“Experimental music”: an honourable or a degrading term?

Les amis au Pakistan posing for their 2015 album High Apothéose. Courtesy photo by Les amis au Pakistan.

A look into experimental pop through one of Quebec’s most unorthodox collectives.

Experimental artists willingly alienate themselves from the embrace of mainstream media in exchange for artistic integrity and independent creativity. Though experimental art is as revered as it is rebuked by critics and music enthusiasts alike, the labelling of artists as “experimental” often influences social perception, affecting their credibility. Not only do these artists face harsher criticism, but they also tackle the very fundamentals of the medium and push technical and artistic boundaries.

Laval’s own Les Amis au Pakistan have based their style around “the weird and the vulgar”— not as a way to fight the system but to create psychedelic and unorthodox imagery and sound. 

Writer Joël Chevalier, producer Simon Tremblay, and their singers Solange Lavergne, Jacinthe Fradette, Caroline Fournier, Evelyne Mireault, and Katia Cioce believe that the labelling of their music and style as “experimental” is fair, but somewhat diminishing in regards to their unique musical prowess. 

Conceived as Joël Chevalier’s passion project, Amis au Pakistan was a fun way for the writer to express himself with his friends. It was only when Tremblay joined the group that proper expectations formed, as his sound enhanced the project. “There is a pop side to what we do; there is often a chorus in most of our songs. When Joël would send me his lyrics, it was always structured like pop music,” Tremblay said.

The term “experimental” only appeared when producers and labels caught wind of their music and decided to label the band as such. “I really had no idea about experimental music. I just wanted to hear my friends sing stupidities and laugh at them. Simon brought a musical side to it,” Chevalier said. 

With song titles such as “Beautiful Hamburger,” “Mystery of Monkeys,” and “Appelle-moi ta cochone” in their discography, it is understandable why their style could potentially put off the general public. That said, there is much thematic depth sewn into the weirdness. 

As of 2007, the band has released three studio albums, tackling themes of sexuality, love, death, and suicide throughout, all hidden behind a heavy veil of silly and goofy sounds and grotesque lyrics. Their latest E.P. titled Schnoutte, released in 2021, is alien-themed. 

One of the songs on Schnoutte is “Mutilée,” which revolves around the themes of suicide and the horrors of self-harm—something that’s not necessarily evident when listening to the song at a surface level. However, when immersing oneself into the amalgamation of low and dark sounds and the repetition of noises of pain and suffering, coupled with an eerie instrumental, a feeling of unease washes over the listener. 

Though the band receives criticism for their content, they agree that labelling their sound as experimental can shift the listener’s perception of the music, affecting commitment and attachment. After all, if someone deems art as “unserious,” their willingness to commit to the experience will diminish. 

Luckily, the band cares only for one another. As Tremblay said “People always ask us about our concept, why we make music like this, and it is never to make experimental music, it is to make music. I think what is experimental takes more effort, and humans tend to take the easy way out.” 

The question, therefore, turns towards experimentation as a product of the human condition. Experimentation is subjective. To some, it is synonymous with creativity and to others, with the perils of the unknown and unorthodox. 

Love or hate them, Les Amis au Pakistan exists without confinement in a way that’s true to them. Like all art, experimental music is a looking glass into the creator’s soul ready to be peered into and explored. It’s as valuable as any other form or genre of music, regardless of how strange and unsettling it might appear.


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