"Montréal is a strange, sad, crumbling city. The spectre of Québec nationalism over the last quarter-century, and the resulting outflow of English ruling-class capital, combines political and economic uncertainty with a healthy dose of cultural insecurity. Alienation always looming on the horizon, we drink and smoke and adopt a fatalistic attitude, living on welfare, shit jobs, ever-dwindling grants, taking cold comfort in the collapsing urban geography of vacant buildings, broken roads, low rent. We all drink at the same bar, shuffle around, try to make work, waiting for the horizon to shift."
"Montréal, like any city, is a place to chart paths of escape collectively. The reasons for being here are various, but the pattern is the same: dearth of opportunity and excess of cultural alienation breeds its own fragile community. The city slowly transforms itself from backdrop for isolation to inhabited nexus of collaboration and activity. We begin to realise the possibilities of this low-budget, break-even town, and the struggle for cultural expression becomes implicitly winnable by independent means. Shows take place under the radar, in our own spaces, without official sanction, and everyone gets along."
The label: its history and its aims
Montréal's Constellation label embodies the essence of true independence in music. A product and catalyst of Montréal's fiercely brilliant music scene, Constellation began to form during the last decade of the 20th century. Constellation was first intended to be a performance-space, but the bureaucratic nightmare of zoning permits forced the emphasis of the project to shift to the label. Nevertheless, Constellation held a series of concerts in the label's headquarters in a small loft: musique fragile. This concert series, "devoted to experimental, improvisational or otherwise skewed music played quietly," (probably so as not to annoy the neighbors) was witness to the genesis of A Silver Mt. Zion and featured artists such as the Shalabi Effect and Fly Pan Am, many of whom were members of the burgeoning Constellation label. As the label grew, musique fragile was crowded out of the small loft, and Constellation moved to Mile End, the Montréal district that houses Godspeed's legendary practice-space ("and home to several of the band's members"), the Hotel 2 Tango.
Constellation is committed to independence and sincerity. They emphasize the value of meticulous craftsmanship and individual artistry even in the packaging of their records and CDs, often handcrafting their notoriously detailed and unique records. Every vinyl copy of Godspeed's f#a#infinity, for example, is handmade and includes many inserts: handmade drawings, silkscreenings, and even a penny crushed by one of the many trains that rumbles through Mile End. Constellation sells these records for cheaper than any mass-produced album: $10 through mail order. "...we attempt to affirm and contribute to a grassroots economy of small-scale artisans, technicians and suppliers... Our aim is for each release to resonate as an integrated art object, where the sensibility of the music is reflected in and reinforced by the tactility of the package that contains it. Record-making as vocation and craft, as far removed from "product" as we are able to get."
"The capitalist system of exchange is at a certain level inescapable - it takes money to make records and money to buy them - but the worst traits and tendencies of this system must be resisted, not just in spirit, but in practice. We understand our position as an independent record label to be an ongoing attempt to define and enact such a practice."
The manifesto on the label's webpage (http://www.cstrecords.com/) is a scathing critique of corporate music and a declaration of independence. Constellation tries to avoid allowing their records to be sold in chain stores such as Wal-Mart or Best Buy: please do not buy a Constellation album from this source. "The role of chain stores in the pre-determination and warehousing of culture is to be resisted. Do not shop at these temples of payola and product placement - they are zones of domination." Instead, patronize an independent music store or use Constellation's extremely affordable mailorder service. As an extension of their comittment to artistry in musical presentation, Constellation is committed to the use of vinyl as musical medium. Say Constellation, "Our commitment to vinyl certainly stems in part from its inherent resistance to the advent of compact discs as the vehicle of mass duplication. We are neither absolute purists nor luddites in this regard - while we do prefer vinyl both for sonics and for its ability to create a larger canvas for art direction, we also recognise the decentralising potential of digital duplication and transmission." Though Constellation does not resist the internet and the world of the digital, they believe in tangibility.
The music: enough rhetoric, let's rawk!
Godspeed you black emperor!
