For two and a half weeks, Consequence of Sound’s Sasha Geffen will be exploring Montreal and its music scene, attending the mammoth three-day music festival Osheaga (featuring The Cure, Beck, New Order, Vampire Weekend, and many more), and taking in the local culture. Follow her adventures here, or through the hashtag #MTLMoments on Instagram and Twitter, and visit Tourisme Montreal’s website to learn more about the city.
At The Fortune on Saint Catherine, Kid Koala is mixing noodles so carefully. When we eat, the sesame sauce is dispersed perfectly throughout the whole bowl. The turntablist and graphic novelist seems as well-connected to Montreal’s restaurant scene as he is to its music culture. We don’t walk more than a block or two without Eric San pointing out one of his favorite spots, or a place where one of his friends works as a chef.
The living fabric of the city is easily seen alongside someone who’s been immersed in it for decades. Like Blue Hawaii, San uses the word “village” to describe Montreal. As we chat over lunch, he texts Win Butler to see if he wants to meet up with us. We don’t get a response; Butler’s been kept busy lately with his new baby, San explains.
Like Chicago, Montreal’s rhythms of weather inspire a kind of solidarity in the people who live here year-round. Artists undergo a creative hibernation every year. ”Winter is a really huge thing for Montreal. It’s the most productive time for most bands, because you just lock yourself in. In spring, every other day there’s a new record release show going on,” San says. I think of the snow that buries the houses in Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhoods #1 (Tunnels)”.
San, whose latest album 12 bit Blues has made fans out of the likes of David Lynch, also touches on the absence of a particularly competitive economy in the city. Bands that grow from a DIY artistic community don’t need to tap into the vicious cycles of money that churn through other North American cities, where an act can live or die based on how many tickets (and drinks) it sells. The nurturing environment here might click at a slower tempo than the crackle of New York or Chicago, but San emphasizes that it’s a productive simmer. ”The pace is slow, but it’s kind of slow and steady. People are always working here. You don’t always hear people pitch ideas back and forth because they’re always in their studios.”
Photo by Mikala Taylor
After lunch, San’s eager to show us where he holes up for the winter. He drives us through the city, past Mile End and McGill and the overlook, to his home and studio. He apologizes for the mess as we walk in, but all we see is a healthy ecosystem of well-loved toys. Synthesizers, guitars, mixing boards, a cassette jukebox, and other gizmos jumble up around the room. The Rickenbacker clone that Michael Cera’s been riffing on is still out on a couch.
There’s a vinyl cutting station in one corner and a giant stuffed yeti in another—a Valentine’s day present, San tells us. He shows us his other treasures, like a collection of colorful bells ordered from a music education catalog and a yellow robot that nods and chirps in your direction when you speak. Then he pulls out what he says is his favorite piece of gear. Among professional-grade studio equipment, it’s something we’ve never seen before: a grey box bearing the name “Assmann 640″. San opens it up, pulls out a microphone, asks us to speak into it while a 12-inch disc turns inside. Then he plays back our voices, scratching them like he would on a turntable. Built in Germany as a dictation machine, the Assmann found its way to San when he traded it for a snowboard. You can hear it on Gorillaz’s first record. He’s never seen another one.
San gets just as excited talking about past and future projects as he does when showing off his tools. He recently hosted an event called “Music to Draw to…”, a live performance in Montreal to which visual artists came and worked for hours. Currently in the works is a book about a clarinet-playing mosquito. A wild bunch of characters keeps tumbling out of Kid Koala’s world. ”I grew up watching The Muppet Show,” he explains.
But San doesn’t talk for long about his work without expressing a sense of gratitude and bewilderment that he’s able to do it at all. He keeps stumbling into productive connections, keeps forming friendships with people who are excited about the same ideas. He describes the feeling of being invited on tour with Radiohead after having seen them play to a crowd of 40 at one of their early shows in the city. “I’ve been lucky that people somehow hear about what I’m doing and feel like it resonates with them and I get invitations to do things,” he says. “I can’t explain any of it.”
Previously on #MTLMoments: Sasha is won over by a lineup of local unknowns.