This winter promises to be a hot one in Montreal as the city gears up for its annual outdoor winter music festival, taking place over four weekends in January and February with the best in international and local electronic music. Igloofest is now in its seventh successful year, and promises to warm up Montreal’s Old Port next weekend with an inimitable set-up that includes huge visual displays, ice bars, and, of course, real igloos. In the past, the festival has seen unforgettable performances from the likes of Ben Klock, Green Velvet, Akufen, Lunice, Maya Jane Coles, Max Cooper, and Seth Troxler, to name a few.
Despite such an overwhelming presence of international names, it is truly the local acts that make Igloofest so special, each providing their own version of Montreal’s home-brewed sound. This year looks to be bigger and better than ever as local artists like Alicia Hush, Moody Jones, Tone Depth, Vosper, The Gulf Stream, Block & Groj, Stephen Beaupré, and many others take the decks with their unique distillations of house, minimal, experimental, techno, and bass music.
We sat down with Montrealers Alicia Hush, Stephen Beaupre, and The Gulf Stream’s Jérôme Guilleaume and Ivann Urena to get their thoughts on this year’s Igloofest and the local scene in general.
What makes the music scene in Montreal so special compared to other cities?
Stephen Beaupré: The music scene in Montreal is vibrant but always in flux. What makes it so special is a whole bunch of unquantifiable phenomena that combine to create a city that attracts and fosters very earnest creativity. People are very genuine and clever here, with a real sense of community and joie de vivre—or maybe it’s just the lovely ladies, I don’t know!
Alicia Hush: The scene is smaller, in a good way. It feels like a high concentration of goodness, in a less-congested city. The people attending events are solid music devotees who pay good attention to the sounds being played for them. Also, Montrealers dance! I think well-organized and recognized events like MUTEK, Igloofest, and Piknic Électronik have really lifted the dark looming “electronic music is evil” cloud that so many other North American cities battle with.
Jérôme Guilleaume: Montreal is one of the hub cities where Europe and the Americas collide, creating a great diversity of sound and influence. It’s a great moment to live here. The fact that Ivann and I met here (as we are both Europeans) is a good example of that statement.
Ivann Urena: Montreal is also a city where you can feel intensely all the seasons of the year. It is always inspiring to feel different kinds of moods and moments to create music.
How has being based in Montreal helped you grow as an artist?
SB: There is a lot of love and a great deal of inspiration to be had from the people whom I have the fortune of knowing. I’m surrounded by spectacular individuals who challenge and amaze me constantly, and make me realize how little I truly know!
AH: I’ve been an official resident for about two months now, and in these two months I think I have made more music than I did all last year! There is a certain ease of life here in Montreal that really feeds the creative soul. Financially, it is much easier to survive on the “starving artist” income. And of course, living a stone’s throw away from wonderfully kind artists like Pheek, Stefny, Billy (Dalessandro), and Zeina creates a real special music-family vibe.
JG: We have the chance to be surrounded by inspiring people with great talent. Our studio is in the heart of the Mile End—inspiration is everywhere.
IU: Montreal is one of the capitals of multimedia. People here are so thirsty for creations, and curious about gear and technology. It is really easy to meet artists, share working methods and creative input here.
What can we expect from your set at Igloofest?
SB: I’ll throw in a few old goodies, but I’ve got quite a bit of new material that I’m looking forward to playing. I’ll do my job as best I can and get that booty shaking and wiggling, but only so that everybody stays warm! This isn’t about having fun, it’s about survival. Hypothermia is a very serious issue!
AH: I will be playing a brand-new live set! At this moment, I am still not finished putting it together, but you can definitely expect lots of layers, thick bass, and a new special dose of weird.
JG: Sexy bass music is what I dig right now. Things a bit different that you can hear in our productions.
IU: We want people to warm up, because it’s cold out there!
How concerned are you about playing an outdoor show in the middle of winter? Be honest!
SB: I wasn’t really concerned before you mentioned it…now I’m terrified! Again, hypothermia! Serious.
AH: I haven’t thought about the cold… yet. I think my brain and body sort of fall into a really quiet place before a performance and I don’t really know what’s going on around me until about 30 minutes in. Hopefully by that time the heaters will have warmed up on the stage! What is more concerning to me than the cold is the chance I could be playing in front of more people than I ever have before. Aaaahhh!
JG: I guess the gear is the main concern! I’ll be playing with some hardware that I wouldn’t want the snow to damage.
