Two things were accomplished when, in July of this year, the Joy Ride record label announced the creation of a subsidiary, Joy Ride Latino. The first was professionalizing an underground scene that abounds in talent, allowing it to dream of conquering a gigantic market. The second was to shed light on a scene that’s basically unknown by the general public in Québec, a scene that begging to be heard. Here’s an overview of Québec’s Urbano movement, characterized by its solidarity.

Latino musical currents are well represented in Québec, and the longevity of the club La Salsathèque and of radio programs such as La Rumba du Samedi, on CISM 89.3 FM, to name just one, are a testament to the affection that music lovers have for these warm rhythms. But while hip-hop has become the dominant popular music genre across the province, local artists doing rap and reggaeton in Spanish remain a blind spot in the music industry.

It’s been that way for a long time. For every Boogàt, an established artist, how many artists like Agua Negra (a group founded by the composer El Cotola), Sonido Pesao and their Heavy Soundz collective, Cuervo Loomi, and other veterans of the Montréal-based Urbano sound have never been truly recognized? Cruzito, an Urbano artist and artistic director of Joy Ride Latino, believes it’s high time that changed – although he readily admits that the scene itself had some growing up to do in order to reach a wider audience.

When reggaeton was born in Puerto Rico in the early ’90s, “It was considered street music, an underground sound,” says Cruzito, whose parents were born in Honduras. And despite Daddy Yankee’s 2005 worldwide hit “Gasolina,” the rest of that scene was never fully recognized. “Yet, in recent years, Latino music began to appear as a phenomenon on the public’s and the media’s radar,” if only because of the metrics it was boasting: by 2014, the Colombian J Balvin, then unknown outside of Latin America, was garnering more than 200 million views on YouTube for his hit “6 AM,” which at the time of writing has accumulated more than 1.1 billion views! “Slowly but surely, it reached us too,” says Cruzito.

As he also points out, and without taking anything away from the talent and productions of the pioneers of local Urbano music – which includes Latin rap, trap, R&B, and reggaeton – the scene had to open up to other musical sounds. It had to free itself from the characteristic rhythm of reggaeton, the jerky backbeats borrowed from Jamaican music that form the “Dem Bow” riddim, named after the 1990 hit by dancehall singer Shabba Ranks (composed by Steely & Clevie and produced by Bobby Digital).

Even Carlos Munoz, Joy Ride Records’ founder and boss (whose roots are in Chile), had to be convinced. “I was not at all a fan of reggaeton at first,” he admits. “I felt it was sub-par rap; I was raised with Preemo [DJ Premier], Timbaland, and Dr. Dre, so the production quality of reggaeton seemed rough and less evolved – even though I was aware they had to produce their music with fewer resources. But when I saw that the Latino trap scene was infiltrating the reggaeton universe, then it started having some clout. The production value reached another level, and pop music got into the mix,” which rocketed artists like J Balvin, Malumo, Farruko, and Bad Bunny, to name but a few, into the worldwide pop stratosphere.

The Québec Urbano scene followed the same trajectory, according to Munoz and Cruzito, who’ve recently launched the first EP by the YNG LGNDZ collective, an offering highly representative of the state of reggaeton in 2021 with its trap, R&B and pop overtones. The two partners are firm believers that local artists have the necessary talent to break into the huge international market, as did the Montréal-based songwriter/beatmaker duo Demy & Clipz (Étienne Gagnon and Steve Martinez-Funes, childhood friends) with whom Bad Bunny shared his recent Grammy for Best Latin Pop or Urban Album for YHLQMDLG, on which they co-wrote and produced the song “Soliá.”

“The scene has truly evolved, and emerging artists are popping up with a totally contemporary sound,” says Martinez-Funes, citing singer-songwriter O.Z., also on the Joy Ride Latino roster. “He has his own sauce, as we say, a vibe of his own. When we started making music [over 10 years ago], it was harder to break through, to express ourselves and to produce. Today’s reggaeton is nothing like it was before, but Montréal’s scene is highly influenced by what’s happening elsewhere, just as our rap was influenced by the trap made elsewhere.”

With one foot in the local scene and the other in the circle of movers and shakers on the global reggaeton scene, Demy & Clipz hope to advance their career by serving as a conduit for local talent. “Local artists definitely have the talent to break through internationally,” believes Étienne, “Demy” Gagnon, who’s working with his colleague on a mixtape of their productions, featuring local singers and MCs.

