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Music

Vault: The best new sustainable music platform? 

James Blake has launched Vault, a subscription service for unreleased music, to the public since March.

British singer, songwriter, producer, and DJ James Blake released a new platform named Vault inspired by social media discourse about how streaming platforms and social media are not sustainable ways for artists to make a living solely out of music. 

On the website, Vault explains that “artists can share their unreleased tracks directly from their vault to their fans and tap into a new recurring revenue stream.” The app saw the light on March 21, a few days after Blake communicated his opinions publicly on how social media can be an issue for music artists and their careers. “Music is my life’s purpose and I will not have mine destroyed by a bunch of labels and tech companies who don’t even pay us and exploit us relentlessly,” says Blake in an Instagram post in early March 

Blake shared on his Instagram story that the concept of a subscription-based platform like this one offers an artist some certainty, financially speaking. “I want artists to have less anxiety about what they put out, less fear that it leads to uncertainty,” he said. 

Indeed, this platform revolves around unloading music files from hard drives and displaying any idea that will probably never make it on Spotify, Apple Music, or other streaming platforms. “We’ll never be able to eliminate uncertainty from music, but platforms need to encourage artists to make their favourite, most integral music—not just the big 15-second TikTok moment,” Blake said.

Vault also contains a discussion forum space, allowing fans to discuss the music on the artist’s page and directly message Blake for instance. There is also a mobile app currently in the works, making the private access to the artists’ vault for their fans more accessible.

Blake said the infant stage of this platform is exciting as he shares it with people and how he can get artists to grow their following, heighten their connection with their fans, and make it fun to put out music they love, not just music that works as singles on TikTok. 

He highlighted that this platform is one of the only ones that will focus on getting artists actually paid directly. “The industry has always been an ecosystem of free versus paid.” 

A lot of the reason why music stays unreleased is because of demand-side platforms’ (DSP) limitations which is a type of software that allows solutions for advertisers. “DSP’s favour in certain structures/styles/genres to accept songs onto playlists, to the point where it stifles creativity,” Blake noted in another post. 

Moreover, as of March 28, the platform has announced its first new artist alongside Blake to be American singer Monica Martin. Blake stated in the comment section that “it’s going to be an amazingly diverse, musically exciting place pretty soon.” 

A monthly subscription fee is needed to unlock an artist’s page and all of its content. Blake’s page demands $5 USD per month and Monica Martin’s Vault content requires $2 USD per month. The subscription amount then differs via the artist’s popularity, making up-and-coming artists’ pages more affordable to encourage more people to discover them. Subscribers are also notified of any new drops by a text message to their phone number. Any collaborators who worked on the songs released also benefit from the revenue. 

“Artists are already being robbed worse and legally,” Blake wrote about potential piracy on his platform. He adds that copyright claims are still in effect and the usual copyright laws will protect all music found on Vault. 

Blake said that he’s working to grow his Vault following and show people it’s worth the $5 USD a month. The artist also revealed he’s felt more creatively free this past week than he has since he started in music. 

“Looking forward to more artists joining and seeing what I’m talking about, and for their fans to see what the real world effect of offering an easy-to-use alternative to the DSPs will be,” he shared. 

With new artists joining the platform, Vault will continue to flourish with brand new users every day and evermore cut the middleman between eager fans of music and passionate music artists.

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Tierra Whack — WORLD WIDE WHACK

The American rapper and singer-songwriter released her second full-length music project on March 15, resuming her unique witty touch in the music industry.

Philly-based rapper and singer-songwriter Tierra Whack blessed us with a significant number of singles since 2019 but finally dropped her album WORLD WIDE WHACK on March 15. 

Whack’s previous full-length music release dates back to 2018 with a similar title called Whack World consisting of 15 songs, with each track being exactly one minute long, resulting in a witty and calculated 15-minute project. The artist’s initial breakthrough was through her 2017 track “MUMBO JUMBO,” which brought new occurrences to the term “mumble rap” and was Grammy-nominated for its music video. 

With a runtime of 37 minutes, Whack presents 15 new tracks to the public with a variety of lengths per song, as opposed to her debut project which was more calculated in that regard. At first listen, each song can stand on its own but the album maintains a cohesive blend track after track. The sequencing of the songs provides a smooth and seamless listening experience from slower more pensive tracks to more energetic sounds, which is exactly how the transition from the very first song “MOOD SWINGS” to “MS BEHAVE” plays out.  

One of the first facets of this new era of Whack that I discovered was the “CHANEL PIT” music video. Her sound can easily go from almost childish-sounding instruments and playful hi-hats to harsher more aggressive 808’s and kicks. “CHANEL PIT” perfectly embraces the contrast and sides of her production style while correspondingly emasculating all the directions this album’s production gravitates toward. Its music video is also pure Whack. We see her standing still while going through a car wash and being hit with red cleaning curtains that match her hair, delivering a striking and stimulating visual experience as usual. 

One thing I love about Tierra Whack’s style is the straightforward approach to conveying her lyrics. Sometimes, it seems like Whack is blatantly talking to you but always sustaining a certain harmony in her tone while doing so. In “IMAGINARY FRIENDS” for instance, the artist freely shares “my last best friend said he wished he didn’t know me” and expands on her situation more as if you’re her confident, all over a lush sound with a prominent dreamy guitar. 

