All photos by Thomas Boucher
Welcome to Montreal’s most innocent late-night event: Sleepover Drone XV. It’s two in the morning and like no after-hours party you’ve been to before. Under a white sheet canopy illuminated by projections of stars and planets, around 30 people snuggle under blankets and sleeping bags. They’re arrayed in a circle around a man wearing a straw hat and shiny silver goggles twisting knobs and dials on a sampler that emanates long, droning notes. Fashionably scruffy urbanites drift in and out of lucidity and slumber. The room feels like the inside of a cuddly, psychedelic eggshell, a cross between an episode of Portlandia and a middle school slumber party. “It’s the craziest sleeping experience,” folk musician Thomas Boucher said perched on the grimy steps of the inconspicuous narrow stairwell leading up to the performance space, the only place far enough from the music for my recorder to pick up his voice. He’s slight and bespectacled, wearing blue pyjamas dotted with yellow crescent moons. “I had the craziest dreams.”
The idea for the sleepovers was born in a McGill philosophy class two of the venue’s founders were taking. They wanted to create an atmosphere akin to “a grade six planetarium visit.” The home-done projections of stars above the sleeping bags keep the vision alive. The sleepovers are held every three months, on a Monday or Tuesday nearest the last new moon of every season. Holding them at the beginning of a season brings a certain type of energy, venue co-founder and musician Danji Buck-Moore explained. “At the end of a season is a collective transitory moment when everyone in the city is thinking about the next phase of weather and temperature and light.” The venue is collectively-run and doubles as a living space, inside a building of a formerly industrial Montreal neighbourhood in the full throes of second-wave gentrification. It also includes ten foot high ceilings, softened by a white canopy for sleepovers, and a communal kitchen right off the performance area that doubles as their living room. They’ve thrown the drone music slumber parties since the space was established five years ago, which makes it their longest-running event. “There’s a really big interest in cultivating really weird shit in a safe and accessible environment,” Boucher said. “The drone sleepovers are one of those things.”
Danji Buck-Moore manipulates synths and samplers while playing a late-night set
Drone music can cover a wide range of genres. According to drone-music enthusiast and electronic musician Luke Loseth it’s anything “conducive towards getting into a real trance state. At the heart of it, it’s repetition of sustained notes.” The repetition lends itself well to background ambiance, and at lower volumes works well at sleepovers. The genre has been a big influence on Boucher. Though he primarily plays folk music, “it’s been more and more drone-y” since he began attending the sleepovers. “It’s a nice way to make folk music more immersive,” he added. Boucher isn’t the only one influenced by the events. Montreal-based musicians AJ Cornell and Tim Darcy met at a drone slumber party and are releasing an album together. “It’s a good creative impetus,” Buck-Moore said of the events. “A bunch of cool projects have spawned out of it.”The sleepovers are inspirational beyond the audible plain. French musician and member of the collective, Jean Cousin who plays under the name Johnny Ripper said the sleepovers transformed his conception of shows entirely. “Seeing the drone sleepover completely changed my life,” he said. In his hometown of Lille, he’d only been to large shows where people went primarily to see the artist.
“Seeing a show where people went for the ambiance instead of to see a performance” was an epiphany. Boucher was similarly affected when he first encountered the venue around five years ago. “I bumped into the space quite randomly. It was a really eye-opening experience,” he said. “It was crazy to me to find a space that was willing to have 30 people come and sleep over at an ambient music show.” During the first sleepovers, musicians would only play until around 3AM, after which a clip of drone music was softly played on loop until morning. But “one time, a guy said ‘I think I’ve found my audience, I’ve always wanted to play to sleeping people,” Buck-Moore recounted. “He was shy of playing the music that was really personal and quiet that he played for himself.” After the musician played to an entirely sleeping audience until morning, the organizers began to book artists until 9AM. Boucher is one of the musicians who has played late night sets. “I like playing quiet audiences,” he told me.
Still-energetic drone sleepover attendees linger by the venue's communal kitchen
A few kilometres away in downtown Montreal, after-hours like Stereo host a sweaty mass of bodies writhing to a pounding beat until sunrise. But here around 10PM, 70 people showed up for something drone musician Grace Books describes as “really calm and quiet.” It’s “like being in a huge pyjama party after you’ve stayed up too late watching TV,” they described. Loseth experiences the atmosphere a bit differently. “It’s such a cocoon-like, a womb-like feeling,” he said. Loseth has been involved in the venue for several years. “It’s just a one-of-a-kind space. It felt like home from the first time I came here and didn’t know anybody.” Like the slumber parties of your childhood, the energy changes drastically as the night progresses. From 10 to around midnight “the energy is a lot more hectic — everyone is still taking their places,” Loseth said. After 1AM, everyone who isn’t planning to stay the night has left and the tone settles down. “Now is when you really start to see the magic happen.”
Keeping the sleepovers at an energy level true to their name has been a process of trial and error. The organizers learned early on to never publicize them as a party. After the first few were held on weekends and hijacked by dance party vibes, they began holding them exclusively on Mondays and Tuesdays. “We always stress that it’s an actual sleepover,” Loseth said. “Think of the sleepovers when you were a kid.” While the venue is the only place in Montreal holding drone sleepovers thus far, the idea has begun to spread. One was held at The Silent Barn in Brooklyn last year, and others have popped up in Detroit and Boulder, Colorado. Buck-Moore is happy with the expansion. “Anything that encourages anyone to believe in an idea that seems to be hard to pull off is good. It’s cool to be an inspiration for that, or reassurance that you can try that shit.”
Noelle Solange Didierjean can attest to the restorative powers of sleepovers. Follow her on Twitter.