By Glenn Alderson
MONTREAL — Every year the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) invites 70 handpicked electronic music artists, performers and DJs from different cities all over the world to meet in one desirable location to collaborate, create and learn from both each other and industry professionals in a space that provides all of the essential tools and technology necessary. Since its inception in 1998, RBMA has set up shop in major metropolitan centres like Berlin, Sao Palo, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris; and each year, the creative minds behind the academy create a workspace environment that almost seems fantasy like. Montreal, Quebec marked the meeting place for the 2016 RBMA and located in the heart of Old Montreal at the Phi Centre, a multipurpose event space, is where its headquarters were stationed from September 24 to October 28.
Separated in to two separate two-week sessions, splitting the group of 70 delegates in half, BeatRoute was invited to drop in and check out the inner workings of their operation and act as a fly on the wall for a couple days during the second semester. Imagine a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but instead of talking ghosts and tiny magicians you are surrounded by some of the most talented undiscovered electronic artists who are all there to learn and participate.
Walking up to the steps of the RBMA, the entrance is inconspicuous for the most part. Past the security personnel at the front desk, you walk in to a lobby filled with couches, towering palms and other indoor tropical greenery hanging from the ceiling. It’s the middle of the semester so everyone is already well acquainted with each other as they talk amongst themselves while filing in to the lecture hall for their 12 o’clock daily lecture. First on the agenda on this particular day is a back and forth with Montreal producer Jacques Greene. For two hours the participants are invited in to the mind of one of the city’s greatest current electronic music exports as he talks openly about his beginnings as an artist, the process of his work and how he approaches all of the different facets of his career — from the music to the visuals to the promotion and distribution of his deep dancefloor cuts. Everyone is very attentive and respectful as he bestows his knowledge to the small audience of inquiring minds.
After the lecture, the already converted disciples pour out of the lecture hall to go back to their respective studios, fully inspired and ready to keep working. You can feel the energy of the creative process well at work, billowing down the staircase that leads up to the top three floors that are filled with different studios and workspaces. On the first floor up, you come up to a caged area that looks like a police evidence room, only the contraband, guns and boring files have been replaced by an impressive selection of top-of-the-line equipment — keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines, computers and such — which are there for the students to check out as needed. Each of the ten studio rooms in the Phi Centre are available to use 24 hours a day and have been meticulously decorated by Montreal-based interior designer Zébulon Perron, creating a unique environment that embodies the RBMA’s vision for a welcoming space. Ambient lighting, comfy couches, vivid colours and engaging artwork from notable artists all over the world line the walls and fill the corners with tasteful attention to detail. Some rooms are bigger than others. One of the biggest studios even has projections on the wall and huge grand piano in the middle, surrounded by drum kits, synthesizers and a bunch of other equipment. It’s in this room that pianist, producer and songwriter Chili Gonzales has been collaborating with a small group of the second semester delegates to create a synergetic piece of music that is building on a work-in-progress brought to the table by Australian-born and Vancouver-based artist Angus Tarnawsky.
“The biggest lesson I’m learning is that you can be an artist in any way that you want and there is no such thing as professionalism or amateurism, we just all have to create,” Tarnawsky says.
Primarily a drummer, Tarnawsky has played as a session musician for numerous bands from around the world and even dabbled with hardcore music in the very Germs-inspired Flowers Of Evil. As a producer he plays and records on analog drums before putting them through a varied digital process, effectively blurring the lines between the synthetic and the organic.
“Several people around here have used the word therapeutic and realizing that music you make can not only be healing for you but also for other people. If it does something for you though in the first place, then that’s the ultimate. I think the RBMA really reinforces that to the people here; that we’re not here to learn how to get a manager or navigate the music industry. They are teaching that creativity is an endless thing and that if you want to be creative, then just do it.”
There’s nothing soulless or overtly corporate about the RBMA once you’re on the inside. In a day and age where the music industry is so threatened by illegal downloading and lack of funding in every capacity, the RBMA instead embraces everything that is right with music, which is ultimately the creative process behind everything. It is this mentality that has kept its momentum going strong for the past 18 years.
“I think one of the really nice things that can also manifest here is that you are surrounded by people here who are also really famous but you immediately notice how humble they are. I mean, you have lunch with them, you have dinner with them,” Tarnawsky says. “Every single day, I get to fist bump Thundercat, Chilly Gonzalez has my back and is helping me orchestrate music in a smarter way. These are things that are great because if you saw these guys on the street you might be overwhelmed, but to be here in this capacity where we are all equals of sorts, working on the same things is a really humbling and great lesson.”
For more information on the Red Bull Music Academy and its many community outreach initiatives, visit http://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/BC, British Columbia, Red Bull Music Academy