"Bro, let's get fucking lit."
KNY Factory, one half of Canadian duo Banx & Ranx, is leaning back in his seat. It's Friday night and we're speeding through downtown Montreal, headed toward a small mountain overlooking the city. Snow dusts the outside terrain, like nature's own version of icing sugar on a sponge cake. When we pull up to a crossroads the car jerks backward and forward in time with the music, as though mimicking the act of repeatedly nodding one's head in fierce approval.
An hour or so earlier Banx & Ranx were sat comfortably in an upmarket supper club deep in the city. Drinks were had, the odd spliff or two smoked, an entire seafood platter (including caviar) devoured – as was a large T-bone steak and not enough water. I'm here as a guest of the duo (completed by producer Soke) and their label, to suss out the story behind both Banx & Ranx's globetrotting music and the diverse cultural backdrop of Montreal. For now, though, we're dancing with the night, slipstreaming our way up the mountain.
Heat inside the car makes its way from the vent heater and merges with the thick scent of weed and two different brands of cigarette. On the speakers: a collection of recent and unreleased Banx & Ranx tracks – a remix of the Pusha T featuring Gorillaz release "Let Me Out", several songs with British reggae fusion artist Stylo G (including a collaboration with Shakka) and "Time Bomb", featuring Queen of the United Kingdom Lady Leshurr, which is released today. "We have so many tracks bro," KNY says, almost sighing. "Some of them will never see the light of day."
Though they're based in Montreal, the background of Banx & Ranx is one of a heavily stamped passport. KNY was born in the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. "I'm half Indian, half French Canadian, but I look like I'm kind of white," he says of his upbringing when we meet in London a few weeks before setting off to Quebec. From an early age KNY was embedded in the island's dancehall culture, its landscape of "heaven and hell", recording various island artists using the production program Fruity Loops. He tells a story about how Young Thug recently visited the country and was robbed of his chain after turning up several hours late (Thugga has a different version of events). "Someone's ear was cut off at a clash once too", he says, eyes widening.
Soke – who has produced dozens of albums for Montreal's French hip-hop scene – grew up in the countryside outside the city. But he too has footprints in its wider diaspora. "I had a Haitian friend so he brought me some Copa music and stuff like that," he explains. Some of his family have roots in Jamaica, they speak in patois and still retain elements of their culture while living here in Montreal. "At Christmas I went to visit a family house: there were about 60 or 70 people there, authentic food, the old uncles downstairs in the basement with the big-ass speakers – and then a really small microphone."
The two producers came together when Soke heard KNY's remix of Eiffel 65's "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" – "I didn't realise anyone in the city was making music like this!" – and decided to meet and record together. The result: a smooth amalgamation of reggae, dancehall, pop, electro, G-funk and disco, which can be heard on their two big singles "Lit" and "Empire". "All of our rhythms, drum patterns and baselines are inspired by funk and soul," Soke says. "People may know us for our main Caribbean sound but we have separate folders for the different genres of beats."
On the day we first meet in west London, the boys are deploying these sounds at a songwriting camp for singer and producer Shakka. In terms of who else is here? Jr Blender from Major Lazer rolled through earlier in the week; now Stylo G has arrived, dressed in all white, clutching a freshly ordered Italian BMT from Subway. The vibe? Soke has a freshly rolled blunt; KNY is puffing on a cigar; and, despite the fact it's 11AM, a bottle of prosecco has been poured out for the cause. Then another. And one more for good measure.
It's easy to see how these weeklong songwriting camps, which usually involve producers like Banx & Ranx, writers and topline singers – and are used by everyone from Drake to the latest major label signee – can descend into near sleepless episodes of precise yet debauched creativity. The musicians come in and do their work, tracks are then packaged off to A&Rs, and months later a hit may be released – or it may not. "We just make the song, make sure it's banging, and they decide," Soke says. This marks their sixth writing camp in London since their first trip a year and a half ago.
Moving beyond their home city makes some sense. With its warm-to-hot summers and blisteringly cold winters (the temperature hovers around the -16C mark while here), Montreal is a city of two faces. It's a hub of Francophile tourism, AI innovation and – according to one ranking – one of the best places to study abroad. Yet underneath the veneer of plexi-glass skyscrapers and the historic shipping yards of the Ville-Marie, it's also been described as Canada's sex capital. Pornhub was founded here, the city is rife with strip clubs and – as Banx & Ranx say – it's easier to get laid here than anywhere else in North America. VICE had its start on the city's bacchanalian backstreets too, sometime in the 90s.