I particularly appreciated the random piano chords and key endings at the end of “MOOVIES,” “DIFFICULT” and “INVITATION.” The piano doesn’t necessarily coincide with where the song seems to be heading but offers an odd yet interesting closing to the tracks. The bass in “SHOWER SONG” is also truly addictive and the definition of groovy, especially accompanied by the catchy chorus harmonies where she names popular female artists that she’s singing to in the shower. 

Whack also confirms to herself and everyone else that she is a perpetually changing artist and constantly formulating her craft, stating “Every song I drop, I change the sound” on “INVITATION.” 

WORLD WIDE WHACK is a reflection on how the artist feels at not only this stage of her career but also how she experiences her life as an artist and as a regular human citizen. On “SNAKE EYES,” Whack says that she “treat[s] the fans like homies” and “blood, tear, and sweat I work so hard” giving some insight into how she is navigating fame and her work ethic. 

Whack spilled some of her personal consciousness through lyrics like “the glass full, but I’m empty” and “when the world seems like it’s against you when your friends and family forget you.” Whack isn’t apprehensive in delivering her psyche in a diary style over an almost calming and dreamy beat on the closing track “27 CLUB,” referring to the cultural phenomenon of celebrities—mostly musicians—who die at the age of 27 after some intriguing tragic event. 

A hip-hop polymath, Whack’s refreshing and creative persona is still present, offering all listeners a memorable and playful tone, yet balancing it out with raw lyrics making WORLD WIDE WHACK an infectious project. Whether you’re into witty production and catchy melodies, or pondering some more with vulnerable storytelling, the passionate artist has something in store for you. 

Score: 7.5/10

Trial Track: “SHOWER SONG”

Categories
Interview Music

Behind the Lens: Photographers and Live Music

A glimpse into two university students and photographers’ experience shooting live performances and participating in music culture.

To delve deeper into the relationship between photography and live music events, Concordia alum Sydney Gastaldo and third-year student in professional music at Toronto Metropolitan University, alongside third-year photography student Jordan Markle at Dawson College, proudly share their respective journey taking professional photos of live concerts. 

Being in charge of capturing a moment in time, especially in an atmosphere as lively and busy as a live music event—both visually and sonically—is no easy task. When asked about photographers’ aim in capturing the energy and emotion of a performance in any venue, Markle said that he really tries to focus on capturing the emotion and energy of live music in Montreal, no matter its scale: “Each picture is carefully constructed in a way that channels the energy and atmosphere of the event, giving viewers a sneak peek into what it was like to actually be there.” 

As for Sydney Gastaldo, she personally always tends to come back to the concept of movement and DIY approach in photography since she doesn’t like photos that look staged. “Some of this happens in post/editing but some of this experiment can happen in the moment through experimenting with aperture, angles, exposure etc,” Gastaldo shared. She also noted how some of the best photos she’s taken have come from in-between moments like while the show is being set up, the singer is talking to the crowd between songs, or when the stage is being set up for the next track or right at the end of the act. “It can be a great way to capture authenticity from an artist as they tend to be less “on” during those moments,” she said. 

There can also be a process of preparation that happens before the action of a show which can impact how the approach of photographing will unpack. “I start preparing by taking a deep dive into the artist’s discography meaning I’m listening to them all day before the show,” Jordan Markle stated. By doing this, he can understand the emotion and feeling of what the artist is trying to portray to their audience on a deeper level and then capture that energy authentically. 

Logistic preparation is also crucial. In regards to this, Gastaldo always ensures she has enough storage on her camera or enough film, as well as charged batteries and a prepared kit. Moreover, she makes sure to back up anything from past shoots and to develop all her older films beforehand. Checking out the weather if it’s an outdoor show is also part of her routine. 

Challenges can be encountered when documenting the ephemeral nature of live performances. Markle shared how a venue might only allow photographers access to the photo pit for the first three songs. If this is the case, Markle avoids taking the same type of photos for all three songs to offer more variety in the shorter amount of time that is offered to him. To essentially counter this problem, he experiments with different techniques and employs varied shooting methods, sometimes using long exposures or action freeze frames. 

As for Concordia Alum Sydney Gastaldo’s biggest challenge, the lighting for underground or DIY/indie shows can be quite unpredictable. “It can be really hard to capture the in-person feel of a show when it’s happening in low lighting or with flashing light / over-saturated set design,” she said. Matching the pace of any movements on stage is also something to navigate, but these challenges, Gastado said, are just “trial and error.”

A visual artist, in this case, a photographer, retains a certain role in preserving and celebrating music culture since it acts as the bridge between the performing artist and fans, the internet, tabloids, etc. When asking Sydney Gastaldo and Jordan Markle how they see their work contributing to this broader cultural narrative, they provided similar opinions. 

Markle seeks that his work tell someone’s story and preserve memorable moments for years to come. “I see it as a means of capturing the intersection of music, art, and human experience […] whether it’s through documenting live performances, capturing intimate moments backstage, I want my photos to tell stories,” he said.

