Featured Label: Arbutus Records

Local Label Hosts Showcase at The Rialto

Local band Pop Winds will play the Arbutus Showcase at The Rialto on Thursday night.

“Making shit happen.”
This simple credo, which was an unofficial motto for the now-closed Lab Synthèse loftspace, has been carried over to Arbutus Records.

Arbutus includes Blue Hawaii, Pop Winds, Silly Kissers, Oxen Talk, Grimes, Braids and Sean Nicholas Savage. On Sept. 30 the Arbutus crew, minus Oxen Talk, Braids and Savage, will take to the Rialto and rock out at the Arbutus/Weird Canada showcase.

The showcase also doubles as a record release party for Grimes, who will be putting out her forthcoming record Halfaxa.

The label, in some ways an offshoot of the closed loftspace, is also much more—it is a logical extension from the ideals of Do-It-Yourself and popular music, with a central community theme.

When quizzed about this odd pairing of words, Sebastian Cowan, managing director of Arbutus, explained that the ethos of the movement and the notion of pop music aren’t mutually exclusive.

“I feel like, in relation to Arbutus, I cannot separate popular music and DIY. Pop music has kind of taken on a cultural connotation beyond its basic definition,” said Cowan.

“I would think that the term DIY is very important to that. DIY links up to the punk movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s and is very pertinent to what we’re doing. When you link it back, punk music generally has ties to popular music,” Cowan added. “The Sex Pistols, for example, were a group formed by Malcolm McLaren, all the song structures were super poppy.

“It’s all very inline with the DIY ethic, but it’s 2010 and everyone’s interested in pop music and this is how it happens,” he said.

Cowan explained that all the artists involved in the label know each other. “All of the bands on the label played their first show at Lab [Synthèse], and they’re all really good friends with [the label] and live within a block of our offices.”

Community development, Cowan stresses, is a central tenet of Arbutus. “Every show we booked had to have one of our friends performing,” he said.

“And of course our circle was constantly expanding and Arbutus was a way to encourage my friends who made music to make it available to a wider audience, to record and distribute it.”

The social dimension inherent in a label like Factory Records—cited by Cowan as an influence—is central to the label’s existence.

“I receive a lot of demos in the mail or e-mails from other bands who have an interest in joining the roster,” said Cowan. “But Arbutus is very much a community-based project. As much as it is a record label, it’s also an experiment.”

Without the physical dimension of Lab Synthèse, the label speaks to a wider audience through a pay-what-you-want digital model, while still releasing CDs and vinyls.

“Arbutus is just a way to tie all of these people in and keep in touch, and to help each other,” said Cowan. “Without the physical space, we’re no longer restricted by physical boundaries, but at the same time you need something to keep it all in order.”

Cowan will also be speaking as part of the Making It Montreal panel at POP Montreal. The panel, conceived by Louis Rastelli (of Expozine/Distroboto fame) is exploring the concept of anglophones who immigrate to the city to lead an artistic life. Cowan will be on a panel discussing the next step in growth when a record company becomes more than a hobby label, as Cowan noted with Arbutus’ growth.

As for the future of the label, Cowan explained that more releases from friends are imminent. “Sean Savage is launching a record on Nov. 5 at Club Lambi. It’s entitled Mutual Feelings of Respect And Admiration. [The album] is disco-inspired and we’re all excited by it.”

The Arbutus Showcase/Weird Canada/Grimes record release is on Sept. 30th at The Rialto (5723 Ave. Du Parc). Show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 07, published September 28, 2010.