Last fall, Ouri shared her blood with us, but not only that. On her new EP, We Share Our Blood, she gives herself to us whole, through her raw, lively R&B rhythms, while her electronic melodies make us dance, footloose and fancy-free.

For that new production, one thing mattered to her more than anything else: transmitting her art from her mind to ours. “I started out sporadically, left and right,” she explains. “I didn’t know I was writing an EP. Sometimes, when you’re composing, everything is fine, but you still feel like everything is off. Happens to me often. But in this case, the direction was clear.” Ouri’s goal was simple: She wanted everything to be more direct.

She has chosen to go it alone in her quest for artistic meaning. She rented microphones, compressors, everything she needed, and dove in head-first. “I needed that,” she says. “I needed to feel I had no obligation to try and please someone. I asked people for their opinion, notably the mix engineer, but otherwise, I truly wanted this project to be nothing but me.”

What had to come out at that point was a vague mix of emotions felt at the end of a long period of waiting and doubting. “I’m super-emotional,” she admits. “My art is totally devoid of any politics. It does have a lot of conscious hope, however, and naiveté, too.”

Born in France, Ouri has adopted Montréal as her home, but sees the city both as a blank canvas and a huge hurdle. “Montréal is a double-edged sword right now,” she says. “There’s a positive discrimination towards my music because of the colour of my skin, yet I regularly hear negative stuff about the work of women in the electro genre,” she says. She does admit that, when she was younger, she thought it was impossible that a woman could do what she does now. “I’ve had two lovers during the seven years I’ve been here,” she adds. “It gave me roots here. Now that I’m single, I have a few projects that keep me going, but nothing that holds me back.”

In all contexts, Ouri wishes to hold her own, and be her own spokesperson. During the Festival de Musique Émergente, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, where she performed during the Electro Nights, a delegate from France really didn’t like what she was playing, and wanted to talk about it with her on the next day. “The next day, I felt the people around me weren’t willing to tell it like it is,” she says. “My manager wanted to prevent me from talking to him. Everyone thought I was going to take things personally. I told the guy I wasn’t at his service. There’s something for everyone. You’re welcome to look elsewhere. I’m a grown woman.”

She’s still convinced that the support she gets is some kind of facade that legitimizes what she does, even though she’s ready and willing to go to bat herself. “I was mean and I was PMSing, too,” she says laughing.

On her new EP, Ouri sings, after being spurred on by friends to do so. She took Indian singing classes. “I wanted to use my voice, and in classical Indian singing, everyone has their register, their central note,” she explains. “It’s really high-level, but all tones of voice are possible, and each is as valuable as the others. I have to practise to get a result I like, but I’m no opera singer, either.”

Electro music is part of Ouri’s life ,like any other life experience. “I want to re-acquaint myself with the cello, which I used to play a lot,” she says. “I’m not sure how yet. Maybe I’ll release an acoustic project.” She says she got tendonitis from playing her keyboards so much. “The cello is the opposite, I hug it and we vibrate together,” she says. “It’s physical. The experience is completely different. I never know where my hands will feel like going.”

The members of Hex never thought that they’d pursue a career in music – and really, they’re still a little unsure about it.

Formed in 2014 at Toronto’s chapter of the Girls Rock Camp program, Halina Katz, Simryn Mordasiewicz and Kyria Sztainbok had an immediate connection. “There was just no tension, and I think we just understood each other’s sensibilities,” says Katz. One of the first songs they ever performed together was Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl,” a ‘90s Riot Grrrl theme song of sorts that Hex related to because, as Katz says, “it represents a lot of the ideologies of Girls Rock Camp – they want young women to go and perform, and be anarchic.”

It was through that experience that the members of Hex, who were still getting a handle on performing and songwriting, were encouraged to continue working together. Girls Rock Camp’s Kritty Uranowski even took on the task of managing the trio. But, as they were still attending high school at the time, it had to be a balancing act. And when they had to split time between homework and jam sessions, the best way for them to gain experience and grow as a band was to hit the stage, performing in all-ages venues, and opening for local acts like Hooded Fang, and Polaris Prize winner Lido Pimienta.

Tackling the music scene can be tough, though, as not only do the Hex members have to confront sexist behaviour on occasion, but also ageism. “We get treated like idiots by every sound person,” says Mordasiewicz. Katz recalls a recent show where she was shown how to turn her amp on, to which she thought, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Hex Handler
On their manager, Kritty Uranowski, also a musician, and artistic director of the No Mean City collective: “We would be nothing without her,” says Mordasiewicz. Katz adds, “She showed us the importance of having diversity, and giving bands a chance. When we book a show, we’re really aware of having a female presence and, like, dealing with asshole sound men. She’s the wisest woman ever.”

“They’re only mean to us before our set though,” she continues, adding that their performance is all the proof they need to show that they know what they’re doing. “At this point, we’ve been doing it for years,” Sztainbok says. “So we know what we want for our sound.”

Eventually, the time came to record an album. The trio admits that they struggled at first to lay down their tracks individually but later realized that the band works best when replicating their tight live sound together in one room – a process completed in the span of one evening. “We stayed up till 5 a.m.,” Mordasiewicz says of their recording session. “It was fun, and it was really intense.”

Thanks to that method of recording, Hex’s thunderous live energy is perfectly captured on their record, Miss Pristine, which came out earlier this year. On the seven-minute opening title track, Hex plays with tempo and volume, one minute slowly strumming along, as Katz’s howling vibrato fills every nook of the track, the next building up an incredible fury of cacophony.

