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Music

The show must go on? I don’t think so!

Continuing to put on concerts should not be the only way to support musicians and preserve independent venues.

Back in July, when the Quebec government passed a law to allow indoor gatherings of up to 250 people, a handful of event organizers got the greenlight to have a few socially distanced shows. This inspired the PHI Centre to host a handful of small, seated performances on their new rooftop terrace, and both MUTEK and Festival De Music Émergente festivals to proceed while adhering to public health directives. Shortly after, small live performances became the norm.

Given that Montreal is one of the Canadian cities hit hardest with a high number of COVID cases and deaths, most people would find it completely illogical to have concerts again. Although the number of cases gradually decreased over the summer, putting on concerts did not seem right. Most venues/promoters explained that their events would be seated to limit motion, require the wearing of masks  at all times and have an extremely limited capacity of 20-50 people. Since then, Montreal entered their second wave with the virus, banning all gatherings until the curve flattens.

As most music fans are aware, attending live shows is the most effective way of supporting musicians. Streaming services becoming the most common way to consume music has drastically affected album sales. In fact, many artists have come to the consensus that their music streams are quite useless. Earlier this year, it came to light that Spotify pays its artists $0.003 USD per stream, which only becomes a liveable wage if artists can generate millions of streams in a consistent manner. That leaves the majority of artists to make most of their income from concert ticket and merchandise sales.

The Canadian government does support musicians through their granting system. This fund exists to help artists create and promote their music with the goal of expanding their audience. However, this effort does not replace touring, which helps artists generate the majority of their income. With the possibility of touring becoming less and less likely for the foreseeable future, it is evident that many musicians and touring staff have been placed in compromising financial positions.

During the summer, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced that the city will dedicate $800,000 to “animate” Montreal, and $500,000 of this will go to support artistic performances, focusing on the Quartier des Spectacles area downtown. She also focused heavily on the aspect of creating new spaces. Although the full details of this project have yet to be fully unravelled, the mayor has yet to mention a plan for small, independent venues.

For the greater part of this year, the majority of music venues will remain empty. Many of the small venues all over the world including Montreal’s beloved La Vitrola have permanently closed their doors. Although there have been relief funds and loans available to help, those donations will not provide venue owners stability as the situation with the pandemic continues to worsen. Those spaces also hold such importance, as they are essential when it comes to launching a career in music.

After putting off these socially distanced shows for a while, I caved and decided to catch a few sets at POP Montreal earlier this fall The festival is known for hosting international artists each year but focused on promoting local artists this time around. The events were mainly held at the Rialto Theatre rooftop to avoid traffic at indoor venues. With Montreal entering code red days before the event, ticket sales were immediately halted. This forced organizers to further reduce their capacity again and only use 25 per cent of their initial capacity, to avoid overcrowding. They also livestreamed the majority of their sets for free.

My experience at the POP Montreal made me realize that there has to be a safe and reliable way to continue supporting local artists and venues. On top of having an elaborate plan to ensure safety and having more security guards to help guide attendees, significantly downsizing the festival definitely impeded the execution of certain events. For instance, the art installations were only available for view from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. instead of having it available until the final shows at the Rialto ended, according to their Instagram stories. As well, both of the performances I caught (Jonathan Personne and Thanya Iyer) lasted roughly 30-40 minutes without any encores, despite having an hour-long slot without openers.

Despite attending multiple seated shows over the years, those ones seemed particularly odd. Whether it was the seats being placed 10 feet from the stage or the lack of artist-to-audience connection with these half-empty rooms that do not radiate a sense of togetherness, attending these makeshift shows was not satisfying at all.

Another important element to consider is that a lot of these spaces used to hold a capacity of over 1,000 people. Proceeding with socially-distanced shows when cases begin to decrease will create inequalities among both artists and promoters. Renting larger venues just to use 25 per cent of their capacity is both costly and will make all venues who have a capacity of under 100 useless, since playing to a crowd of 10-20 in a small venue or bar is both risky and not as profitable. There has to be a proper agenda put in place to help artists maintain their careers and prevent further venue closures to avoid rushing to plan shows without a COVID vaccine.

