La Chute de SparteIt was her first-ever red carpet. First-ever feature film score, she adds. “Was it pleasant? Yes, but I’m not part of the team in front of the camera, so I was very low-profile,” she says. Yet the release of La chute de Sparte (The Fall of Sparta in English), an adaptation of a novel by Biz (of Loco Locass), directed by Tristan Dubois, had something rather exceptional about it: during the credits, under “Original Music,” it was the name Sophie Lupien – one of the very rare female film composers in Québec – that appeared on-screen.

Let’s be brutally honest: Québec doesn’t have a long-standing tradition of great film composers of the likes found in France, Italy, or the U.S. Sophie Lupien doesn’t argue, and adds that it’s partly due to the nature of the beast. “Film music is often there to enhance the on-screen scene or narrative, not to shine on its own,” she says. “Screen composing is a completely different trade than composing music for yourself.” Our singer-songwriters are acclaimed, while our film composers are often left behind the scenes.

Lupien is well placed to know that female screen composers are scarcer than hen’s teeth. In recent memory, Catherine Major (initially a singer-songwriter) distinguished herself for her work on the movie Le Ring in 2008, and in 2013, it was Viviane Audet, also a singer-songwriter, that stood out from the crowd with her work on the movie Camion, which she co-wrote with Robin-Joël Cool and Éric West-Millette. Prior to that, in 2007, Jorane – whose instrumental music is more naturally applicable to film –also shone, for her work on Un dimanche à Kigali. All three won the Jutra Awards (now called Iris Awards) for Best Original Music.

Lupien’s work on La chute de Sparte lives alongside the work of other composers and – as a matter of fact – goes out of its way to get out of the way of the action. In addition to original songs written by La Bronze, and other songs from the repertoires of rappers such as Rymz, Manu Militari and Muzion, the thirty-odd minutes of music composed by Lupien enhance the more nuanced moments of this intelligent teen movie. Chafiik, Loco Locass producer and DJ, also wrote a few instrumental passages.

“I was tasked with composing music that played after songs that stood out,” says Lupien, “like the very expressive songs by La Bronze or the stern raps of Manu Militari. It was a lot of scene-transition work. Sometimes this transition is easy, for example, by playing in the same tonality [of the song played before], but in a different musical style that inspires new emotions.”

This delicate transition work was necessary, “because it truly is a dense film with a ton of scenes,” says Lupien. “And that’s where musical transition is important, to help viewers properly understand the narrative, which takes place over a period of six months, and is condensed into 90 minutes. Music plays a role in that.”

She got into film composing almost by chance, through common friends with director Tristan Dubois, which led to her composing music for his first two shorts, in 2009 and 2012. It was natural for the Swiss-born director to call Lupien when the time came of choosing a composer to score La chute de Sparte.

“What I loved about this experience was the chance to dabble in all kinds of musical genres,” says Lupien. “For the close-up on the high school early on in the movie, it was something electro-tinged. Elsewhere, you’ll hear orchestral passages, or some jazzier stuff in the background,” says the composer, who spent two solid months writing, based on the director’s instructions.

“Tristan really mulled over the music he needed and knew what he wanted for his scenes,” Lupien recalls. “He worked with a rough cut over which he’d placed reference music. Then I had to write original music that matched his intentions. It’s not about mimicking the melodies or specific harmonies of the reference music, it’s about creating the emotion, the intent that drove him to pick those references. That’s the hardest part about film scoring: to always compose bearing in mind that the music is at the service of the narrative. You need to really understand the story to be able to compose music that enhances what needs to be enhanced. In the end, it’s like deconstructing every scene.”

Growing from rock and punk roots, Montréal’s hip-hop combo Ragers opens a new chapter in its career with Raw Footage, a debut album tailor-made for their high-octane live shows.

Ever-present as a featured guest of the preceding three EPs, rapper Billy Eff has now joined the ranks of official member, alongside guitarist Jake Prévost, drummer Jay Prévost and bassist Phil Marcoux-Gendron. This formalization perfectly embodies the changes the band has undertaken since signing their first record contract, last winter, with Montréal’s electronic label Saboteur Records.

