As control of the bass music scene remains vulnerable during a recessive period, one label has acted with conviction and proven that the future of heavy bass music belongs to them, because they’re willing to take it–consider it an anniversary gift to themselves, the newly four-year-old Kannibalen Records.
To help explain the degree to which this family moves as a unit, adapting and sharing knowledge on their mission to lay claim to the scene, we’ll imagine a fictional scenario–one in which bass music and some of her most loyal fans have been kidnapped and held for ransom by commercial EDM. But Montreal’s Kannibalen family plans not to stand idly by while she’s made a hostage, which brings them to where they now stand: surrounding a major label headquarters ready to forcibly extract their lady Bass and escort her to where she belongs–back to the fringe, and the hands of the people.
Founding trio Black Tiger Sex Machine is first through the door, kicked in by Kannibalen’s loudest lauded laureate of late, Snails. The frightened detainees in the room nearly alert their nearby captors before one-third of Black Tiger Sex Machine, Julien Maranda, quickly motions for them to remain silent while his team does what’s necessary. As a vocal backbone of the family, Maranda handles crowd control. But while intensity is the name of their game, violence is not.
“Our events are really intense, but violence… for us, that’s not something that we’re pushing out,” he says.
Black Tiger Sex Machine
Kannibalen as a brand was born from a rabidly popular event at Montreal’s Belmont Hotel that was only expected to be a one-off, organized with 10 days notice. Oh, and everyone had fake blood. Like, fake blood everywhere. And costumes.
“Right now, people know us for that. You go to a show, and you know we’re not gonna be soft on the crowd. We’re trying to energize them, and we want people to dance, and it comes out like that. We’re going at it,” he says.
But while fake blood and costumes are awesome, real scary things are not allowed–like fights, weapons, or real cannibals.
“We won’t, like, literally bring a cannibal… if you come to a Kannibalen event, it’s not cannibals, or like, a chainsaw party with people bleeding everywhere,” Maranda says. “It’s just a little bit of fake blood, and a lot of intensity.”
“Kannibalen” means “cannibal” in German. The name was chosen for their now-famous, soon-to-be touring Montreal event and decided upon for its slicker representation of the idea it represents: human savagery.
“It was supposed to be just, like, a one-time cannibal party, and it ended up turning into something much bigger,” says fellow BTSM member and label co-founder Patrick Barry.
But its immense success demanded they go ahead and name the label “Kannibalen” after the event and run with its momentum. Because that’s what they’re about–opportunists looking to liberate bass music by force.
While this crew might not actually feed on fellow humans, they absolutely devour one another’s creativity, compounding the collective talent inherent in the close-knit group.
The original Kannibalen team is truly one to marvel at. Within “a couple months” of its inception, the fated imprint called itself a safe house for BTSM, Apashe, Lektrique, Dabin, and Kai Wachi, followed later by Karluv Klub, Snails, HAEZER, and more.
“It’s weird, because it’s a lot of talent, and we met that talent really quickly.” Maranda says. “It’s not like we’ve met a million–it’s not like we’ve met a hundred–other artists who are able to create such sounds, such quality music, but we signed them all within a year or so.”
After officially bringing on their own Black Tiger project, Apashe came next.
A veritable noise warlock, John De Buck, aka Apashe, is an original Kannibalen gangster who can lay claim to arguably as much of the label’s sonic identity as anyone.
“A lot of our producers have learned a lot from him sound design-wise,” Vincent Sergeant, aka Lektrique, says of De Buck. “John and I have been mostly the sound design geeks for the label.”
Fred Durand, aka Snails, says the label’s birth and upbringing within their visceral parties also helps explain their ability to continually define avant-garde aggressivity.
“The crowd was so intense, always looking for new sounds and textures,” says Durand. “I guess this unity or general aggression in the sounds come from the madness of the party, and it influenced us as producers to always push the boundaries.”
Snails (left) with Apashe
This sound they’re referring to is a quintessential Kannibalen texture that manifests in many releases with its grimy, organic nature that has since become a calling card for the label. Sometimes it materializes as the sound of a ‘90s computer puking, as in the case of Snails and some of Lektrique’s work. Other times it takes a tone more resembling two electrified coils being scraped together, as heard in Dabin and Apashe’s respective material, although in Dabin’s case, this may be occasionally attributed to his use of a guitar, both in the studio and live. Not as much one certain sound as a theme of sorts, the flexing, grinding tone serves as a Kannibalen trademark symbol that was, to a certain extent, contributed by Apashe and then expanded upon and adapted by the team each in their own way.
“The Kannibalen family was always about being unique,” Durand says. “We all started producing heavily around the same time, but we always kept our own sound. During the first and second year of the label was when I forged the vomitstep sound. The team was super supportive, and it was just great to see people push their arts in the direction they want. It got me inspired, and I never thought about stopping.”
De Buck was able quit his day job in sound engineering in mid-summer of 2015 after the team helped teach him to better monetize his Apashe project through marketing and promotion. In return, he has been able to pour his invaluable sound design knowledge into the family’s collective abilities full-time.
“I was doing a lot of music back then, but I had no idea what I was doing outside of the music aspect. The music is only like, 10, maybe 20 percent of it, so I knew pretty well–well, I thought I knew pretty well–what I was doing with music… but the rest I had completely no idea, and they really helped me grow in those directions and get the rest of what I didn’t have before,” De Buck says.
De Buck’s fellow “sound design geek,” Vincent Sergeant, better known as Lektrique, has also grown immensely while providing one of his greater contributions to the label’s success. Sergeant’s role as the resident Kannibalen Radio DJ and curator places him at the forefront of the label’s communications arm and the speartip of the family’s image.
