It may have been bands like Montreal’s Arcade Fire and Toronto’s Broken Social Scene that kicked the door wide open on a global level for Canadian indie rock, but it’s bands like Montreal’s The Besnard Lakes that are proving our brightest is yet to shine.
Headed up by husband and wife duo Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas and rounded out by drummer/vocalist Kevin Laing and guitarist/vocalist Richard White, The Besnard Lakes’ third record, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, is easily their most glimmering moment. Nineties-era indie-rock jangle and fuzz intertwines with soaring ’70s psychedelic sounds, progressive-rock prowess, a punk-rock sense of urgency, a rich tapestry of dense and daring instrumentation with more than enough hairpin turns to snap the neck of predictable pabulum pop.
The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, their second release, had already garnered a heap of praise on an international level, resulting in a Polaris Prize nomination last year and well-received performances at the highly touted SXSW festival, so the pressure was definitely on to follow up on its success. “Maybe I felt a little bit of pressure when we first went in to make this record,” says Goreas, “but after a couple of days I felt safe in my skin again. It was such a great pleasure making this record and it sparked off a bit of a creative renaissance for me. I think feeling that you can better yourself is part of the creative process.”
Although the band is known for a searing live show, it’s actually hunkered down in the studio where they feel most comfortable. Considering Lasek is a part owner of one of Montreal’s favorite recording spots, Breakglass Studios, the band is able to utilize unconventional studio techniques and use them as a writing tool. “We usually have ideas that we bring in and record and then build the song around it,” says Goreas. “I think our spontaneity comes in the form that we don’t really have any pre-production, and once we hit ‘record’ we basically hit the ground running. We like experimentation and to work outside of convention and only later reassess what we have and mold it into a classic song structure.”
Kaytranada: Almost Perfect
Story by Ariane Gruet-Pelchat | October 13, 2015
At the ripe old age of 22, Kaytranada, a producer from Saint-Hubert, a suburb on the South shore of Montréal, can boast having played in more than 50 different countries, and has collaborated with the likes of Mobb Deep, Mick Jenkins and Vic Mensa, as well as Yasmin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, very recently, for the artist’s debut as a stand-up comedian (in Montréal). He’s scored a major hit with his unofficial re-mix of Janet Jackson’s If, and has been signed to famed London-based imprint XL Recording, who’ll release his forthcoming debut album, 99.9%.
Born Louis Kevin Célestin, Kaytranada arrived in Montréal from Haiti when he was only three months old. Virtually everyone in his family is an amateur musician, and the home’s stereo played Haitian kompa music pretty much non-stop.
“That’s what played all the time at home, but my brother and I just wanted to listen to hip-hop and R&B,” says the young man, who now admits that the rhythms and energy of that music have undoubtedly left their mark on his subconscious.
That’s obvious to anyone who listens; from his early hip-hop tracks to his more recent trap (an EDM take on American aggro hip-hop from the South) ones, it’s hard to find anything with a negative vibe to it. Coming from a strict family, his nights were spent combing the internet for obscure samples rather than going out and hanging out with people his age.
With eclectic musical tastes that range from prog-rock to new wave, he says he’s particularly fond of Brazilian music. “I don’t know how to express how Brazilian music makes me feel,” says Kaytranada. “They mix everything up: soul, samba, bossa nova… Their music truly is feel-good music and their sound is raw; they clearly understand! Plus, Brazilian really is a beautiful language!”
“I was aware people listened to my stuff, but I had no idea it was that much!”
Kaytranada’s first encounter with Québec’s music scene happened through social media networks, where he released beat tapes from 2010 on. He’d already forged ties with the Alaiz collective, a group of up-and-coming figures of the local hip-hop scene, and heard extremely positive echoes about the Artbeat Montreal event that was incredibly popular from 2011 to 2013. Revelers who partook in these regular gatherings of producers even found a name for themselves: the “piu piu,” a term that refers both to the community itself and to the often instrumental hip-hop productions they were so into. Célestin defied the parental curfew and attended the third iteration of the event.
“I knew that all I needed to launch my career was one show,” he says.
It’s also at those Artbeat Montréal nights that he met the rappers from Alaclair Ensemble, who were a major source of inspiration for the young beat-maker, who ended up collaborating with the Ensemble’s Robert Nelson, resulting in 2012’s Les filles du roé EP, still using the moniker Kaytradamus.
Even though he admires the freedom and stage presence of Alaclair Ensemble, Kaytranada hopes to become the Arcade Fire of hip-hop, the artist who’ll shatter the opaque glass wall separating Québec’s hip-hop scene from international fame, while remaining true to his roots. He has no trouble admitting that if he could produce beats for Ariane Moffatt or Céline Dion, he’d be ecstatic.
Since his first appearances on the scene, Kaytranada has become a bona fide local — and international — star. His debut album on London’s XL label (M.I.A., Adele, The XX, Tyler The Creator) is hotly anticipated, to say the least. Célestin titled it 99.9%, “to express the fact that one can never be 100% satisfied with an album.”
There’s also a previous album — Kaytra Thomas — that has yet to be released by the Huh What & Where label, after being slated for 2012.
