Great things tend to happen when established musicians play with other established musicians. Take Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Cream, considered some of the earliest examples of the “supergroup,” or more recent bands like Broken Social Scene and The New Pornographers, whose members almost all had notable solo careers before breaking big together. And while the latter two have become pin-ups of the Toronto and Vancouver music scenes, Montreal seems to have found its own form of the supergroup in LABprojects.
Organized by Moondata Productions, a Montreal record label, production house, and event organizer, LABprojects brings together many diverse musicians from Montreal’s independent music community for one-off shows at O Patro Vys on Mont-Royal.
Created in 2003, LABprojects was inspired by the uncomfortably cold Canadian winter.
“I hated touring in the winter so we invited our friends to come play with us,” says founder Matthew Lederman. “We recorded the first show and to me, it was more fun than anything I’d done up until then. We did one every two weeks and we kept selling out and we started it again the next year once a month.”
Since then, many prominent musicians have graced the LABprojects stage, including members of Patrick Watson, Land of Talk, and the Besnard Lakes. But there’s a twist: instead of simply playing each others songs as a collective, all of the music is improvised. And while it began with a heavy jazz influence, the pop inclination of those involved has led the series to evolve into something less esoteric.
“When I started them I was very much into the whole New York downtown jazz thing: loud, crazy, rapid changes, avant-garde weirdness,” says Lederman. “Personally, I [also] have a really strong pop sense and I’ve been working with some pop bands and the people I know have really incredible pop sensibilities, so we’ve made this series kind of more focussed improvisation.”
The focus comes in part from the aid of a little “homework” assignment where each musician is tasked with providing a musical idea, be it melodic or rhythmic, that can be expanded upon by the group. This structure helps to ensure the music stays grounded, for the sake of both the audience and performers.
“Sometimes it can go a little bit too far, but it’s never gotten too gratuitous,” says Lederman. “The toughest ones have been when people come with very, very complicated, precise ideas that we have to try and follow … When we just play with what we know, it’s good stuff.”
Knowing what to play is especially important considering that many of the musicians involved only know each other in limited capacities, if at all.
“The only challenge really is just listening to everybody the whole time because if that doesn’t happen then the whole thing goes to shit really quick,” says Andrew Barr, drummer for Land of Talk and frequent LABproject participant.
Last Saturday’s show (featuring members of Arcade Fire, Beast, and Bell Orchestre, among others) was a perfect example of what to expect from a LABproject performance: music that is at once spacious and dense, sinister and uplifting, and entirely unexpected. The level of musicianship was such that anyone unaware of the premise would think they happened upon a well-rehearsed instrumental rock group instead of a group of musicians who had met only hours before.
The LABproject line-up changes from show to show, meaning no two nights are the same. Unfortunately, Lederman’s busy schedule means these performances are hardly a regular thing, and are instead organized on a “when-he-can basis.” But that these shows even exist and are able to thrive after extended hiatuses is a testment to the strength of the current Montreal music scene.
“It’s really open and connected and people are really willing to participate with each other on a level where they’re able to listen and get intimate musically,” says Barr. “It really says the town’s got a lot of life and vibrancy.”
Lederman echoes that same sentiment.
“[It’s] really healthy. Super healthy, I’d say. I mean, that a venue will allow us to do this and people will come out and support it? Listening back to recordings you realize that you were a part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”
The next LABproject is in February. You can find out more at www.moondataproductions.com.