Published Jan 24, 2011Montreal producer Jean-Patrice Rémillard, who's been producing minimal techno as Pheek since 2001, keeps his studio in a 110-year-old building in the east end of the city's downtown. The space is not far from where many of the area's all-night clubs first set up in the late '90s, and where Pheek first made his mark as a member of the now-defunct Epsilonlab audio-visual crew. The building was refitted expressly for musicians in the mid-2000s and currently houses a number of Quebec's more mainstream acts. Prime real estate, it certainly is.
I was working from my home before this," says Rémillard, "and after six years I was starting to annoy my neighbours. Since I was living in a condo, they joined together and said that I couldn't really do that anymore. It took a year to find a studio that would work. At first it was [fellow producer and DJ] Mateo Murphy who joined me in using the space, and eventually more and more people joined. Now we're six people."
The co-op approach helps Rémillard cover the costs of the studio, while still allowing him the time to produce his music, and to fine-tune the music of others, some of which gets released on his label, Archipel. "I do a lot of mastering here. Since I'm the main owner of the studio, I've supplied the main components, like the double monitors and the PA. People bring their own computers. We have a DJ set-up here too, and sometimes DJs come here to practice before a gig."
These days, Pheek's studio is also at the centre of some fairly major life choices. "For about eight years I lived off music, touring, producing, mastering. Being able to have a studio at home made it really easy. When I moved here, the costs of it all became really complicated. I realized I was making enough money to make the studio happen, but I couldn't make enough money to buy new gear. So I decided to get a job. With my son on the way, I also thought it was proper for me to have proper income. So I kinda have a job to have a studio, but because I have the job I have no time for the studio."
Pheek's dilemma is not uncommon among working musicians. But the thoughtful producer sees it as going beyond simply a matter of space to a much deeper question: how exactly does music fit into a life of a producer who's nearing 40 and whose priorities have changed with a new family in the mix? As a result, he's spent the past two years re-evaluating the shape of the music career that defines him.
The eight years I was making music full-time, I enjoyed what I was doing to a certain extent," he says. "What I've realized in the past year and a half is my pleasure is making music and to be in the studio. This is really what I love to do. What I didn't really like was touring. I left a very successful career as a computer technician to make music full-time, and it worked. But once it begins to work, you have to tour all the time. Being in Montreal as an electronic musician is difficult. All flights from here to the world are really expensive, especially to the States."
Last year, Rémillard tried to take the route that other Montreal producers before him had chosen: moving to Berlin. Had he been younger, he concedes, it might have worked out differently. But in Berlin he discovered that a music career wasn't everything to him anymore. "I was uncomfortable in Berlin. Going out to the clubs and networking, taking the time to build all the connections there that I spent so much time on in Montreal, that wasn't something I had the energy for. I went there. I tried. I could've tried harder."
The move did answer, once and for all, the question of where Pheek didn't want to play. "I came back really motivated to do more with Archipel, make music. And I ended up deciding I need a job and that I didn't want to tour anymore."
With the summer free and his partner pregnant with their first child, he settled back into this studio and made an album, his fifth. Channeling was a double-disc set that came out last fall on Archipel. It may not reinvent the world of techno, but the record does re-affirm Pheek's principal foundations as a producer who no longer wants to juggle the uncomfortable bedfellows of careerism and creativity.
Sitting in his studio, he recalls the reasons that got him into such spaces and making techno in the first place. "When I quit my job, I was 29 years old and I decided that I would never make compromises in my music. But there's a price to pay for that, and I have to assume it." These days, this studio is where Rémillard goes to escape the pressing concerns of everyday life and pursue a purity of vision.