Growing from rock and punk roots, Montréal’s hip-hop combo Ragers opens a new chapter in its career with Raw Footage, a debut album tailor-made for their high-octane live shows.

Ever-present as a featured guest of the preceding three EPs, rapper Billy Eff has now joined the ranks of official member, alongside guitarist Jake Prévost, drummer Jay Prévost and bassist Phil Marcoux-Gendron. This formalization perfectly embodies the changes the band has undertaken since signing their first record contract, last winter, with Montréal’s electronic label Saboteur Records.

“We wanted an album with more vocals, so the guys needed me to be more involved,” says Billy Eff. “Jake also wanted to get back to writing lyrics and singing, something he hadn’t done in a very long time. So he came to me with his lyrics and I coached him.”

“It was a nice, creative back-and-forth with Billy. We learned a lot from each other,” says Jake Prévost, who was back behind the mic for the first time since folding Duke Squad, the pop-rock outfit that he led alongside his two other Ragers partners. “I mostly needed help to give my lyrics some structure, ‘cause otherwise, as far as choruses go, we’re good. Our background is mostly hook songs.”

“And that’s precisely where I struggle a little more,” says Eff. “I come from a punk background with chorus-less songs.”

For Jake, this period of re-learning wasn’t a cakewalk. “It was fuckin’ hard,” he says. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m a very reserved person in life, so I was filled with self-doubt. Can I fully assume my lyrics? Am I still able to put my emotions into words? With a bit of perspective, I feel I’ve succeeded, even though it’s only the beginning.”

On Alright, a house-funk bombshell co-written with Valaire, Jake sings about the end of a long relationship, but from the reverse perspective, “as if I was begging her instead of the opposite.” Thanks to his satirical persona of a rapper based on a pastiche of Pusha T, “who brags about selling truffles rather than blow,” Billy Eff also gives himself room for introspection. Most notably on “All I Need,” where he opens up about his own suicide attempt in 2015. “It really forced me out of my rap comfort zone,” he says. “It almost felt like I was going back to an emotional punk formula, which is what I listed to as a teen.”

“As a matter of fact, I think it’s when you don’t feel entirely at ease with what you’re writing that you tap something powerful, says Jake. “I find it inspiring to be far from my comfort zone.”

On “Fools,” both writers reflect on the virtual relationships that are modifying our personalities, day after day. “There’s no message per se, but it is a dialogue on the struggle between the real self and the virtual self,” says Eff. “Like, my Instagram account is nothing but pictures of me with my DJ friends, and pictures of me with bottles of natural wine… And I wanted to reconcile that image with the person I really am,” says Eff, who also makes a living importing wine and producing content for VICE Québec.

On that same song, his buddy pleads with spontaneity, and a little bitterness. “I wrote that at a time when I felt that a lot of people weren’t ‘getting’ Ragers,” says Jake. “As if, because there’s such an overabundance of stuff on the web, people don’t care about the quality of the music anymore. Our projects are always professionally mixed, we collaborate with some of Montréal’s best rappers… But we don’t always get the credit we’re due! You can feel those emotions in my verse.”

After breaking onto the Montréal hip-hop scene in 2015 with their caustic first EP Chapters, Ragers underwent a clear artistic evolution over the course of their next two EPs, Unum (2016), a slightly toned-down affair, and the very sunny Joshua (2017). The original three rapidly left behind the shiny masks they proudly wore early on, and had to double down on building their audience, which was struggling a little to keep up with their new image and constantly evolving style.

“From day one, the struggle was always getting people to ‘get’ Ragers,” says Jake. “We were recently asked if we still wear our masks, even though it’s been two years since we stopped wearing them. But little by little, I feel like people are starting to ‘get’ what we’re putting out there, even though there’s still work to do. Having two frontmen will help for sure, and this album is a great calling card to let everyone know where we’re at.”

Much more varied in its sounds and influences, this fourth effort was, as usual, guided by the camaraderie that exists between the three Saint-Hubert natives, who’ve been playing together for more than a decade. For drummer Jay Prévost, the end result is a portrait of their instinctivefusion: “The album is very diverse,” says Jay, “but it’s not like we tried to make it that way. There are dance-ier moments and other very smooth ones, which is ideal for the pacing of a live show.”

“It’s very different from Joshua, which we recorded in L.A.,” says Jake. “It was a great album to listen to on a road trip, but it was hard to play live. Raw Footage is much more like our journey between Paris, L.A. and Montréal.”

In other words, this album is the perfect representation of the journey of a band who has always judiciously used its contacts abroad. Most notably, Jamie Di Salvio (Bran Van 3000’s frontman) and Jean-Michel Lapointe (owner of L.A.’s Owl Foot Ranch studio, and ex-member of The Couch Potatoes), as well as the support of Parisian engineer Vincent Hervineau, and Montréal-based mixer Seb Ruban.

“Yeah, the internet is a great tool to have your music travel,” says Jake, “but nothing beats meeting people in person, shaking hands and presenting your project. Word of mouth is still very powerful.”

