The latest Pentagon Black compilation features 16 Canadian acts recorded live…on a cell phone.
DIY (do it yourself) culture is all about getting things done. Making art and putting it out there. That’s the bottom line and a large part of the motivation behind the Pentagon Black series of compilations curated and released by Raymond Biesinger and Drew Demers of the Montreal noise/garage duo, The Famines.
Now into their third release celebrating off-the-grid noisemakers from across the country, Pentagon Black No. 3 follows the project’s established trajectory of avoiding tradition at practically every turn. For starters, there is no physical format, at least in the conventional sense. There are no cassette, CD or vinyl copies. Instead, these compilations are released on paper with original artwork. The first two releases came as double-sided newsprint posters with a download code. And No. 3 (released June 6, 2017) comes as one of 500 postcards that feature art by Montreal artist Lisa Czech.
“The response has been incredible and so different from releasing conventional single-artist/single-LP things,” said Biesinger. “These comps, because of their formats, their participants, and what we do with them, sidestep so much of the Canadian music industry and instead are based on peers pushing peers in a straight-up DIY way.”
Biesinger even admits that doing publicity in support of the project comes as a bit of an afterthought.
“For each review we get, it’s dwarfed by the power of these diverse bands who believe in what each other are doing and being enthused about the comp in public, presenting the thing to their many audiences,” he said.
New Brunswick gets a solid representation on this latest release. Motherhood (Fredericton), Usse (Saint John) and LAPS (NB expats now based in Montreal) are among the 16 bands included on Pentagon Black No. 3.
“I think the Pentagon Black comps are a really effective way to present a cross-section of a scene which frankly lives a tenuous existence,” said Adam Sipkema of Motherhood, who together with Usse have appeared on all three of these compilation releases. “In the touring we’ve done I can see our scene is a thin, very vulnerable membrane of creative voices of which The Famines are a part and they’re doing us and everyone involved a service by assembling this series. I hope they continue to do it.”
For this latest release, bands were asked to submit a track recorded live using a cell phone, without overdubs – a move that not only leveled the sonic playing field but also forced groups to be creative with limited means. It also helped make contributing to the project that much easier by making a band recording an accessible reality.
Biesinger said he favoured the one-take phone recording idea because it helped to highlight the fact that “art can transcend convention” and “to answer definitively the ‘can we release this?’ that every band has asked themselves after hearing a particularly interesting recording of themselves made via telephone in their jam space”.
Pentagon Black No. 3 also features the first new sounds from LAPS since the band released their debut EP, eyelet/islet in April of 2016.
“We were on the first Pentagon Black Compilation last year, and really appreciate the sentiment behind it,” said LAPS’ guitarist/vocalist Heather Ogilvie. “Very grassroots, very artist-driven, very much an attempt to make the most of this music industry which is very hard to navigate as a low-level indie band. Raymond Biesinger mentioned the newest release and the concept of phone-only recordings was so cool, of course we wanted to be a part of it! It took only a little effort and money to put this third comp out, with the potential impact to reach more people who are into this DIY thing we do.”
By putting out these compilations, Biesinger and Demers are helping to bring new ideas and new sounds to new ears while also challenging audiences to think bigger and move beyond music’s traditional boundaries.
“[It’s about] trying to solve the incredibly tough riddles posed by being a niche band in a world that’s inhospitable to that kind of band,” said Biesinger. “Most of the systems that claim to support that kind of music are either broken, unfunded volunteers, or coopted by boring people trying to cash in. We’re trying to make something else that actually works, in a way that doesn’t require incredible sacrifices on behalf of all participants.”
Pentagon Black No. 3 is available directly from participating bands or via http://thefamines.ca for $2 plus shipping.