Gastaldo shared how for her, photography in the realm of live music cements these seemingly small moments that can often feel big for those attending. Moreover, her work focuses on underground and more obscure kinds of music or smaller bands/artists existing in the local scene. “A lot of them split apart and/or don’t end up making a living out of their craft and all that is left of their work is people’s memories and photographs/videos. But regardless of how successful they may be in a broader sense, the impact that their music had on their fans and the community and the beauty of their live performances still means something and I think capturing that and cementing it in history can be beautiful,“ Gastaldo proudly answered. 


From utilizing a small-budget camera or owning professional high-grade equipment, from capturing a small local stage to a large national music festival, live music photographers, like Sydney Gastaldo and Jordan Markle, make sure to remain intentional with their craft. They deliver the most authentic representation of the evening through passionate intentions for the art and story behind each frame. 

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Faye Webster—Underdressed at the Symphony

The American singer-songwriter put out her fifth album with waves of love from listeners since its release on March 1st.

The month of March started on a more-than-pleasant note after the Atlanta-born singer, songwriter, and musician Faye Webster dropped her fifth studio record Underdressed at the Symphony. Composed of 10 tracks with a runtime of about 37 minutes, Webster continues the sonic sound she has built and refined over the years. 

If you are not already familiar with her work, you might have heard a snippet of one of her most famous songs “Kingston” being used a lot as a TikTok audio; or you may have caught videos online of the artist performing covers of the soundtrack of the popular video game Animal Crossing at past concerts. Her witty but refined alternative sound is sustained with this new record and old and new fans can equally experience what Faye Webster is all about without any filter.    

As stated in a biography section under her label’s Secretly Canadian website, “The title of Faye Webster’s new album is inspired by her occasional compulsion to lose herself amongst concertgoers at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.” Indeed, the singer would find herself spontaneously going to symphonies to escape and find herself in an environment where she didn’t necessarily feel like she belonged. 

Right at the beginning of the album, we are in the midst of a dreamy ‘70s pop and mellow country sound with R&B ties. The bass, guitar and drums slowly come in to create this canvas for Faye Webster to remind us how lovely her vocal range is. The opening track “Thinking About You” is sweet and straightforward, in which Webster thinks aimlessly about a certain someone.  The seamless mix of genres at the very start perfectly introduces the consistent sound that will follow. It is also essentially coming from her roots back in Atlanta and the influence of its city’s music scene. 

One of my favourite moments in the album is in the next track titled “But Not Kiss.” Webster softly starts singing “I want to sleep in your arms,…” with a delicate guitar playing in the background, right before a playful and powerful piano and drums abruptly come in while she adds “but not kiss” to the line. The contrast in both the lyrics is brilliantly transferred musically and takes the listener by surprise more than once throughout the song. 

Another special moment is the fourth track “Lego Ring” which features multi-hyphenate artist Lil Yachty as the only guest on the album. The two were actually close friends in middle school as Atlanta teenagers, as Webster shared in a 2017 W profile. I especially love the rough but calculated guitar that starts the song off along with Webster’s higher-pitched vocals that contrast with Lil Yachty’s autotuned lower tone.  

One of the finest songs of the entire album for me is definitely “Feeling Good Today.” The catchy melody Wesbter sustains over its lyrics tells of a mundane-sounding day. All the lines in the song are so simple yet so telling as if coming straight out of her personal day. However, what makes it extra special is the line that sets the scenery of the song when she sings “I’m feeling good today, I ate before noon, I think that’s pretty good for me.” That really struck a chord in me and made me realize that sometimes the most basic-sounding phrases hold the most weight. 

The track that stayed the most in my head after my numerous listens ended up being the eighth track, “eBay Purchase History.” The fact that this is the title of the song intrigued me, but what made it memorable is how the phrase was used throughout the lyrics. Webster is essentially expressing how, if someone were to snoop in her eBay purchase history, it would tell a lot about her. There are so many ways one could share how to understand them better, and the artist conveys this playfully on top of this mellow melody and delightful production. 

Underdressed at the Symphony is simply a great add-on to Webster’s discography and enriches it to the maximum. From smooth and catchy vocals to raw and vulnerable lyrics along with the uniformity of warm-sounding instruments, this project is proof that Faye Webster never disappoints. 

Score: 9/10

Trial Track: “eBay Purchase History”

Categories
Music

Honourable Music Mentions from Early 2024

The Music Editors of The Concordian share their favourite releases of the year so far.

Tabéa’s Picks:

Little Simz – Drop 7

British MC Little Simz is back with a seven-track EP where she encapsulates catchy and invigorating beats and melodies. Drop 7’s electrifying sounds seamlessly blend from song to song to give all listeners a memorable experience. The artist even incorporates Portuguese in the second track “Fever” which propels its energy to a whole other level of passion and power. If you are seeking to discover a project full of a high level of energy and fun, definitely add Drop 7 to your music library!

Trial Track: “Fever”

Brittany Howard – What Now

Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Brittany Howard from the American band Alabama Shakes dropped her second solo album in early February. What Now is a collection of 12 tracks with a runtime of just under 40 minutes that mixes R&B, alternative and rock elements to create an alluring and warm project. Its second track titled “I Don’t” is such a lovely song that any music lover would immediately connect with it. Its timeless but also beautifully calculated melodies and production incorporate touches of neo-soul that create an aura of peace and mellowness.   

