Montreal's DIY Scene

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The video for Montreal band TOPS's song "Way To Be Loved," shot on location in Montreal at Arbutus Records HQ.

The Canadian music scene has been growing gradually in the shadow of our much larger cultural counterpart to the south, and attracting much more attention on a global scale. From the sunny and light acoustic melodies of the west coast, to the dark and stormy metal haven of the east, Canada has provided a nourishing community for any genre, no matter how eccentric. Here in Montreal, much like our beloved fleur-de-lis, the music scene continues to blossom year after year into wonderful new directions. But one thing gives Montreal an edge over the rest: our Do-It-Yourself attitude.

Although the term "indie" is overused these days to the extent that it has lost it's meaning, Montreal's indie scene is staying true to the independent attitude. Here, DIY venues come in all shapes and sizes, and host acts as diverse as our wonderful city itself. Many prominent music acts like TOPS, Grimes, and Braids have come out of the Montreal DIY scene. Whether it's due to an anti-corporate punk ethos, or the simple fact that DIY is generally cheaper and means more creative freedom, the scene perfectly accommodates Montreal's unique sense of pride.

One such prominent DIY venue that sprung out of Montreal was Lab Synthese, which has unfortunately been shut down since its inception less than a decade ago. Lab Synthese was based out of a loft in the Mile End borough of Montreal, around Beaubien, and regularly hosted the aforementioned artists. The founder, Sebastian Cowan, furnished the space with his own equipment and used it to host shows featuring local talent, as well as record EPs and albums for bands looking to avoid paying a hefty sum to have something to show for their hard work. Although Lab Synthese as a venue has since been shut down, it was not without its silver lining -- the venue gave birth to Arbutus Records, a label devoted to supporting the artists that once performed at the space.

Arbutus Records is perhaps most well known for nurturing the earlier years of the artist Grimes, who has since become an "arbutus alumni," but the artists TOPS and Braids also got their beginnings from the venue space and consequently the label, and continue to work with the label in their present endeavours. In fact, the latest album from TOPS, "Picture You Staring," was recorded locally in Montreal using the very same equipment that Sebastian Cowan used to furnish Lab Synthese. Arbutus Records's mission is to "cultivate and promote the bands associated with [Lab Synthese]" ( Rather than adhere to the archetypal concept of a record label, Arbutus Records celebrates the diversity of all the acts in the collective, and sees the "cross-pollination" of their artistic endeavours as a positive asset.

Thumbnail image for 10371959_307172109476427_2279883550943380163_n.jpgSt. Lawrence Warehouse Company performing for ther Album Release at the Boom Room (Photo:

Arbutus Records is just one of many such DIY labels created in Montreal, and has inspired other Montreal artists to do similarly. One such space currently in existence is the Boom Room, where many independent montreal acts have enjoyed performing, creating atmospheres ranging anywhere from a quaint and cosy coffee shop, to an underground punk show. Isabella Harned, a member of the band St. Lawrence Warehouse Company, has played at the Boom Room multiple times, having both recorded and released the album at the venue. Reflecting on the experience, she says, "playing our album release show at the boom room was really special. It's not often that you can like stand on a stage and play your music at the exact same venue you recorded it at." Being close with founders of the Boom Room and those who maintain it, she is often made aware of the various events they host. "The boom room also fosters a unique sense of community," she states, concerning the ever-growing community of musicians and artists who have peformed at the Boom Room.

10341432_300474646782249_2289165274706180857_n.jpgLocal Montreal band Noko performing at the Boom Room in May of 2014 (Photo:

Despite a somewhat shaky and ephemeral history, the DIY scene in Montreal is still going stronger than ever. As a haven for independent artists in Canada, the constant influx of talent will continue to support Montreal's DIY scene, and the abundance of cheap loft spaces in downtown Montreal's periphery will continue to serve as a key environmental component for the flourishing of the independent scene in Canada.


Harned, Isabella. 19 February 2015. Email Interview.

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