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The Story of Artbeat, Montreal's Destination for "Piu-Piu" Electronic Music

Kaytranada and tons more got their start through the community and it became the heart of the city's hip-hop scene.

by Julian McKenzie
Aug 3 2016, 2:10pm


All images courtesy of Artbeat

The only reason why Artbeat Montreal wasn’t named Heartbeat Montreal is because francophones have a hard time with the h-sound, says producer/DJ Mark the Magnanimous. He, along with fellow producer/DJ and member of the graffiti/hip-hop collective K6A!, Sevdee, co-founded the community that provided a who's who in the Montreal scene through their shows and website, which hosted artists’ tapes and exclusive tracks. From 2011 to 2014, Artbeat was the place to go for beatmakers, producers, rappers, graffiti artists, graphic designers, and basically anyone who wanted to belong to the hip-hop culture. Rappers, producers and DJs such as Kaytranada (back when he was known as Kaytradamus), Shash’U, High Klassified, and tons more got their start through the community. It soon became the literal heart of the city’s hip-hop scene and the home of the “Piu-Piu” movement—a name to describe Montreal’s electronic and futuristic hip-hop sound. Soon enough, Artbeat Montreal partnered with major Montreal festivals including Igloofest, Piknic Electronik, Under Pressure Festival as well as a one-time show in Toronto.

Now, after being in the dark for nearly two years, Artbeat Montreal made their glorious return in June. To commemorate, we talked to some of the key figures in the scene about the history of Artbeat, how it began, and where it’s heading now.

HOW DID ARTBEAT START?

Markings (producer, rapper, host/emcee of Artbeat): There was a coffee shop called Paige’s Cafe that was converted in an ‘artistic embassy’, where travelers spoke about a lot of spiritual matters. Eventually, a stage was built for these slam poetry events and that’s where the idea for Artbeat Montreal would be conceived. A lot of the younger guys like Wasiu and Ghost, they would come around to that space. Vlooper, KenLo, were already a part of the graffiti, writers, musicians, artists, collectives who were coming to the loft beforehand.

Sevdee, (producer, DJ, member of the K6A! collective, co-founder of Artbeat Montreal): Artbeat came after three years of me taking this step back [from music]. Specifically, when I hit 30-years-old, was when I was like “OK, I need to give back.” I felt as an artist, we’re always trying to pull the attention towards us and at some point, it’s like “Shit, you know what? I’m from Montreal, I know a lot of cats here, we’ve got talent. There must be something we can do.” Mark [the Magnanimous] found a small loft in Griffintown, [it was owned] by the guy who organizes some burlesque, some hypersexual latex shit.

Mark The Magnanimous (producer, mixing engineer, co-founder of Artbeat): The space that we had was the old Monde Osé factory. Monde Osé was a production company, they did burlesque shows. They were a completely different world.

SD: [The owner was a] cool cat, he understood what we wanted to do, he knew we didn’t have a lot of money to invest. He’s like “alright, as long as you guys can pay the room, it’s cool.” We did our first event there which had 30 people attending but even then, there were people there that I didn’t know, like ten years younger than me and I thought, “this is amazing!” So a second event [happened] maybe a month later, and at that point, that really picked up mostly because people had heard of the first one so that kind of doubled the attendance.

MK: They did a series of events, packed houses, sometimes not so [packed] but [there was] always a beautiful energy. Coming from this competitive rapper background where everything was exclusive and nobody wanted to share, to wind up in [that] space where it was a fantastic community of beatmakers was a great change of pace. It was very inviting.

MTM: What we told people was always “feel free to do whatever it is that you do.” It was never restricted to “okay, you need to play a pre-produced track.” Bring your gear and you just have to play your stuff. Some people would play with effects. Everyone [have] their own presentation on how they want to play their beats, but it was never like, “you need to ARAABMUZIK this right now.”

"THE HANDSHAKE FESTIVAL"

Lou Phelps (rapper/DJ): You felt like you were in a place where people could understand you. I used to go to Artbeat when I was 16 years old and I wasn’t supposed to go out, I wasn’t legal yet. I went there and it was actually the first time I ever went out and I was like “man, this Artbeat thing is like crazy, man.” We all wanted to listen to hip-hop. Fuck all that mainstream shit, we wanted to listen to shit nobody had heard of. It felt great, I felt like I was in my place.

