L’Amalgame Cracks the Concrete on Latest Album

Photo: Manvs

When it comes to TV, a series’ best episode is often what’s known as a “bottle episode,” where the entire plot takes place in one sole location (e.g. Seinfeld and the Chinese restaurant).  What makes these episodes so good is that they give the characters a chance to let their chemistry shine through without distractions.

Aux frontière du concret is L’Amalgame’s bottle episode.  The third album of the Montreal hip-hop quintet, consisting of rappers and producer Catboot, (also a producer), rappers Gary Légaré, John Ouain, and Vendou, as well as their DJ, Carey Size, is a product of isolation  The band secluded themselves from the outside world by recording the album across three chalets they rented off Airbnb.  As is the case with bottle episodes, the process managed to strengthen L’Amalgame’s already solid interplay between one another.

“I think we found our way to actually create, be more creative, and create a kind of world and vibe also,” Ouain says from a table at le 180g, a vinyl café significant to the members of the group in their hood of Rosemont.  “When you’re with all your band members 24/7 for three/four days, you develop a language when you’re writing.”

“It’s like you take four bouncing balls in a small box and they always bounce,” Vendou adds, “sometimes they cross and sometimes they hit [each other], and sometimes they hit the same point in the box.  That’s what we’re doing; just bouncing balls and bouncing off each other’s ideas.

“And to make it in the chalet is to close the box,” Légaré further adds, “to tighten the box so our world becomes smaller.  That’s where the magic happens.”

A healthy pressure comes with having only a few days booked to write an album, something that the members of L’Amalgame acknowledge and led to the album they’re proudest of.

“To write a song is not about putting 11 hours into the writing part,” Légaré says.  “It’s about letting it flow, and to be in a chalet situation where we have to do six beats in three days, you have to let it go; you have to get it done.

“I think that defines your writing in a way,” Légaré continues, “because it’s what comes first that is the song at the end of the day.  You can’t come back and change things for two weeks before recording it. You write it down and then you record it, and that’s your verse.”

With Aux frontières du concret, the band members trade rhymes over more trap-indebted beats than found in their previous work.  The change in style works for L’Amalgame though, and the group manages to put a personal spin on a genre that can be staid if done lazily, particularly on tracks like “Correction” and “Concret.”  “You see straight from the beat [that] you heard a generic trap beat, like a YouTube-type beat” Vendou explains.

The three rappers credit L’Amalgame’s “maestro” Catboot for blending the group’s funkier old-school background with the trap sonics embedded in modern hip-hop.  Like a lot of current members of Quebec’s hip-hop community though, the band sought to make music with a nod to the zeitgeist while keeping it rooted in la belle province’s own rap history.  “We want to make music that sounds like a ton of bricks, so I want to crack the concrete,” Ouain says, summing up the group’s ethos for the album.

For Aux frontières du concret’s launch show, L’Amalgame plans on pulling out all the stops, with special guests expected, new stage projections, and plenty of Gatorade bleu cool (the band’s beverage of choice).

“The best shows I’ve seen are release parties,” Ouain says “so I think we’re just gonna try to do the best show, and we’ve really been working on that for a long time.”

The stage has in fact always been central to L’Amalgame, whose members see themselves as much as a sports team as a hip-hop group due to the sheer physicality they put into their performances.

“It’s a really Quebecois-like mentality,” Vendou says, “there’s an expression that says ça c’est du sport,” meaning a task is particularly arduous to achieve.  “It’s an expression, but at the same time for us it’s a reality,” Ouain adds.

The sports-meets-rap metaphor comes through most on Aux frontières du concret’s penultimate track, “Hypemen,” where all four MCs play the role of each others’ hype man in service of the franchise that is L’Amalgame.

“We’ve all been really, especially at shows also, always relying on each other,” Ouain says.  “We always present ourselves kind of as a sports team because we sweat at shows, and it’s like a sport to us.  We always have [each other’s] back, and we’re real friends in real life for a long time.”

L’Amalgame perform at Le Ministère (4521 St-Laurent) on Friday, April 19, 9 p.m., $10/$15

Alex Viger-Collins is the host of Ashes to Ashes, your weekly dose of modern pop, every Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.