The members of Hex never thought that they’d pursue a career in music – and really, they’re still a little unsure about it.

Formed in 2014 at Toronto’s chapter of the Girls Rock Camp program, Halina Katz, Simryn Mordasiewicz and Kyria Sztainbok had an immediate connection. “There was just no tension, and I think we just understood each other’s sensibilities,” says Katz. One of the first songs they ever performed together was Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl,” a ‘90s Riot Grrrl theme song of sorts that Hex related to because, as Katz says, “it represents a lot of the ideologies of Girls Rock Camp – they want young women to go and perform, and be anarchic.”

It was through that experience that the members of Hex, who were still getting a handle on performing and songwriting, were encouraged to continue working together. Girls Rock Camp’s Kritty Uranowski even took on the task of managing the trio. But, as they were still attending high school at the time, it had to be a balancing act. And when they had to split time between homework and jam sessions, the best way for them to gain experience and grow as a band was to hit the stage, performing in all-ages venues, and opening for local acts like Hooded Fang, and Polaris Prize winner Lido Pimienta.

Tackling the music scene can be tough, though, as not only do the Hex members have to confront sexist behaviour on occasion, but also ageism. “We get treated like idiots by every sound person,” says Mordasiewicz. Katz recalls a recent show where she was shown how to turn her amp on, to which she thought, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Hex Handler
On their manager, Kritty Uranowski, also a musician, and artistic director of the No Mean City collective: “We would be nothing without her,” says Mordasiewicz. Katz adds, “She showed us the importance of having diversity, and giving bands a chance. When we book a show, we’re really aware of having a female presence and, like, dealing with asshole sound men. She’s the wisest woman ever.”

“They’re only mean to us before our set though,” she continues, adding that their performance is all the proof they need to show that they know what they’re doing. “At this point, we’ve been doing it for years,” Sztainbok says. “So we know what we want for our sound.”

Eventually, the time came to record an album. The trio admits that they struggled at first to lay down their tracks individually but later realized that the band works best when replicating their tight live sound together in one room – a process completed in the span of one evening. “We stayed up till 5 a.m.,” Mordasiewicz says of their recording session. “It was fun, and it was really intense.”

Thanks to that method of recording, Hex’s thunderous live energy is perfectly captured on their record, Miss Pristine, which came out earlier this year. On the seven-minute opening title track, Hex plays with tempo and volume, one minute slowly strumming along, as Katz’s howling vibrato fills every nook of the track, the next building up an incredible fury of cacophony.

Miss Pristine finds its influences deeply embedded in the music they first learned to perform in Rock Camp – Bikini Kill, and other ‘90s punk and rock acts like Sleater-Kinney and Hole – but they pull those threads forward to the present day. Songs are infused with a rage that burns brightly inside each member, an energy that fuels every guitar riff, drum fill, and bass line.

The songs work primarily around Katz, her captivating voice, and her songwriting. Mordasiewicz and Sztainbok praise their lead singer as a “lyrical goddess” who often brings sparks of song ideas – inspired by her real-life experiences – to the band in the form of words, which the others can then build upon with their respective instruments. When asked if Hex has more new music on the way, Mordasiewicz looks to Katz, and says with a smirk, “I don’t know, got any song ideas?”

With Mordasiewicz and Sztainbok now in university, and Katz currently living in Philadelphia, Hex acts as a part-time job for its members. That doesn’t mean they’re not committed to performing more, and putting out more music in the future; they’re very excited to put out a music video soon, and have even written three new songs recently. But the band maintains a bit of a laissez-faire attitude towards the future.

“I do want to pursue music, but it’s hard to admit, because it’s a hard thing to do,” Katz confesses. But Sztainbok sums up everyone’s mindset pretty succinctly with an optimistic statement: “As long as I always have music as something that I’m doing, then I’ll be happy.”

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the publishing house Ad Litteram by Guillaume Lombart and his then business partner, David Murphy. It’s the perfect opportunity to take heed of the distance travelled, not only by the publisher and his roster of artists, but also of the whole business, which – in Québec, as elsewhere – has had to adapt to the tremendous upheaval brought about by the digital revolution.

Ad LitteramBesides founding Ad Litteram, Guillaume Lombart was also among the founding members of the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM), in 2002, alongside five other independent publishers: Daniel Lafrance, Sébastien Nasra, Carol Ryan, Jehan V. Valiquet, and the late Christopher J. Reed. Reed’s name was attached, in 2013, to an annual award presented by the association, to a music publisher whose “whose contribution to the exercise and recognition of the profession of musical publishing is exceptional.”

As a sign of the times, APEM counted only seven independent publishers among its members when it was created, and there are currently about 50. “I’m really proud of that,” says Lombart. “That was APEM’s primary objective: the profession needed to be structured and promoted. It was a trade in development.” Although it had always played it important role in the music industry, publishing seems to have gained in importance over time.

This, for the publisher, is a situation that reflects the direction the music industry has taken. “What mattered before was the song,” says Lombart. “A good song could be covered by everybody. Then, it was the opposite: artists wanted to preserve their exclusivity over a good song. In doing so, the industry had put the artist first, which pushed songwriters backstage. It goes without saying that the publishers, who represent the songwriters, were also in the shadows. The situation has changed now, partly because singer-songwriters are more in the forefront of the music scene. As publisher, our role is to be by their side during their creative process, of course, but also in all of their activities.” And that includes producing an album, or planning a concert or a tour. “That has greatly changed the way we work,” he adds.

Publisher 2.0

Traditionally, the job of a publisher was to manage the rights and royalties of a creator’s works, but Lombart says that this has evolved considerably. Over the years, he’s grown Ad Litteram into a structure that produces records, and shows, and which now operates a subsidiary, LiveToune, that offers a service for audiovisual recording and broadcasting online.