Even though the prospect of returning to a state where people can genuinely go out and enjoy dancing and moshing at gigs is extremely slim, being patient and looking into ways for effective ways to help rebuild our music scene through supporting local venues is what will save live music, even if the experience is not as pleasant. 

Feature photo by Sun Noor

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: IDLES – Ultra Mono

Ultra Mono is quite a roaring and experimental record but often lacks direction when it comes to addressing political issues.

Following the release of their critically-acclaimed sophomore record, Joy as An Act of Resistance in 2018, the Bristol post-punks IDLES have recently returned with their follow up effort. Given an extensive world tour and endless positive buzz around their past releases over the past couple of years, Ultra Mono was undoubtedly going to result in becoming one of their biggest records to date.

The band recorded the album at La Frette Studios in France over the course of the past year, with a handful of collaborators. In terms of the production, the punk quintet worked with producer Nick Launay — who has previously worked with Talking Heads and Kate Bush — and Grammy nominated engineer Adam Greenspan once again. The band also worked with the highly requested hip hop producer Kenny Beats while having both Warren Ellis from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Jehnny Beth on a few tracks.

IDLES released a handful of singles prior to their release which really set the tone for what to expect. Having made their mark onto the punk scene with their brutally honest and political music critiquing capitalism, toxic masculinity, racism, and Brexit, the band’s ethos has revolved around self-love, which is what this record is essentially about.

Their singles “Mr. Motivator,” “Grounds” and “Model Village” all consisted of the combination of clever lyrics and upbeat guitar-driven instrumentation which seemed to be quite reminiscent of their previous work. In fact, all of those tracks manage to grab people’s attention within the first few chords. Although the singles suggested another excellent number by IDLES, there are a few uncertainties when it comes to the band’s intentions with their message, as it comes across as disingenuous.

The record commences with “War,” which is both loud and eerie, consisting of a clash of instruments to create this huge sound building up. Frontman Joe Talbot commences his verse with by screaming “Wa-ching,” and continues to use onomatopoeia to describe war sounds in this effort to create an anti-war anthem. Nevertheless, it appears as though he is making an attempt to have some profound commentary on how war is evil without actually making any commentary.

Whether it be through hilarious analogies or direct call-outs, IDLES have never shied away from telling it as it is. “War” both lacks direction and does not really offer any critiques. Instead of making some great points about why the band is anti-war, Talbot would have gotten his anti-war message across better if he sang about those issues instead of mimicking cannon sounds.

Despite being buried in uncertainties and lacking a clear narrative, Ultra Mono does have its highlights. The second single, “Grounds,” is definitely one of the album’s best tracks given the contrasting effect between the clear percussion elements, the layered heavily distorted guitar riffs, and the closest we’ll ever get to hearing Talbot rap. The production is also reminiscent of a hip hop track, which creates a nice contrast from “War.”

Nonetheless, Talbot culminating his last verse with “So I raise my pink fist and say, ‘black is beautiful,’” was quite unnecessary and highly offensive. This implies that Black people require validation from white people in order to feel secure in themselves. Although Talbot might not have intended to sound offensive, comments of that nature made me question whether the band’s intentions with composing political music are genuine.

Additionally, many IDLES fans including myself were not impressed with “Ne Touche Pas Moi,” which was purposely worded incorrectly and consists of a riot grrrl-esque song about consent featuring Jehnny Beth on the backing vocals as a finishing touch. The thought of having cisgender, white men write a song on behalf of women and femme-identifying people just does not seem right.

The most consistent and interesting element of the record is its instrumentation as IDLES manage to move away from their signature bass and percussion-heavy, minimal-guitar-effects sound. With this album, there is quite a focus directed towards creating intricate and powerful guitar riffs through the experimentation of guitar pedals. Ultra Mono demonstrates their growth in terms of musicianship which is admirable and presents a glimpse of what to expect from the band later on in their discography.

 

Rating: 7/10

Trial Track: “Grounds”

 

Categories
Music

Independent music and the fight against mistreatment

As the music industry evolves, record labels continue to use exploitative tactics that place their artists in compromising positions.

The music industry is arguably one of the most exploitative industries around. Artists are often faced with a difficult decision when evaluating whether they should sign to a label, as that can determine how their career will pan out and whether they could reach their full potential.

