The Red Bull Music Academy has built a sterling reputation as one of the more impressive hubs of electronic dance and hip-hop production. Celebrating its 15th anniversary last year the annual gathering has helped launch some of today’s best music producers. The camp which takes place in Tokyo this year pairs a small group of up-and-coming artists from around the world with famed producers and studio engineers. They live and breathe music together over a five-week period collaborating in state-of-the-art recordings studios learning new techniques and exploring a city together.
Outside of the main event however the RBMA has started holding "Bass Camps" a smaller incarnation of the festival that brings together artists from a specific region to experience a taste of studio collaboration artist mentorship and performance.
Montreal’s RBMA Bass Camp took place in the city from Thursday February 27 to Sunday March 2. A group of 20 up-and-coming Canadian producers and performers lived together at Old Montreal’s Hotel St. Paul collaborated together at the Phi Centre and performed at various venues throughout the city.
I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for much of the weekend including the lectures and studio time at the Phi. Here’s a rundown of what happened.
Each morning (well noon but it felt and looked like the morning as hangovers built up and burnt out the attendees) everyone would gather in a large area of the Phi Centre. After snacking on some breakfast they’d sprawl out across various cool couches. It was one of many moments where the weekend looked like a remarkably hip reality television show (and I don’t mean that as a diss — I’d watch the hell out of that show).
Beni Blanco and Tommy Kruise. Image via Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool.
After an introductory talk from RBMA representative Beni Blanco whose dry British wit gave him a "Ricky Gervais talking about techno" vibe and a taste of the participants’ music (more on that later) he brought out Montreal mega-producer and TNGHT member Lunice who described his experience as a participant in the 2010 Red Bull Music Academy. Lunice ended up hanging out in the studio until the wee hours mingling and partying with attendees. Discussing a mutual love of arcade video games with Sanctums’ member Evangelos Typist outside that night he dropped hilarious quotes like "Some people celebrate success with chains but I buy games."
As the weekend went on these "lectures" offered intimate couch talks with NWA member DJ Yella Junior Boys mastermind Jeremy Greenspan and West Coast hip-hop legend Egyptian Lover. They were hosted by former MTV VJ Johnny Hockin. Seriously guys turn this thing into a reality show.
It was a nice mix of history lessons and hands-on advice. Yella for example spent much of his time offering insight into his era as a definitive hip-hop producer admitting that he didn’t care much for current rap music ("It all sounds the same to me" he told a room full of up-and-coming creative producers) and that he had only ever made music to meet women. Still it was a treat to listen to the World Class Wreckin’ Cru classic "Surgery" in an intimate setting with him.
Jeremy Greenspan. Image via Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool.
Rather than offer a history lesson on the other hand Jeremy Greenspan engaged the crowd as a modern music nerd. Discussing the early Junior Boys material that gained him international attention he was affable and humble laughing about his early recordings and saying things like "Those were terrible lyrics" and "We had a bad live show. We were faking it." He described Junior Boys’ first show when the band performed at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace with a band of actual male models that sounded like Nickelback. "There were Ford modeling agents at the club" he said.
It wasn’t all humility from Greenspan however as he offered hands-on advice about building home studios the benefits of analog versus digital (spoiler: they’ve both got up sides and down sides) and the inherent quality of standing out from the pack. He explained that he set out to make an R&B record knowing that he wouldn’t be able to do it but eventually being happy with the music that came out of it. "The strength of an artist is their inability to sound like someone else."
Each night the RBMA had an event to coincide with the weekend. It was a welcome mixture of performing attendees and larger more established acts.
Thursday night’s show which took place at Le Belmont was both Bass Camp- and Quebec-centric with attendees Shash’u High Klassified and Tommy Kruise absolutely crushing it in their various styles before Lunice headlined the show. Each artist offered something different with Shash’u blasting through a crowd-pleasing set of Top 40 experimentations High Klassified offering up some unique bassy bangers and Tommy Kruise the gap-toothed long-haired Quebecois hip-hop master bringing down the house with his explosive sounds and impossibly addictive personality. Somewhere around 2 a.m. Lunice managed to squeeze in a set as well.
Friday night offered a straight-up crowd pleaser. After his lecture DJ Yella warmed up the S.A.T. with a set of old-school hip-hop before Killer Mike barked his way through a high-energy set that as always included plenty of political rhetoric. Then at the end Araabmuzik cranked out some MPC magic working his hands to deliver explosive hip-hop and even some blissed-out trance.