Cruzito believes that the strength of Montréal’s Urbano scene lies in the solidarity that binds artists with diverse roots – a musician with Honduran roots will gladly work with another of Colombian, Mexican, or Chilean origin, etc. – and in its openness to other musical styles, as well as its cultural specificity. “I think a musician [from Latino communities] has an advantage over those from other provinces, even other countries, because we live in the Francophonie,” he says. “That’s a big plus for any artistic endeavour, because it’s another cultural universe. Montréal’s cultural DNA gets ingrained in you. I believe that the music made in Montréal, regardless if the genre, is distinctive. You just know it’s from Montréal.”

Goodbye Windsor, hello Music City. Jake Diab, who’s achieved significant success as lead guitarist, co-vocalist, and co-songwriter for the Windsor-based rock band Autumn Kings, recently took the major step of re-locating to Nashville.

“The main reason for moving here is to get closer to the industry,” says Diab. “Record labels, management companies, and booking agencies are mostly based in L.A., Nashville, or New York. Nashville is a hot spot, and my objective here is to go out four or five nights a week and foster relationships that will prove to be prosperous, long-term.”

Now 24, Diab helped found Autumn Kings in 2015, and he notes with pride that the band’s impressive results to date have all come from a strictly DIY approach. “We have over 10 million streams of our material now [a full-length album, an EP, and multiple singles], and over 130,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, all without a manager, agent, [music] publisher or record label. SOCAN has been a great ally through all this.”

As well as furnishing industry connections, Nashville has already had a major impact on Diab’s songwriting. “In the short few months I’ve been living here, I’ve improved tremendously as a songwriter because of all the talent I’ve been exposed to,” he says. “I’ve booked countless co-writing sessions already, and some excellent songs have come out of it, that’ll most likely be cut by Autumn Kings for our next album, due out by the second quarter of 2022.”

The move isn’t bringing a dramatic shift in musical style, for the time being. “I’m sticking to the pop-rock lane, and I haven’t gotten my cowboy boots yet,” he laughs. “I’m taking in the fruitful collection of diverse music you find in Nashville, though.”

In Autumn Kings, Diab shares the songwriting and vocal duties with singer and fellow SOCAN member Joseph Coccimiglio.  While that band remains his top priority, Diab has added some new skills to his creative tool kit in recent years, including writing and producing with and for other artists.

“I haven’t gotten my cowboy boots yet”

In 2019, he and Windsor-based producer/songwriter and fellow SOCAN member Martin Bak (who’s also a longtime Autumn Kings producer) co-wrote and co-produced The Divide EP for U.S. rock band No Resolve. “They’ve had a couple of Billboard No. 1s, and have millions of streams. I’m grateful to have had a small hand in their success,” he says.

Diab also co-wrote and played guitar on the “Blow,” the recent single by Michigan-based rock outfit Eva Under Fire that will be featured in the upcoming horror film The Retaliators.

He is also finding success in a new avenue, writing for film and TV. “Those March 2020 lockdown weeks were hard on me,” says Diab. “Sitting in my basement, I made a conscious decision to keep making a living through music.  Film and TV didn’t shut down nearly as much as the music industry,  so it made sense to pursue that path. It has proved to be a great way to keep my chops up, and make some money during COVID [times].”

A synch licensing deal with CBS Sports, for College Football Today, is one notable recent credit. An earlier, invaluable sports music connection for Diab came when an Autumn Kings track, “Devil In Disguise,” was chosen as the “goal song” for the full 2018-19 season of Detroit Red Wings games.

“That was a great sign of validation for us,” he says. “That was a team I grew up dreaming of playing for, and now they’re blasting our song over speakers to 20,000 people! That was our equivalent of winning the Stanley Cup!”

Diab is facing the future of Autumn Kings with real confidence. “’I started the band right after my first year of University. From day one, I told myself, ‘This is all or nothing. We’re going to sell out arenas.’  I believe we’re on our way to making that happen.”

Just as two teenagers would, Jonathan Dauphinais and Steve Dumas can spend countless hours talking about the music of the ’90s and imagining – this is just one of many examples – what Weezer might have become had bassist Matt Sharp not left the band in February of 1998.

