A look into the collective that’s growing in Concordia’s music studios.
Multidisciplinary artist Justin Tatone first met Benedict Tan in high school back in 2017. The pair began collaborating over the years. “It was just us making stupid songs and I would produce the beats. It was so bad.” The pandemic later inspired them to take their musical alliance seriously and they began working on a collaborative project in 2020. This union marked the inception of Tatone’s art collective Xion, which welcomed four more members in 2022: Yorgo Al Terek, Leo Deslauriers, Giancarlo Laurieri and E.sko (Elias Skotidakis).
The group’s name is based on the word Zion, which is derived from Tatone’s Jamaican heritage. In Rastafarian lore, it signifies a land of promise. He was also inspired by the 1999 sci-fi film The Matrix, in which Zion is referenced as a land where humans can live freely and without restriction. The intention behind the collective was to “share resources, create a space promised for us,” Tatone explains. The replacement of the Z by an X represents a dissociation from perverse connotations and variations of the word, specifically Zionism—the nationalist movement predicated on reclaiming territory in the Middle East.
As an electroacoustics student, Tatone gained access to the sound studios at Concordia. The available equipment provided him with resources that allowed the group to expand and make music they never would’ve been able to afford to make, according to him.
The group’s dynamic is highly collaborative: the approach to their forthcoming group album Xion Vol. 1 notably had three producers individually working on a sample (as a background melody) simultaneously. Deslauriers would then splice the renditions together into one, full beat, with drums and other elements being added later. Al Terek, who also studies electroacoustics, describes the process as working in “episodes,” and recalls creating shorter beats with the intent for his colleagues to add to them however they want.
Each artist fills a specific role, but their contributions converge into a larger, distinct product. “Our collective space serves as the crossroads of artistic expression,” as Laurieri puts it. Tatone wants his collective to be bigger than music: “I want to build a community based on sharing resources. The first step to that is allowing people in the space who aren’t necessarily artists.”
Laurieri, who is currently a second-year political science student, is an example of this. He has no distinct training in music but plays a key role in the group, serving as its marketing and networking specialist, and as creative consultant. He put together the campaign for E.sko’s Love, Wannabe tour this past summer, a makeshift tour born from booking every open mic and venue in town. The experience was a success, bringing the group to several bars throughout Quebec and even Ontario. “Montreal has so much opportunity for small artists,” Tatone says.
BANE & BLESSING, the electrifying rage-rap album from Tan and Tatone, will finally launch on Sept. 29 after three years of creation. The album is set to be supported by live performances, with punk venues being envisioned. Tatone also expresses interest in embarking on another tour in summer 2024, this time as a collective in support of their upcoming group album, the boom-bap influenced Xion, Vol. 1. He also revealed that a documentary for the Love, Wannabe tour is on the way.
Xion may just be gearing up, but their ambition and output support Laurieri’s description of the group. “It’s a journey of creative convergence where the sum is truly greater than its individual parts.”