Trial Track: “I Don’t”

Papooz – RESONATE

Back in January, French band Papooz released their fourth album RESONATE composed of 11 tracks. Based in Paris, members Ulysse Cottin and Armand Penicaut continue their classic indie-pop sound and catchy tunes with a cohesive album that evokes a sunny and bubbly day. The witty harmonies and songs feature groovy bass and synths along with bright guitar chords. I notably love the vocals on the third track “IT HURTS ME” which merges into the warm-sounding production, especially moments right before the chorus where they are beautifully layered and the melody smoothly transitions into the snappy chorus. 

Trial Track: “IT HURTS ME”

Stefano’s Picks:

Nicholas Craven & Boldy James – Penalty of Leadership

Nicholas Craven returns with Boldy James for Penalty of Leadership, their second joint mixtape. The Québécois producer provides Boldy James with a new assortment of soul sample-based instrumentals, this time with a heavier tone. The mixtape marks James’ first release following a near-fatal car crash, and its lyrical content revolves around life and experiences. It chronicles the cold realities of gang life in Detroit, all over an orchestral backdrop. James is a vivid yet blunt descriptor, which leaves his compelling lyricism style unparalleled.

Trial Track: “Formal Invite”

Yeat – 2093

Yeat’s latest record 2093 is a full-fledged dive into worldbuilding. He blends his unique brand of hip-hop with electronic influences to craft a dark, dystopian, industrial soundscape with a Cyberpunk feel. The production is layered, cinematic, and versatile. There are explosive, moshpit-ready ragers (“ILUV”), danceable electronic cuts (“Breathe,” “Team ceo”), and everything in between. 2093 is Yeat’s latest creative leap, pushing boundaries that have yet to be explored by most mainstream hip-hop. 

Trial Track: “Team ceo”

Bad Gyal – La Joia

Released at the end of January, Bad Gyal’s debut album La Joia is an upbeat project with loads of mainstream appeal and a variety of influences. The Catalan singer offers a handful of bright reggaeton bangers while incorporating different genres into the tracklist. Afrobeats, dancehall, house, and dance music are all present, with some of them being intertwined with reggaeton. Her distinctly bold voice is unique and, when combined with autotune, results in a unique tone that sets her apart from her contemporaries. At just 40 minutes in runtime, La Joia is a fun and easy listen that you should have in your rotation, especially when summertime rolls around.

Trial Track: “Perdió Este Culo”

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Music

Lyrics vs. production: what do you gravitate towards? 

A bilingual student shares how much value the lyrics hold in their music listening experience.

Have you ever wondered what kind of attention you devote to lyrics or production in a song? Why do people listen to music in a language they don’t even understand? 

Teaching at the University of the Philippines Diliman, ethnomusicologist Lisa Decenteceo explained in a Vice article that “there’s something about the appeal of words as sounds, beyond their meaning in a language.” Indeed, “sound symbolism” is part of the picture when passively or actively listening to music, which is the relationship between utterances and their meaning.

Regarding listening to music in a language that isn’t so familiar to us, music teacher and music therapy master’s student Thea Tolentino also features in Vice how “most of the time, when listening to music in a foreign language, we enjoy the lyrics as sounds and not words.” Tolentino also adds that a process called entrainment retains the link between the response of sound and the brain which “synchronizes our breathing, our movement, even neural activities [with the sounds we hear].”

First-year communications student Zixuan Li is fluent in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and some French. “My main focus has always been the melody of a song because I just inherently never find myself gravitating towards lyrics for some reason,” she says. 

No matter the language, lyrics are never something she pays natural attention to unless she actively chooses to. Recently, Li has been incorporating more of an intentional concentration on the meaning of a track alongside the sonic elements. 

She says that when she sings along to a song, even when it is one she has listened to countless times, she still doesn’t know what is coming out of her mouth. “It’s like muscle memory and sounds to me, instead of being literal words that I process,” she adds. 

When it comes to the contrast between music featuring different languages she knows, Li admits she mostly listens to music in English despite her mother tongue being Cantonese. “I think in theory it tends to be easier to pay more attention to the lyrics in my first language since it comes easy,” Li shares. As for English and French, she says it takes more work and energy. 

Moreover, Li finds that a song’s structure will sound completely different in a certain language. Even if the songs are both in the same genre and hold similar melodies, their respective languages will make it so that lyrics in French, for example, will make a song sound drastically dissimilar to Li as opposed to how a Cantonese lyrics’ tone merges into a song. This all influences her direct notice of the lyrics’ meaning and space that a song’s storytelling holds for her. 

In general, Li is more in tune with a track’s melodies and harmonies, while lyrics are still a second thought. “The way I receive information is more natural in Chinese so it’s less hard work to engage with lyrics firsthand,” Li adds. The music production for the student is so much more significant than the lyrics.  

In my case, French is my first language and I am now almost as comfortable communicating in English as in French. I see the lines blurring more and more. However, I tend to concentrate equally on a song’s lyrics and instruments when it is in French, whereas I will take a while to look beyond the music itself in a track in English. 

From engaging in music in Cantonese in her younger years to branching out to music from other corners of the world, Li reveals that what fundamentally matters to her is how good the music sounds and thus intuitively lets the lyrics blend within the production.

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Music

Essential Valentine’s Day tracks

Your Valentine’s Day playlist will be complete thanks to these picks from our Music Editors.