“When I was still going under the nickname Kaytradamus, I was constantly releasing beat tapes and made a little money from it,” he says. “But at some point, it became an issue between my manager and me because he wanted me to wait for the press releases and all that, but all I wanted was to give the fans what they want!” Kaytranada is a pure product of his era, and between his official and unofficial collaborations, EPs, mixtapes and singles released all over the map, keeping tabs on his discography is no easy task.
Célestin’s ideal goal is to produce other artists; DJ-ing tours are more of an afterthought. Yet he realizes that those tours allowed him to witness what can’t be witnessed through social media. “I was aware people listened to my stuff, but I had no idea it was that much!” he says. “Especially in London [Kaytranada was recently invited to be one of the very few resident DJs on BBC Radio 1], people are real fanatics there. It’s really strange how I simply play a DJ set and people go crazy. Their love for you is much more concrete than what you can perceive on social media. What you witness with your own eyes, that’s what’s real. It gave my self-confidence a tremendous boost,” he confesses.
His upcoming album – slated for a fall release, and to which he’s currently applying the finishing touches – will contain, among others, a collaboration with The Internet, a band closely related to Tyler the Creator’s ODD Future collective. The Internet just released their third album, with one of the songs produced by Kaytranada.
“I’ve never been as proud of a song as this one,” he says. “When they sent back what they’d done with my beat, I told them that it was perfection, exactly what they were supposed to do with it,” he says, before quickly adding, “all I can say now is ‘Watch out! The real Kaytranada is about to pop out!’” And then he laughs…
The hook for “The Downtown Cliché,” the statement track from Toronto rapper Jazz Cartier’s debut album Marauding In Paradise, couldn’t be more blunt:
“I don’t see you n___as downtown, I don’t see you n___as downtown/ I don’t see you n___as on road, I don’t see you n___as on road,” he repeats over and over until you get the message: Run through the 6 all you like, he’s already there.
It’s a frank war cry on an album that otherwise features often complex explorations of relationships, self-determination and the pitfalls of pursuing one’s art. It also signals the arrival of what may be the city’s next great rap act.
Born in Toronto, Jazz Cartier (a.k.a. Jaye Adams) had a stepfather who was a world-traveling diplomat, taking Cartier to far-flung locations around the world like Barbados, Houston, Kuwait, Atlanta, and Idaho. The young man coped by listening to music.
“I literally just listened to music all day.”
“I literally just listened to music all day,” Cartier says of those sometimes lonely moments. “All day. My mom had a good CD collection, over like 300 CDs. Every day was like a task to flip through a different genre, or different time period, just so my knowledge expanded.”
But Toronto was always where he’d come back to on family vacations, the place he felt most at home. In 2012, he bunkered down in the city with producer/right-hand man Michael Lantz and began working on the intensely Torontonian Marauding In Paradise.
“Feel Something,” a rumination on drugs, loneliness and depression was inspired by an evening at Nuit Blanche, the annual all-night, city-spanning art event. In a likely hip-hop first and only, smooth-skating former Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player Mason Raymond gets name-dropped in “New To Me.” Add in scene-setting Kensington Market booze cans, Thompson Hotel parties, and recording studios in Scarborough, and the city is really baked into Marauding.
The album’s masterwork is “Rose Quartz/Like Crazy,” a hyper-modern exploration of relationships that’ll leave you thoroughly unsettled.
Split into three distinct suites, the narrative of Cartier’s relationship highs and lows are split by an extended sample of chillwave musician Toro Y Moi’s “Rose Quartz” and an uncomfortable chunk of dialogue from the 2011 romantic drama Like Crazy, where Anton Yelchin’s and Felicity Jones’ characters argue over infidelity, and what sort of implicating evidence is contained on a mobile phone.
“That’s personal,” says Cartier, who used a message he received to anchor a verse. “It started out with a text that I got, and it literally started with [what became a line in the song] ‘You only need me any time you feel alone,’ and that spawned it. And then the movie Like Crazy has always been one of my favourite movies. So I wrote that Like Crazy part with that scene on repeat.”
That multi-part, song-splicing technique is one that Cartier employs a number of times on Marauding, including “Flashiago / A Sober Drowning,” “Forever Ready / Band On a Bible” and “Secrets Safe / Local Celebrity Freestyle.” It’s not an accident. “I love the aesthetic of two songs in one,” he says of the device. “And that’s a thing I’m gonna carry on out as long as I can.”
It shouldn’t be hard to notice if he does. He’ll be the one downtown.
Tennis is Cartier’s sport. “I’m super-competitive and I don’t like to lose,” he says. “And if I do lose and it’s my fault I’ll take full responsibility.”
Cartier doesn’t do many features on other peoples’ records. “If I’m forced to work with you, that’s like having sex with a stranger,” he says. “It may feel good, but afterwards you feel like shit, going, ‘What the fuck’s going on here?’”
Cartier has a (barely perceptible) stutter. “Sometimes I’m really on it and it’s flawless,” he says. “Other times, if you were to ask me something I’d have to think about it and find a word, then find another word to push behind it so I could get that word out.”