Despite its many cultural standpoints, however, outside of Canada Montreal has never been much known for its music scene. Kaytranada is from here; as is Leonard Cohen and Arcade Fire. There's the M for Montreal music festival, which is sort of like SXSW or The Great Escape but with added poutine and French dialect. Grimes also lived here for a while, attending McGill University. Beyond that however? Banx & Ranx are one of the predominant and new acts bringing a shade of light to the city. Drake may have put Toronto on the world stage but KNY and Soke are also giving some weight to Montreal's position as Canada's other multi-cultural power. Their roots speak to an international experience that goes beyond that of a stereotypical Canadian – and they're also perhaps the best example of what it means to be a vodka-soaked, wide-grinned, welcoming weekend warrior du jour. After all, there's a reason their previous single (sitting at 400,000+ plays on Spotify) is called "Lit".
Despite Banx & Ranx's proclivity for force-feeding us drinks on the night we arrive – smooth shots of vodka, coolly iced digestifs, splashings of red wine, et al – we're told to save ourselves for the following evening: it's KNY's birthday. He's hired a party bus for the occasion that will bring myself and around 20 of his friends to one of the city's rap clubs. "It's going to be scary," he says, grinning. "You should be really fucking scared. I am." And he's right. On the day of the party my body has already succumbed to Friday night's pre-party evening and is capable only of remaining in horizontal position, eyeballs locked quietly to a singular white hotel room wall as though its barren paintwork held the secrets of one of Salvador Dali's masterpieces. But work is work, and this work is fun, so I heave myself out.
The whole shebang is kicking off in KNY's apartment, near Montreal's Gay Village. Upon entry it's clear how much of the local scene Banx & Ranx command. Familiar faces from the "Lit" video float in and out of the front room, manoeuvring their way between the kitchen and toilet. There are other artists here too: rappers, producers, some media people who do some media work – the kind you often forget about when it's shouted over music while you're on a deep dive into hedonism. Everyone in here is approachable: I'm given a bracelet of sorts by KNY's best friend, which feels as though it's a welcoming gift into their clan of French-speaking transplants. He's from Guadeloupe too and the pair grew up together on the island, bathing in sun.
At this point it is both wise and unwise to provide a running commentary of the evening, so it is as follows in condensed list form: a factory-load of cigarettes, Migos' "Bad and Boujee", a bottle of Grey Goose bigger than my arms are destined to ever be, pit stop after pit stop after pit stop on the party bus, steadily dirtying pairs of trainers, toilet breaks, Future's "Mask Off", an Uber, another Uber, faces none of us have seen before, chatter. Round and round we go, swirling through the ecstatic plug-hole of the evening – and then, snap. It's over. Soke went home long ago. KNY is in bed. I'm sat in his apartment with four people I have never met with a flight to catch in a less than desirable amount of time.
Over the next 24 hours, Instagram details are exchanged and KNY puts in a farewell call while I wait for my return flight in an Irish-Canadian bar, talking about ice hockey with a man who speaks with the ash-stained voice of Marty Funkhouser and his companion, a chattering Brit in an Aston Villa shirt. But this is all by-the-by, to state good times were had and Banx & Ranx are nice people who like to party but also, perhaps unlike the British, warmly look out for their guests by checking they're okay, had a good time – are still alive, in fact – and on the way home.
When it comes to the music, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to suggest the Banx & Ranx crew resemble a modern version of Major Lazer, albeit with less assholery and a growing list of better collaborations – or at least features from acts who come from Britain and aren't Ellie Goulding. Of course, we want our producers to be into partying. They are, after all, our brave conductors of the night, sending us to-ing and fro-ing from states both physical and mental. But there needs to be a level, too, that – despite our evening – Banx & Ranx seem to have achieved. Soke's early departure from the party is due to his family, his children, whom he works to provide for. KNY is eager but never dumb. Neither of the two do drugs, instead sticking to alcohol (and in Soke's case, yes, spliffs).
This placement between two worlds has allowed them to sit atop a wall of opportunity. Take the Lady Leshurr track, "Time Bomb". Close your eyes for a moment now, imagine being in the club when it comes on. The hook feels as strong as a concrete wall. The production has the right amount of bounce for even those who detest being in the club to find themselves oscillating to its rhythm. There's that taste of the pair's Caribbean-like sound. For those who like navigating this world, this song will soon be placed in that nighttime setting. For those that don't and enjoy the radio, it will be there too. And even for those who like neither of those things and have their heads stuck up their asses, trying to see if Damon Albarn's mind is hiding in there – well, Banx & Ranx did those Gorilaz remixes! Between these three points, one thing is destined. As Lady Leshurr says on "Time Bomb": "I'm going to blow them away – I'm about to blow!"
You can find Ryan on Twitter.