“We wanted an album with more vocals, so the guys needed me to be more involved,” says Billy Eff. “Jake also wanted to get back to writing lyrics and singing, something he hadn’t done in a very long time. So he came to me with his lyrics and I coached him.”

“It was a nice, creative back-and-forth with Billy. We learned a lot from each other,” says Jake Prévost, who was back behind the mic for the first time since folding Duke Squad, the pop-rock outfit that he led alongside his two other Ragers partners. “I mostly needed help to give my lyrics some structure, ‘cause otherwise, as far as choruses go, we’re good. Our background is mostly hook songs.”

“And that’s precisely where I struggle a little more,” says Eff. “I come from a punk background with chorus-less songs.”

For Jake, this period of re-learning wasn’t a cakewalk. “It was fuckin’ hard,” he says. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m a very reserved person in life, so I was filled with self-doubt. Can I fully assume my lyrics? Am I still able to put my emotions into words? With a bit of perspective, I feel I’ve succeeded, even though it’s only the beginning.”

On Alright, a house-funk bombshell co-written with Valaire, Jake sings about the end of a long relationship, but from the reverse perspective, “as if I was begging her instead of the opposite.” Thanks to his satirical persona of a rapper based on a pastiche of Pusha T, “who brags about selling truffles rather than blow,” Billy Eff also gives himself room for introspection. Most notably on “All I Need,” where he opens up about his own suicide attempt in 2015. “It really forced me out of my rap comfort zone,” he says. “It almost felt like I was going back to an emotional punk formula, which is what I listed to as a teen.”

“As a matter of fact, I think it’s when you don’t feel entirely at ease with what you’re writing that you tap something powerful, says Jake. “I find it inspiring to be far from my comfort zone.”

On “Fools,” both writers reflect on the virtual relationships that are modifying our personalities, day after day. “There’s no message per se, but it is a dialogue on the struggle between the real self and the virtual self,” says Eff. “Like, my Instagram account is nothing but pictures of me with my DJ friends, and pictures of me with bottles of natural wine… And I wanted to reconcile that image with the person I really am,” says Eff, who also makes a living importing wine and producing content for VICE Québec.

On that same song, his buddy pleads with spontaneity, and a little bitterness. “I wrote that at a time when I felt that a lot of people weren’t ‘getting’ Ragers,” says Jake. “As if, because there’s such an overabundance of stuff on the web, people don’t care about the quality of the music anymore. Our projects are always professionally mixed, we collaborate with some of Montréal’s best rappers… But we don’t always get the credit we’re due! You can feel those emotions in my verse.”

After breaking onto the Montréal hip-hop scene in 2015 with their caustic first EP Chapters, Ragers underwent a clear artistic evolution over the course of their next two EPs, Unum (2016), a slightly toned-down affair, and the very sunny Joshua (2017). The original three rapidly left behind the shiny masks they proudly wore early on, and had to double down on building their audience, which was struggling a little to keep up with their new image and constantly evolving style.

“From day one, the struggle was always getting people to ‘get’ Ragers,” says Jake. “We were recently asked if we still wear our masks, even though it’s been two years since we stopped wearing them. But little by little, I feel like people are starting to ‘get’ what we’re putting out there, even though there’s still work to do. Having two frontmen will help for sure, and this album is a great calling card to let everyone know where we’re at.”

Much more varied in its sounds and influences, this fourth effort was, as usual, guided by the camaraderie that exists between the three Saint-Hubert natives, who’ve been playing together for more than a decade. For drummer Jay Prévost, the end result is a portrait of their instinctivefusion: “The album is very diverse,” says Jay, “but it’s not like we tried to make it that way. There are dance-ier moments and other very smooth ones, which is ideal for the pacing of a live show.”

“It’s very different from Joshua, which we recorded in L.A.,” says Jake. “It was a great album to listen to on a road trip, but it was hard to play live. Raw Footage is much more like our journey between Paris, L.A. and Montréal.”

