Nouveau Palais' New Royalty

Prison Garde, Lunice and Ango talk of trampolining off Turbocrunk’s clout and cross-genre blueprint to build exciting, beat-driven opuses

Michael-Oliver Harding - May 28, 2012
Nouveau Palais' New Royalty

Pop quiz, music whiz: what brings together Megasoid, Lunice and Ango? If your initial thoughts have to do with warehouse parties, afterhour loft bashes, “bridge burners”, Zoobizarre, or a cross-section of underground Montreal nights, I can assure you: you’re on the right track. All valid answers, as this trifecta (along with a few others) spearheaded a rhythmic revolution in the city’s electronic music scene at a time when Justice, M.I.A. and TTC anthems were de rigueur at any Bounce Le Gros, Peer Pressure or assorted Montreal block party.

But how did these inspired lads really come together? The answer involves live mixing hip hop a cappellas with sashaying synths, distortion tricks and thumps, all the while upping the BPM quotient. The boundless cross-genre they crafted was immediately endorsed by an army of fedora-packing, neon-gleaming, skintight denim-sporting revelers. Fleeting fashion references notwithstanding, the ground zero of said electronic revolution occurred at legendary Montreal monthly Turbocrunk, providing patrons from 2007-2009 at the now-defunct Coda Club an innovative brew that many dubbed ‘lazer bass’, ‘street bass’, ‘electro crunk’ and beyond. Prison Garde, the now-Vancouver based producer who operated under a number of aliases in early aughts Montreal (Sixtoo, Speakerbruiser Rob, one half of Megasoid), launched this celebration of wide-ranging glitchy goodness in 2007 with his then-partner, Wolf Parade’s Hadji Bakara.

A lot has changed in the six intervening years: dubstep’s insistent bass wobbles have conquered the planet, for good and bad; the cross-genre dialogue that Turbocrunk instigated across this city has spread far and wide, and most of Turbocrunk’s prime players have graduated to critically-acclaimed recording careers. Namely Lunice Fermin Pierre II and Andrew Gordon Macpherson (Ango), both Red Bull Music Academy alumni who now release on respected Glaswegian imprint LuckyMe (the same label that first broke Hudson Mohawke’s sound to the world). Both have teamed up with their West Coast bestie Prison Garde to launch Nouveau Palais, an uptempo electronic project whose name is a nod to the legendary Mile-End greasy spoon where they capped off many an inebriated night. We caught up with the three Canadian tastemakers via Skype last month for a wide-ranging chat.  

You guys have long been collaborating on events and projects, including the famed Turbocrunk soirées. But how did Nouveau Palais come into being? When did you decide it was something you wanted to pursue?

Prison Garde: We wrote some tunes when Andrew and Lunice came to play at a Megahurtz event [in Vancouver]. We kind of locked ourselves in the studio, and Lunice and Andrew decided to write a couple of tunes while they were out here. Shortly thereafter, Lunice, Jacques Greene, Ango and myself did the Red Bull Music Academy information tour for Canada, and we just started handing around a laptop while we were in the car, and writing tunes. Basically, to kill time while we were on tour, but also to formulate this project between three friends who never get to make any music together.

Other than a behind-the-scenes video shot at Rob’s Catalog Gallery in Gastown, you guys have kept a low profile since the RBMA tour in early 2011. The Nouveau Palais project remains shrouded in mystery. What can we expect at MUTEK and on your debut EP?

Prison Garde: It’s definitely in the bass music vein, but you hear all three of our voices distinctly in the project. It has a coherent, pretty unified sound to it, and everybody’s voice is equally represented in the project, which I think makes it an interesting one. And we also wanted to get some pretty serious remixes behind the project as well. With that in mind, it’s kind of taking a little longer than we initially anticipated.

The Turbocrunk nights really crystallized a moment in Montreal music history: throbbing bass, adventurous glitch, hip hop with a healthy BPM boost and the debut Canadian performances of so many fledgling talents (Nosaj Thing, The Glitch Mob, Lazer Sword). The monthly also served as a choice platform for your skills. What do you take away from the experience?

Lunice: I remember being floored because I was not familiar with that type of UK sound. It was completely – the idea, the sound, the feel – what I’d always been looking for. Coming from a rap background, I had always worked with sample-based stuff, but here, you had all these synths, but used with rap rhythms. It was exactly the kind of sound I wanted to go for. Turbocrunk became one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was the platform to experiment and push your sound to the max, and still have a huge party happening as well.