Labels offer artists the opportunity to sign record contracts that require artists to produce a certain number of albums and promote them over a specific period of time.

The majority of mainstream and up-and-coming artists whose projects often receive acclaim have signed to a label prior to the release of their work. Whether the label is independent and running on a smaller scale, or major and owned by huge corporations, artists are capable of receiving the financial backing which will allow them to tour, and get in contact with managers, booking agents and publicists who will promote their projects to media outlets. Without having established a team of professionals to guide them, most new artists have little-to-no knowledge of the means to navigate it.

Having access to these necessary resources in exchange for signing a recording contract seems like a fair deal. Nevertheless, that does not stop musicians from being exploited, which is why they must constantly be in the loop when it comes to the hidden clauses in their contracts.

Streaming has become the most popular way of consuming music over the past decade, leaving record sales to plummet over time. A recent analysis made by Music Business Worldwide demonstrated that major labels such as Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner accumulated an average of $22.9 million USD every 24 hours in 2019. This is absurd given that artists will not even make a fraction of that revenue, as services such as Spotify pay artists approximately $0.003 USD per stream.

Over the past couple of decades, there have been countless notable cases of artist vs. label feuds that have exposed unjust practices. Some of the noteworthy feuds include  the story of Prince’s longlasting fallout with Warner in the 90s due to ownership issues, or Dr. Dre’s lawsuit against Death Row Records, who failed to compensate him with any of the proceeds made from the reissue of his acclaimed debut, The Chronic. Although these cases deal with prominent labels, independent labels are equally complicit in taking advantage of their artists.

In 2015, Catalonian punk quartet Mourn issued a statement explaining how their Spanish label, Sones, who also served as their management team, had attempted to stop the release of their sophomore LP while withholding all of their funds. In fact, the band’s lead singer, Jazz Rodriguez, mentioned being neglected by their team and how that took a huge toll on their mental health in an interview with i-D in 2018.

A story that made headlines earlier this month was when rapper Megan Thee Stallion disclosed that her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, was not willing to renegotiate her contract and therefore attempted to stop the release of her follow-up EP Suga. On a recent Instagram live stream, she mentioned not knowing the contents of her contract at the time, since she was not supplied with a real management team and did not have  awyers to guide her. Megan also stated that she had a good relationship with her label and even considered them to be like family but it was greed that played a major part in their decisions. According to a court document provided to Rolling Stone, 1501 Certified Entertainment received 30 percent of Megan’s sources of income whether it was from touring, selling merchandise, sponsorships, endorsements or hosting.Jordan Bromley, a specialist in entertainment transactions, considers this number to be “a massive overreach.”

Evidently, the safest way to pursue a career in music is by doing so independently. Having the ability to possess full control of both the content behind the record as well as release dates seems to be a luxury that has served many artists well.

Quebec’s indie-pop band Men I Trust has managed to release three well-received records and have been playing headlining shows internationally over the past couple of years without being backed by a label. Australian-based psychedelic rock group, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, released the majority of their extensive discography via Flightless Records, which is entirely owned by the band’s drummer Eric Moore. Also, established artists such as MGMT have recently pushed towards releasing their latest numbers independently, despite still being signed to Columbia Records.

Perhaps the push towards releasing music independently and more frequently will be the new trend throughout the decade. 

Graphic by Sasha Axenova.

Categories
News

Poli SAVVY: Will COVID-19 lead to an inevitable financial crisis?

Despite being amid a global pandemic, many people appear to be more concerned with facing a huge financial blow than being affected by the disease.

Earlier this week, government officials worldwide urged people to avoid large gatherings and self-quarantine, unless they absolutely must be out, in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Premier François Legault called for all spaces with a capacity exceeding 250 people to be temporarily shut down until further notice. As a result, all schools, venues, libraries, gyms, public pools and leisure spots such as bars will be temporarily closed for the next few weeks.

In a matter of days, people have witnessed the cancellation of all major events such as Austin’s international festival South By Southwest (SXSW) and all concert tours this season. The NBA and NHL have also postponed their seasons. These measures are leaving many venue staff, technicians and even public relations agents jobless, according to people who work in the industry.

