Our second day at the RBMA was to prove an extremely exciting one – not least because one of the most iconic musicians of all time was in town to launch her Digital exhibition and perform a DJ set that night.
Before that, however, was the important business of hearing from some of this year's RBMA mentors – established musicians who hang around the studios with the participants for two weeks, offering guidance, support, suggestions and any other help that they might need.
Oliver Johnson aka Austrian musician/producer Dorian Concept (above) is himself a former graduate of the Red Bull Music Academy that was held in Barcelona in 2008, and has enjoyed success on a global scale since participating. He told entertainment.ie that he had noticed big differences in the participants over the last eight years.
"I think the biggest difference between 2008 and now is the technical knowledge, and the amount of knowledge that they have at a certain age," he said. "I think [when I was a participant] there was a lot more interest in getting to know software, for people that had a background in DJing - whereas the people who come here now, they already have a very unique and distinct voice, and are very good on a technical level.
"Maybe also – because social media was not as big of a factor back then, there was more of a surprise – so the people who got together really were strangers. Now, the people that come have often researched each other or have already connected online before. I think a lot of the general differences that you'd see have been because of the advancement in digitalisation."
Thundercat (above), on the other hand, was an inspired choice of mentor in a place that is all about collaborating – considering he has built much of his career on working with other people. Best known as a bassist, his eclectic back catalogue includes work with everyone from Erykah Badu to Flying Lotus to Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington's acclaimed 2015 debut 'The Epic'. He was equally enthused about RBMA, not least because it gave him a chance to chill out between tours.
"I enjoy working with people," he said, nodding. "I enjoy the communication – getting a chance to maybe have something to offer. I enjoy the lectures and I enjoy the participants and seeing their different strong points. It's about having fun, but also trying to contribute to somebody's creative process, really."
Sometimes, he said, that contribution meant being a little unorthodox in terms of sitting in on the participants' studio work: "It's like being able to walk into somebody's bedroom over and over again. You catch 'em off guard, you catch 'em on guard, it's beautiful. I'm just completely fucking with everybody – bust the door and say 'What are you doing?!'," he said, laughing. "I might walk in with a bass or a big-ass bottle of wine, and say 'Play me your music!' and then I'll just show them faces of death and leave."
Later, it was back to the lecture hall to hear from Lorenzo Senni (watch the full lecture above) about his work on 'Dans les Abysses' as well as how he found his way from hardcore punk into his brand of minimalist trance – 'pointilistic trance', as he called it - where the beat keeps building without ever climaxing.
Senni charmed everyone with his blunt admissions in his broken English, including his own take on his music: "They think I'm a master, but I don't know much about it." There was also some valuable insight into his creative process, which differs from many musicians: that trying to make something 'interesting' should not be 'fun'. "I never had 'fun' putting together a record," he said. "You cannot use the word 'fun' when a 20-year-old [burgeoning musician] is reading an interview with you, because it is not 'fun'. To make something that satisfies you should be a bit terrible."
With those pearls of wisdom ringing in our ears, it was time to head to the Bjork Digital exhibition, which was to prove once of the highlights of our time in Montreal. Having toured in cities including London, Sydney and Tokyo in recent months, the exhibition was comprised of various elements including her wide-ranging and eclectic music videos and her Biophilia app, which was available to tinker around with on tablets.
The most exciting facet, however, was undoubtedly the Virtual Reality one. In groups of twenty or so people (above), we were led to various rooms in Montreal's DHC/ART Foundation building, supplied with VR headsets and headphones, and basically projected into a variety of music videos drawn from Bjork's most recent album 'Vulnicura' where you had a 360-degree view of your surroundings: be it in a cave, on a beach with Bjork singing directly to you, or – rather disturbingly – with a bird's eye view of her open mouth and vocal cords (quite literally).
Made in collaboration with Andrew Thomas Huang, the centrepiece (and most remarkable video) of the programme was unquestionably 'Family', where you had the ability to move around, touch a 'projection' of Bjork, and even shoot vivid streams of colour (which symbolised love, to help mend her broken heart) via a HTC Vive handset. The whole group was in gobsmacked disbelief once we'd removed our headsets – it was really quite something. To get a taste of what the hell I'm trying to explain, watch the non-interactive video for 'Family' below:
What better way to follow that than with more Bjork? We made our way over to the Cirque Éloize for a three-hour set by Iceland's finest, who had promised us a set of 'brutal techno'. In truth, it was not too brutal as she dipped into everything from Venezualan music to a Whitney Houston remix to Anohni, hopping around giddily behind the decks.
The following morning – rather crusty from the night before, we must admit - we luckily got to sit in on Bjork's wide-ranging lecture to the RBMA participants. She was in fabulous form as she sipped champagne, speaking about everything from the evolution of her sound over the last two decades, to her aesthetic, maintaining her privacy with her headpieces/masks, raising her son while still in The Sugarcubes, driving around the mountains of Iceland blaring cheesy r&b songs, to the music she listens to while "faffing around in the kitchen making toast" (lately, that's been London artist Nao, FYI). In short, it was everything and more that you'd want from a Bjork interview.
In fact, it was a satisfying way to end our time at RBMA Montreal, overall; a few days which proved enlightening, educational, inspiring and most of all - a lot of fun.
For more on the Red Bull Music Academy, see www.redbullmusicacademy.com.