Tabéa’s Picks:

“Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” by James Blake

In my books, James Blake is an artist who can convey his thoughts and feelings in a raw and affectionate manner, especially when it comes to love in any form. “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” is no exception and an ultimate devotion of Blake revealing to himself and the world how close he feels with his partner. The repetition of him singing that he can’t believe how they flow together only strengthens how well they fit together. This song also acts as a reminder that there is an opportunity to build a stronger connection with any person you love in your life, whether it be platonic or romantic.  

“Kiss of Life” by Sade

Most Sade songs could have been included, but “Kiss of Life” is extra special to me because it’s one of the first songs of hers that I heard. The entire track just screams being head over heels in love with someone, but also with life in general. As Sade softly sings: “The sky is full of love.” However, the energy of the song resides in this line, which takes the cake for me: “I swear the whole world could feel my heartbeat when I lay eyes on you.” She pours her heart out and it’s hard to not feel that loving, contagious feeling. 

“Prototype” by Outkast

This song is one of Outkast’s best in my opinion, especially when the bass comes in and Andre 3000 sings: “I think I’m in love again.” That part is what makes this song so hypnotizing and warm. Despite the song depicting someone who may or may not be the one, it’s all about being fully vulnerable that you’re feeling some type of way towards someone else, but especially the awareness of falling in love again after a while. I especially love the line: “I wanna say stank you very much for picking me up and bringing me back to this world.” To me, it’s such a lovely way to say how meeting someone can make you feel like you’re stepping back into the world through a new connection.

Stefano’s Picks:

“World We Created” by Giveon

Giveon’s “World We Created” is a smooth ballad about basking in the bliss of simply being alongside your partner. Backed by a soft guitar and some ambient nature sounds, the track truly creates a mellow setting that feels like a romantic night under an open sky. The song is complete with a horn section, which truly makes it the serenade it is. Giveon sounds absolutely smitten by even the simplest things (like watching his lover as they lay in bed), and his unique, deep vocal register comes with its own romantic charm. It’s the song Giveon dedicated to couples on his recent tour, and one that you should dedicate to your loved one on Feb. 14.

“BESO” by ROSALÍA & Rauw Alejandro

“BESO” (the Spanish word for “kiss”) finds then-couple ROSALÍA and Rauw Alejandro absolutely infatuated with one another on a record. The song is bright and melodic and their singing voices are beautifully complementary. The track is ridden with compliments and the sentiment of romance is undeniable with lyrics like: “Lo mejor que tengo es el amor que me das” [the best thing I’ve got is the love that you give me]. It’s a lighthearted, heartwarming duet with a nice reggaeton bounce featuring two of the brightest voices in Latin music.

“PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” by Beyoncé

“PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” never fails to amaze me with its driving groove and Beyoncé’s angelic voice. Its jazzy instrumental is laid back and soothing, which perfectly sets the intimate tone one would want on Valentine’s Day. The song is an ode to her husband JAY-Z where she expresses her adoration for all the little things he does that she loves. Beyoncé’s singing is especially soft as she flies in and out of high notes using her soprano voice. The emotion she brings to her vocal performances further emphasizes the song’s sentiment of love. “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” is vividly heartfelt and a perfect tone-setter for Valentine’s Day.

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Music

The profile of a third-year jazz student at Concordia

Jonah Brender’s typical days as a bassist in Concordia’s jazz music department.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like being a music student at university? In an interview with The Concordian, Jonah Brender, a bassist in the jazz department at Concordia, shared his personal experience of being in the program for three years.

Brender’s music journey started with taking piano and guitar lessons as a kid, even though nothing really stuck with him at the time. “It was only when I had finished high school that I discovered the bass guitar and fell in love,” he said. 

Now in his final year,  Brender plays the double/acoustic bass after strictly playing the electric bass for a few years.

A typical day of classes for Brender is a blend of theory, history/context, ear training, and performance—sometimes also including composition and arranging. Most music students are also required to take a year-long choir course.

“Students in their earlier years of study often have course schedules which lean towards the theoretical, historical, and ear training classes, with performance then being incorporated in as well,” Brender noted. Playing assignments, in-class singing exercises, or listening to musical excerpts are incorporated during lecture-based classes. Performance-wise, music students would play with ensembles of varying sizes, being led by a teacher/band director.. 

Homework for performance classes usually consists of preparing an exercise, part, or piece to be played. History classes often require essay assignments, as well as listening tests where students have to identify a song upon hearing an excerpt of it. “It’s not always as easy when dealing with more obscure, instrumental music, plus you may be asked to remember the date, instrumentation, etc. as well,” Brender said. 

Ear training classes, which Brendon noted as the most difficult part of music school, test one with aural dictation exams where a briefly played chord, series of notes, or both, are expected to be recognized. The bassist also shared how he and his fellow students tend to dread their jury exams at the end of the semester. “Imagine performing alone in a large room by yourself, with three judges looking, listening and taking notes… Somehow this is much more stressful than playing to a large audience,” he expressed. 

When it comes to his routine practice, Brender finds time in between classes. On average, he estimates about three to four hours of practice a day on weekdays and about five to six hours a day on weekends.

Brender finds that he has vastly improved over the course of his program years: “I’ve been working really hard over the past couple of years and it’s really gratifying to see that shining through in my playing, and in the opportunities which are being presented to me,” Brender shared proudly. 