If you ask DJ duo Loud Luxury what the rest of 2018 has in store for them, they’ll inevitably give you this response: “Very little sleep.” That’s for a good reason, though: since late last year, Andrew Fedyk and Joe DePace – who first met at Western University in London, ON – have been riding an unstoppable wave of success thanks to their hit single, “Body.”

The wildly popular song, which transforms hip-hop artist Brando’s vocal tracks – the duo describes the original take as “way slower, and was intended to be a hip-hop-type, strip-club anthem” – into an amped-up club stomper. To date, the song’s been streamed more than 40 million times, and its music video has earned more than 12 million views.

“We should be clear that we never expected it to be a hit,” they say. But this experience has only re-affirmed their musical instincts, driving home a big lesson: “Stick with the songs that feel special to you and your team,” they say. “Even if no one else believes in it, you’re not crazy, and you should fight for what you think the world needs to hear.”

“Body” only marks the beginning of what looks to be a career filled with more hits. Prior to the song’s takeoff, the duo were prominently featured on Martin Garrix’s remix EP for their take on his song, “Scared to be Lonely.”

Now based in Los Angeles, a city that Fedyk and DePace praise for being a “melting pot for music and, arguably, for the world,” Loud Luxury is excited to continue making more music, both as a duo and with more collaborators. “We think the best music comes from the most unpredictable collaborations,” they explain. They do have a dream list of artists they’d love to work with though, which includes Ed Sheeran, PartyNextDoor and Starrah.

In the meantime, Fedyk and DePace just want to “show people we aren’t a one-trick pony.” With two more singles scheduled to come out this summer, Loud Luxury are ready to show fans more. As they tease, “We’ve barely scratched the surface.”

La Chute de SparteIt was her first-ever red carpet. First-ever feature film score, she adds. “Was it pleasant? Yes, but I’m not part of the team in front of the camera, so I was very low-profile,” she says. Yet the release of La chute de Sparte (The Fall of Sparta in English), an adaptation of a novel by Biz (of Loco Locass), directed by Tristan Dubois, had something rather exceptional about it: during the credits, under “Original Music,” it was the name Sophie Lupien – one of the very rare female film composers in Québec – that appeared on-screen.

Let’s be brutally honest: Québec doesn’t have a long-standing tradition of great film composers of the likes found in France, Italy, or the U.S. Sophie Lupien doesn’t argue, and adds that it’s partly due to the nature of the beast. “Film music is often there to enhance the on-screen scene or narrative, not to shine on its own,” she says. “Screen composing is a completely different trade than composing music for yourself.” Our singer-songwriters are acclaimed, while our film composers are often left behind the scenes.

Lupien is well placed to know that female screen composers are scarcer than hen’s teeth. In recent memory, Catherine Major (initially a singer-songwriter) distinguished herself for her work on the movie Le Ring in 2008, and in 2013, it was Viviane Audet, also a singer-songwriter, that stood out from the crowd with her work on the movie Camion, which she co-wrote with Robin-Joël Cool and Éric West-Millette. Prior to that, in 2007, Jorane – whose instrumental music is more naturally applicable to film –also shone, for her work on Un dimanche à Kigali. All three won the Jutra Awards (now called Iris Awards) for Best Original Music.

Lupien’s work on La chute de Sparte lives alongside the work of other composers and – as a matter of fact – goes out of its way to get out of the way of the action. In addition to original songs written by La Bronze, and other songs from the repertoires of rappers such as Rymz, Manu Militari and Muzion, the thirty-odd minutes of music composed by Lupien enhance the more nuanced moments of this intelligent teen movie. Chafiik, Loco Locass producer and DJ, also wrote a few instrumental passages.

“I was tasked with composing music that played after songs that stood out,” says Lupien, “like the very expressive songs by La Bronze or the stern raps of Manu Militari. It was a lot of scene-transition work. Sometimes this transition is easy, for example, by playing in the same tonality [of the song played before], but in a different musical style that inspires new emotions.”

This delicate transition work was necessary, “because it truly is a dense film with a ton of scenes,” says Lupien. “And that’s where musical transition is important, to help viewers properly understand the narrative, which takes place over a period of six months, and is condensed into 90 minutes. Music plays a role in that.”

She got into film composing almost by chance, through common friends with director Tristan Dubois, which led to her composing music for his first two shorts, in 2009 and 2012. It was natural for the Swiss-born director to call Lupien when the time came of choosing a composer to score La chute de Sparte.

“What I loved about this experience was the chance to dabble in all kinds of musical genres,” says Lupien. “For the close-up on the high school early on in the movie, it was something electro-tinged. Elsewhere, you’ll hear orchestral passages, or some jazzier stuff in the background,” says the composer, who spent two solid months writing, based on the director’s instructions.

“Tristan really mulled over the music he needed and knew what he wanted for his scenes,” Lupien recalls. “He worked with a rough cut over which he’d placed reference music. Then I had to write original music that matched his intentions. It’s not about mimicking the melodies or specific harmonies of the reference music, it’s about creating the emotion, the intent that drove him to pick those references. That’s the hardest part about film scoring: to always compose bearing in mind that the music is at the service of the narrative. You need to really understand the story to be able to compose music that enhances what needs to be enhanced. In the end, it’s like deconstructing every scene.”