Prison Garde: More than anything, being part of a North American conversation – what was happening at Low End Theory, Cassette in NY, where Machinedrum and Praveen [Sharma] had a party, all these cats that were doing this forward-thinking electronic music that was post… I don’t even know what it is… post-genrified new music? We were able to throw those parties in Montreal, and more importantly, people supported them. The fact that we were able to do those things for three years is a testament to what Montreal is: a place that appreciates new things. I can tell you that trying to push the same kind of mandates in Vancouver, I’ve been out here for two years and it hasn’t been embraced in the same sort of way. Also, in Montreal, you have this proximity to New York, Philly, Baltimore, Toronto – all these cities that have illustrious histories, whereas the Pacific Northwest is a lot younger.

House music has made a pretty prominent comeback of late. Part of this resurgence has invoived producers such as Jacques Greene, Joy Orbison and Deadboy weaving 90’s R&B vocals into house structures. What do you make of the shake up? Do you feel in any way part of the movement?

Ango: Lunice and I are both now affiliated with the LuckyMe camp, and Turbocrunk was the first entity to book LuckyMe in North America back in 2007. If you look at Hudson Mohawke’s early remixes for LuckyMe, which really broke his career in the UK, it was a Tweet remix and a Keyshia Cole remix. So I think those melodies, soulfulness and big, heavy beats are something that we’ve been doing for a long time. And it’s oddly become the sound of the underground, because it just kind of subverted the pop sound of the late 1990s/early 2000s.

And yet, most of the musicians who’ve been dabbling in such boundary blurring were actually schooled in hip-hop…

Prison Garde: Yes! Outside the obvious influence of garage always using those samples, it’s funny because I don’t think any of us were raised on this music. Ironically, we were struck by a love for this thing married with hip-hop sounds…. All of us come from a hip-hop production background, and seeing the similarities there more so than anything, the fact that we started experimenting with tempos that weren’t just hip-hop tempos. I think this type of music is first and foremost influenced by hip hop music, even though it’s taken all these other directions.

To Lunice and Ango, what do you take away from your experience with the Red Bull Music Academy? I was reading that you were struck by the fundamental differences between UK and North American club culture?

Ango: Yeah, I think that what North American underground club culture is versus what it is in the UK is extremely different, and it wasn’t until I went to London for the RBMA that I really experienced that firsthand. I saw what those clubs really are, how that music really works in the environment that gave birth to it and still embraces it. The vibe I got from a club like Fabric or Plastic People is something that I had never experienced in North America other than at warehouse or loft parties – people there for the dancing and enjoying the music. Whereas commercial clubs in North America are geared toward what you look like, how much you’re spending, sound and music come second to posturing and celebrity.

RBMA has also been championed for dragging musicians away from their laptops, hence making music production less of a solitary experience, which many see as a real danger for a new generation more comfortable facing LED screens than packed crowds.

Ango: Music always works differently in your headphones or in your bedroom than in a room full of people of whatever temperament. It’s really funny because I saw this commercial the other day for this Pioneer DJ platform, I think. The video features a kid sitting at a skate park with headphones on DJing to himself, and the kind of odd thing about it, and this is where the Internet comes in, is that it’s making DJing a solitary experience. It’s just laughable, actually. Because if you’ve ever DJed in your life, what you hear in your headphones when you’re cuing two tracks up is awful. So why would you do that?

Prison Garde: A big part of the experience is that you write stuff that’s meant to be played in that kind of environment… Even with what we’ve done specifically with Nouveau Palais, it’s stuff that we were writing in a van as we were touring across the country playing in different clubs and playing those songs out that very night. This music comes from a place that is directly reflective of that idea of interacting with a crowd every single night, and more importantly, spending time with your friends and writing tunes together.  

Lastly, can you let us in on your reasoning for the Nouveau Palais name?

Prison Garde: I think that all of us had been spending a lot of time there [Ed’s Note: a popular, now closed Mile-End greasy spoon] at different points in time, especially after the Turbocrunk parties and Bridge Burners. We had adopted it as our second home I would say, at least our late night home, before it was shut down. The urban rumour mill had allowed us to create things that weren’t actually on the menu.

Ango: At the time when we got together to work on the Nouveau Palais stuff, the original Nouveau Palais had closed. The place that is currently referred to in Montreal as Nouveau Palais was not open yet, and as far as we knew, there were no plans to reopen it then.

So will you be taking a late night trip down memory lane when you’re in Montreal for MUTEK?

Prison Garde: Well, I haven’t been since it reopened. If they’ll serve me the Cobra Special, then yeah, anytime!

Nouveau Palais
North American premiere at MUTEK
Nocturne 2 on May 31st at Red Bull Music Academy stage, SAT (1201 St. Laurent Blvd.) 10pm-3am
Exclusive Download: Nouveau Palais 'Avant Gang' EP
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