Culture  The Rake’s progress?

Rake&Co. offers commercialized version of Montreal culture

Rake&Co. is a bilingual Montreal magazine, inspired by what Christina Brown, editor-in-chief, calls the “cultural, commercial, and social goings-on” of the city. The first edition was released two weeks ago, and features new and independent boutiques, artists such as local poet Jonah Campbell, new restaurants, odd hangouts, and questionable human interest stories such as the phenomenon of bilingual couples in Montreal. Printed on thick matte paper, the reader of Rake is treated to nearly 120 pages of great photography and rather uninformative writing. To their credit, Rake&Co. does feature interesting documentaries, accessible through a mobile site, that provide a much-needed supplement to the text.

Rake&Co. originally started off as the agency blog for the staff of CloudRaker, a digital marketing agency established in 2000. Over time, the blog evolved into an online magazine. The online magazine originally served as a low-risk testing ground for the CloudRaker employees to experiment with new media and hone their ‘creative’ skills in filmmaking, editing, photography, and storytelling.

The magazine puts forward what Brown calls “a new world order of consumption.” It does this by focusing on independent stores and third wave cafes that are not geared toward the mass consumption of characterless goods. The stores featured in the magazine include a diner with a bowling alley called Notre Dame des Quilles, tiny clothing boutiques with rare merchandise and organic cotton shirts, and a furniture shop with re-purposed goods and food offerings.

The magazine’s business model is conspicuously experimental. The ‘Rakers’ aim to find new ways of brand sponsorship that will allow them to survive – magazines need revenue from advertisements – but that will also keep the magazine ad-free. The result is a new form of publication that is a “hybrid between a nice photo album/book and a magazine.” Ultimately, the people at Rake&Co want to create a keepsake, something that you can display on your coffee table for a long time.

Although the magazine is meant to be an “archive of Montreal today” seen through the “professionally creative” eyes of the Rake&Co. team, it would be better off claiming to be an archive of the city’s Plateau, Mile End, St. Henri, and Griffintown neighbourhoods. It rarely ventures beyond these districts into the less “creative” areas. This is due to the fact that Rake&Co. “is a private project” that has “no lofty ambition to contribute to the discourse of the city at all.” That means that they pick their stories according to their interests and what they deem important to include, which reflects the social and economic profile of the writers more than it represents an ‘archive’ of Montreal as a whole.

Rake&Co.’s target audience is “a younger creative community interested in what is new and upcoming in the city.” This doesn’t mean that the less-young community won’t enjoy it as well, for Rake&Co. “seems to be resonating with all people interested in what’s coming up in the creative community.” However, it would be quite a stretch to claim that this magazine is for everyone. This is natural, Brown claims, as it is hard to cater to everybody’s needs and still be coherent. As she so charmingly put it, “are we looking to find deals for McGill students? Maybe not. It’s not about finding the cheap sandwich. This is really about looking at our city through our eyes.” Perhaps a little diversity in the people that Rake&Co. interests itself with would provide a more interesting publication.

Even though the magazine aims at nailing down a cohesive portrait of the city, it makes no mention of musical events or venues, theatre performances, or the visual arts scene. Instead, it places strong emphasis on the commercial goings-on of the city, such as new restaurants and boutiques. In defence of the magazine, Brown claims that “it was our first edition, and we all completely agree that certainly the music scene is something lacking. In fact, we had a story [about local music] we wanted to include, but instead opted to hit the press quicker, just to get the magazine out there.” This doesn’t mean that future issues of Rake will always have a dossier on food or music; “it’s really going to be what interests us at the time, for we don’t want to restrict ourselves into having to hit each category […] to be a viable and complete read,” Brown explained.

The greatest disappointment of Rake&Co. is the poor quality of the words that accompany the photos. The text is at worst, irrelevant, and at best, superficial. For instance, the PHI Centre is heralded as a “game-changing addition to the Montreal arts scene,” yet in the scanty three paragraphs devoted to describing it, only one makes a lame stab at explaining why it might be a “game changer,” while the other two discuss the centre’s restaurant ,and the ecological certification of the building. Perhaps I missed the entire point of the coverage, but I was certainly left clueless as to what the significance was of PHI to the Montreal arts scene. At least Rake & conscious of this issue: Brown says that they sacrificed the quality and depth of the analysis in order to quickly “nail a cohesive portrait of the city right then in that moment. For the next issue, we want to go deeper in the writing.” Even Rake&Co.’s supposed up-to-the-minute-ness is suspect, however, as most of their photos have a conspicuous lack of snow, implying they might have been taken several months ago.

So, should we all go out and buy a copy of Rake&Co.? I would recommend checking out their website to look at their well-executed photographs and watch their short documentaries, the latter of which are unfortunately only available on your smartphone. You may be less inclined to spend $20 on a magazine filled with pictures of districts and people that all end up looking as if they shop at the same stores and live in the same neighbourhoods, even though they go to independent boutiques and live in elegant apartments. Perhaps the second issue will provide a more holistic look at Montreal culture.