laced is making ‘bedroom club’ music as a means of self-reconciliation
To call Montreal’s underground music scene fertile is a gross understatement.
Born out the city just in recent years have been artists like Fractal Fantasy mainstay and king of club sleaze Martyn Bootyspoon; dancehall extraordinaire and Nervous Horizon signee SIM; and one-to-watch bass lover Honeydrip.
‘The raves are like the best here’ confirms Nela Paki – better known by moniker laced – as she takes time out of helping to organise Mutek festival (another of Montreal’s offerings) to speak with me over Zoom.
‘But throughout the years there’s been a lot of gentrification,” she adds, continuing to list problems familiar to almost every electronic scene internationally: noise complaints from the residents of newly-built condos, license restrictions, lack of spaces. And an already-fragile scene is made even weaker by the authority’s negligence of nightlife culture’s community-building potential. ‘Culture is treated as a luxury by some of our leaders, not as something which can nourish the soul’, Nela regrets, ‘and that makes it kind of this ‘incubator’ model’.
Elaborating on that term, she explains that the incapacitation of many homegrown artists to continue in sustainable musical careers means that many of them move to Europe once they’ve established themselves in Montreal, making the scene very precarious as there is always an expectation of the younger generation to start something new. Speaking with me from her Montreal home, it’s easy to detect by what Nela says that this is precisely the role she’s taken on, together with a close-knit posse of fellow music obsessors who are tired of a techno-centric homogeny.
She acknowledges the welcomed presence of microscenes, some cultivated by her friends – Pascal, for example, who goes by the moniker Dileta and began their own series of UK Bass parties which hosted the likes of Ploy and Batu. ‘It was so refreshing. It felt like there was some kind of rave renaissance taking place. Pascal would have to keep throwing the parties so that people understood the vibe, until everyone was like “Okay, this is actually insane music, what is this?!”. And we’d say “See?! Now why didn’t we hear this five years ago?”’.
Causal Chain, the imprint founded by Nela in 2020, is a manifestation of her commitment to addressing these frustrations and giving a platform to the heterogeneous talent that hails from her homeland. So far, she has released two VA’s which compile dancefloor-ready music hailing from Montreal, as well as a solo release and others from Montreal’s Xozgk, Belgium’s dybbuk and more recently, LA duo Xen Model. The label’s name is a reference to the fluid nature of its identity. ‘Each release is influenced by the past one,’ she tells me. ‘My artists are developing the label’s direction. I let them take the lead and I haven’t been deceived since. I’m a strong believer that things happen for a reason, so the name ‘Causal Chain’ came naturally’.
Just a matter of weeks prior to Nela’s own solo Causal Chain release, she caught the attention of international ears with her contribution to the ever-reliable London label run by DJ Pitch, Simkin and Sobolik. All Centre unveiled 4-track ‘Caustic Reverie’ EP at the start of last month, complete with a dancehall-indebted remix from fellow Montrealer, SIM. The release combines the warmth of highly-processed synthesised sounds with harshness of percussive instrumentation in a sunshine-doused exploration of depth and texture. Crisp blips, swishes, tiny twangs and vibrant synth plucks tempt the touch, creating a soundscape at once futuristic and psychedelic and evoking the music of foodman, Smerz, Jessy Lanza and Loraine James.
‘What a compliment!’, she exclaims when I made the latter comparison. ‘I love that Loraine’s music feels very intricate and very deep at the same time. I like to play on that contrast a lot in my own music because it resonates with me on a personal level. Allowing the harsh and the soft to coexist is something I find very beautiful.’
This level of introspection and intimacy is something that’s palpable in laced’s music, almost always led by velvety, lullaby-esque melodies which caper gleefully above brooding bass throbs. Labeling her latest Causal Chain EP ‘oko’ as ‘dreamcore’, she aims to build worlds similar to those of anime or RPG games. ‘I take the fantastical elements of those open world games, and instill them within my music, trying to create something that sounds equally as unearthly. It’s an escapist thing I guess, an openness to acknowledging the child that exists within me’.
As one of her biggest influences – aside from genres like Dream Pop, IDM and shoegaze – she cites the late Japanese producer, Rei Harakami, whose music she admires for its ability to be at once deeply evocative and also playful and frivolous. ‘The world-building potential of Rei’s music is fucking insane’, she beams. ‘It’s so immersive it makes me cry, you have to listen to it with headphones’.
But more recently it’s been Aussie producer, Emily Glass, that Nela’s looked to for inspiration. She attributes this to the idiosyncrasy of Glass’ productions which make them instantly recognisable – a trait she considers to be increasingly difficult to hone – and also her ability to create a specific ambiance through cinematic sound design which is suited both to the bedroom and the club. ‘That’s how I’d describe my music: ‘bedroom club’’, she affirms. ‘DJ sets are always in the back of my mind when I produce, but I’m much more inclined to spend time developing a melody than a track’s energy or drums, meaning that the product is normally both abrasive and cute’.
Nonetheless, despite Nela’s contentment with forming these melodies, performing them to a crowd is a different story. In the past, she would find solace in playing repetitive percussive sets, armed with her Yamaha RM1X which allowed her to lose herself in a drum-fuelled trance. Whereas, with the performance of her softer music comes a heightened sense of vulnerability. ‘I feel so nauseous playing out the tracks from ‘oko’! Like, I don’t want to be cute, I want to be hard! But as I accept the fact that the two can coexist within me, it’s actually very cathartic. It’s an externalisation of my feelings, like crying and screaming at the same time.’
As if DJing, producing, label managing and festival organising weren’t enough, a long term goal of Nela’s is to open a small electronic music school and give different types of workshops to all ages. ‘I think it’s really important to nurture the younger generation’s thirst for art, since art can be an asylum for so many of us, it’s what keeps our spirits alive, literally’, she tells me. ‘Giving people the opportunity to express themselves through music at a younger age can teach them important values like sharing and teamwork, and gives them something to dedicate themselves to, something that can help their mental health, which will help them prepare for the real world’.
What’s clear is that Nela’s contribution to and understanding of the Montreal music scene expands far beyond the parameters of her own personal career. Also that for her, creating and sharing music is a means by which she can reconcile herself with the duality that exists within all of us. When compared to artists like Loraine James and object blue, aya and Iceboy Violet it’s clear that laced constitutes part of the new wave of music exploring the tension between club music and listening music, and representing a vehicle for self-understanding and expressing vulnerability.