High Klassified (producer/DJ): At first, when I was chilling with the Artbeat guys they were doing nights in lofts. It wasn’t Artbeat really. We’d hang out and share our appreciation over Flying Lotus. When I did start playing at Artbeat, it showed me how to have an open mind about music. Not like listening to music, but making music. There’s no rules and shit, it’s just whatever you want.

ST (rapper/producer, one-half of ST x LIAM): The really smart thing that Mark and Sev did was that they weren’t show bookers, they weren’t promoters, but they were in the scene. They were in the K6A! crew which is like a staple for graffiti and hip-hop since the 90s. They were like, listen, we see this young generation because social media allows us to know who does what and discover these young hidden talents and why not just put them in a room and watch magic happen?

Dr. MaD (producer/DJ): I used to call Artbeat the handshake festival because when you step in, you have to say what’s up to at least 30 people.

THE ROUNDTABLE

SD: [At the first event], we put a table in the middle of three couches and we [asked] could we plug everything in and that was basically the roundtable. I don’t remember if we had planned a roundtable but we figured, oh we’ll play one beat each.

HK: It’s kind of like a role-playing game where this guy’s got to play this song so you want to change the vibe or stay with the vibe. When I started getting booked for Artbeat I was doing more trap and everyone was still on that hip-hop shit. So every time I used to play trap and people were stoked. I was always the turn-up part of the roundtable. Dr. MaD was super soulful, Musoni would just play fucking beats.

VNCE (producer of rap group Dead Obies): I’m competitive so I was playing big beats [out the gate.] It was cool, but then I had to raise my game. So I was like, ok, I'm going to pull out my good one next. Boom, everyone else raises the stakes. I didn't win so I took the metro home to go make [more] beats. I was hungry.

LIAM (producer, graphic designer, one-half of ST x LIAM): It was my first time playing in Montreal. I played a few weeks earlier for the first time ever, solo, in Drummondville, Quebec. Someone invited me to go, [so I] tagged along. I played the first beat off my first beat tape which was called Internet and that very moment when I played it, I remember seeing Monk.e from K6A! and his boys from “Urban Logix”. They lost their shit and started running around in front of the stage. I couldn’t lift my head because I was a bit nervous when I was playing at first. I didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as it started the pressure went away. In my head, I was like "Damn. Okay, this is happening. My beat is playing, and a bunch of heads are here." When I got off stage and I walked through the crowd, Shash’u just interrupted me and said "Damn, that was good."

ARTBEAT TWO

MK: Artbeat 2 was the defining moment, that’s where the community came together for the first time.

DM: To be honest, nothing compares to Artbeat 1 and 2 to me. I remember, I didn’t know where I was going but I went to the event just because I saw KenLo’s name on the flyer. I knew who he was because of the group Mauvaise Herbes. It was a collective before Alaclair Ensemble. I approached the door and it opened, it was Sevdee’s girl who opened it. [I just wondered] am I in the right place? There was like 10 people.

MTM: Maybe it was more than 15 but it wasn’t more than 30 people.

DM: [The 2nd Artbeat], that’s where I met High Klassified. Musoni had dropped his new project named 90s Baby Vol.1. He had this classic, “Shampooing Fortifiant” beat that was, 'oh my god, what is this?” When we heard that, fuck. Even Dibia$e was like, “holy shit, I’m doing the remix on that.”

LM: Yeah, the Dibia$e one. It took everybody by surprise. What this guy was doing with his SP and there was a whole room full of people just there to watch him on his SP-404. I knew the guy’s beats but I was coming back from a long trip in Paris so I didn’t end up going. But when I heard the hour and a half set that he played live, later that night, [I said] “OK, I got to go to the next one.”

MK: I remember it was raining and Vlooper was downstairs and he basically announced that his woman was going to have his child and later in the night we went back upstairs and Dibia$e was playing and there was this amazing, I don’t want to call it synergy, but this electric feel in the air.

Green Hypnotic (rapper): I felt like [High Klassified] needed more exposure. I knew from the get-go that he was going to stand out because his music was a different feel from everyone else in the crew. He’d do Artbeat 3 and people were like “whoa,” and “yo this dude was something else.” I remember he played this beat and everyone started saying “swag.”

