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Pop Montreal: Youjsh

October 4 / Parc des Princes (5293 Parc)

My encounter with Malcolm Sailor, architect of Balkan-influenced band the Youjsh, was anything but usual. Using the sounds and aesthetic of eastern European klezmer music as a starting point, Sailor’s colourful and extensive musical background truly lends the Youjsh’s sound to something quite extraordinary.

The name of the band, abbreviated from the expression “the usual,” is a fitting contrast to their unconventional origins, as well as their current status in Montreal’s music scene. Sailor explains, “It’s a little bit ironic because I don’t really feel that our band is very usual.”

Reluctant to define the Youjsh’s specifically as “klezmer-punk,” Sailor emphasizes the atypical nature of his music and explains the attitude involved. “It’s supposed to be party music, basically. It’s supposed to be crazy, get-shit-faced-but-still-really-interesting-as-music music…. Just tell people to expect the unexpected,” he tells me with a slight smirk. “For all I know, [klezmer-punk] is a big trend, but I feel that most people have felt somewhat at a loss to compare [us] to anything.”

Young musicians dissatisfied with their McGill musical education, the Youjsh formed as a group of friends seeking to exploit their classical and jazz roots. Sailor explains, “We used to have parties at my apartment where we’d just play klezmer tunes – although not very many of us are Jewish – or we would play arrangements of other music in klezmer style. At Christmas, we played Christmas carols in klezmer style called ‘Christ does Klez’ and that was a lot of fun. People would go crazy, dancing and stuff.”

This playful mentality has only been perpetuated, bringing with it a series of successes. With the aid of a Canada Council Grant, Sailor et al. – who have only been playing together since the beginning of this year – are very much anticipating their role in this year’s Pop festival, a context removed from their respective jazz and classical trainings.

They have some doubts, however, about participating in such an extensive event, as there is the possibility that smaller, lesser-known bands could be overlooked. “Maybe [the Youjsh’s gig] will just get lost in the crowd with the many other things that are going on,” Sailor worried. “I think that’s the challenge with this kind of event. I certainly haven’t heard of the vast majority of [the other bands in the festival] and I don’t think most people have heard of our band.” Regardless, he remains optimistic. “I’ve never played with this band and had anything less than an amazing time.”

– Sara Fegelman

Listen to a part of Sara’s interview with Malcolm Sailor in a park by clicking on the audio file above