Obviously, the de-materialization of recorded musical works, and the complexity of online transactions that resulted, have also given some clout back to the publishing trade. “Sure, it has complicated what being a publisher means,” says Lombart. “You see, a new, emerging media doesn’t make everything else disappear; it all accumulates. The publisher who showed me the ropes used to work with composers who worked in his office; they wrote songs and sheet music and he sent that out to orchestras. His revenue stemmed from the performance right. Then radio came along, so he started producing records on top of that. As a matter of fact, in France, they refer to record labels as ‘phonographic publishing.’ Nowadays, I generally refer to it as audiovisual publishing, which includes content broadcast online.

“A new, emerging media doesn’t make everything else disappear; it all accumulates.” – Guillaume Lombart of Ad Litteram

“I consider that administration [of the catalogue of works represented by a publisher] should, as in any other company, represent about 15% of the workload. The rest is artist development and promotion. The thing is, when you’re a publisher, you can’t do everything. There are projects we simply can’t handle because we don’t have the required infrastructure, for example. Take the production of an album: we’ll help with recording the demos, and funding, but we’ll ask a record label for their help with the rest. Same for concerts.” To Lombart, the solution was obvious: become a publisher, a record producer, and a concert promoter.

He is, he admits, most interested in the artist development side of his trade. “It’s the core,” he says. “However, all of those other activities – records, shows, AV production – remains a means to generate publishing revenues, which is to say that Ad Litteram’s main activity is publishing. That’s our business model.”

More than 30 artists and bands depend on Ad Litteram’s six employees for the management of their publishing rights, and sometimes also for their record and show productions and management: Pilou/Peter Henry Phillips, Steve Hill, Renard Blanc, Simon Kingsbury, Moran, Gilles Bélanger and the Douze Hommes Rapaillés project, among others. Florence K and Martin Deschamps recently joined the roster. Lombart’s job, he says, “is to give lyricists and songwriters the financial, human, and sometimes technological means to achieve their projects. The tough part of our trade is building a catalogue of works that’s sizeable enough to regularly generate revenues that are sufficient enough for us to re-invest in new projects.”

Ad Litteram’s 20th year was marked by big decisions, says Lombart. First there was a deal with a German partner to represent Ad Litteram’s catalogue for all of Europe. They had a similar agreement in place for the French market, and they manage, as a sub-publisher, the catalogues of Éditions Beuscher Arpège (Édith Piaf, Nino Ferrer, etc.) and Melody Nelson Publishing (Serge Gainsbourg), among others. Second was the development of a similar partnership with an American publisher, to develop, in 2019 and 2020, new projects in the U.S. “It’s a lot of work,” says Lombart, “but what I’m proudest of is that our artists stick with us.”

Last fall, Ouri shared her blood with us, but not only that. On her new EP, We Share Our Blood, she gives herself to us whole, through her raw, lively R&B rhythms, while her electronic melodies make us dance, footloose and fancy-free.

For that new production, one thing mattered to her more than anything else: transmitting her art from her mind to ours. “I started out sporadically, left and right,” she explains. “I didn’t know I was writing an EP. Sometimes, when you’re composing, everything is fine, but you still feel like everything is off. Happens to me often. But in this case, the direction was clear.” Ouri’s goal was simple: She wanted everything to be more direct.

She has chosen to go it alone in her quest for artistic meaning. She rented microphones, compressors, everything she needed, and dove in head-first. “I needed that,” she says. “I needed to feel I had no obligation to try and please someone. I asked people for their opinion, notably the mix engineer, but otherwise, I truly wanted this project to be nothing but me.”

What had to come out at that point was a vague mix of emotions felt at the end of a long period of waiting and doubting. “I’m super-emotional,” she admits. “My art is totally devoid of any politics. It does have a lot of conscious hope, however, and naiveté, too.”

Born in France, Ouri has adopted Montréal as her home, but sees the city both as a blank canvas and a huge hurdle. “Montréal is a double-edged sword right now,” she says. “There’s a positive discrimination towards my music because of the colour of my skin, yet I regularly hear negative stuff about the work of women in the electro genre,” she says. She does admit that, when she was younger, she thought it was impossible that a woman could do what she does now. “I’ve had two lovers during the seven years I’ve been here,” she adds. “It gave me roots here. Now that I’m single, I have a few projects that keep me going, but nothing that holds me back.”

In all contexts, Ouri wishes to hold her own, and be her own spokesperson. During the Festival de Musique Émergente, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, where she performed during the Electro Nights, a delegate from France really didn’t like what she was playing, and wanted to talk about it with her on the next day. “The next day, I felt the people around me weren’t willing to tell it like it is,” she says. “My manager wanted to prevent me from talking to him. Everyone thought I was going to take things personally. I told the guy I wasn’t at his service. There’s something for everyone. You’re welcome to look elsewhere. I’m a grown woman.”

She’s still convinced that the support she gets is some kind of facade that legitimizes what she does, even though she’s ready and willing to go to bat herself. “I was mean and I was PMSing, too,” she says laughing.

On her new EP, Ouri sings, after being spurred on by friends to do so. She took Indian singing classes. “I wanted to use my voice, and in classical Indian singing, everyone has their register, their central note,” she explains. “It’s really high-level, but all tones of voice are possible, and each is as valuable as the others. I have to practise to get a result I like, but I’m no opera singer, either.”

Electro music is part of Ouri’s life ,like any other life experience. “I want to re-acquaint myself with the cello, which I used to play a lot,” she says. “I’m not sure how yet. Maybe I’ll release an acoustic project.” She says she got tendonitis from playing her keyboards so much. “The cello is the opposite, I hug it and we vibrate together,” she says. “It’s physical. The experience is completely different. I never know where my hands will feel like going.”