Most listeners identify Constellation with the sound of Godspeed you black emperor! and its side-projects. Godspeed is certainly Constellation's most commercially and critically successful group, creating apocalyptic soundscapes that are usually placed within the genre of "post-rock." Though they vehemently reject the idea that they are "orchestral," feeling that their roots are in rock and utilizing an improvisational technique, their music has a definite feel of the epic quality of classical music. Godspeed's music, though inspired by political resistance, has never been explicitly political, instead suggesting its themes musically. The nontet composes its music in the Hotel2Tango, a building in Montréal's decrepit Mile End neighborhood. Their first release was "all lights fucked on the hairy amp drooling," a limited edition cassette that you will never hear. Several promotional releases preceded their first full length in 1997, "f#a# infinity," a bleak, beautiful record of three epic tracks. The 1999 EP "slow riot for new zero kanada" continued in the same vein, and was followed in 2000 by the absolutely stunning double album "lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven!" The album was the most powerful expression of their sound, tragic, stunning, hopeful and passionate. A subtle rearrangement of punctuation left the band calling itself Godspeed you! black emperor, and heralded the release of "Yanqui U.X.O.," a record that did away with atmospheric samples and concentrated on instrumental fury.
A Silver Mount Zion
ASMZ is the most recognized of GY!BE's many side projects, consisting of guitarist Efrim along with Sophie and Thierry. The smaller ensemble explored territory similar to Godspeed, but with more focus on piano and with the inclusion of vocals. The music is perhaps smaller in scope than Godspeed's, with less build toward incendiary crescendoes and more concentration on warmth and atmosphere. The group's first release was "He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms...", their second, "Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward." was preceded by an expansion of both membership (to six) and name (to The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band.) A third release was again accompanied by an expansion of the name (adding "With Choir" to the end): "'This Is Our Punk-Rock,' Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing".
Do Make Say Think
Do Make Say Think are in the minority of Constellation bands with no direct Godspeed association. They fuse post-rock, free jazz, psych, and electronica in a manner similar to the Chicago post-rock group Tortoise. Their instrumental music is hypnotic and rhythmic, slowly percolating into explosive force. Their debut release was a self-titled full length, followed by goodbye enemy airship the landlord is dead, with more rock than jazz or dub influences. & yet & yet moved the band into more electronic territory. In 2003, DMST released Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, a beautiful and nuanced work that is looser and more varied than their earlier albums.
Says Constellation: "exhaust is a bass, drum & tape trio that crashed through various small montreal venues in a series of semi-controlled explosions during the mid-90s." They released albums in 1998 and 2002. Their works center around the hypnotic drumming of Aidan from GYBE!, accompanied by bass guitar, bass clarinet, and tape fragments, creating an apocalyptic groove.
Another side-project of Aidan's, 1-speed bike consists of manipulated drum loops and electro accompaniment, something like a slightly more upbeat Exhaust. Note the goofy humor and punk spirit of 1-speed bike's album art, song-titles, and album title: "Droopy Butt Begone".
Fly Pan Am
Constellation says it better than I can, as I am little acquainted with this group: "fly pan am is a young montréal-based instrumental rock quartet whose ear for melody, honed in large part through obsessive exposure to the French pop tradition, is combined with a strong forward-looking experimentalism, driven by an intransigent faith in the unfulfilled possibilities of minimalism and musique concrète in rock composition. fly pan am address and engage a tradition of art-punk that encompasses VU, talking heads & sonic youth, maintaining an exuberant innocence while consciously disavowing primitivist elements in favour of structural refinement."
Hangedup "is a montreal-based duo featuring gen heistek (pest 5000, sackville) on viola and eric craven (shortwave, sackville) on drums and percussion." Their frenetic and powerful music sounds the work of more than two men, combining insistent and harrowingly beautiful viola with sidewinding percussion.
Polmo Polpo is the Toronto electronic musican Sando Perri. He has released albums on Alien8 Recordings as well as on Constellation. Constellation describes his work as "long-burn drones & submerged rhythms overlaid with instrumental sources (slide guitar, strings, accordion)."
These are some of the Constellation artists with which I am most familliar. More information to come.
Artists and releases: destroy all dreamers with debt and depression...