LP: Musoni, from “ALAIZ” (a supergroup that featured a number of local rappers and producers, including Kaytranada), basically hit [Kaytranada] up back then, when nobody knew Kay. He was like “Yo, you’re a dope producer, you should come to this Artbeat 2 with Dibia$e” and Kay was like “yeah, I want to go.” And my mom at the time was super like, “nah man, you not going nowhere!” I remember Artbeat 4 was when they got Kay to go on as a newcomer, so I was like “Yeah man, let’s go, man! Kay’s first show!”

SD: That fourth [Artbeat] was the knocker, Kaytra was there, and we invited [producer] Elaquent. I think he’s from Guelph, to be precise about it. It was still a small spot but Kay brought his people and that was crazy because no one had done that before. People had brought friends, but Kay brought his mandem. Soon as he pressed play, cats was like “WHAT?!” Shit was fly.

J.U.D (producer/DJ): We say that now, but didn’t know of course. Just remembering him doing his first performance and he blew everyone’s mind. We didn’t know he was another kid that does great beats. But seeing him grow from [that] point to where he is now, it’s the dream now. I don’t remember songs, I just remember the feeling, especially it was in a really, really small room.

VNCE: Kaytranada, before he went global, he was local to me. It was at CFC on St. Hubert. All his people were there, there were about 50 people and 25 were his homies who were screaming “ALAIZ, ALAIZ, ALAIZ” . For me, that was the moment, where everyone had his back.

DM: [Kaytra] was pissed that he wasn’t booked for the [third Artbeat show]. And Kaytra was like “Fuck!” I remember he said something on Twitter, “I just need one chance!” I’m amazed we gave him his first take.

WHEN ARTBEAT GOT BIGGER

MK: I remember doing Artbeat 7, I was so geeked because the card was amazing for Artbeat 7. It was LIAM, Musoni, High Klassified, VNCE from Dead Obies, Ajust from Loud Lary Ajust, Jai Nitai Lotus, Elaquent’s second time around, and for vocal performances, it was myself and Krystale. It was an amazing lineup and not that many people showed up because it was back to back with another Artbeat event, which was the launch of the “Piu-Piu” documentary and it was Onra who came out. So I guess everyone saved their chips up and they had to make a choice between the two. Our card was the more underground card, their card was more of a marquee card, so everyone went to that one, not that many went to the other one. I remember this great disappointment but also this exhilaration of having found my audience.

SD: When we got invited to Igloofest. That was kind of big. It was big for us, shit. We ain’t dealt with a sponsor, we did our shit from the underground up. We kicked in the back door. I ain’t no promoter. If I’m known in the city, I’m known as a DJ or a producer. I wasn’t known to make events. My first event was Artbeat 1. That was the first event I produced top to bottom. I was facilitating other events for smaller capacity and learning a lot but this was the first time I was booking artists. I’ve never done that shit.

LP: Since ALAIZ is so big we could do a whole lineup with them, you know? So we had J.U.D open [a show], then we had Dr. MaD, Kaytra, High Klassified, Da-P, doing back-to-back sets. We got Louie P [the former name of Lou Phelps], just chilling on the side. We were so big, we were the crowd.

ST: [ALAIZ] was like the spirit animal of Artbeat. You went to an Artbeat related event and you had 15 really loud guys in the front screaming “Laval ou Rien!”, screaming “La Patrie ou rien!”

Chibi aka BB-BOY (rapper): [ALAIZ shows at Artbeat] were pretty hype, to be honest, man. The thing I liked the most about our performance is that it wasn’t a stationary performance. You actually had a producing set and afterwards you had rappers coming in and just jamming on the set. It was, at one time, pretty much improv but it was also a showcase of everyone’s talent.

MK: Toronto was really dope because it was organic. We had about 100 people in a small loft and it just had the same vibe as Artbeat 2. My man Sikh [Knowledge] lost hella money, though. I think he lost three racks because he went and got a beer sponsorship and some other shit. We didn’t make any money back but the kid Paul Chin went on Facebook the next day and said “the greatest night in Toronto’s beat scene happened last night.” That was a very proud moment for me because I had been on Sikh and Sev’s ass like “Yo, we need to go to Toronto.” That’s one of my favourite memories.

