She has a natural talent for winning, whether it’s on Canadian TV or in the centre of the circle in La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice TV singing competition). It’s as if doors open themselves before her like dominoes. Talented and ambitious, the singer-songwriter knows how to get the most out of the web to achieve her full potential. She shines like it’s always been her destiny to do so.

Alicia MoffetAlicia Moffet is one in a million, the authentic face of her generation. Except that, contrary to Britney Spears, or even Gabrielle Destroismaisons, the 21-year-old musician was picked and made a star by her peers. Numbers don’t lie: 390,000 followers on Instagram, 217,000 on her YouTube channel, and 5,500 tickets sold for her virtual record launch, at the peak of the current pandemic. There are very few Québécois vocalists who can boast such numbers online without any help from industry bigwigs.

Despite being courted by almost every record label, she decided to fly solo, and free of any producer. Today, she owes nothing to anyone. She, to quote Céline Dion, is the boss. She couldn’t be happier about that decision, especially now, at a time where there’s a wave of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment shaking up the Québec music scene. Such necessary denunciations tarnish the image of some music companies to their very core, and Moffet is glad she didn’t sign anything with anyone.

“I look at what’s going on and I’m even happier that I’m on my own with my small team,” she says. “It would be a nightmare for me to depend on someone who’s taking advantage of me. I have no idea how I would manage, to be honest.

“There’s no shortage of offers [from record labels], but I’m just not interested right now, because I’m waiting for one that’s in synch with my goals… It also affords me full creative freedom. I’ve done contests and all that, and my image was controlled, and I hated that. It’s partly for that reason that I chose to remain independent.”

And beyond her gumption remains a fundamental truth: Alicia Moffet knows how to sing, so much so that it feels like a truism to write it. Apparently unaware of who he was dealing with, despite her having won The Next Star two years before in Toronto, Pierre Lapointe said he was frankly impressed by her blind audition for La Voix in 2015. Back then, while she was still in her teens, Alicia had made Etta James’s “At Last “her own. That song is a hard one to sing for any singer.

“If you’re like that at 16 and you go through an experience such as La Voix, established singers are going to have serious competition in a few years,” Pierre Lapointe told her. You might as well say that Le Monarque des Indes coach on the TV competition, and creator of Deux par deux rassemblés, had used a crystal ball. Five years later, his opinion has been proven right.

“I was anxious to show people what I was working on, to show them that I work incredibly hard and that I can give them quality,” says Moffet. “I wanted people to remember that I’m a singer, first. Sure, I’m on social media, and I’m a mom, but I was anxious for people to remember me as more than a YouTuber.”

And one thing that people always notice about her – and comment on, with strings of pretty emojis – is the difference between her speaking voice and her singing voice. There’s also a whole universe of difference between Alicia’s vlogs or interviews, where she comes across as very self-confident but never arrogant, and the vulnerability she displays when singing her own lyrics. Her songs about failed romances seem light years away from the pictures and messages she posts on her Instagram account, mostly of the seemingly perfect family of herself, her partner (and biggest fan) Alex Mentink, and their baby girl. As so many of her peers, the singer-songwriter believes that the most beautiful songs are born in sadness.

“Honestly, you can’t believe everything you see on social media,” says Moffet. “I still have struggles, even though I’m aware my followers see and think everything is fine. I do believe that you can’t enjoy your happiness without a little pain. Life is full of ups and downs. I have sad moments every week, I’m often disappointed, and that’s fine, because I find inspiration in that. I have problems and concerns like everyone.”

With the help of co-writers from all walks of life – from Jonathan Roy to Camille and Laurence of Milk & Bone – the globally aspiring musician created her first album, Billie Ave, dedicated to her daughter. Bynon, aka Richard Beynon, penned the arrangements and instrumentation with her. “I must call him twice a day just to tell him how I love him and how amazingly well we work together!” says Moffet. “Olivier Primeau introduced us at a time where I was all about the Beach Club, in 2018,” she remembers, laughing. “He’s good friends with Sean Paul and he became my music dad.”

 With R&B accents, so rare in La Belle Province since the heyday of Corneille, Moffet’s songs don’t necessarily fit with the local radio formats. “I’m always thrilled to hear my song “On Your Mind”  on [Montréal radio station] CKOI, it’s like a dream come true,” she says. “That said, I’ll never write a song just so it can play on the radio, or become a hit. It comes from the heart, and I’m not very business-minded… I don’t have a Québécois sound, and I get that a lot. I don’t think it’s a good or a bad thing. My influences are all from Anglo pop. I love Christina Aguilera, for example. It’s not even by choice, it’s just what I like and listen to. So when I started creating music, I was influenced by that.”