Test Tone / Autumn, 1994 / out of print
Town Unsafe / Spring, 1995 / cassette out of print
Record / Autumn, 1995 / cassette out of print
New Era Building 7" / May 30, 1997 / cst001
Grey / May 30, 1997 / cst002 cd
godspeed you black emperor!
all lights fucked on the hairy amp drooling / December, 1994 / 33 cassettes made. very out of print
aMAZEine godspeed/fly pan am 7" / Autumn, 1998 / promotional release out of print
f#a# infinity 1995-1997 / August 14, 1997 / cst003 lp, cd
slow riot for new zero kanada EP / March 8, 1999 / cst006 lp, cd
lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven / October 9, 2000 / cst012 2xlp, 2xcd
yanqui U.X.O. / November 11, 2002 / cst024 2xlp, cd
230596 / "er, 1996" / self-released cassette, out of print
exhaust / August 31, 1998 (lp), July 10, 2000 (cd) / cst004 lp, cd
enregistreur / September 09, 2002 / cst021 lp, cd
do make say think
do make say think / September 21, 1998 / cst005 cd
goodby enemy airship the landlord is dead / March 13, 2000 / cst010 lp, cd
&yet &yet / March 25, 2002 / cst020 lp, cd
Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn / October 6, 2003 / cst025 2xlp/cd
Low Ebb EP / mag009 cd / not released on Constellation
These Last Songs / mag018 cd / not released on Constellation
Handsome Family/Sackville / mag025 split 7" / not released on Constellation
The Principles of Science / May 20, 1999 / cst007 10", cdep
fly pan am
aMAZEine godspeed/fly pan am 7" / Autumn, 1998 / promotional release out of print
fly pan am / October 20, 1999 / cst008 2xLP, CD
sédatifs en fréquences et sillons ("grooved frequency sedative")/ October 23, 2000 / cst011 12" cdep
ceux qui inventent n'ont jamais vécu (?) / April 15, 2000 / cst019 lp, cd
N'écoutez Pas / Sept 06, 2004 / cst031 lp, cd
a silver mt. zion
He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms... / March 27, 2000 / cst009 lp, cd
"Born Into trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward." / October 22, 2001 / cst018 2x10", cd
"This Is Our Punk-Rock," Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing, / August 25, 2003 / cst027 2xlp, cd
Pretty Little Lightning Paw / May 10, 2004 / cst030 12", cdep]
Horses In the Sky / March 2005 / cst033 2xlp, cd
My Red Scare / November 6, 2000 / cst013 lp, cd
Arena Hostile / September 10, 2001 / cst017 cd ep
Welcome Crummy Mystics / March 3, 2003 / cst023 cd, lp
Droopy Butt Begone! / October 23, 2000 / cst014 lp, cd
mnant / May 7, 2001 / cst015 lp, cd
alms / October 2004 / cst032 lp, cd
hangedup / May 29, 2001 / cst016 lp, cd
Kicker in Tow / October 21, 2002 / cst022 lp, cd
Clatter for Control / April 18 2005 / cst034 lp, cd
Like Hearts Swelling / September 22, 2003 / cst026 lp, cd
elizabeth anka vajagic
Stand With The Stillness Of This Day / March 15, 2004 / cst028 lp, cd
Nostalgia/Pain E.P. / May 16 2005 / cst035 ep, cd
black ox orkestar
Ver Tanzt? / April 26, 2004 / cst029 lp, cd
Nisht Azoy / April 2006 / cst038 lp, cd
Stem Stem In Electro / May 2005 / cst036 lp, cd
Glissandro 70 / March 2006 / cst037 lp, cd
Feu Thérèse / 17 April 2006 / cst040 lp, cd
"...you too can be hand-fed your own identity as you suckle the same fucking hamburger in the same fucking prefab environment in the four corners of the world - but it can proceed by way of non-corporate techniques."
"Constellation is a record label devoted to exposing music from Montréal and the surrounding region. We are committed to the independent production and dissemination of culture, and see Constellation as a work-in-progress striving to map out and consolidate techniques for preserving artistic communities from the levelling death machinery of corporatism. All our label releases are hand-packaged using artisanal techniques that aim to encourage a network of independent artists, bookbinders, die-makers, silk-screeners and printers."
Contact: get yours!
po box 42002
all quotes from http://www.cstrecords.com/