This post ran originally on THUMP Canada.
2016 is the year where we've all been left asking ourselves "what's next?" The political chaos in the United States, matched with countless tragedies around the world, has made it difficult for anyone to remain hopeful in these trying times. For the communities that make up Montreal's eclectic arts scene, pushing forward with their creative pursuits, along with sparking a greater dialogue around inclusivity, racial discrimination, and economic barriers has become more crucial than ever. From the directors making visuals to the DJs and collectives making room for new identities in nightlife, these folks all contribute to the cultural zeitgeist of their city in diverse, meaningful ways. To get a picture of Montreal in 2016, we spoke to five multidisciplinary creatives about the people, places, and movements they see making a difference, and the challenges they face moving forward.
"I think that artists who come out of Montreal possess a DIY aesthetic, and I don't mean they make shoddy art—there are fabulous magic-making queens in this city. I'm referring more to an attitude or a general demeanor that Montreal artists tend to possess; they're kind of self-made and autonomous in a remarkable way.
I am personally living for Jef Ellise Barbara right now. Not only is she 'Montreal's genre-bending underground pop superstar,' but her mere presence is so inspiring, and she possesses the talent and star quality that you only really encounter once or twice in a lifetime. She's also a part of a really rad initiative called Taking What We Need, started by her, Estelle Davis, and Lenore Claire Herrem. It's an informal community group dedicated to helping low-income trans women get what they need through discretionary funding.
Systemic oppression; patriarchy, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and capitalism are the main obstacles faced by my community. There's also not enough wheelchair accessible venues in Montreal and it makes hosting inclusive events really difficult. There is really amazing art and music being made here and everyone should be allowed to experience it."
Samantha Garritano (aka Ethel Eugene) is a queer artist, photographer, and co-creator/graphic designer of Slut Island.
Martin C. Pariseau
"In terms of connecting to creatives in Montreal, I think it's the hangout spots. Montreal is such a small town but it's really party-based, so you'll find your next friends or collaborators at the venues, at the galleries, or at other events. The after-hours scene is so great because everyone is connected through the same circles, so at some point, you either decide to help each other or ignore each other. Since there's no money, people tend to help each other out because you know if you do a favour for someone, they'll throw one back at you.
The institutions with money tend to finance the same groups. It's more for the oldies and less for the younger, general public. There's a big dichotomy in culture between Montreal and the rest of Quebec, so there's a really strong sense of support amongst the creatives in this city. Sometimes artists will get theses written on them by their friends and then get invited to do shows, so a lot of the community-building is creatives helping creatives build more resources and opportunities within their networks and friends.
I think people are really inspired by 820 Plaza, which was a garage that was set to be destroyed. Some cats from Montreal took the lease over for two years, and transformed it into a record store that sells art books and magazine. Recently, Eli Kerr transformed it into a full gallery where they do shows. There's this temporary aspect to it because the space won't be around forever and knowing that due date exists makes it really interesting. They push a lot of great shows and workshops. They had a design school come to teach workshops to kids, which I think is really special".
Martin C. Pariseau is a creative consultant and director of music videos for Kaytranada, Ryan Hemsworth, Tommy Kruise, and more.
"The city's infrastructure is slightly anti-capitalist. It's not a hurried environment. There are many abandoned spaces that artists take over and gentrification works at a slower pace. Living in a city less shiny and tightly curated, there's more space to take up as an artists, as oppose to the monopoly of space that is occupied in Toronto by condos and 'small businesses.'
I think we all influence each other! Again, in a nod against capitalism, there isn't a concrete hierarchy, creative monopoly, or competitive vibe here. Of course there are people who are having moments of success, but in terms of direct influence I think Montreal has a communal atmosphere.
Homogeneity, specifically in the Anglo community, there is a lack of giving voice to POC. There is a huge queer community which is great, but I think many spaces are whitewashed, and there is a lack of accountability that events organizers take in curating mixed bills or art shows. This is not necessarily just based in the choosing of people to include in your event, but as well as themes of art shows, and genre of music, which are at times less than inclusive."
Madelyne Beckles is a digital artist.
"I think being a musician can be a very challenging lifestyle, so I think it's important to have that healthy community. Winters are cool because you can close yourself off and focus on your craft for a few months. Summers are great too but a completely different vibe. It's a kind of bipolar living that's good for the creative process because you're always getting shunted into the next thing. I think it's just a beautiful place both architecturally and creatively.
A venue with great programming throughout the summer is a gallery called Never Apart that opened up last year. It's a really beautiful place.They've got a lovely swimming pool and a nicely-designed gallery space where you can stumble from room to room. It's a strange mixture of feeling very open and almost like you're in a labyrinth at the same time. It felt like the after-hours scene was going through a dormant period for a long time, but there seems to be a lot more parties happening now. I don't know if it's me getting older or whatever, but I'm doing a lot less of the after-hours stuff. I love what Never Apart does because their shit is popping off at 3 PM in the afternoon. My friends can bring their kids to those parties and have a nice time.
It's a city where people pick one corner of the city and stick to it. I live in Little Italy and my studio is in the Mile End. I probably spend 80 percent of my life in this ten-block radius. I think often pursuing a career in the arts can be difficult in places like New York or Toronto, because the cost of living doesn't allow to devote time to your practice the way you do to working a job. I think with Montreal's rental market and the inclusivity and support of friends helping friends, it sort of levels the playing field a bit."
Patrick Gregoire (aka Pat Jordache) is a musician and producer who runs Banko Gotiti Records, and the bar/venue Datcha with Adam Wilcox.
"We are lucky enough to have some access to a granting system in Canada which allows artists to fund their practice. Of course there always barriers even with those systems in place. And an argument can be made against the institutionalization of certain art forms—nightlife for instance doesn't always lend itself so well to that. Nightlife is also hard to legitimize, so the best parties and shows happen in a totally self-funded DIY manner.
The techno scene has seen a rise in powerhouse female, non-binary, and queer DJs and producers like Frankie Teardrop, Kaz Kandy, Carmen, J'vlyn d'Ark, Stefan Jós, Compton Chic, Buck Smith, Nana Zen, CMD, Ouri, RAMZi, and Xarah Dion. Some of these artists had been around for awhile, but there's been a rise in visibility and interest. There has also been a fascinating Montreal diaspora to Europe, with people like Deadlift, Marie Davidson, and Catherine Hilgers, who've spread the love about the Montreal mystique.
Right now something that is on everyone's minds in the techno scene is safety and safer spaces. There's been a series of violent incidents at shows in our community in the last months—assaults of various kinds. This seems to be happening more and more, and in certain spaces (underground loft parties) more than others. This has begged the question: how do we tackle this as a whole community without burning out and stopping events altogether? How do we stop from becoming too exclusive? There is a certain amount of reflection and discussion that is happening to deal with this. It's a very difficult issue that requires everyone to be putting down egos and sit at the same table and talk honestly. So far it's been happening and that's great."
Leticia Trandafir is a DJ who plays under the name Softcoresoft.
All interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Max Mohenu is on Twitter.