“[Casey] Manierka is readying another left turn for 2020.” That was the kicker to SOCAN’s Casey MQ profile  from January, and while babycasey — the solo pop album being referenced — only just came out, this year’s been one left turn after another.

“Things have been good. Like, the entire world has completely changed,” Manierka says, eight months later. “But I mean right now, things are really good. Today. When I’m waking up.”

Rewind to mid-March and Manierka was feeling the same pandemic panic as the rest of us when the world went dark. But he didn’t just hide inside. Instead, the electronic producer/DJ teamed up with friends and fellow creatives Andrés Sierra, Brad Allen, and Mingus New to offer some light in the form of queer digital dance party, Club Quarantine (aka Club Q).

“The first week we decided to throw parties online, and it really had a moment,” says Manierka. “It was a great way – it’s still a great way – to stay connected online in the midst of isolation [and] see a space where people can continue to express themselves. It stemmed from the local culture in Toronto, but quite quickly became a global club.”

The then-nightly throwdown started maxing out Zoom’s thousand-person capacity, with dancers often wearing costumes, and creating living-room art installations in hopes of seeing their feed spotlighted. Club Q’s Instagram account, which posts their now-weekly Zoom links, has 68,000 followers.

While early editions booked all locals, it soon featured everyone from Brazilian drag queens and European techno DJs to pop stars Charli XCX, Tinashe, and even Lady Gaga. “Thank you so much for being here tonight,” exclaimed a costumed, dancing Gaga, while DJing remixes of her hits at Club Q’s Chromatica release party in late June. “You’re all having so much fun together in the spirit of something so kind and beautiful.”

Manierka says the organizers are having so much fun, too, and will keep doing it every Friday. “The idea for us, at some point, is to do Club Quarantine IRL,” he adds. “But that might just take a bit more time.”

As a creative director, visual designer, and artistic director, Marcella Grimaux takes over the stage in a way that makes us dream. Meet a woman who constantly lives on the artistic edge.

She gets to design the look and feel of eagerly-awaited new stage shows by Québec artists; it’s the story of her life. “We’re in a business where we have to put ideas and images to words. It’s not always easy!” says Grimaux.

She grew up in New York City, with her mother as a model and inspiration, before moving to California to study theatre and stage directing at the University of Southern California. Her first acquaintance with the profession was in 2009 with Dominic Champagne, who was then presenting the stage play Paradis perdu (with music by Daniel Bélanger). “As I was only there to shoot the rehearsals, there was no creativity involved, but I was thrilled to be working with him,” she says.


Marie-Mai. Photo by/par Patrick Beaudry

Grimaux began her career at Geodezik in 2010. She started directing in 2018. She now owns her own company, the Noisy Head Studio.

The same question keeps coming up during production meetings: “On what kind of trip are we going to embark? What kind of trip do we want people to experience, what will the visual signature look like?” In the case of pop star Marie-Mai, who had switched record companies to join Spectra Musique with a new sound and a new image, they needed to come up with a visual presentation that was worthy of the artist’s stage comeback. At the Bell Centre, of all places.

For the Elle et moi tour in 2019, Grimaux acted as creative director. “We designed the stage set and the video; the set list was done with her music director, David Laflèche,” says Grimaux. “In what direction could we steer that huge boat? Each song was telling a different story. We visualized the angles of vision in 3D from every Bell Centre seat. We added a staircase, and moving screens, providing us with additional stage entrances and exits. The show’s opening was spectacular. We pre-filmed Marie in the same outfits she would be wearing during the live show to achieve perfect continuity. In one song,  “Empire,” she asks, ‘Am I being re-born now?’ That sentence gave us the direction we needed!”

Marcella and her team won the Félix (ADISQ) Awards for Lighting Design and Projections at ADISQ’s 2019 Industry Gala for that show.


Loud. Photo by/par Susan Moss.

People are still talking about Loud’s entrance to the stage for his show at the Bell Centre. The striking use of an airplane cockpit was pure Marcella, in her creative-director role. She co-created the stage sets, and then a short number with Simon Cliche (a.k.a. Loud), besides designing the video content.

“At our first meeting, his manager told me, ‘We’d like to see Simon arriving onstage in a plane,’” she says. “That’s the kind of time when you raise your eyebrows, and write down in your notebook, ‘Arrives in a plane.’

“That was in early February of 2019, and the show was scheduled to open May 31…

“We started designing the stage, but still needed a plane by the middle of March. Building a cockpit from scratch, or even a set, would have been way too expensive. Did you know you can’t buy airplane parts? Each part has a serial number and an owner. It’s illegal, and the reason is, to curb the black market for plane parts.

“A month later, a friend spotted a nearly abandoned aircraft in a Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu yard! What a lucky break!”

Michel Rivard

Michel Rivard. Photo by/par Marc-Étienne Mongrain.

Michel Rivard’s Origine de mes espèces show, which won the Félix Aaward for show of the year at the 2019 ADISQ Awards, was a different story. Directed by Claude Poissant, this show (with the fateful moment when Rivard opens the letter revealing his father’s DNA, then blackout!), called for a more sober directional approach.

“How could we portray the memories Michel was talking about in his flashbacks?” asked Grimaux. “We had to scan some 350 photographs from his personal archive to create the video. We were looking for out-of-focus images, looking more like old memories.  The golden rule was that the video was only there as an accompaniment. Before, lighting technicians used to insert images themselves because that was their turf. Today, these are two separate operations,” she explains.

Then, there was a memorable solo show with Jean Leloup at Place des Arts in 2016, with a huge fibreglass cranium sitting onstage, complete with light beams. Grimaux was artistic director on that project.

