue Hawaii, and several other prominent local artists. Inspired by the New York house music scene, where she’s been an assiduous visitor for the past five years, the Bienvenue Recordings founder has since released seven other projects – some on vinyl, some on digital formats, most of which are available on listening platforms.

Mainly intended for the dancefloor, Tellem’s music took a whole new turn last year on Speed of Life, the second EP by singer Laroie, a longtime friend. Yanked out of her comfort zone, the result was an ethereal amalgamation of trip-hop, R&B, and electro-pop. “I was intimidated,” she readily admits. “Pop is my kryptonite when it comes to composing. I saw it as a challenge. Now I really enjoy [making that genre of music].”

In 2022, the musician will strike again with her friend for two new releases: Laroie’s latest project, and another one, with Secret Witness, a house band where the two play alongside drummer Pascal Deaudelin and producer Gabriel Rei. Tellem is also working on a duet project with Rei (Game Plan), as well as an upcoming solo EP in conjunction with New York’s Second Hand Records and, possibly, a full-length debut album on her own label. “I’m totally immersed in composing right now,” she says. “I’m gravitating towards songwriting and a listening experience, and away from typical club beats.”

Melowithdaheat

MelowithdaheatMelowithdaheat first became known on Montréal’s hip-hop scene under the moniker Melomayne. In retrospect, this re-appropriation of the word “mélomane” (“music lover”) has become a strong symbol for the now 33-year-old producer: it was his unwavering love of music that inspired him to carry on and never give up his passion, even though he could have justifiably done so many times.

Born in Little Burgundy, Montréal’s South-central neighbourhood, the Québécois-Congolese artist began making beats in the mid-aughts, inspired by the producer Vader (his cousin), who’d just purchased FL Studio (a music-creation software). “I made my first beat in a couple of days and thought it was amazing,” says Melowithdaheat. “I sent it to my cousins and they laughed at me really hard. Of course my beat sucked! I just didn’t care. I was already obsessed.”

Alongside Vader, the young producer created the group NOGAMZ and quickly ensured his success in the increasingly democratized – and competitive – beat-making market. Their first major placements arrived in 2012, notably with Booba and Sefyu, and the two cousins got their first contract in France. “It was a magical year,” says Melowithdaheat, wistfully recalling many paid trips and clothing sponsorships. “Sadly, for reasons unknown to us, [the rapper they were making beats for] stopped making music. We managed to get out of the contract, but it was like starting from scratch.”

And that was just the beginning of their hardships. In the years that followed, they had to contend with a crooked manager, and signing an American deal that turned out to be a dead end. “The music industry grossed me out a bit,” says Melowithdaheat. “I stopped making placements, but my passion came out unscathed.”

More recently, finding out his mother was ill triggered him to start making music professionally again. “It made me think a lot,” he says. “Then, in 2020, just as the pandemic started, I decided to go all in. I quit my job, I started investing in the stock market with my severance pay, and three months later, I learned how to record people. Six months later, I opened my own studio.”

Thanks to a few placements with key artists on the Québec scene (Rosalvo, OneNessa, SB, and LK tha Goon) as well as with the renowned French rapper Kalash, Melowithdaheat kickstarted 2022 with ironclad determination. In addition to preparing the launch of two new Montréal-based rap hopefuls (Bagfull and Kyilah), he is working on several secret collaborations he can’t announce just yet.

Nkusi

NkusiOf Rwandan origin, the Trifluvian (a name that denotes people living in Trois-Rivières, Québec) beat-maker Nkusi was baptized with music early on in life, when his mom enrolled him in the church choir. A few years later, he traded praising the Lord for a more popular form of expression among the youth of his adopted city: rap.

First established by trailblazers such as Ale Dee and Sir Pathétik, the Trois-Rivières hip-hop scene has been alive and kicking for about a decade now. Thanks to its vitality and dynamism, Nkusi was introduced to beat-making a little more than five years ago. “Even though [Sir Path and Ale Dee] aren’t always taken seriously, they’ve put Trois-Rivières on the map in many people’s consciousness,” says Nkusi. “There’s something brewing over there.”

But make no mistake about it: the 28-year-old producer has nothing in common with the smooth pop tunes and dated piano-violin flights of the two veterans. On the contrary, his is a minimalist hip-hop groove, with soul and electronica flavours, that he inherited from his love of Flying Lotus, Flume, Kaytranada, and Knxwledge.

Jimmy Young, a central player on the Trifluvian scene, was the one who turned him on to beat-making. While in Québec City to study jewelry-making, Nkusi decided to forge on with his first project, Gutaginza (2019). “That’s where I understood how to flesh out my ideas and monetize my art, and I had a job at Le Bureau de poste [a popular bar in downtown Québec City],” he says. “I worked in the kitchen, but one day they asked me to DJ. When I got my first cheque for doing that, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. That was the initial spark.”