Killer Mike. Image via Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool.
By Saturday the entire city of Montreal was buzzing with the arrival of Nuit Blanche and everywhere we went offered a mixture of party-starting EDM performers and art installations. Walking through the streets the visual art music and general feeling perfectly straddled the line between high-brow and bro-brow.
Over at UQAM: Coeur de Sciences the RBMA organizers had teamed up with Mutek to through 15/15 a bonkers 15-hour party with you guessed it 15 acts. Once again it was an excellent mix of RBMA artists and Mutek bookings (the old French-Canadian artist who painted on an acrylic canvas covered in contact mics while his partner turned the brushing sounds into looping rhythms clearly fell into the latter category).
Sanctums. Image via Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool.
With eye-popping visuals projected throughout the boxy room was transformed into a magical atmosphere. RBMA attendees Sanctums played an early set. The Calgary duo made their first showing outside of western Canada impressing with their crisp combination of bass-heavy beats and ethereal atmospherics. Toronto singer-songwriter Thomas Cade an up-and-comer signed to Vancouver’s Hybridity imprint who was also taking part in the academy similarly impressed with his music that saw him blasting electro pop beats and belting out vocals into the mic. The party went on and on and on with acts officially scheduled to perform until 9 a.m. making for an overwhelming slate of performers.
The weekend rounded out with a showing from RBMA presenters Egyptian Lover Jeremy Greenspan and Prison Garde (a.k.a. Vaughn Robert Squire formerly Sixtoo who was on board as a studio tech all weekend) though I was half-asleep and watching the Academy Awards on a flight home.
While many Montreal residents were packed into venues for the various showcases the majority of RBMA attendees were itching to spend as much time as possible at the Phi Centre and for good reason — the organizers had set up five professional recording studios stocked them with state-of-the-art equipment of all shapes and sizes and encouraged them all to enjoy themselves.
One of five recording studios. Image via Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool.
The creativity was aided by the low-stakes nature of the whole thing — at the start of the weekend participants were told that there were no expectations for their time in the studio. There would be no test and they didn’t even need to finish tracks. They were just encouraged to mingle explore and collaborate.
Vaughn Robert Squire had set up an elaborate studio packed with various sorts of analog synthesizers including a modular synth making it one of the most popular rooms for artists to tinker. In addition four other studios were furnished with all manner of top of the line gear and artists were encouraged to utilize any equipment they might have brought as well. There was truly no shortage of equipment to be toyed around with. The other studios were watched over by rising Toronto performer Nautiluss (a.k.a. Graham Douglas Bertie) who offered sage wisdom and tech advice.
Both Bertie and Squire were relatively hands off lurking in the background and making themselves available when needed but ultimately letting the artists run wild. As a result everyone had a chance to create create and create. With the studios open and available until 3 a.m. each night there were genre-smashing collaborations and strange solo excursions. Artists who typically made hip-hop tried their hands at party-ready house tracks while techno songs grew and evolved as different people would enter and leave rooms.
Akua. Image via Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool.
Floating from room to room there was a non-stop creative energy in the PHI Centre for the entire weekend. Without a doubt some of the sounds that will shape the future of Canadian electronic music were being conceived.
It helps that the academy was furnished with a truly remarkable slate of talented artists — whoever picked these performers must piece together immaculate playlists. Running a wide array of genres and operating at varying stages in their respective music careers the group of artists brought with them a deep well of talent. On the first day when the artists introduced themselves and played song samples the talent on display was jaw-dropping.
The participants. Image via Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool.
Thanks to the low-key set-up of the whole event however any sense of ego was left at the door. The performers mingled throughout the weekend forming friendships that went deeper than mere networking. Here’s a list of the excellent artists who participated in the Red Bull Music Academy Montreal Bass Camp.
This Vancouver producer who’s gradually changing his name to Project Pablo has two EPs on the way from the Hybridity imprint and creates atmospheric experimental dance music.
A last minute performer added in place of Black Atlass Ag is best known as the production half of electro pop-leaning Braids side-project Blue Hawaii.
This Montreal-based producer and performer possesses a remarkably arresting singing voice making her a popular choice for multiple collaborations throughout. Her own music is at once challenging and accessible as she pairs soulful singing with forward-thinking electronic compositions.