Although she has a full plate with her new role as a mom, and renovations to her home this summer, Moffet hopes to come out of self-isolation with a new EP of original material. That way, she can go back onstage with a bigger repertoire of songs. “I’d love to open for an international artist on tour,” she says. “I don’t know who or when, but that’s the plan.”

As the saying goes, dreams don’t work unless you do. Evidently, that won’t be a problem for Alicia Moffet.

Dance club music doesn’t normally tell a story with words. It doesn’t entertain for several minutes with any musical concept, beyond the desire to dance. Yet, Robert Robert counts on a rare, opposite approach. His debut album, Hoodie bleu ultra, takes us on a journey, from beginning to end, of an alcohol-fuelled night where we Uber from one party to the next.

Robert Robert “[Dance] Club music also exists in the context where it’s played,” says Arthur Gaumont-Marchand, a.k.a. Robert Robert. The rhythms to which we dance often carry us towards such alcoholized circumstances, punctuated by sporadic flashes of light that slash the darkness with only momentarily. It’s not a genre of music we usually take time to understand. Yet…

“The people you meet during a night like that are important,” says Robert Robert. “They’re part of club music. If you’re like me, and clubs have been a second home for you for a long time, all of your stories are rooted in that music. Clubs are where you met your best friends, found your passions, and the people in your life.” Hence, for him, the necessity of finding the words to tell the stories behind those noisy, dancing nights.

A story, an adventure, an experience. That’s what Robert Robert wants to describe, using his rhythmic, dance-inducing music. Following two EPs and a two-song project launched in late 2019, the singer-songwriter and producer was ready to tell his story over eight songs.

“A friend told me the story of a second date that never happened because the girl never showed up,” he says. “And she left with his blue hoodie the first time. I had a recording of that on my phone. I love the feeling of someone telling me about their night. Following them through all the people they met and the places they went, I thought it really portrayed my universe quite well.” And that’s how, as uncommon a proposition as it may be, RR decided to give a story to the rhythms that have defined his  music for so long.

And even though he’s a longtime favourite of the Montréal electronic-music scene, his talent has soared in France where, as a matter of fact, his record label is located. “A lot of people make music like mine in France,” he says, adamant that his project is much more mainstream on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. “They have a very different rapport to electronic music over there. With this album, I wanted to do something that’s closer to home. I’d like to be able to say that I participate in  the music of where I’m from.” He feels that by placing his voice on dance rhythms, he’s injecting part of his identity in the mix. His words take him back home, in a way.

By collaborating with Canadian artists, or at the very least showing interest in their projects, Robert Robert realized that his ideas maybe weren’t as far from what’s going on here as he thought. “I really like Lydia Képinski and Les Louanges, for example. I wondered if I could come up with something I like that would include those people, and found out that it’s possible,” he says.

“I started playing with my voice in 2014, but singing is a new trade for me. It’s so different than producing tracks. Using vocals more and more over time lead me to have enough confidence to get to this project.” The artist  believes that adding a voice is disadvantageous, but he was adamant that he wanted to do it to fulfill his desire to express specific things. “Words help paint a better picture,” he says. “But if you sing with a masculine voice, people tend to imagine the person, the guy. It’s possible you’ll no longer recognize yourself. And then your track takes on a new meaning. That’s what I like about using lyrics in club music. It allows you to be more emotional in a musical context that’s colder.”

And even though his music is generally heard in dense crowds, where people are closer to him and each other, Robert Robert will have to, like all of us, continue living the coming months from a safe distance. Distance, however, takes on a new meaning when it prevents you from giving your music the life it deserves. “I’m anxious to carry on, but there’s always a way to benefit from that music,” he believes. “It can exist at home, at a party, outdoors. It can exist anywhere.”

“Definitely happy,” is how Junia-T describes his reaction to being short-listed (in the Top 10) for the 2020 edition of the prestigious Polaris Music Prize. The multi-talented producer/engineer, songwriter,  and MC celebrated the CBC Music announcement recognizing his suitably titled Studio Monk album with a glass of champagne, fittingly surrounded by a group of friends.