The spark turned into a flame when he moved to Montréal in early 2020. His alliance with producer Funkywhat (another of Montréal’s emerging beat-makers) on the mini-album Fwnk, as well as his considerable participation in the first EP of indie pop singer Thaïs (now signed to Bravo Musique), allowed him to diversify his sound. “The producers I admire aren’t pigeonholed. And that’s what I’ve always aspired to. I love music above all else. I have no intention of limiting myself,” says the man who also specializes in sound design for podcasts, and in the development of artistic projects of social entrepreneurship.

2022 will mark the release of a second solo project for Nkusi, as well as several collaborations with talented artists on Montréal’s rap and R&B underground scenes.

Beau Geste

Beau GesteWhile studying at Cégep de Jonquière, Beau Geste started composing beats. “I met two guys who were there for their French immersion program during the summer, and both were rappers. It’s really thanks to them that I started making music,” he says, about Vancouverite JML and Torontonian Ugly Tomorrow.

Inspired by American hip-hop trends, the beat-maker from Acton Vale slowly opened his horizons to electronic music somewhere in the mid-2010s. “I started getting into dubstep and the rave culture,” he says. “It’s people I met in Cégep, all of them from Montréal, who initiated me into that universe. And then I started making lo-fi house.”

Curiosity and open-mindedness are the main characteristics defining Beau Geste’s work. After his electronic explorations, he grew interested in the emo-rap vibe. Inspired by Lil Peep, XXXTentaction, and other (mostly) dead rappers who, ironically, gave life to the genre where the codes of trap, emo, and 2000s pop-punk meet, the now Montréal-based beat-maker unveiled his first songs in 2018. “I liked the highly melodic side [of emo rap]. I started making tons of beats with big 808’s and guitar loops,” he says.

Alongside rapper K0ne, a member of the megacollective Les Fourmis, Beau Geste released Redbird, his first major release, in early 2020. This paved the way for his most important collaboration to date, born of meeting rapper and singer Emma Beko, which crystallized on Blue, an EP with electro and pop influences.

Released in the winter of 2021, this first duet project has generated hundreds of thousands of streams on Spotify, as well as earning the title of CISM’s best English-language album of the year. “We were super-happy that it was a hit,” he says, pointing out the very DIY nature of the EP. “We did that, just the two of us, in a small room we turned into a studio. We didn’t really have any gear – just a computer and a sound card. It couldn’t be any simpler.”

The pair is preparing two more EPs to be released this year. “We’re gravitating towards something that’s closer to Emma’s hip-hop roots,” he says. “We’re totally immersed in that right now.”

A singer and guitarist, Beau Geste is also preparing the release of the first album of his new post-punk band – which, “for now,” is called Distraction 4Ever. “I’m super-inspired by the fact of playing real instruments for a project,” he says. “It’s probably going to trickle down in future releases, including those alongside Emma. I’m still in love with digital creation, though. I’m really into hyperpop and weird synth sounds lately.”

RKT BEAT

RKT BEATWhat RKT BEAT is going through at the moment is nothing short of a fairy tale: barely 15, he’s poised to become one of the most promising hip-hop beat-makers in Québec, thanks to collabs with Shreez, JPs, and Tizzo.

Known for his hard-hitting signature, characterized by heavy bass and powerful drill tones, the teenager insists on one thing: he has a much wider range of influences. First raised by his parents to the sounds of rhumba, as well as Cameroonian and Haitian music, he rapidly developed a passion for dance.

Then, as is the case for most teens, he drifted away from his family’s influences in favour of the music of his time: trap. It was Metro Boomin, one of the most talented and ingenious producers of his generation, that most appealed to him in his early days. “I listened to a lot of his music and I started following his tutorials on YouTube,” says RKT BEAT. “I saw all the gear he was using. I basically wanted to be him!” he admits. “My dad got me a PC for my birthday and I downloaded FL Studio. I started from scratch, I didn’t know how to play the piano.”

Motivated by the success of his first compositions, at school and with his friends, RKT BEAT decided to go for it in 2019, contacting different rappers in the province. “I thought I was ready [for the next step],” he says. “I wrote a long message to introduce myself and sent my beats to a ton of people, including Shreez. That same night, he sent me a snippet of what he was going to do over one of my beats [what became the song Loud]. It was so random!”

When Shreez’s song was released, a few Instagram pages and hip-hop media outlets in Québec noticed the teen’s precocious talent. But even if this overnight craze gave him the confidence to believe in a career in the business, RKT BEAT makes sure to stay down-to-earth. “Music is not necessarily a career you can maintain your whole life,” he says. “I want to focus on my studies and progress towards university. I have good grades right now, and making beats is a hobby.”

Several placements are coming up in 2022, with prominent artists from the local hip-hop scene. The young man is also working on a mixtape project with various local rappers and beat-makers.