IU: The only difference is that you have to wear gloves!
How has the music scene in Montreal changed over the years?
SB: Peaks and troughs, like anything. There has always been the constant of MUTEK, though, which is a solid tether. MUTEK is like a beacon—always guiding me back to the substantial influence of the particular scene. Otherwise, oblivion!
AH: Like all electronic music dwellings in Canada, the scene flourished and thrived until the tightening of laws and the closing of special venues put a choke-hold on underground events. I think we are still picking up the pieces and trying to do things right all over again. In Montreal, I can see a coming-together of artists and promoters creating a real camaraderie and growth for music and musical events.
JG: It’s incredibly diverse, yet small and connected. “Bass culture” is more and more present and the producers are more and more creative with it. The beat scene—branded as Piu Piu here—is one of the most creative outlets I’ve heard in a while.
IU: Montreal is, and will always be, a rock place! The difference is that the electronic scene has a bigger crowd than ever. It is nice to see DJs that you used to see in small clubs with no crowds playing on the big stage of events like Piknic Électronik today!
If you could describe your sound in three words, what would they be?
SB: Trying to be…
AH: Quirk, bam, bloop!
JG: Evolving, bassy, brainy?
IU: Story, groovy, relaxing?
Name your go-to track for pumping up the crowd?
SB: “Fish Fry” or maybe “Gl’Amour.” They seem to work alright!
AH: Robag Wruhme, “Blech Beule.” It’s so dark and driving and perfect! That song seems to bring out the bad-ass in everyone’s dance moves.
JG: Any track from Dark Sky. Right now these guys a doing a great job—they are really on-point.
IU: Dennis Ferrer & Jerome Sydenham, “Sandcastles.” Year after year, this track is always a classic for me on the dancefloor.
Who are you listening to these days?
SB: “Gangnam Style” on repeat! Also the new Merveille and Crosson album on Visonquest is pretty fine!
AH: Kai Kaitaro, Marlene Magnoli, Ana+one (non-biased, of course), Billy Dalessandro, Mod2.
JG: Dark Sky (obviously), long-time favorite. Lazer Sword, HxdB, Scuba, Ital Tek, Holy Other, Sun Glitters…
IU: For the last two years, I’ve been listening to old soul and funk records: Ann Peebles, Bobby Womack, Vicki Anderson, Brass Construction, Gil Scott-Heron, Cameo… To be honest, if I want to hear new sounds, I ask Jérôme!
What Montreal DJs or producers would you say have been an inspiration for you?
SB: Akufen, Vincent Lemieux, Tim Hecker, and all the expats in Berlin.
AH: Akufen! I can still remember the first time I heard “Deck the House.” I entered a new aural world in that moment. I was mesmerized by his micro-chop perfection.
JG: Living~Stone, who is now a friend of mine, always awed me with his showman spirit; his crowd interactions are always heartfelt and genuine. I always loved that from him. Famelik is also one of the great, prolific, talented producers and performers that lives in this city. He is really humble and generous; you should check that out! Also Hovatron, who now goes under the moniker of Jacques Greene, did (and still does) some great work in electronic music. Montreal is so lucky to have talent like that.
IU: Pheek and Mateo Murphy, who I used to listen to on old vinyl records when I was in France. It is just amazing that 10 years after, Pheek decided to sign us to his label.
Tell us about your most memorable performance?
SB: I don’t have one most memorable performance, but I have many fantastic moments: my first time in Europe with Vincent had some great ones, MUTEK Valparaiso, Sapporo, Soundwave… But one of my favorites is very simply playing at Féstival Panorama with Zip for a Perlon party about six years ago. Ricardo (Villalobos) was supposed to play with us but had to cancel so instead of playing just a live set, I played live and DJed and it all just ended up working out really nicely.
AH: MUTEK, of course! I will never ever forget that afternoon in the park. The rain held out, and Place de la Paix filled up with so many smiling, dancing people!
JG: I guess as TGS, my most memorable performance was the first of Trajectoires AV @ MUTEK this year. We worked so hard on that AV that we couldn’t stop smiling from the beginning to the end of the performance. We had such an amazing response from the audience and the team from MUTEK—it was incredible. Priceless memories!
IU: Our first performance at MUTEK was just crazy. We did not expect so many people to show up! The room was completely packed and really receptive. The feeling after the show—the relief that all had gone well—was a really unique moment.
Photo by Miguel Legault