In other words, this album is the perfect representation of the journey of a band who has always judiciously used its contacts abroad. Most notably, Jamie Di Salvio (Bran Van 3000’s frontman) and Jean-Michel Lapointe (owner of L.A.’s Owl Foot Ranch studio, and ex-member of The Couch Potatoes), as well as the support of Parisian engineer Vincent Hervineau, and Montréal-based mixer Seb Ruban.

“Yeah, the internet is a great tool to have your music travel,” says Jake, “but nothing beats meeting people in person, shaking hands and presenting your project. Word of mouth is still very powerful.”

At the time of our interview, Chromeo’s David Macklovitch, a.k.a. Dave 1, happens to be in Minneapolis, a coincidence that’s too rich for him to avoid pointing out. As Chromeo’s latest release is billed as a tribute to funk music, one can hardly imagine a better place than Prince’s hometown to bring up the subject…  “What’s more,” the singer adds, “our show is taking place in the very venue where Prince is performing in the Purple Rain film! Let’s just say that there are phantoms lurking around…”

The ghost of Prince is one of the many references jumping out at your ears as you listen to Head Over Heels, particularly on “Bad Decision,” a song whose slap-bass and nervy chords offer a clear tribute to the late singer. “It’s one of the songs that best represent the colour we had in mind for the album,” says Dave 1. “We wanted to keep the electro rhythms that are part of our DNA, while at the same time bringing a more human feel. Actually, we wanted to try to re-create the energy of a 1970s rock band.”

To that end, Dave and his partner, Patrick Gemayel, a.k.a. P-Thugg, moved into a Los Angeles studio – where they’d invited an impressive array of guest musicians, a departure from their usually rather insular universe.  “Honestly, I’m not very fond of the L.A. atmosphere – we went there mostly for logistical reasons,” says Dave 1, a proud New Yorker. The artists, of varied generations and backgrounds, who collaborated with the duo ranged from French Montana to DRAM to Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins and The Time’s Jesse Johnson (another nod to Prince).

“The artist we wanted the most was The-Dream,” says Dave 1. “Pat and I are hard-core fans of his work [Editor’s Note: he produced Rihanna’s “Umbrella”] and we were thrilled to have him with us to sing on ‘Bedroom Calling.’ Throughout the process, we were feeding on our collaborators’ energy, in spite of the fact that, in the case of Amber Mark, who can be heard on ‘Just Friends,’ it was actually a long-distance e-mail collaboration. We left in the song the little note where she’s talking directly to me, saying “Here’s what I can offer you, Dave, call me back if you need anything else,” to keep a spontaneous feel.”

Chromeo 2018 Album CoverDespite their obvious wish to bring a breath of freedom into their work, the Chromeo guys are remaining faithful to their sound, and to their control-freak perfectionist leanings. The same approach applies to the album visuals, with a cover that offers a fun variation on a known recipe. After using (and objectifying) disembodied women’s legs on all of their previous album covers, the male pair now reverses the visual dynamics by appearing on the Head Over Heels cover wearing fishnet stockings and high heels, a calculated choice that introduces a new element while respecting a graphic approach that was established from the outset. “The visual presentation is paramount for us,” Dave explains. “In some ways, it can be more important than the music itself! Most of the groups that have helped shape us, from the Ramones to Daft Punk, have a very strong and unique image. Take KISS, for instance: I could hardly name five of their songs, but I know exactly what their shows looked like.”

For their Head Over Heels tour, the band indulged in gleaming scenery that includes chrome stage-set elements, instruments, and other objects. The glitzy stage direction and festive approach – tailored for music festivals – provides the duo with the background they need to shed some light on our troubled times.

“Patrick and I are living in the U.S. in 2018, so it’s absolutely impossible for us not to be politicized!” says Dave 1. “And since we’re not shy about sharing our opinions, whether it’s on social media or during interviews, we don’t feel the need to make socially committed music. For us, making music for the sole purpose of making people happy is, in and of itself, a political gesture.”