J.U.D: It was really great, I’m just sad that they didn’t continue it. I think Toronto has a bigger scene than [Montreal] but they’re not as close knit. If you know one person here, you know everybody. It would’ve been more difficult for [Toronto.]

A TALE ABOUT PIU-PIU

SD: Vlooper mentioned the word, “Piu Piu”, and that’s what really lifted everything up. Vlooper came out and said, “fuck all these titles, what we do here is piu-piu.” It took a form, it took a life of its own. [Piu Piu] is just the aesthetic of the sounds that are manipulated. It didn’t attach itself to a specific genre, of music, or beats per se. But it was translated from that, because of the music that KenLo and Vlooper were doing.

ST: To me, “Piu-Piu” is not a style of music. Piu-Piu started with just laser sounds but it’s really the mind state that’s behind it. In “Piu-Piu,” in Artbeat, you had people doing trap, really doing experimental hip-hop type of beats, you had people doing electronica type of shit, you had boom-bap, you had everything. So you couldn’t put a label on it

SD: Before all that, I was having discussions with a lot of people. I was like, “I’m trying to develop the Montreal sound. I want us to have our sound.” Everyone has their sound. New York has its sound. LA has its sound. Toronto, Atlanta, and Nashville. Houston and Atlanta. These are two small cities [that are] totally different if you know the music. So what is our sound, what is our texture, what defines [us?] So as soon as he said “Piu-Piu,” I’m like “ah shit.” I didn’t know he was going to say that shit. He just got up and took the microphone and said, with his broken english, it was fantastic, “by the way, we do piu-piu music and look us up on SoundCloud under Piu-Piu” and people just followed up on it. The next day it was like “piu-piu, this is it, this is us.”

KenLo Craqnuques (rapper/producer/DJ): It’s associated with an era more than a movement. It’s really associated with that Artbeat era where it got brought up, where we could do music that way. It’s just a form of revelation, that albums can sometimes be released in basements and [you could be] experimental and it was okay. People still know what it refers to but it’s kind of played out.

LIFE AFTER ARTBEAT

LP: They just stopped for 2-3 years and it was just weird. We didn’t see anybody. Literally, we were trying to bring it back, bring the vibe but nobody was down to go out. It was just me and Kay in our early 20s and everybody else is late 20s, 30s, 40s, so we’re not in the same vibe, same feel.

HK: I felt like it it had to happen. [Montreal club] Apt. 200 started showing up for the trap scene, so we started doing our own nights at other venues.

J.U.D: I know I talked to Markings recently about it. I couldn’t pinpoint when Artbeat was done, I just remember saying three months ago [that] I’m just sad that Artbeat wasn’t there anymore. Now that Artbeat isn’t there, the scene is kind of weird. People went back to “I want to be like ‘this’ instead of “I want to be like myself.” This is what Artbeat was about. It was about [showing] what you can do, don’t show me if you’re able to do the same thing as the guy next to you. Everybody has their personality and they’ve shown it on Artbeat. I feel like now, it’s more like “I want to be like this guy because I want his career, so I’m going to make that type of beat.” There’s no real diversity of genres or even personalities within the next generation because they didn’t have an Artbeat to show what they’re capable of. What [other] outlet [is there] to make yourself viewed if it’s not Artbeat? Clubs? Clubs you can say, there’s a specific setting. As a producer, you can’t really begin if it isn’t for Artbeat. It’s really difficult to really please yourself when you have to please someone other than yourself.

DM: I missed the last couple of Artbeats because I saw a new generation coming already, so fast. Guys like Tibe were coming up with a new sound already. At the same time, Kaytra was on his way to the stars. HK and Da-P started making some crazy big moves too. When Artbeat started doing less events, ALAIZ was also kind of separating. It was not the same as it used to be. My mentor told me big groups are not meant to last. You create and then it’s the beginning of something and it was for everybody.

It was not sad [for] me, I was sad for the cats we don’t know about. Even if there’s no night or gathering, there’s still people creating. So, I was just like, we need to bring those people together. Here and there were a few gatherings, but it was never Artbeat. You have High Klass, Da-P, Kay, you have KenLo, Vlooper, you can’t duplicate this level of creativity in the room. It’s once in a lifetime.

