School is a place that separates us by our different interests. Before we find camaraderie in our similarities, we iron out what makes us different from each other.
But imagine the possibilities when you eliminate what's incompatible and surround yourself with only like-minded people. For today's burgeoning community of musicians, the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) is the program making that notion a reality.
The famed Red Bull Music Academy hosts an annual showcase of 60 selected artists, producers, vocalists, DJs, and instrumentalist from around the world. Artists collaborate in studio sessions, hear lectures by musical luminaries, and see performances by some of music's finest in the city's elite clubs and theatres. As their website states: "If you can imagine a place that's equal parts science lab, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and Kraftwerk's home studio, you're halfway there."
RBMA Bass Camp is the Academy's precised little brother. The program is condensed into four days with 20 hand picked artists from across Canada. Based in the cultural hub of Montreal this past February 26 to March 1, Bass Camp Montreal reaffirmed that Canadian musicianship stems much further than another Broken Social Scene album.
RBMA Bass Camp's environment basically simulates summer camp. Although teamwork, encouragement, and professionalism were all integral to how the weekend ran, there was still time for noogies and Rubik's cubes. "I kind of feel like I'm in a Disney movie. Or that one movie with the rock band, School of Rock," says 18-year-old participant Luke Tennyson. "I've never worked with anyone ever."
Montreal's Jacques Greene carried the Bass Camp torch on Thursday night with a sophisticated house dreamscape set at SAT. The kick-off event made for a handful of hangovers at his lecture the next morning. We're looking at you Kevin McPhee. Greene took on the educational side of Bass Camp with an animated discussion loaded with advice about diligence, authenticity, and even MySpace. Remember that one?
"MySpace was the Tinder for early electronic producers," says Greene on his circa-2000's relationship with Rustie and Hudson Mohawke. "I don't think SoundCloud brings people together the same way MySpace did. I don't like that waveform thing. It's like watching a movie and being able to see the exact moment where the guy gets the girl. It's a non-listening mentality."
But in no way is Bass Camp a SoundCloud stream incubator. Despite the occasional geek outs by gearheads, the first studio session that followed Greene's dance music sermon was when the artists put pen to paper. Cornered away with state-of-the-art equipment, they floated between studios to find a fitting environment for themselves and their distinct sounds.
"You go from listening to seasoned producers talk about producing music, to walking around studios making your own music," says Nick Wisdom. Wisdom was chosen by the Academy along with his Potatohead People counterpart AstroLogical. "It's a really fun little vacation from reality. Vacations are things you can come back from inspired, and I think that is what's happened here."
West coast rap legend DJ Quik flooded Le Belmont that night, shaking the Montreal winter stillness from our down feather coats. Whether it was flailing Red Bulls in the air or bobbing along to 808's around the pool table, the energy felt like it was striped from a college house party.
Joining Team No Sleep on day two was DJ Quik himself. Quik was still reeling from Le Belmont when he showed up for pseudo-class the next morning. "Never in my life have I been to Montreal before," says Quik. "But all I can say is that this is a place that really appreciates music."
Quik's climb up the West Coast ladder - albeit dating back to the glory days of the P-Funk revival - was both germane and aspirational for the young artists. "When I started hearing my stuff on the radio, I thought maybe if I could get ten thousand people to buy my records, I could buy a Jetta," says Quik. "That was my damn motivation back then, to buy a Jetta. Whatever motivates you, you know?"
For some at Bass Camp, what motivated them was none other than Drake. Or "The 6", that is. Torontonian trio - Charlotte Day Wilson of The Wayo, River Tiber, and Allie - took to the staircase and its strangely spotless acoustics to collaborate on a vocal harmony of Drake's now eminent "Know Yourself." It seemed like jam sessions went through a metamorphosis overnight.
"To be a part of the process as a vocalist and not just an insert after the beat is done is important, we have had the chance to do that here," says Allie, who collaborated with Calgary duo Beach Season over the weekend. "To have that input in the arrangement is the kind of behind the scene stuff that vocalists do that doesn't necessarily get recognized."
Resuming the nighttime revelry on Saturday was Detroit techno originator Kevin Saunderson. Although he reared his hard, biting techno set into the 4 AM mark, the doors outside Espace Reunion were still brimming with anxious clubbers well into 6 AM. Like Quik said, Montrealers appreciate good music.
Saunderson curated the last lecture on Sunday, forcing a few more pairs of bloodshot eyes to stare their hangover in the face. For a man with a matchless history, his modesty and encouragement was moving.
"For me, the thing about making music is that I can create my own vision. I'm not thinking about whether or not people are going to love it, but I'm inspired when they do," says Saunderson. "The challenge is creating new sounds and moving forward. Technology elevates the scene but takes away from artistry too. We have to force ourselves to be more innovative."
Luckily, innovation and RBMA Bass Camp are one in the same. Whether pulled from sample packs, piano trills, or staircase acoustics, innovation is the gas in RBMA Bass Camp's tank. "I can see why it would be beneficial to be in RBMA, where you're there for two weeks," says Toronto DJ/producer 2nd Son. "Four days almost isn't enough."
The last day of studio time triggered final cuts of collaborations by Tennyson and James Deen, and new work from Nick Wisdom and AstroLogical as the Potatohead People. "Bass Camp has allowed me to forget about responsibilities that bleed into a normal day. Buying groceries, going to work, spending money, cleaning, picking up after myself, all of those awful things," says Wisdom. "Here we can just be music producers. That's what we are. That's exactly what we are."
And is there anything more fitting to end off a showcase of Canadian musicianship than with a BadBadNotGood show? The Toronto jazz-funk trio christened the new venue Theatre Fairmont with their immersive, rebellious live arrangements and dance floor mosh pits. Multi-instrumentalist and Bass Camp's own River Tiber joined the band on stage to douse their famously prolonged crescendos with a trombone number, rousing supportive hollers from the rest of his classmates.
That's the thing about RBMA Bass Camp - the encouragement is infectious. Four days may not be enough time to conquer Logic, master an EP, or refine your hot key tricks, but it's the perfect window to make lasting connections with artists who share the same passion and caliber. The internet has made it easier to connect from across the globe, but it has complicated the personal aspect of a collaboration. As I stood at a distance this weekend, what unfolded was raw, real, and devoid of competition. RBMA Bass Camp put a defibrillator to the chest of the jam session and revived the thrill and possibilities of making new music and of course, new friends.
Red Bull Music Academy 2015 will be based in Paris this year, you can find out more and how to apply here.