By Glenn Alderson
MONTREAL – It’s a balmy 27 degrees outside at the end of September and even though most people in Montreal are outside enjoying the unexpected heat wave, the 20 fortunate handpicked participants of the Red Bull Music Academy are sitting on the top floor of the Phi Centre in Old Montreal, bobbing their heads intently to the beat of Drake’s 2009 breakout single, “Best I Ever Had.” The music fades down half way through and everyone breaks in to a riotous and enthusiastic applause for the man sitting in front of them on the couch, Toronto-based music producer Boi-1da. He’s being interviewed in front of the Academy participants as part of their lecture series, but he’s coming at them from a different place than if he was being interviewed by a music journalist. Instead, the questions being directed at him from the moderator are more from a technical side. The producer has played a big role in shaping not only Drake’s sound and career, but he’s also had a hand in creating some of the biggest rap and r&b songs outside of OVO. From Eminem and 50 Cent to Rihanna, Jay-Z, Kanye and even Lana Del Ray, Boi-1da is an important behind-the-scenes player in modern pop music and today he’s been invited to share his story and impart some of his wisdom on the eager up-and-coming talent sitting in front of him.
The 20 participants of this particular chapter of Red Bull Music Academy are here for Bass Camp, an offshoot of the annual RBMA that is hosted in a different city around the world each year. This past year the Academy chose Montreal as their home base and, as it would happen, Montreal turned out to be the perfect city to host the creativity and collaboration, paired with their evening events at various venues around the city and are open to the public. While the annual RBMA is an international program that splits their 40 participants in to two groups and invites them to create and collaborate over the space of a week, the Bass Camp Weekender is a bit of a smaller more laid back operation, but equally as intense in its scope. Involving specifically Canadian participants from across the country, Bass Camp brought the action back to Montreal for four more days, September 21 to 24.
Listening to the infectious beat of Rihanna’s “Work” reverberating through the speakers in the conference room while being in the presence of its creator, it’s hard not to acknowledge that there is something very real going on here. As the Boi-1da lecture ends, the floor is opened up to questions from the Bass Camp participants and there’s a level of intimacy that is immediately measurable within the small group. Calgary-based DJ Jodie Overland puts up her hand to ask a question about the producer’s degree of involvement working with and signing female talent to his new label — an important question to ask in such a male dominated industry and something Overland has personally been a big proponent of in her hometown through hosting female DJ workshops. The producer answers her honestly — he does, but he’d like to work with more. You can tell he’s one of the good ones, but the question opens the dialogue of the weekend nicely to the topic of gender balance and equality.
The Q&A ends and the participants break for lunch before going back to their studios to continue working and collaborating on new tracks together, using all of the equipment and resources provided to them. A couple studio advisers have also been invited to act as mentors during the creative process, one of which is Montreal’s Marie-Hélène Delorme who performs under the moniker FOXTROTT and is signed to Bjork’s label, One Little Indian. “What I like about Bass Camp is it’s a lot of exploration and networking,” Delorme says. “Everybody is kind of on the same level too when you’re here. Some people maybe have careers that are more advanced than others, but creatively we’re all on the same page.”
The role of the moderators is to act as more of a facilitator and ensure the participants have what they need to ensure a healthy collaboration process. “You’re not necessarily here to finish a track,” Delorme continues. “It’s more about meeting people and getting outside of your comfort zone musically. When I did it I started some songs that I never finished, but I also met some people who became my close friends and I still collaborate with.”
Throughout the four days at Bass Camp, the participants were treated to evening performances by the likes of Orphx, Pan Daijing, SADAF and Dopethrone on Thursday at the Societe Des Arts Technologique, a futuristic space that provided the perfect environment to indulge in the droney and noisier side of electronic music.
Friday’s evening celebrations took the party to a whole other level at the Cirque Éloize space, an army barracks of sorts inhabited by a contemporary circus troupe. This evening’s set décor outside the venue was full of brightly lit neon signs and tons of smoke with shows both indoors and outdoors, accompanied by immense visual projections that were celebrated pieces of art just by themselves. Throughout the night artists like Bambii, Bonbon Kojax, DJ Marfox, Le1f, M. Bootyspoon, Odile Myrtil, Pierre Kwenders, Total Freedom and TYGAPAW took take the stage for 30-minute sets, providing an evening full of booty shaking.
Saturday celebrated the Equinox perfectly at Usine C, a venue in Montreal’s gay district. The evening’s performers included Borusiade, Carla Dal Forno (live), Carlos Souffront b2b Derek Plaslaiko, Courtesy, Jayda G and, most notably, Umfang, who spoke rather modestly in a Bass Camp lecture/interview earlier that day to participants about her role as the co-founder of Discwoman, a New York-based collective that showcases and represents diversity and inclusivity in electronic music.
Sunday morning was back to the studio to continue collaborating but the participants were treated to one final afternoon lecture, undoubtedly the most memorable of the weekend, with Beverly Glenn-Copeland, an incredibly beautiful soul and perfect fit for the vibe of Bass Camp. At the age of 73, the multi-dimensional artist spoke of his classical music upbringing, his life as a student of McGill University and how he spent the beginning of his career as a woman before transitioning only 15 years ago. Hearing his arc of achievements, the realities of living a life as a transgender artist and the path he went down to get to where he is today was both moving and inspirational, bringing all of the Bass Camp participants and everyone else in attendance to a standing ovation at the end of the lecture. If you haven’t checked out the work of Beverly Glenn-Copeland, check out the most recent reissue of his 1989 cassette, Keyboard Fantasies, via Invisible City Editions.
That evening RBMA alumni Charlotte Day Wilson performed as the opening support for Rhye, closing off the intense weekender with a beautiful, sweaty and sold out show so full of heart and soul you could feel it pouring out of Le National and in to the hot muggy outside air of this late extended summer evening.
Red Bull Music Academy once again proved they have the insight, resources and ingenuity to give electronic music fans and collaborators the tools (wings?) needed to come together. Thinking back to the Boi-1da interview on Friday and hearing him talk about his beginning days working full time at Winners while trying to produce music on the side, you can’t help but realize that everyone actually does have to start at the bottom, no matter where they end up. What Bass Camp proves is that it’s the relationships you make and build along the way that determine the degree of your success and just how much of an imprint you make on your community.
For more information about the Red Bull Music Academy and to learn more about the participants, visit http://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/Bass camp, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Boi-1da, Charlotte Day Wilson, Drake, FOXTROTT, Montreal, RBMA, Red Bull Music Academy