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Call & Response: CKUT's Underground Sounds

Posted by Jer / January 27, 2011

Underground Sounds SoundboardCall & Response is a series of Q&As with bands, artists and random people we dig that live in Montreal, visit here, or have some dubious connection to the city.

Normally we interview bands in this series. But given the contribution Underground Sounds has made to the local indie/emerging music scenes in Montreal, we figure it was high time to give credit where credit was well past due. A staple of the MTL radio landscape, Underground Sounds has been running since 1987, when McGill's community station (CKUT 90.3 FM) first hit the airwaves. That means the show has been covering indie since the time tight jeans, bad hair, and Sunice jackets were actually popular, as opposed to simply ironic. Their mandate is simple, and it's one to which MP's own podcast owes a huge debt: to support and promote the Canadian independent music scene, with a special focus on Montreal. The show airs every Monday from 8-10pm EST and features a mix of music, interviews, live performances and friendly banter. If that time slot isn't convenient for you, CKUT has a wonderful archive of shows for download. Hard-working Agata Desantis hosted and produced the show for years, but she recently bid farewell. Currently Underground Sounds is under the direction of Caroline Dutka (a McGill student and CKUT contributor) and Nick Schofield (a musician, audio engineer, and graduate of Concordia's Electroacoustic Studies & Music Technology program). I had some questions for them about the city, their show, and the state of radio in this world of Internets. Luckily for me, they answered:

What is your favorite Canadian Radio Station (online or offline, other than CKUT)?
Caroline Dutka: CBC Radio 3 for the exposure it brings to all Canadian independent musicians. It provides a great platform for both the established and new, to have their music out there, accessible to all those who're interested or browsing. Just how the CBC promotes the emerging arts in Canada makes me proud. CJSW as well, for the good times they've brought to some of my Calgary friends.
Nick Schofield: Seriously, all three CBC's. It's easy to move between them depending on what kind of programing you're in to.

What are the biggest influences on the content and the form of your weekly playlist?
CD: New releases that've come out that week, who're playing shows that week, the songs I'm listening to that week, my mood and the weather that week, stuff I find on blogs that week, serious myspace creeping that week.
NS: For content, there are a lot of factors but the underlying motive is that I want to play music sets with some common thread. For the format, I look up to Grant Laurence's podcast on CBC radio 3 for its energy, and to the interview style/editing of This American Life.

You've just recently taken over hosting duties for Underground Sounds, after long-time host Agata Desantis left? She left big shoes to fill...did you (do you) feel pressure to live up to the legacy she built with the show?
CD: Agata just knew everyone. That alone will be hard to live up to. From what I can tell, she developed some really close relationships with musicians in the city, who she could depend on and who could depend on her. I think that's something that Nick and I can only aspire to achieve. And of course there was pressure filling Agata's shoes - our first show I'm pretty sure I sounded like a huge dweeb. People who had listened to Agata for years were probably like WDF. But I think we've definitely began to hold our own (and overcome any nerves), developing the show into something a little different that reflects us and our interests. Not so much trying to carry on the show exactly as Agata did it.
NS: Not so much pressure really, I had already been subbing on Underground Sounds for about a year before we took over in September. If anything, Agata left Caroline and I in a great place to pick up where she left off.

Where is the best place to listen to Underground Sounds?
CD: A lot of people tell me they listen when they make dinner. That sounds pretty nice to me.
NS: Playing cards and drinking tea.

What do you love most about Montreal?
CD: Oh my god. So many things. I think the heart of it though is the people who live here. So many beautiful, passionate, intelligent and hilarious individuals. Makes me so happy to be in their company. I get really bored of people pretty much everywhere else. But never here. I can't think of a place where I'd rather be.
NS: I like biking here a lot. It's a great way to take it all in.

What do you love most about Poutine?
CD: It sticks together when you stab your fork into it, and it's all like "don't eat me" but it just makes you want to eat it more.
NS: Patati Patata

What do you hate most about Poutine?
CD: Waking up in the morning and feeling full.
NS: It's a race against time

With so many other ways to find out about music these days, what is it you love about radio as a means of discovery, dissemination and criticism of music?
CD: You can hear stuff on the radio that you could NEVER hear anywhere else. Which is contrary to what many people would think of if they only have corporate radio stations in mind. Community radio is so different. From working at CKUT I've seen so much creativity walk through the doors, and the stuff that goes on air is just so strange and wonderful. The best thing about community radio is the "everything goes" outlook. There are hardly any rules, and no censorship -- insofar that you don't offend anyone. Providing a platform for musicians to be as imaginative and expressive in whatever ways they choose is pretty amazing. I've witnessed live performances in MCR where artists are just sawing wood on the floor next to a mic while someone else is throwing pennies all around the room. But it was amazing. Almost as amazing as listening to Montreal Sessions archives to hear Andy play fart sound effects over a recording of "how to care for your gun". These kinds of enigmatic sounds that you find on the dial open your mind to a whole different interpretation of what music can be, as it's promoted in an environment that totally supports whatever it is, no matter what it is. All opinions are valid and all are welcomed to be shared, and that's a kind of media that is sooo freakin rare that we should take advantage of it to the greatest extent.
NS: Radio has this communal feel to it. It takes active listeners and engaging hosts to make it work well.

What are some of the best things you have learned about this city by speaking with some of its many musicians?
CD: I've learned that this city is just so alive, and the prime means of inspiration for many artists. For instance, I learned that Sean Savage writes a lot of his songs as he walks along Parc, humming and singing into a personal recorder. It just comes to him, and that's how he starts to craft his songs. Also worth mentioning, everyone is collectively pissed that all of the loft spaces are getting shut down in the cities. They are some of the best places for musicians to perform, and for an audience to listen to music. They're intimate, and special. The fact that the cops are cracking down on them is absolute shit.
NS: I've picked up on just how interconnected the community can be, kind of like 'Cheers' but city wide.

What's the best way to spend a Million dollars in 10 minutes?
CD: I would say buy all the ice cream in Dairy Queen and then buy enough coolers to put the ice cream in and so you can eat ice cream forever (but actually only until that runs out). So it's this: buy 1 million dollars worth of Dairy Queen VOUCHERS so you could actually eat approximately a quarter of a million blizzards for the rest of your life, with the option of sharing them with your friends like you're the fucking tooth fairy of ice cream.
NS: This question overwhelms me. Next.

How did you spend your 16th birthday?
CD: Same thing I do every year. I went out for fish and chips with my best friend and her mom.
NS: Probably played laser tag and ate pizza

What is a secret only you know?
CD: I know where the gold is.
NS: I'm really good at keeping secrets because I forget them immediately.

What's an underground sound we should keep our ears out for?
CD: Grimes. Claire is a little magician.
NS: Armen at the Bazaar

Nick and Caroline took over at the helm of Underground Sounds in September 2010 and have since interviewed BRAIDS, Stars, Miracle Fortress, Bahamas, Sean Nicholas Savage, Diamond Rings, Wintersleep and many more. Check out the show live at 90.3 FM, at every Monday from 8-10pm, or in the CKUT audio archive. For up to the minute details, check out the show's blog



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