Accidentally “Alaclair” – The Triumph of Expression in the New Economy

Accidentally “Alaclair” – The Triumph of Expression in the New Economy

LIQ_Mag_Mar2014_Cover_FinalThis article first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.
Life in Quebec Magazine is a lifestyle publication covering the Quebec region and is currently published at least 3 times per year.
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What’s the best way to make money as a professional, full-time musician in 2014?  According to Alaclair Ensemble, it’s to give your music away for free.

Such a counter-intuitive strategy would hardly be the strangest thing to come out of the up-and-coming hip-hop group, which in many ways defies description.  A blend of uniquely Québécois origins, quirky immersive stage personas, and an earnest but lighthearted approach to its own sound, Alaclair Ensemble has carved out an unlikely spot for itself in the layout of Québec’s rap and hip-hop scene.

Alaclair Ensemble originally began about four years ago as a loose association of friends with musical backgrounds who would meet around a make-shift home recording studio to jam and share beats.  Ogden Ridjanovic, the group’s front man and full-time manager, remembers those days.  “Back then, Alaclair was really just whoever happened to be in the studio and wanted to try something while we were messing around,” he recalls.  These informal sessions did eventually produce unique tracks which the group decided they’d publish online without any real expectations.

In a dig against any real attempt to market or sell their music, they titled their first album “4.99” and decided to make it available for free in June of 2010.  To their great surprise, it was a hit.  A review in the Journal Voir newspaper went so far as to call it “no contest, the best local hip-hop album in ages” while the album won Hip-Hop Album of the Year at 2011’s GAMIQ gala recognizing Quebec’s independent music.

Their success is often attributed to the way they take a very Quebec twist on the genre.  “We were really into hip-hop, but like it or not, none of us were poor inner-city minorities and so, I think, some of us felt like frauds, because we’re so used to associating hip-hop to that urban American culture.  In a way we were trying to appropriate a version of the style that could really be rooted in our culture instead.”  They coined the term post-rigodon as a Quebec-rooted cultural alternative to “hip-hop” and heavily sampled on sounds that were unique to Quebec’s modern pop culture. The effect was clear – it was easy for their listeners in Quebec to appreciate the style while also feeling connected to the culture behind it.

As a side effect of their strategy, their music was making waves across Quebec’s social and political reality.  Their sound, combined with the politically charged lyrics of more well-known hip-hop groups like Loco Locass, drove reporters to ask Alaclair about their political leanings.  Having only ever focused on their music, members of the group found themselves uncomfortable being expected to define themselves along political lines.  It was during this time that Ogden, then a literature student at McGill, came across a little-known page of Quebec’s history: the failed insurrection of the Republic of Lower Canada, which saw the exiled rebel leader Robert Nelson proclaim himself President of a provisional government claiming jurisdiction over Lower Canada in 1838.

Seeing an opportunity to sidestep the political identity question with intentional absurdity, Alaclair Ensemble embraced an alternate reality altogether.  They would henceforth evolve in an alternate reality in which the 1838 rebellions were successful and Robert Nelson turned Quebec into an isolationist republic with himself as its absolute leader – a sort of North American version of North Korea, only considerably more ridiculous.  Seeing the band’s refusal to slot themselves into a political spectrum, reporters embraced the joke.  The band also credits their initial success to the fact that, because their album was free and independent, reporters and critics were more enthusiastic to share their music, too.

It was during this time that record labels began to approach the band, offering them tempting deals.  Most of the members of Alaclair Ensemble already had past experiences with failed attempts at launching albums with record companies, however, and were skeptical.  As Ogden put it in a 2013 TEDxQuébec talk, “I asked ‘how much money are we going to make from that?’  An album sells for fourteen bucks in a store, five or six bucks goes to distribution, another five or six goes to the record company’s pockets, so there’s just about two dollars to split between myself and my six colleagues.  That makes no sense. It’s exploitation!” Ogden then clarifies, “but it does make sense, the record industry is something that was born when it was very expensive to record an album” – in comparison, Alaclair’s albums are recorded in a home studio for a tiny fraction of that cost.  He continues, “as far as I’m concerned, the record industry is a holdover from an economic model of the 20th century which is no longer logical today.  So we refused record contracts we were offered and kept giving our music away for free.”

Because the album was free and journalists were talking about it, Alaclair began receiving invitations to festivals ranging from the Festival d’Été to Osheaga, and the money began to flow in.  The group even argued with festival organizers that, because their music was free, more people were likely to come, and therefore they should get a bigger paycheque.

Alaclair Ensemble’s popularity continues to grow.  They’ve released an EP and a new album since, and one of their songs was picked up for use in an advertisement for men’s lifestyle magazine GQ. Their tours and shows have made it possible for some of the band members, including Ogden, to work full-time in their music, effectively proving that their paradigm is a viable one on the scale of Quebec’s cultural community.

All their music remains completely free for download on their website (www.alaclair.com).

Alaclair_Ensemble_1

Categories: News

About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image. He has an engineering degree from Université Laval and is currently a law student at McGill University.

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