The project of Jeff-Antoine Cote BSMNT is characterized by four-on-the-floor drumbeats with plenty of bells and whistles from dream-like synth sounds to various Ableton flare resulting in an excellent arresting sound.
Gingy & Bordello
Both Gingy and Bordello were attendees at RBMA Bass Camp. Working together Gingy & Bordello are some of Toronto’s most sought-after techno performers and producers. They were also one of the most talked-about sets at the Mutek party bringing down the house with their 3:30 a.m. set.
One of the most established acts participating in the academy Toronto’s Bwana (a.k.a. Nathan Micay) has released busy forward-thinking tracks with Somethink Sounds Infinite Machine and Mad Decent’s digital Jeffree’s offshoot. After taking some time off to complete his degree (in slave law no less) he’s working on some new material that he describes as Balearic (to the dismay of RBMA head Beni who launched into a Gervais-like rant about the adjective).
Dan Solo / Evangelos Typist
Working well solo Dan Solo is an accomplished DJ who has performed at West Coast mainstays Bass Coast and Shambhala for years. Alongside Evangelos Typist the two perform as Sanctums. Their working relationship extends way back to Modern Math the famed Calgary weekly dubstep party that caught the attention of artists around the world. When that was finally shut down from noise complaints they decided to test the ambient waters. Sanctums sees them brushing broad strokes of ambient sound though their love of hard-hitting beats eventually creeps back in. Though Solo is now based on Vancouver Island the two have made the most of their long-distance relationship.
A Vancouver label-owner party booker and performer Eli Muro is something of a renaissance man. When he’s not running the Jellyfish Recordings imprint he makes music that’s frenetic busy and engaging.
Foxtrott is the solo synth-pop project of Montreal’s Marie-Hélène L. Delorme and put simply it rules. Her powerful vocals rest perfectly atop the creative constructive synth work but it’s really her penchant for pop songwriting that’ll have you coming back for more.
He’s crazy young and he just goes by his first name. He’s Harrison. This Toronto dude plays impossibly sexy funk music with a gentle touch of French touch and some smooth ass vocals. It’s clearly got some crossover appeal too — Harrison’s managed by Broken Social Scene drummer Justin Peroff.
That the genre tag "cloud trap" even exists is a lot to take in but it couldn’t be more apt to describe the sounds of Montreal producer High Klassified — the Fool’s Gold performer brings as much bass and skittering hihats as he does dream-like synths.
It’s true that Nicholas Spencer is based in Toronto and it’s also true that he plays fantastic garage as a member of the hosue duo HolloH. What his bio fails to mention however is that he arrived in Canada via Glasgow and is pretty much the most hilariously Scottish Canadian kid ever. Harrison referred to him as Scotland all weekend and even subtweeted a compliment about him.
Originally from Calgary and soon to move back there Kline has come into his own as a producer while living in Vancouver and attending Emily Carr. In addition to occasional collaborations with Dan Solo he makes experimental bass music that combines field recordings and drum experiments with booming banging beats. Keep an eye on Kline.
Framework is the project of Montreal’s Milo Reinhardt who also performs in the duo Sibian & Faun. His music as you’ll hear if you click play is a densely layered collection of explosive drumwork highly edited synths and busy samples that can only be described as overwhelming in the best possible way.
Formerly a member of the experimental indie rock crew Shapes & Sizes Caila Thompson-Hannant moved to Montreal and started making unbelievably great synth-pop under the name Mozart’s Sister. After her self-titled EP last year she’s got a busy 2014 ahead of her as she tours with TRUST and eventually puts out her debut LP.
Though his solo work is comprised of thoughtful complex hip-hop production his Shash’U’s DJ sets are comprised of thoughtful complex remixes. The Montreal producer makes magical avant-garde sounds out of mainstream-friendly ideas meaning he’s likely going to be as famous as he is respected and for good reason.
Last year Thomas Cade released Greenwich Mean Time his debut solo LP for Vancouver imprint Hybridity Records. It’s electronic pop music as method not genre — here Cade builds an impressive collection of sounds with his forward-thinking production style but very little about this music is easy to pinpoint.
A suitable fit with High Klassified Montreal’s Tommy Kruise is another purveyor of cloud trap offering party-starting jams with an ambient bent even working with cloud rap mainstays Main Attrakionz. His magnetic personality and larger-than-life fashion sense is the real draw however — no matter where he went eyes would follow Tommy Kruise around every room.
Look for a Fast Forward Weekly cover story on Sanctums to run on March 20.