The film industry is equally suffering and is expected to lose billions in revenue as major studios begin postponing the production of major projects such as The Batman and “Stranger Things.” Over the weekend, many companies, including Apple, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters and Lush, have made statements regarding their decision to close their shops until further notice, while compensating their employees, as a measure of ensuring safety. Nevertheless, local independent businesses, startups and establishments that simply do not have the funds for paid leaves are currently finding themselves in a predicament. As reported by CNN, closing their doors would only lead to potential layoffs, which would add to the panic and distress that they are already facing as the number of COVID-19 cases rises.

Although these measures are crucial to prioritize people’s health during these difficult times, how can citizens assure themselves that their financial worries will be taken care of while they are out of work?

The Canadian stock market has been falling at a slow rate over the past three months until the end of February. In fact, it hit a low on March 12, in the wake of officials addressing the pandemic. In a recent statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We do not want any Canadian to have to worry about whether or not they’re going to be able to pay their rent, whether or not they’re going to be able to buy groceries, or care for their kids or elderly family members. We need to make sure that Canadians have the options and the ability to follow the best public health advice and keep themselves safe.”

Nevertheless, the livelihoods of Canadians remain on the line as many questions are left unanswered. Even though Trudeau’s words seem promising, he has yet to disclose how he will tackle all of these concerns. As Canadians waited for his latest press conference for an update on how the government will intervene in this situation, Trudeau announced that the Canadian borders will be closed to most foreign visitors but has yet to present us with how he will ensure that the needs of Canadians will be taken care of during this time of crisis.

 

Graphic by Victoria Blair

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Music Quickspins Uncategorized

QUICKSPINS: Raveena – Moonstone

Raveena’s Moonstone EP creates a soothing and alluring ambience leaving listeners wanting more.

Following her highly-praised debut record Lucid, released in spring 2019, the R&B/soul artist Raveena decided to revisit some of the tracks that did not complement the album but ventured off to fit into another project of their own.

“Headaches” serves as the album’s opening track and consists of a dreamy, melody-driven number with subtle instrumentation that undoubtedly suits Raveena’s soft and layered vocal harmonies. There’s a shift in melodies towards the end of the song with the inclusion of prominent guitar and percussion elements without overpowering her voice.

“Close 2 U” fades into a more upbeat acoustic track. The highlight of the project is definitely “Heartbeat.” The track consists of arrangements such as subtle synths and a more apparent bassline. Raveena also showcases her wide vocal range by pairing them with high pitch vocal harmonies.

The record then culminates with “Starflower,” an acoustic ballad that stands out the most compared to the other tracks, as listeners are left with Raveena’s raw vocals accompanied with subtle guitar strings.Despite only being a 15 minute EP, Moonstone flows together in a cohesive manner and simply presents itself as the much-needed continuation to Lucid.

Rating: 9/10

Trial Track: “Heartbeat

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

Tame Impala’s highly anticipated fourth LP presents itself as a reflection of Kevin Parker’s growth as both a musician and producer.

The release of The Slow Rush marks the ten-year anniversary of Tame Impala’s eclectic and genre defying debut, Innerspeaker, shifting the vision of the project from being more experimental to more concise.

Kevin Parker, the multifaceted musician and producer who releases his work under Tame Impala, has easily become one of the most sought-after producers of the decade. Having completed The Slow Rush shortly after working on various collaborative projects with artists such as Lady Gaga, Theophilus London, Travis Scott, Kali Uchis and Miguel, Parker explored new production techniques that are specific to pop and hip hop music.

One of the most remarkable elements of The Slow Rush is the increased use of percussion, which compliments the over-the-top layering, different textures and heavily distorted arrangements within each track. There is also a pleasant contrast throughout the album between the lengthy idiosyncratic compositions such as “It Might be Time,” “Posthumous Forgiveness,” and the powerful and endlessly replayable pop anthems like “Breathe Deeper,” which Parker describes on streaming services as his most  “Mariah Carey-esque” track.

The overarching theme of the record aligns with the concept of time and how it affects different relationships, which is apparent with the album commencing with “One More Year,” and culminating with “One More Hour.”

Overall, The Slow Rush shows how much Kevin Parker has evolved in his musicianship and will undoubtedly make for an epic live performance.

Rating: 10/10

Trial Track: “Tomorrow’s Dust”

 

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