“Jean kept talking about campfires,” she says. “He wanted a campfire feel in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier – and he’s so all-over-the-place that committing him to something too concrete would have been a mistake. My role was to bring in video universes that we didn’t want to be narrative or continuous: we had to design them in such a way that they would remain flexible, because Jean didn’t have a set list. He might decide to sing “Je joue de la guitare” before “L’amour est sans pitié,” and we had to adapt, we had to be super-flexible. We had four visual universes ready, to help us follow him on whatever musical path he would choose at the last minute. The biggest challenge was a technical one: the size of the background projection screen was nearly as big as an IMAX screen: 50 feet large and 32 feet high!”

The long pause created by the COVID-19 pandemic made it possible for Grimaux to co-direct the video of Patrice Michaud’s song, “La grande évasion,” with her creative partner Daniel Faubert, and then to direct Asteria, a daring new virtual-reality music project that was recently released by the La Maison Fauve and Studio La Fougue.

“At meetings, I’m often the only woman at the table, and I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by men who don’t care one way or the other,” says Grimaux. “But I know of no other studio of this kind in Montréal (Noisy Head Studio) being led by a woman.”


The jazz rap sextet Original Gros Bonnet’s second album wasn’t called Tous les jours printemps (Spring Every Day) out of wishful thinking, but because those words express the conviction of the 2019 Francouvertes-winning band (under the O.G.B. acronym) that its future will be marked by constant change, and a belief that the best is yet to come.

“In this particular case, Spring is something inevitable,” says frontman François Marceau (a.k.a. Franky Fade). “It represents a birth, a re-birth. It’s both an annual and a daily cycle. One must accept that fact to be able to enjoy and celebrate it – instead of just going through it,”

“It’s also a portrait of our ambition,” says the album’s producer and chief arranger, Samuel Brais-Germain. “It’s a positive spin on our concept of hustling, of the work we have to do to achieve our goals.”

At the centre of the album concept is the theme of blooming. On “Watch a Flower Bloom,” the blooming image closely reflects the feeling the young rapper was experiencing while the album was being written. “A flower blooms slowly,” he says. “It’s not perceptible, but it opens up for real. You must accept the fact that evolution takes time.”

For something as fragile as a flower, evolution isn’t always obvious, or even guaranteed. Hence the rapper’s anxiety on tracks like “Sous stress” and “Jusqu’au noyau.” “I have a fear-ridden relationship with the idea of success,” says Marceau. “I’m sometimes afraid that success might end up destroying me. We’ve seen so many people reach the top, and eventually crash. That’s why I’m forever asking myself what it is that I really want. I don’t tend to make my best decisions under pressure. I must deal with my habit of questioning everything on a daily basis.”

While doubts have fed Marceau’s verses, they didn’t interfere with the producer’s writing sessions with five other band members: John Henry Angrignon on guitar, Vincent Favreau on piano, Vincent Bolduc-Boulianne on bass, Louis René on drums, and Arnaud Castonguay on sax. All former students of the Saint-Laurent Cégep music program, and friends for many years, these musicians are proving on Tous les jours printemps that they can play their respective instruments masterfully, and – by combining their strengths – also create songs that are as impressive as they are daring and concise.

Two creative residencies have had an especially beneficial impact on these seven jazz lovers, who all had an epiphany a few years back when they heard Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that sparked their love for rap music. One of these residencies took place in October 2019 in a cottage near Castor Lake in Saint-Paulin, Québec. “We stayed out there for five days, and it was gorgeous,” says Marceau. “We had purchased a large portable console, and we set it up to record everything we were playing. As soon as we came up with a good idea, we listened to the takes again. We then had meetings to decide who would play what part. But we also set aside free periods for chilling out, canoeing and having fun. We mixed business with pleasure.”

Recorded right before the pandemic at Montreal’s Madame Wood et Dandurand studios, Tous les jours printemps also included sessions with a string quartet and a wind instrument section, besides the participation of the rapper Jam (on “Ballade”), and the expertise of sound engineer and mixer Manuel Marie.

OGB, Original Gros BonnetIn short, as Marceau mentions on “Jusqu’au noyau,” the band “went all out” with this work, the proud successor to their Volume Un (2018) album, and their  Original Gros Bonnet (2017), and Fruit Jazz (2018) EPs. “We refused to cut anything out. As soon as we came up with an idea, we took it to the limit,” says saxophonist Arnaud Castonguay. “But hey, we were obviously able to do this thanks to the grants we received and the awards we won, including as part of Les Francouvertes.”

“Well, it won’t be the same with our next release. The cover will have to be designed on Paint,” producer Samuel Brais-Germain adds with a laugh.

With a seven-member band, going all out means a well balanced blending of everyone’s tastes and influences. This time, the band opted for a tribute to the atmospheres of film scores by such distinguished composers as Quincy Jones and Henri Mancini, rather than Kendrick’s. Their shared love for Tyler, The Creator, Playboi Carti, and PNL also coloured their creative work, which brought about an esthetic shift that’s particularly noticeable in the more harmonic and atmospheric use of Marceau’s voice on some tracks.

“It wasn’t done consciously, but yes, my voice is sounding a little bit more like an instrument [than normally],” says Marceau. “Before that, I was more interested in performing lyrics, but now, I’m feeling them more deeply. I think that the result is more genuine, and that the voice blends with the music better.” He adds that, this time, he made a conscious choice to do way with the Frenglish: “I wanted to get closer to O.G.B.’s origins and esthetic makeup. And we all grew up speaking French.”

So, for Original Gros Bonnet, consensus trumps compromise. “If you want everybody to be pleased with the album, you can’t aim for a vibe that is overly electro, or too commercial,” says Brais-Germain. “You can’t be moving to a [niche] sound like that. We have to go for music that reflects us.”