The third-year jazz student hosted and organized the Concordia Student Jazz Jam at Upstairs Jazz Club in Fall 2023—a weekly event where a house band made up of Concordia music students and special guest invites performed a list of songs together. After the house set, Brender noted,  members of the audience were invited to come up and jam as well. 

The end of the semester is always a busy time in the music department as final concerts are organized by the performance classes. These concerts take place at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall at the Loyola campus and are a great opportunity for students to come to watch their peers perform (no admission charge for students!).

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Music

Recap of music festival documentary It Could Only Happen Here 

Unfolding the core of Quebec’s Festival de Musique Émergente (FME) through the eyes of director Stephan Boissonneault.

A music documentary based in Canada that highlights a local music festival doesn’t come out every month and that’s exactly why I jumped at the opportunity of seeing a screening of Stephan Boissonneault’s debut feature film, It Could Only Happen Here.

The 74-minute music documentary film is all about the Festival de Musique Émergente (FME) and was in the local theatre Cinémathèque québécoise from Jan. 19 until Jan. 24 last week. The underground and DIY flair of the film tells the story of FME’s debut to current festival editions. 

Located in the town of Rouyn-Noranda, this festival saw the light of the day in September 2003 with 22 bands and a budget of $60,000. Various interviews with staff members, programmers, audio technicians, festival organizers, and venue managers depict how the festival ran back then, and how it continues to run in present times. 

In one of the first interviews in It Could Only Happen Here, the FME founders Karine Berthiaume, Jenny Thibault et Sandy Boutin, shared how the initial crafting of the festival was born out of them being tired of always having to go to Montreal when they were craving live band performances. Together in a car in November 2022, they set up a goal to create what we know today as the FME. The founders were asking fellow friends to help out whether it was for cooking duties or production wise. From the very start, FME felt “lowkey and do it yourself” as the founders expressed. 

Dubbed as one of Quebec’s best-kept secrets, FME’s focal point is on emerging Canadian bands, besides a few bigger international headliners. Boissonneault’s documentary includes Interviews with many artists from recent editions of the festival, such as Chad VanGaalen, Bonnie Trash, Tamar Aphek, Julie Doiron, OMBIIGIZI, Gus Englehorn, and Balaklava Blues. 

Director Boissonneault is a freelance music journalist who began his videography career within Concordia University’s CUTV by filming protest events. As for the birth of It Could Only Happen Here, Boissonneault initially went to the 2022 edition and got a lot of video documentation since he was covering the festival for CULT MTL. 

After collecting an extensive amount of footage, many people then asked him if he could do something special since it was FME’s 20th anniversary. Boissonneault thought it would amount to a 15-minute documentary but after accumulating 12 hours of footage, the project got bigger and bigger to the point of releasing It Could Only Happen Here. 

A member from one of the many bands that were interviewed saw “FME as magic” and that the town it’s set in is friendly. Plenty of bands also noted how FME is extra special since the team makes sure to accommodate all artists. Artists also noted how FME excels in encouraging and promoting new artists that people might be hesitant to check out. 

When asked about the creative process of It Could Only Happen Here, director Boissonneault answered that the very first shot was taken in 2021. However, at that time, he was unaware of the fact that he would end up making a documentary out of it. “I attended the festival three years in a row,” Boissonneault shared. During this time, he and his team shot, directed, and released It Could Only Happen Here—all within two years. 
FME is the fruit of so many people’s labour over the past two decades, and Stephan Boissonneault’s full-length documentary It Could Only Happen Here definitely navigates the growth of it all.

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Music

The special gift of music and synesthesia 

A breakdown of what chromesthesia is at its core—students share their connections to it. 

When pressing play on a song on your phone, your only intention is to appreciate the track in question. For some, passively or actively listening to music involves more than giving an ear to it. 

This is when synesthesia meets with music. Synesthesia is essentially an occurrence where sensory crossovers happen. This combination of different human senses collide and merge. It can come in various degrees and causes some people to associate a sound or taste with a number, for example. 

There are also about 80 different types, subtypes, manifestations and other similar phenomena of synesthesia. Chromesthesia is one of them, which specifically defines people who see colours when listening to music. It can also take the shape of  “hearing a certain timbre or musical note, smell a perfume and hear a sound, or see a word and taste a flavour,” according to Pitchfork magazine. Additionally, American neurologist and author Dr. Cytowic indicates that about four per cent of people have synesthesia in some capacity. An array of artists like Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Lorde, and composer and pianist Duke Ellington had it.

Within the music industry, artists have shared about their personal synesthesia. During an interview with Nylon magazine, Billie Eilish notably expressed how it helps her creative process, especially during the creation of music videos, her artworks and song choices during live performances. The bond between artists’ synesthesia and their careers can have tangible impacts on the image of their work. Indeed, the album cover of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is a straightforward orange canvas since it was the colour he saw when falling in love for the first time.

Other examples include Pharrell Williams seeing burgundy or baby blue when listening to Earth, Wind & Fire when younger, and Kanye West seeing dark brown and purple when hearing basslines. When creating an original score or forming any piece of music, Devonté Hynes aka Blood Orange explained in a TED Talk that he starts with patterns and colours, and layers them like a picture. The artist associates yellow with the C key, pink with F, brown with E, and red with A, which creates a canvas that helps him fill any gaps. 

