999 Words

The Real Thing: in conversation with No Hay Banda

“There is no band.”

I walk myself into this obligatorily cheeky response, I suppose, when I ask the three core members of No Hay Banda — the Montreal contemporary music collective / band / events organizer / community builder — if they are a band, or what.

Violinist Geneviève Liboiron, pianist Daniel Áñez, and percussionist Noam Bierstone operate under the mysterious Lynchian moniker as a contemporary classical power trio that’s more art than any one facet of it. As the name suggests, they keep their operations deliberately vague.

“There are fine lines all over the place,” Áñez tells me at the group’s rehearsal studio near the D’Iberville metro, which also functions as an artist’s residence for travelling musicians. “What is contemporary? What is experimental? What is musical theatre? What is electronic? We have not yet put lines, but we’re inside those genres.”

No Hay Banda began in 2016 as a concert series held at La Sala Rossa, the landmark Plateau neighbourhood venue that serves as the collective’s exhibition space, and lends the proceedings its red-curtain vibe.

Since, the cooperative has dabbled in expanded performance; founded a record label called No Hay Discos, upon which they released their own impressive double-album debut; and are now producing a two-night show at the Chapelle de La Cité-des-Hospitalières, the historic chapel attached to Hôtel-Dieu, premiering an opera entitled Body Without Organs (With Organ) by the acclaimed Japanese experimental vocalist Tomomi Adachi. “He’s incredible,” Liboiron says.

Throughout the pandemic, No Hay Banda, along with vocalist Sarah Albu and guitarist An Laurence, recorded a serial opera by Adachi called 51 Short Pieces for Soprano, Violin, and Guitar, releasing one video daily online.

“Some of them are like five seconds,” Liboiron says, “super theatrical, super short, one or two notes.” The project carried the trio through the depths of quarantine, and also forged an enduring relationship with Adachi that brings him to Montreal for a 10-day residency and various performances affiliated with the Suoni per il popolo festival.

“Adachi asked us if he could write us his second opera,” says Bierstone. “So it’s a semi AI-created opera. A lot of the text is AI-generated, but I don’t think any of the music is.”

“How would we know?” jests Áñez.

Each of the two performances features different local openers, encouraging audiences to return for round two. On June 16th, the harpist Sarah Pagé plays an electronically manipulated Koto against percussionist Patrick Graham. On June 17th, the duo of Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau celebrate the release of their new album, The Garden of a Former House Turned Museum, on the No Hay Discos imprint.

“We’re super happy to have them in our label,” Áñez says. “All of our shows have two artists, two sets. Like a local set and an international set. No Hay Banda has ambitions to be a place of exchange that has eyes inside and also has eyes outside.”

The trio often talk in nebulous ambiguities like this, and it reminds me of the way the niche American filmmaker David Lynch discusses his work — obliquely and in metaphors. “We love David Lynch,” says Liboiron.

The name No Hay Banda is borrowed from the striking scene in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive in which the protagonists attend a surreal theatrical performance that is one part Vaudeville, one part acid trip.

“We started all the concerts with that scene from the movie,” Liboiron explains. “People are just having drinks, listening to the music, and when this would start, it was the cue that the show was about to begin. And also we are producers that are sometimes playing. So in all the dimensions of the scene, David Lynch was matching our aesthetic, we felt.”

“It’s come up more,” adds Bierstone, “in situations we didn’t expect. Like this Adachi piece: there is a lot of lip syncing and faking and playing with the public’s perception. We don’t pick pieces because they are very David Lynch, but it just happens.”

Áñez elaborates: “We also found somewhat of a manifesto in this idea. Because the text says, ‘There is no band, il n’y a pas un orchestre, it’s all a tape recording.’ And then there’s all these performers on stage in that scene in the movie where they’re faking that they’re playing and then they show that they’re not playing. It’s all part of that concept of alternative performance that we try to bring into our concert series. We are not blinded by it. Like, sometimes we have concerts where there is just a pianist playing the piano. But there’s this idea of a new way of playing and presenting yourself.”

No Hay Banda is insistently blazing fresh tracks in the Montreal contemporary experimental music scene, and slowly, steadily creating a new constellation of affiliates.

“I would say it’s been very hard since the pandemic to bring the public back to the halls,” Liboiron concedes. “Even before, it’s always been really hard for doing contemporary experimental music, to have a huge public. But we know there are a lot of people in Montreal and around that would love to see these shows. It would be really nice to meet all of them.”

“We’re pursuing this artistic path of alternative performance, so we touch the public that goes to experimental theatre. And we touch the public that goes to experimental dance. The shows that No Hay Banda puts together rejoin this wider public that is interested in fucked-up-edness,” says Áñez.

In that specificity, something universal emerges out of No Hay Banda’s creative project, which is augmented by their perplexing air of obscurity. Like a David Lynch movie, there are no simple explanations for what these or any artists do, no Hollywood endings that wrap up the plot.

“Leaving things open and vague allows us to develop in ways we would have been too restricted to had we said we were just a concert series,” Bierstone says.

What to expect from their Adachi collaboration?

“It’s hard to know,” teases Liboiron, “what it is going to be.”◼︎

Tomomi Adachi & No Hay Banda perform 16 & 17 June 2023 at Chapelle de La Cité-des-Hospitalières.

Cover image: Noam Bierstone photographed by Robert Del Tredici.