Mothland Records Montreal

Photo by Stacy Lee

Five years of the Moths: How Mothland is keeping the Montreal music scene in play

“New York had Red Star Records, ROIR and ZE. England had Factory Records. WE have Mothland.”

It’s mid-afternoon on a snowy Thursday and three quarters of Montreal’s Mothland crew are buzzing around their chic, brick-walled loft office space. All dressed in black, they’re taking phone calls and responding to messages about band lineups, poster designs, set times — pretty much anything you can think of to plan a music festival.

It’s not chaotic, but you can tell the team is feeling a little run-down if not a bit on edge, having just released an impressive roster — Adam Green, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus, Yoo Doo Right, the King Khan & BBQ Show, Chose Sauvages, Of Montreal, Backxwash and many more — for the much-anticipated live return of their beloved Taverne Tour in February. 

Releasing the lineup is one beast. Now they have to make sure everything runs smoothly only a few weeks after recovering from their M for Montreal showcase. Then it’s onto thinking about a new lineup for Festival de musique émergente (FME) in September 2023. 

The Moths — Philippe Larocque, Marilyne Lacombe, Jean-Philippe Bourgeois and Maxime Hébert (who is not present this afternoon, but working from home) are in the eye of the storm. Though, it’s kind of always been like that since they debuted as Mothland in 2017, within a constantly mutating and supernal music scene they helped foster.

The origins of Mothland actually go beyond five years. The initial plans for their first festival, Distorsion Psych Fest, took place within the walls of l’Escogriffe Bar back in 2015. A group of oddball music collectors and curators had a dream: to provide Montrealers with a multi-day, avant-garde psychedelic concert experience.  

“There was no festival that we felt really represented us, so we decided to create one and then another one,” Lacombe says. 

“I think we made the connection early that we were not obvious and had all these bands with different kinds of sounds,” Larocque says. “We kind of became the glue to unify all of these freaky experimental acts and types of left-field music that were kind of floating, but didn’t have a structure to support them.”

The first Distorsion was held at the now defunct Matahari Loft in 2016, and from it, the Mothland crew began solidifying not only a music scene for visionary artists in the psychedelic, experimental, art pop, krautrock, shoegaze, post-punk, no wave — again, any type of left field music — genres, but also fans who now exist in this devoted music family and love new sounds outside of the echelon of the mainstream.

“I think Distorsion was really like a gathering of a bunch of likeminded freaks in Montreal that wanted to party,” Lacombe laughs. “Mothland has really become an extra-dimensional space that we bring wherever we go. That’s why when we even do an event at a traditional space like la Sala Rossa, we try to change it and leave our mark.”

The Distorsion church shows back in the early days of Mothland are also revered by the Moths and members in the scene as being bizarrely special — memories they will hold dear for years to come.

“There was something so weird about doing a festival for four days in a humid, cold church basement,” Bourgeois recalls. “You have difficulty breathing for a week and it’s mixed with a weird hangover, but there was all of this crazy music and art. For your health it’s the worst, but I somehow miss it.”

Being a label, booking agency, band manager for various projects, show producer, festival organizer, etc., the Moths are always swamped with work. Of course, they thrive on this and always produce top-notch results. For instance, their M for Montreal showcase, the five-year anniversary of Mothland, should be marked in a page of the rock n’ roll grimoire for the 21st century. Post-punk ramblings, sporadic blacklight, psychotropic projections, dizzying strobes, sweaty magnetic performances that saw the performers leave a piece of themselves on the stage, or in this case, stages … you had to be there.  

“We like to please ourselves, too, when we book a show. We always want the lineup and the whole event to make us think, ‘I would pay to see that show,’” Bourgeois says.

“Everything feeds everything,” Lacombe adds. “So if the bookings go good, it’s good for the label. If the label is good it’s for the booking and the festival. If the festival or show is good, it’s an amazing platform for the artists.”

Mothland has also only been a music label for two years, getting its start during the pandemic in 2020 after releasing a few albums with no real intention of becoming a label. The pandemic was, yes, a curse, but also somewhat of a blessing for the crew. 

“It’s kind of like a phoenix thing where everything we had [all of the show booking and tours] were destroyed, but we had to be reborn,” Larocque says.

“I’ve always been into the live aspect of music and had no interest in being a label, and to be honest, we didn’t have any fucking clue how to be a label,” Lacome adds.

Yet, the Moths learned and with just over 30 releases in the last two years, they are slowly carving out a name for themselves with their artists, old and new, such as: Atsuko Chiba, Sunglaciers, N Nao, CDSM, Gloin, Grim Streaker, Elizabete Balčus (who is based in Latvia), La Sécurité, Meggie Lennon, the list goes on and grows. 

“We love all of our artists. When we love, we love. When we trust, we trust. When we hate, we hate,” Bourgeois laughs.

It should comfort you that a multi-headed music entity like Mothland exists. They’re part of an important movement that is supporting artists independent from the mainstream, during the streaming age — an age where it is becoming increasingly harder to be a working musician and have your music heard. Mothland and their artists will no doubt have to weather more storms, but they will persevere. New York had Red Star Records, ROIR and ZE. England had Factory Records. WE have Mothland. ■

For more on Mothland, please visit their website.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.