Dauphinais flashes a smile to his friend and says, “Remember when we went and talked to Matt Sharp after the Rentals show?” That was in May of 2015, at Montréal’s Fairmount Theater. “You told him, talking about me, something like, ‘This guy, he’s one of the best bass players in North America.’ I was so embarrassed.”

It’s clear, despite the prosperity of their respective careers, that Steve Dumas (better known under his last name only) and Jonathan Dauphinais (who’s collaborated with Beast, Ariane Moffatt, Milk & Bone, and creates electro under the name Hoodies at Night) are, first and foremost, bona fide music lovers.

AXLAUSTADEIn this spirit, they were supposed to celebrate Dauphinais’ 40th Birthday by booking a recording session at Electric Studio in Chicago, headquarters of Steve Albini—who produced Nirvana’s In Utero, among other notable projects. He’s one of the most influential sound architects of the ‘90s, an authentic living legend who advocates a radical vision of studio work. It’s the antithesis of a world where all re-touching is now allowed. Albini is also very open to receiving just about anyone in his home.

“If we got a band together with a tuba, a trombone and a tap dancer, and we were game to go record there, on tape, he’d book us,” Dauphinais says of Albini. “One e-mail and your session is booked, and it’s not expensive. He puts on his lab coat, places his mics, and presses record. All he wants is for people to make as much noise as possible, and then leave with their reel of tape.”

For several months, Dumas, Dauphinais, and drummer Francis Mineau (of Malajube) prepared for their Chicago visit in their rehearsal space where they improvised endlessly before choosing the best material to come out of those jam sessions, This was the raw material from which they elaborated the instrumental repertoire. that they would have immortalized over the course of a few days spent at Albini’s, starting on March 19, 2020. That never happened, for the viral reasons we all know.

Upon hearing a home recording of these songs, filmmaker Louis-Philippe Eno (one of Dumas’ close collaborators) convinced the trio to make them into an album, even without Albini. In fact, a photo taken by Eno more than 20 years ago, at a party in Victoriaville, adorns the album cover. It’s a young man suspended in mid-air, apparently doing a rather funny somersault. “Still. to this day, we have no idea how he ended up in that position,” Dumas chuckles.

Although entirely instrumental, the supergroup’s first album – “We hate the term ‘supergroup’” – follows a precise narrative: the story of a young musician in his late teens who was there during the August 8, 1992, riot at the Olympic Stadium provoked by Axl Rose deserting the stage. An event that would be the last nail in the coffin of hair metal, which was already on its knees following the uppercut of Nirvana’s Nervermind.

“It’s pretty much our own story: a young man growing up in a rural town, with passions like playing Nintendo and riding his bike, until music comes into his life,” explains Francis Mineau, who penned a series of allusive poems included on the album cover, a sort of hole-in-the-wall version of the story of their grunge hero.

Although the drummer and writer is originally from Saint-Hugues, Québec, near Sorel, it’s the Bois-Francs and Centre-du-Québec regions that are the setting for the adventures of their alter ego (Dauphinais is from Drummondville, and Dumas from Victoriaville). For this instrumental project, Dumas is happy to go back to the role of simple guitarist within AXLAUSTADE, a task he used to perform in his very first skate-punk band, The Slug.

“When you’re a teenager and you start a band in a place like Saint-Hugues, Victo, or Drummond, you inevitably think that the ideal world is elsewhere. It’s in Seattle, London, or Halifax. It’s everywhere except the place you were born,” says Dumas. Their protagonist gradually understands, as they did, that there’s nothing more powerful than celebrating where you come from. The poems accompanying AXLAUSTADE are full of references to villages like Tingwick and Wickham, along with nods to prominent figures from the decade before the millennium. And the song titled “oui no na”? Obviously, it’s a tribute to Winona Ryder, the star of Reality Bites (1994).

Imagined in part as an alternative to those who like instrumental music but want something more than a solo piano, AXLAUSTADE is also proof that it’s possible to go through our thirties without leaving behind either the fervour of musical curiosity that animated us in our teens, or the desire to create for the sake of creating, for the beauty of the gesture, and for the camaraderie. In this regard, AXLAUSTADE is anything but a nostalgia project.

“I believe it’s a choice you have to make. The point came when we decided to put in the necessary hours,” says Dumas, who has a son, while his colleagues both have three kids each. “You have to put in those hours so you don’t lose that passion, and you don’t forget the kid inside of us, who gives us that drive.”