Miss Pristine finds its influences deeply embedded in the music they first learned to perform in Rock Camp – Bikini Kill, and other ‘90s punk and rock acts like Sleater-Kinney and Hole – but they pull those threads forward to the present day. Songs are infused with a rage that burns brightly inside each member, an energy that fuels every guitar riff, drum fill, and bass line.

The songs work primarily around Katz, her captivating voice, and her songwriting. Mordasiewicz and Sztainbok praise their lead singer as a “lyrical goddess” who often brings sparks of song ideas – inspired by her real-life experiences – to the band in the form of words, which the others can then build upon with their respective instruments. When asked if Hex has more new music on the way, Mordasiewicz looks to Katz, and says with a smirk, “I don’t know, got any song ideas?”

With Mordasiewicz and Sztainbok now in university, and Katz currently living in Philadelphia, Hex acts as a part-time job for its members. That doesn’t mean they’re not committed to performing more, and putting out more music in the future; they’re very excited to put out a music video soon, and have even written three new songs recently. But the band maintains a bit of a laissez-faire attitude towards the future.

“I do want to pursue music, but it’s hard to admit, because it’s a hard thing to do,” Katz confesses. But Sztainbok sums up everyone’s mindset pretty succinctly with an optimistic statement: “As long as I always have music as something that I’m doing, then I’ll be happy.”

When CTV’s The Launch was preparing for its own launch in 2017, musical director Orin Isaacs gave Hill Kourkoutis a call. He was in search of a keyboard player, but upon learning that she played the guitar, he invited her to be part of the show’s house band. The award-winning, multi-instrumentalist/singer – also known for producing, songwriting, and composing – was the perfect choice. And being on a show dedicated to launching the careers of singers and songwriters was the perfect place for Kourkoutis.

“You’re working with so many incredible people that I feel like I learn something new from everybody, every day,” she says. The show also led to a friendship with “Solider of Love” winner Poesy, and the pair co-writing “Strange Little Girl.”

We intended to write something that was about embracing the fact that we can all be a little strange, we can all be so many things,” says Kourkoutis. “[Its] a wonderful thing to have something that just resonates with so many people, on such a real level.”

Story and collaboration are integral strands in Kourkoutis’s creative DNA. At five, she started writing songs; once her parents realized that she’d never be a dancer, they bought her the guitar she always wanted. She eventually started playing piano, and though later trained in theory and sight-reading, she had a natural ear for instruments, easily teaching herself to play bass and drums. David Bowie, the Go-Go’s (“for their pop sensibilities”), and Jimi Hendrix were early influences, as well as Sheryl Crow, “for the sole fact that she not only wrote her own songs and played all the instruments live, but also produced her own records.” At 12, Kourkoutis started writing for her own all-girl band, which included country artist Meghan Patrick.

The biggest leaps for me began when I started co-writing.
“There’s a lot of people that naturally have an ability to write songs, but in order to write a well-crafted song, there are things that you start to think about more consciously: the construction of melodies, lyrics, and how they interact with the music underneath. I became more conscious of them when I was writing with more established writers. With every writer you learn a new trick.”
Songwriting is a muscle that needs to be exercised.
“At first, it’s difficult to know how to write on demand. When I started, I just wrote when I felt that feeling I needed to express. But when you go into songwriting sessions, you need to be able to quickly harness any emotion at any given time. Come into sessions prepared. Whether it’s a hook, or a lyric, or a chord progression, that always helps get the ball rolling in co-writing sessions.”
You need to give yourself a space.
“I’m a big fan of rituals, setting up a space no matter where I am, so that I’m able to do certain things. A big part of being able to work on the road was having my tools with me – my studio in a backpack. I created a portable studio that I could take with me, whether it was a hotel room or a dressing room.”

“As I started to become more entrenched in songwriting, I got to know a lot of other songwriters that inspired me,” she says. “Lisa Dal Bello was a huge inspiration, and also Simon Wilcox, who I started writing with at a very young age.”

Though Kourkoutis’ first “big moment” as a songwriter came with writing music for Canadian Idol contestants Mookie and the Loyalist (Sony Music), it was a community of independent songwriters that helped her hone those skills.

“I’d been writing with artists in the independent Toronto music scene for years before that,” she says, “and we’d all been helping each other co-write on each other’s projects. So that really is where it started, the collaborative process, in terms of writing.”

Recently, Kourkoutis’ music has moved from the charts to commercials and the screen, including Private EyesThe Adventures of Napkin Man!, and Kim’s Convenience. “There’s been several trajectories that have led to those opportunities,” she says. “I had a few agents that were licensing my material. But a lot of those things also came from personal relationships I’d established with music supervisors.”

Motion pictures and music go hand and hand, for the film-trained songwriter. “I can’t do a film project without thinking of the soundtrack behind it,” says Kourkoutis, “and I can’t write a song without thinking about what the story is. It’s really interesting, you write a song and you don’t necessarily have an idea of where it could end up, and then it ends up in a very specific scene. Just to see how a song can influence that scene, it’s always exciting.”

Her ever-growing success means she’s put some passions on hold, including no longer touring. “That was a pretty big decision for me, because I love it, and I’ve had the honour of playing with such amazing artists over the years [Serena Ryder and The Weeknd, among others]. But I found it really hard to be creative on the road. A big reason why I started doing music in the first place was because of the creativity, because of the songwriting and the craftsmanship that goes behind building a song. Now my M.O. is about focusing, and production and songwriting is where my focus is at.”