ST: The web presence of Artbeat was something that we really lacked when they stopped publishing stuff. Because it was a platform for everyone. These days you have your NOISEYs, your THUMPs, but it’s still an exclusive circle. I could send my stuff to NOISEY and they might not do anything about it.

LM: I used to have a list of every artist that participated in an event.

ST: They really helped push everybody’s projects and that’s something, media support, was sorely lacking after they left.

Artbeat was able to unite the cliques. When Artbeat went away, all these little groups just went back to being groups and started supporting themselves and out of it came initiatives like Saintwoods who have their own roster of artists, which is cool. But you go to Apt. 200 and you know the same six people are going to be playing any given night there. That’s no disrespect to them because they work and I respect what they do.

LM: [Artbeat’s] absence was felt.

VNCE: [Artbeat] had a roster of artists and beat makers from Montreal. You're in Chicago or Cincinnati and you're doing a mixtape, there wasn't a website for you to put it up, unlike Montreal where they had everyone's profile pic and a link [to their music]. Not even Atlanta had that.

MTM: The intention was never to stop. We had our website, which was up, and we had various issues on it. We ended up taking it down and that played a part in the feeling that we were gone. On the event side of things, personal things in life, me and Sev, Markings as well.

SD: We went black. There’s a reason for that and it was a very delicate thing to do. When the site got hacked, Google was sending me notices and it would start to flag. When someone would go off Google and write Artbeat Montreal, [it would say] “this site might be hacked.” So I was like, “fuck, I’m not about to have something that’ll fuck someone else’s computer” so I took the site down. When I [started] rebuilding the new one, I got an idea. I was just looking at how people were perceiving Artbeat at that point. The attendance was moving up at that point, new heads that weren’t necessarily part of that immediate circle.

THE RETURN OF ARTBEAT

LP: Basically I did this show for “New Year’s with Kaytra, STWO, POMO, Nana Zen, Planet Giza and Benji B”, and “Artgang” was so surprised that I brought everybody together and just make it happen for real. They were like “would you want to do another party?” and I was like “nah, not really”, but it would be dope to bring back Artbeat. Not necessarily have it named Artbeat but just bring it back. Then they were like, “do you want [us] to contact Sevdee” and I was like “yeah, I could talk to Sevdee if you guys want.” Sevdee hit me up and said, “I’m super down with the idea, we can call it Artbeat if you want.”

I’m kind of proud of myself that I brought it back because something was missing. When people come to Montreal as musical tourists or whatever, they’re looking for what’s hot in the scene and all they have is Apt. 200 or Blue Dog, which is cool but there’s no place for hip-hop shit. The culture is back. We finally have a place to go on a Friday night every two months where we know we’re going to have fun because some dope-ass producer’s going to be there, people we love to see, people we love to hear.

MTM: There’s a lot of things we haven’t done yet, things that we planned to do since the inception of Artbeat and we didn’t necessarily get to yet or that we didn’t necessarily have the tools to. Now that things have come to pass, in a sense, we can re-approach what happened and move forward from that. The new website’s going to reflect that. Being back is not just having events for the sake of having events, it’s being present in our contribution to the beat scene, the artistic scene, or the community of artists. But also, doing things a bit more interactive and educational such as interviews, workshops. A lot of it is in person, but a lot of it is documented and available online.

CAN ARTBEAT STILL RESONATE FOR A FUTURE GENERATION OF BEATMAKERS?

LP: Since I’m the strategic man in this Artbeat thing, I’m going to try to bring acts that people want to see. Sam Gellaitry or Mr. Carmack, people that the young folks love to see.

ST: It’s crucial just so they understand that the music they’re making is not limited to their bedroom and their SoundCloud account. In a lot of areas of life, that human connection is missing and people kind of underestimate the effect of putting people together and letting them just work and letting them meet.

J.U.D: If it goes back to its roots, like showcasing, that would be the real rebirth. It became… more of a show than showing what people are capable of. DJ nights [are] great but at the same time the mandate of Artbeat changed. That’s why I think it slowed down because everyone could throw these type of shows but not everybody could throw an Artbeat.

GH: You can’t lose with something like Artbeat. That’s [some] of the best exposure you can get from the city.

Julian McKenzie is a writer living in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter.

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