After all, it was a collective approach to making the 13-song album – incorporating the talents of a horde of artists into his creative vision – that made the project such a success. Featuring critically-acclaimed colleagues like Jessie Reyez, River Tiber, and Sean Leon, as well as breakout appearances from Toronto singers Faiza and STORRY, and contributions from artists based in the U.S. (Elijah Dax, Miloh Smith) and the U.K. (Benjamin A.D.), the album maintains a remarkably cohesive feel that stems from his consistent recording process.

The recording of Studio Monk came almost a decade into Junia-T’s producing career, a journey charted in a new, as-yet-unreleased, mini-documentary about his creative process. Culling footage from very early in his career, when he had the opportunity to visit Bob Marley’s legendary Tuff Gong Studios, to the free-for-all jam sessions he attended at the Flock House studio in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it shows that Junia-T’s collaborative approach is the common denominator throughout.

He honed that method in 2017 while at an invite-only Riot Club session at a house in Los Angeles, which pooled like-minded artists who never seemed to be able to synchronize their schedules enough to work together. One example of the laid-back vibe was when he worked with his now-longtime collaborator Jessie Reyez (for whom he serves as the MC/DJ in her live/touring band), just as her “Figures” single was beginning to buzz.

“She showed up at the crib, it was like two in the morning,” says Junia-T. “I’m sleeping on this beanbag chair, I’m trying to stretch out my back to fix it. So I’m, like, laying on the floor in the living room and Jessie just walks in and looks down at me and is, like, ‘Yo, Junia? You dead yet?’ And I’m, like, ‘I’m alive,’ and she says, ‘Are you ready to cook, or what?’”

By 7:00 a.m., the duo had almost finished what would become “Sad Face Emojis.” “Complicated,” Junia-T’s tag-team rhyme display with Adam Bomb (of Freedom Writers and Natural Born Strangers), was another Studio Monk track that arose out of these sessions. Energized by the experience, he realized he’d need to replicate that creative environment  to make the best music. So when Junia-T was presented with a recording contract from Pirates Blend, he made it a stipulation of the deal to have a dedicated studio space.

“I needed to have a studio to create in, because of how frequently I would be in the studio,” he says. “Because if I’ve got to stress about making money to be in a spot, I’m not going to be creative. The liberating feeling was in L.A., when I had the studio, and all I had to do was just bring people in. And I didn’t have to rush them out…  that’s when the music got good.”

“All I had to do was just bring people in, and I didn’t have to rush them out”

With the creative space secured at what was then known as The Hive (now Soleil Sound), Junia-T ensured that there was a consistent approach to creativity. This often meant doing nothing, except sharing food and conversation for a couple of hours. “Sometimes it would take four hours to make a song, sometimes eight,” he says. “But it wasn’t eight hours of toiling on songs, it was four hours of really grounding, being humans, and the music part was hella quick…”

Singer Faiza, who appears on three of Studio Monk’s 13 songs, first connected with Junia-T in the studio after a creative sojourn in Atlanta left her feeling dissatisfied. Within 30 minutes, they’d already recorded Studio Monk’s “Make It,” introducing Faiza to a new way of working. “He’s really big on you just going in the booth without necessarily writing anything down, or not spending too much time writing, or over-thinking,” she says. “He’s not interested in a million-and-one takes, just, like, the first couple [of] takes is usually where he feels like you get it.

“[He] kind of helped me through some of my own battles as a songwriter because I feel like, up until that point, I was really trying to fit into a mold. Because I didn’t feel seen, I didn’t feel heard… [But] the music that we made felt like it was really true to who I was.” It was this attitude that Faiza brought to “Puzzles,” a song that unapologetically distills her experiences as a Black woman, in a songwriting tour de  force. Faiza says it “just came pouring out,” and Junia-T, typically, captured it in one take.

Following videos for “Know Better,” “Ooo Wee,” “Thinking Over,” and “Home Team,” there’s now a visual accompanying “Puzzles.” The clip, directed by Dan LeMoyne (The Weeknd, k-os, Diplo), features Faiza walking around the deserted streets of Toronto as a mystical figure, evoking the lockdown era that’s endured through most of 2020 so far.

Junia-T’s perspective on the song’s larger meaning brings him back to the collective focus of Studio Monk as a whole, where he views himself as a member of a team. “It’s my responsibility to stand by that in support of my sister, and that message – not only because she’s my sister, but because I believe in the same thing,” says Junia-T. “I feel honored to be a contributor and a supporter in the message.”