Urban Science Brass Band Launches Their First Album
They Brought the Party to the Streets
“I think it’s a project that has captured the imagination of a lot of people,” said the Urban Science Brass Band leader Vincent Stephen-Ong.
Montreal is known for its nightlife, but you haven’t partied until you’ve been to an Urban Science event. They are based right here in Montreal, and just launched their first album LIVE AND RAW VOL 1.
Around 8 p.m. on June 2, a few dozen people were waiting at the Parc des Amériques for the Urban Science Brass Band to begin their parade to the Sala Rosa. They are like no other, melding the culture and music of hip-hop and New Orleans brass bands.
Urban Science is a project that includes Le Cypher, a weekly live hip-hop jam session on Thursdays, currently held at the Bootlegger l’Authentique on Saint-Laurent Blvd. It has a traditional lineup of drums, bass and guitar. Vocalists and instrumentalists can join in and perform during the night. The jams are always different, but the crowd is loyal, and the house party ambiance guarantees a good time.
The brass band is another project of the Urban Science family. While the lineup is not set in stone, it is composed of brass instruments, a saxophone, percussionists, dancers, and MCs. When they bring the party to the streets, lines are rapped in megaphones.
“As much as we like putting on a stage show, we really started as a street performance,” explained Stephen-Ong. “We would go to public spaces and perform where people would not expect us to show up.”
The brass band garnered a lot of success for their original style and for their dynamism with a crowd. They know how to make people dance, jump and shout, but they also deliver consistently solid performances, where musicians, and the ensemble, demonstrate their improvisation skills.
In 2017, the Urban Science Brass Band was booked to play for the entirety of the Montreal Jazz Festival. Their daily parades attracted music enthusiasts of all ages. Children enjoy the parades too, explained MC Joshua Clarke, aka Scynikal, because they are engaging and interactive.
The brass band’s audience grew from their Montreal Jazz Festival performances. Stephen-Ong explained that people from out of town wanted to bring home a little piece of the show. They didn’t have a record yet, but the public’s interest was certainly felt.
During the parade on June 2, the brass band multiplied their following with hip-hop beats such as Anderson Paak’s “Come Down”, until the group grew so big that we almost blocked out the St-Laurent Blvd. and Mont-Royal Ave. intersection.
“It was great, it was a lot of fun,” said MC Clarke about the launch. “That was really incredible, to see how many people just kinda came along with us, who didn’t even know about the show but they just saw what we were doing outside and followed us indoors.”
The passersbys who didn’t join either clapped, smiled or laugh, and many grabbed their phones to film the happening. The brass band’s parade interrupted people’s lives for a moment, and infused music and joy into the city.
“The hip-hop parades is unquestionably our attempt to bring together the [Montreal hip-hop] community as much as possible and to represent that community,” said Stephen-Ong.
The crowd dispersed as we arrived at the Sala Rosa, but many were in it for the whole night. Upon our arrival, Mark The Magnanimous played to a timid crowd; few people danced and most of us were hanging near the bar. Yet, the DJ’s playlist create a party ambiance and was the perfect transition between the parade and the show.
At 10 p.m., the brass band members were positioned in the crowd, and at once they began playing Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing),” a strong start to their show in celebration of their first album.
Their album LIVE AND RAW VOL 1 was recorded at a New Year’s Eve party hosted by Speakeasy Electro Swing, who had invited the band to play, but the recording was never intended to be released.
“It was really, really tight, people were into it, and the energy was right,” said Stephen-Ong.
LIVE AND RAW VOL 1 is the recording of that show. A few months after the gig, Stephen-Ong listened back to the recording and realized that it had, indeed, been great. Prior to releasing the album, the recording has been worked on a little bit, mainly tightened and edited.
“I think it really gives them an artifact that they can carry to show all the amazing work they’ve done in Montreal,” said hip-hop artist Shades Lawrence. “And I think that’s incredibly valuable for their brand and for their image.”
Lawrence added that Urban Science supports and encourages new talent, and is a space where the local hip-hop community gets together.
“I think that one of the roles of Urban Science as we move forward is to become more focused on […] education, and development of artists,” said Stephen-Ong.
He stated that over time, the quality of the music played in Urban Science projects has increased. Urban Science is a staple in Montreal’s hip-hop community, and is a playground for education.
On June 2, the band played crowd favorites, such as Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On” and Koriass’ “Montréal-Nord.” People of all ages were engaged; some bobbed along, and others scorched the floor with sweet moves.
“It’s amazing to see so many people getting so excited and dancing their heads off,” said Greg Selinger, an Urban Science Brass Band dancer. He stated that dancers are a part of the visual aspect of the show, both during the parade and on the stage.
They entertain the crowd and, as Selinger noted, “inspire people to dance when they see street dancers really go off.”
In the middle of the set, Selinger and Abdel-Hanine Madini, the other dancer, took turns performing on the small stage erected in the middle of the floor, then encouraged members of the audience to step on.
For a few minutes, our attention was redirected from the band to one another, an interactive moment that loosened up the crowd and kept the energy going.
Audience participation was encouraged once more as the MCs rose to the challenge of freestyling to random objects that members of the audience handed to them.
While it was a demonstration of freestyle skills, Urban Science showed that they don’t take themselves too seriously as they backed a freestyle rap about an Opus card. Attending an Urban Science event means not knowing what you’re getting into.
“There’s nothing that quite replaces somebody seeing the show,” said Stephen-Ong. “You can’t experience a party at home on Spotify. You know what I mean? That’s what we’re always pushing forward, about the actual experience that people have.”
The band surprises with unexpected songs and delights with classics. What makes Urban Science’s parties unique is not just the fresh hip-hop and the colorful suits, but the band’s rigour and expertise that transpires in the quality of their music.
Again this year, the Urban Science Brass Band will perform a parade every day of the Jazz Festival, from June 28 to July 7. They will also be performing at the FrancoFolies on June 16.