Copy editor at The Concordian Mackenzie Sanche shares that she’s had grapheme-colour synesthesia since a young age, which causes her to associate numbers and letters with specific colours. Having this type of synesthesia made Sanche good at remembering numbers, dates and certain spellings because she’d see the colours splattered in her mind and could then identify which numbers she was looking for. 

Specific associations such as Jacques Cartier’s first trip to Quebec in 1534 show up as a splash of white, lilac, red and royal blue in her mind. “I remember when I realized in CEGEP that this type of memorization wasn’t the norm—as a visual artist, I felt honoured to have this condition that merged my art to things I’m not so strong at, like math and history,” she adds. 

Music-wise, Sanche does have some bits of chromesthesia. Some songs she grew up listening to still appear as full paintings in her mind, such as “Tears and Rain” by James Blunt, which translates to dark blue and lime green cylinders rising and falling. Sanche notes that while her synesthesia rarely manifests that way anymore without concentration, her memories are forever engraved in her head.

There is however a fine line between memory associations with music and synesthesia itself. Zixuan Li, a first-year communications student, vividly associates listening to a playlist featuring the band Khruangbin with the past winter semester. She had just gotten herself new headphones and wore them all the time to school. “I spent most of my time at the downtown campus and would often go to the hive café and JMSB building during that time,” Li shares. 

After leaving Montreal during the summertime and rarely listening to music throughout her trip, the communications student revisited Khruangbin and got hit by a wave of nostalgia. “I could smell the hive café where I’d typically order a grilled cheese and cappuccino and physically feel the heat of the JMSB building,” adds Li. 

Whether it’s musicians or your next-door neighbour, synesthesia—especially when interacted with through music—is more common than we may think.

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Music

Student and staff 2023 top music recap 

To close off 2023, students and staff share their music highlights from the past year. 

Every year, we are blessed with new music releases, visits from various artists hosting concerts and showcases in Montreal, and countless music-based events throughout the seasons. Last year was no exception. Concordia students and staff at The Concordian share the music they most interacted with in 2023 before we collectively jump towards the music 2024 has to offer. 

Aidan Matthews, a photography student in his last semester, got to spend two nights at the Bell Centre as part of the photo team for Drake’s It’s All A Blur Tour after getting the call the morning of the first show. “Watching Drake come down the steps to ‘Look What You’ve Done’ gave me goosebumps both times,” he says. 

Matthews had been listening to Drake since high school so it was a real full-circle moment and a key music memory of his year. Otherwise, 2023 was a year when he became bored with a lot of the music he was listening to. “I listened to less rap than in previous years,” Matthews adds. The Pinegrove Shuffle trend on TikTok pointed him to Pinegrove, who became one of his most listened-to bands in 2023. Matthews also listened to a lot more pop, folk and alternative with artists like Zach Bryan, Del Water Gap, Toro Y Moi, and Caroline Polachek.

Another photography student, Simaiya Shirley, primarily listened to indie and alternative-based artists. She wanted to release pent-up rage and leave room for love, which translated to the music she engaged with in 2023. Recent releases she gravitated toward include Billie Marten’s Drop Cherries, Feist’s Multitudes and This is Why by Paramore. These projects and others from past years have all become musical crutches for Shirley and are still artists that she consistently returns to for belonging and guidance.

Graduate student in Women, Gender and Sexuality studies Akira De Carlos comments on how “Loading” by James Blake was definitely their song of the past year. “James Blake is probably my favourite artist of all time and 2023 was very much a ‘damage in repair’ year for me, so ‘Loading’ felt very reflective of that,” they share. De Carlos rode their bike a lot to that song and it always hit, because it felt like a very transitional but powerful song and 2023 was just that kind of year for them. The graduate student has always loved James Blake for the emotion he evokes in them and this song was another good example of raw vulnerability which reflected De Carlos’ “in my healing” era of 2023. “I knew I was setting myself up for greatness but I wasn’t quite there yet and ‘Loading’ feels exactly that,” they add.

As for studio arts student Viva Egoyan-Rokeby, their most exciting new music moment of 2023 was seeing post-punk and noise rock band Model/Actriz live in Montreal last spring. That show was most definitely memorable for them and they are still looking forward to any future music project. Although Egoyan-Rokeby mostly listens to older music, 2023 was a year in which they branched out into listening to newer stuff from their favourite genres. “Some notable new-ish artists I discovered this year were Aurat, which is a Pakistani American darkwave/coldwave band, Second Still (more coldwave), and De Ambassade (even more coldwave, but Swedish this time),” they share. Last year was also a huge PJ Harvey year for them.

The Concordian’s video editor Jacqueline Lisbona’s favourite music moment of 2023 was the Morgan Wallen concert back in September. She’s a huge country music fan and it was one of the best concerts she’s ever been to. “I also loved ending off 2023 with Tate McRae’s Think Later album because it really helped me get through the last push of exam studying and I love her music so much,” Lisbona says. Her favourite tracks on the album include “stay done” and “grave.”

