The word “eclectic” can be recognized as a lazy, over-used descriptor in music writing, but Montreal-based artist Chris d’Eon presents a strong argument for keeping the word in the lexicon.
This week d’Eon (who performs under his last name) will perform at Centre Phi in Montreal’s Old Port, in collaboration with music and visual artist Corey Arcangel. The performance will mark the ‘keyboard-based-music’ artist’s fourth appearance at the Pop Montreal festival.
From his balcony in ‘Parc Ex’, the Montreal burrow where he’s lived for three years, d’Eon speaks warmly and with impassioned detail about the neighbourhood below.
It’s both one of the poorest areas in the city and one of the country’s most ethnically diverse, with an immigrant population made up of South Asians from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, as well as Greek, Latin American and Haitian immigrants. It’s clear that d’Eon feels at home here, describing the neighbourhood around him as “upwardly mobile” – full of families and ripe with potential.
“It’s not a stagnant neighbourhood where you’re trapped in poverty […] people usually only live here for a few years, and they’re coming straight from other countries,” he says.
Though happy to stay put, d’Eon’s no stranger to the road. His buzz-worthy live show has earned him performances in Russia, Mexico, Italy, Berlin, Sweden, and Brussels (to name a few), and he spent five months living in India in 2009. Still, he’s not – by his own admission – a “backpacker” and he values digging in, long-term, to the places he’s ended up.
“…IT’S JUST GOING TO BE A KEYBOARD AND A COMPUTER”
D’Eon got his start in music in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where he began playing piano and learning classical music at the age of four. Now, 27 years old, d’Eon says the possibilities he discovered in the simple digital keyboard he learned on helped inform the minimalist ethos he applies to the music he creates today.
“I usually try and keep it really, really simple. No pedals, or fucking hardware samplers, or synthesizers with MIDI-outs and all this shit. I can’t stand that stuff….I hate electronics,” he says.
“If I’m going to do electronic stuff, it’s just going to be a keyboard and a computer. If I do concert music, it’s going to be a piano and some instruments and some mics, and that’s it.”
This simplicity echos d’Eon’s time in India, where he lived in a monastery in the Himalayan foothills, with the Dalai Lama “five minutes” up the road, and took Tibetan music lessons.
“The motivation [to travel] was definitely music, to begin with. The reason I even got the ticket – my original plan – was to go to Pakistan for a few months and learn Sufi music on the reed organ, the harmonium.”
After the 2008 bombing of the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, d’Eon set his sights on India, splitting his time between Punjab, Rishikesh and McLeod Ganj, and taking in Hindu and Tibetan music. Months later, he returned home in early 2009 to release his first effort, Split, a split-record with the band Omon Ra, on Divorce Records. Then, with friends leaving Halifax, and with the encouragement of his parents, d’Eon headed for Montreal.
“I really like having a change of scenery once in a while […] The music scene ebbs and flows in Halifax, where every few years there seems to be an exodus to Montreal or Toronto, and then younger people have to fill their boots,” he says.
“Sewer Mine”, from Music for Keyboards IV: Blackout.
Soon after, d’Eon’s ‘Myspace’ page caught the attention of synth-drone artist Daniel Lopatin from the label Hippos In Tanks. Then, in 2010, the label released d’Eon’s first full-length album, Palinopsia.
D’Eon’s says he’s grateful for the support and freedom he’s had with Hippos In Tanks. He’s released a number of efforts under the L.A.-based label, including Darkbloom, a split-EP with electronic artist Grimes, a series of web-only mixtapes titled Music for Keyboards, and his latest LP, titled LP, released in 2012.
“POP SONGS WITH LOTS AND LOTS OF KEYBOARDS”
Drawing influence from a glut of genres, d’Eon’s music isn’t easily or tidily defined. He applies visceral, 1980’s pop sensibilities and classical music structures to electronic, house, and drum & bass music, and with world music influences that include Arabic, Turkish and Tibetan. The range of influences doesn’t stop there, and a tension between eclecticism and simplicity carries throughout.
“One of my neighbours asked me something about what kind of music I make… usually I’ll say something like ‘keyboard-based music.’ Pop songs with lots and lots of keyboards,” he says.
“Some journalists have said, ‘oh, this guy’s a Grimes collaborator, he sounds kind of like Autre Ne Veut, or How To Dress Well, but even then, my music doesn’t have nearly the wide reach that the three of those people do. Which is fine, because it’s a different kind of music. It’s experimental music, essentially.”
His Pop Montreal performance this year will elaborate on his already diverse musical range a little farther, where d’Eon will play two sets. The first will be a set of his own music, and another performing the music of New York visual and performance artist Cory Arcangel, who d’Eon says has been quickly gaining buzz in Europe and the U.S.
Describing Arcangel’s latest art exhibit (on display now in Montreal’s Old Port), d’Eon says, “he’s rewired Nintendo games to do really crazy stuff…. he made a Nintendo game where you shoot Andy Warhol instead of ducks with the Duck Hunt gun.”
D’Eon describes “24 Dances For The Electric Piano”, the music he’ll play for Arcangel, as a dance suite written for the Korg-M1, a keyboard commonly associated with house music in the 90s. To open the show, he’ll be using the Korg M1 to perform his own baroque-style dance-suite, originally written for harpsichord.
Photo: Supplied/Alexander Gitman