Talk of the Montreal indie sound that pioneered in the early 2000s by bands such as The Unicorns has been rendered acutely obsolete. Online dissemination has made this music accessible to artists across the globe, resulting in an increasingly homogenous sound that is no longer characteristic of the Montreal scene.
Heightened accessibility to music technology may have lead to a sharp decrease in record sales, but it has also caused an increase in music production. This in turn has lead to an accelerated turnover in independent music, fueled by what Alien8 recordings manager Gary Worsley describes as a “decreased attention span” for new artists. Alien8’s greatest difficulty, he says, has been “trying to remain in the sights and ears of music consumers in a sea of labels and independent bands that seems to grow daily.”
To succeed, a record label must establish a distinct sound, and get listeners excited about new releases rather than fly-by-night artists. As Worsley says, “pretty much everything you fancy listening to is just a mouse click away,” eliminating any geographic specificity and making it difficult to find an innovative sound.
Quebec presents unique opportunities as a fully self-sufficient music market that, to some extent, defies these current trends. Many French language artists survive and thrive on local album sales, despite the fact that their music may never cross borders. This pride in local musicians is evident among fans of English language music as well, assuring continued support for up-and-coming artists in Montreal’s diverse cultural community.
Alien8 recordings seems to have made the most of this environment. The label was founded in fall 1996, when Sean O’Hara and Gary Worsley began work on their first release by Japanese avant-garde artist Merzbow. Seventy-five releases and nearly 12 years on, the label claims to have become “particularly active in releasing the works of artists based in [their] hometown of Montreal.”
Worsley enjoys the city’s “vibrant music scene spanning the musical map,” as well as its relative affordability. On the downside, Worsley explains that “shipping products to the United States is incredibly expensive due to red tape with custom brokers, and getting our bands into the United States to tour is equally problematic.”
Lesser-known artists today, making the majority of their money from shows, often feel that they are better off without a record label. The internet provides a means of free promotion – anyone can upload tracks onto itunes or distribute their music via cdbaby.com – while funding for record label promotion is now increasingly limited due to the decline in record sales.
While Worsely recognizes that groups like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have been very successful in distributing self-released records, he maintains that “it’s very difficult to obtain distribution without a label.” Record labels also provide other services for bands, like access to management, booking agents, and legal assistance, and establish musicians as part of a community of artists.
Alien8’s centralized presence in the Montreal area continues to help garner support for their artists. Labelmates can open for one another, gaining exposure and allowing fans to explore many of the label’s artists.
Over the last 12 years, Alien8’s original focus on experimental noise music has expanded, forming a cohesive group of bands and spanning numerous genres. Their work with The Unicorns is proof of the label’s role in establishing the Montreal indie sound as it is known today, while their more experimental signees suggest what the future might hold for music. From Acid Mothers Temple, described by one fan as “head-in-a-blender, mega-drone-rock succubi ripped screaming from the eleventh dimension of a psychedelic underworld” to Lesbians on Ecstasy’s “skanky easy-listening industrial-punk, sampling feminist classics and beyond,” Alien8’s roster mirrors Montreal’s diversity itself.
To find out more about Alien8 recordings, and for a full list of the label’s artists, visit alien8recordings.com.