News editor Emma Megelas’ music highlight was the day Bad Bunny’s new album, Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana, came out as a complete surprise to everyone. “It was the best day of my life and I had no idea what to expect,” Megelas says. That album resonated with her 2023 so much she got to discover new parts of herself, grow in new ways and just be present without any expectations of what would happen next and that album is the perfect description of her 2023. Megelas definitely sees herself bringing Bad Bunny over to 2024.
As for myself, I always seem to surpass the amount of music I listen to each year and find new music gems. I’m also immensely grateful to have been able to attend performances overseas in 2023 from some of my top listened-to artists like Yves Tumor and Kendrick Lamar on stage during NxWorries at Primavera Sound Festival, and incredible live shows in Montreal such as Yaeji and James Blake. New artists on my radar in 2023 included Swiss rapper Makala, and French composer and singer Chassol. My rotation in terms of favourite 2023 album releases were Sampha’s Lahai, Kelela’s Raven and The Rat Road by SBTRKT. I thoroughly am looking forward to all upcoming 2024 music moments.

Categories
Interview Music

Concordia artist Vikki Gilmore discusses her album Mental Backroads and its launch in Montreal

A chat with Gilmore about her debut folk album and a preview of its celebration launch event planned for Dec. 10. 

Following the recent release of her debut album Mental Backroads on Oct. 20, child studies MA Concordia student and music artist Vikki Gilmore discusses the making of the project and gives insight on her upcoming album launch event on Dec. 10 at Le Ministère in Montreal. 

The local artist was born and raised in the city and has been involved with music since high school. Gilmore taught herself how to play acoustic guitar around the age of 16 so she could accompany her poetry with music. She’s gone from school talent shows to doing gigs around Montreal during her time at university. 

The musician has been writing songs for years and said that finally coming out with an album is “a lifelong dream and it means the world to me.” Gilmore’s intention was to tell life stories that others can connect with, namely discussing family, friends, love, nostalgia, grief and mental health. 

Mental Backroads is meant to take the listener on a metaphorical and literal road trip through their mind. Its songs weave a story with stories from her personal experience that she hopes are relatable to others. The main message is about being patient with yourself during any new journey one embarks on. 

Gilmore describes her music as Indie-folk soup for the soul that could be mistaken for the soundtrack of Gilmore Girls. Her sound ranges from twangy folk to alternative pop/rock and is great for fans of Phoebe Bridgers, Daughter, boygenius, Lizzy McAlpine and Joni Mitchell. The artist also takes care in connecting what she’s learned from her background in psychology to her lyrics. The classes and her involvement and interest in the subject have deeply influenced how she conveys her emotions and ideas. She’s able to relate them efficiently through words with ease and connection via her knowledge of psychology.

Gilmore said the creation of her debut indie-folk album has been the most exhilarating and difficult part of her music career. “Releasing it independently has taken a lot of dedication, spending most of my nights planning promo, filming music videos with friends, doing my own PR, planning finances, and more,” she said. 

Having to write, record, plan a release, plan the promo, and then plan live shows was the same process as previous EP releases, but she said that completing an eight-song album involved difficult mental aspects and financial commitment. The scale this time was completely different. Gilmore also never creates music with profit in mind and therefore always writes from the heart. Most of the songs on this album took between 20 minutes and an hour of writing, while the album’s production process took months, “but the writing just flows,” she said. 

Vikki Gilmore shared that her writing process is therapeutic. The Montreal singer doesn’t adopt any particular habit while writing but notes that it helps her process difficult emotions, which is a habit she’s developed over the years. Notably, the song “Pieces in the Black” came from a time when she was navigating a deep sadness and wanted to write something she could listen back to in the future.

For this project, Gilmore collaborated with a few Canadian-based producers. Her longtime collaborator Mathieu LeGuerrier mixed and produced the majority of the songs. Jacob Liutkus produced “If I Wrote You”, and “Stranded” was produced by Gert Taberner. “It was really cool to work with a variety of producers and you can probably hear hints of each of their production styles in the different songs,” she said. 

Gilmore brainstormed the idea of a road trip and postcard aesthetic to match the theme of the music. Tyler Piechota designed it to depict vintage scenic postcards in Colorado, “which has become one of my favourite places in the world,” Gilmore shared. The physical design of the vinyl version is a postcard with a guide map as the insert. “The visuals are cohesive and match perfectly with the sound to support painting a picture of travelling through life and the experiences and growth that come with exploring ourselves and the world,” she said. 

Gilmore hopes that this project is a warm hug to whoever needs it. Like a lullaby from the moon when you can’t sleep at night, plagued with fears of abandonment, wondering about the people you lost touch with, thinking of the people that have passed on, and reflecting on life with kindness for the previous versions of yourself. Gilmore especially learned about resilience and self-love during the creation of Mental Backroads. “In an era of streaming and social media, it can be hard comparing yourself to others,” she added.  


The album launch on Dec. 10 at Le Ministère promises to be beautiful, with twinkling lights, a guitarist and a drummer to support Gilmore on stage. It will be her first live show since the pandemic and she is beyond eager to connect with other music fans during the evening. There will be performances of songs from Mental Backroads with some older songs and possibly some surprise ones. The night will start with Callahan and the Woodpile performing a solo acoustic act to set the stage for an indie-folk cozy night out. If you’re looking for an excuse to discover some new music, get dressed up, and have a night out on the town, stop by!

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