“He really represents what Kannibalen is about,” says BTSM’s Marc Chagnon of Sergeant, aka Lektrique, who currently resides in his native Belgium. “He just went home and worked the hardest for the last year, and in my opinion, he’s the guy who’s been putting out the best electro trash and electro house in 2015. I don’t know anybody who loves bass music, distortion, or just electronic music more than him. We told him, ‘you’re just gonna do this for a long time, but it’s going to pay off,’” Chagnon says of Sergeant’s role as resident DJ.
And paying off, it is.
“It’s making his style of music a little bit more relevant, because the radio show is picking up, and he’s playing his stuff and merging a lot of stuff together. It’s giving him a chance to showcase his tracks and tracks from the label.” Maranda says. “It’s just going to take a little more time because he’s doing a style of music that’s just kind of irrelevant in The States right now, and we’re kind of the first who are pushing it again. But to have somebody do electro trash in The States right now… to do it well? It’s rare. We always told him that this thing is his way of reaching out to people and getting more organized, and the radio show is kind of a Lektrique thing–it is a Lektrique thing.”
A regular in Lektrique’s sets on Kannibalen Radio, Dabin Lee, commonly known as Dabin, brings an element of Touch to the otherwise strong-armed crew. A testament to the label’s horizons, Dabin thrives as master of some of the lighter sounds you’ll hear on Kannibalen.
“Kannibalen is known as a pretty heavy label–heavy bass music–but they’re really open to creativity and just want me to do whatever I want to do, and I really appreciate that,” Lee says.
But perhaps the largest formative influence on this group of a dozen-or-so artists isn’t a fellow musician, but their home of Montreal.
“There are so many events out here; it’s a great nesting ground for artists. It’s a great place to come up and get exposed to new sounds,” Barry says, “and it hasn’t been just with the whole North American EDM explosion, you know? It was like that even before, so there’s kind of a market for everything.”
And perhaps equally important for an artist chasing a dream, Montreal is affordable by comparison.
“The cost of living is one of the lowest in North America for a city of this size, so if you’re an artist not making a lot of money, you can live here decently, whereas if you were in LA or New York, where the rent is four times more expensive, those royalty checks, those $300 DJ gig payments aren’t gonna go a long way, so the artists here can focus more on music and not be in that fucked-up cauldron of a cutthroat industry place,” Barry says.
Left to right: Marc Chagnon, Julien Maranda, Patrick Barry–Black Tiger Sex Machine
Friends since the age of eight, save for one bitter year over “some bullshit” when they were 12, Black Tiger Sex Machine say they bonded over sports and video games before music. Around the ages of 21, Barry and Maranda were coming back from a Europe trip while Chagnon was finishing school, and 2010’s indie-disco fever was in full-swing powered by the likes of Justice and Simian Mobile Disco. So they decided to start something. After playing a few smaller gigs around town, they created Kannibalen–as an event only, at first–about a year before the birth of the label itself.
“We met all of the guys because of the event,” Chagnon says of the speed with which they amassed their initial group of talent. “One thing led to another, and after a year, we’re trying to release music, and we really didn’t see any home for the kind of music we wanted to push–that harder style that’s not mainstream, not commercial. So we said, ‘let’s start a record label.’”
With the popularity of indie dance and disco at the time, the famed bass music bastion Kannibalen was almost founded as a house label.
“We were at the crossroads of going in more of a house vibe, or just going all-out rage electro. And since we loved electro so much, Kannibalen was the perfect place for hard music.”
For inspiration in structuring their label, they looked to a fellow French-rooted family of music, the illustrious Ed Banger, which was also born of a party.
“That was the initial vision of our sound; obviously it was very dubstep- and electro-oriented. Now we’re been bridging over into other genres, but it’s really about building a support system for the acts, so that everything they need to grow, and all the help they can get on the production side, on the marketing side, we can give them. We have different facilities and tools to help them have a better career,” Maranda says. “We work hard. We never stop working.”
“And we’ve always been fearless,” Chagnon says.
Conviction plays a central role in such a bass music sanctuary, as does preparation.
Back on the scene–in our fictitious hostage situation–Kanni-fam has the assailants detained, the hostages secure, and are waiting, watching the backs of Dabin and Lektrique as they pick the lock to the door leading to the VIP, their prize.
While listening for the sweet, sweet sound of an open door, Maranda keeps his focus and the focus of his team on their audience.
“We have a rule at Kannibalen: Nobody can let their fans go. Everybody needs to take care of their fanbases,” he says, as he checks in with the hostages.
While “fans” applies a bit differently here, the idea applies all the same–listen to them, and they’ll listen to you.
“The fans need to be able to relate to the artists,” Maranda says. “We’re always talking to the fans, making sure they’re happy with what’s happening.”
With new artists joining up at a steady pace and a first-ever Kannibalen Tour in the works, Montreal’s fearless band of bass-heads have swiftly gotten things to click–which is just the sound we’ve been waiting for.
Commotion erupts from the other end of the room as the cell door swings open. Barry checks the status of the VIP before lifting her from the chair and motioning to the rest of the team to exit through the front door, beyond which label-mate Karluv Klub awaits them in a growling Mustang. The electro trash producer doubles as the team’s photographer and videographer, as well as getaway driver, of course.
“He just loves cars, drives a Mustang, and he thinks he’s all badass and shit,” Maranda says.
While no actual mainstream record executives were harmed in the making of this fictional theorization, the general idea persists: Kannibalen is here to surgically and forcefully extract bass music from the clutches of cliche and commercialism and return her to the cutting edge of electronic music.