moonshine Montreal nightlife

10 years of Moonshine as Montreal’s federation of noise

Moonshine’s latest mixtape is your soundtrack to the solar eclipse.

Founded in 2014 by Congolese-Montrealers Pierre Kwenders and Hervé Kalongo, the multidisciplinary Moonshine collective has brought an exciting dimension to Montreal’s nightlife, while also spreading their message through events held in various corners of the globe.

In concert and on wax, the collective has been celebrating their first decade of existence in style this year. Their newest mixtape, Moonshine & La Fédération Internationale du Bruit (French for “International Federation of Noise”), was released in late February and would make a fine soundtrack to today’s total eclipse.

Over the course of seven tracks (an eighth track is an instrumental version of “Banzelo à Babi”), the collective and their various guests hit listeners with a kaleidoscopic fusion of skittering beats, ethereal synths, African-inspired rhythms, nocturnal atmospheres, and futuristic sounds. The mixtape is accompanied by a 10-minute mini-documentary.

Though its members are scattered across the globe (and its core focus is on African and diasporic culture), its roots remain firmly planted in Montreal.

Kwenders and Kalongo are childhood friends who grew up on the same street and went to school together. The duo started the collective as a mutual creative endeavour — Kwenders on the music side and Kalongo focusing on fashion — that began as small parties thrown in their kitchens, a vibe they felt couldn’t be recaptured in other places. For this piece, I spoke via Zoom with both founding members, as well as another core member, San Farafina.

The collective includes various other members living in different parts of the world, and they have a presence in cities like Paris, London, Brussels, Lisbon, Abidjan, Kinshasa and L.A. In fact, when asked how many people are part of Moonshine and in how many cities, Kalongo immediately says, “That’s a good question!”

“There are levels, I think!” Farafina adds, laughing. She later tells me — with laughter from both Kwenders and Kalongo — that she feels like “the word ‘membership’ (in the collective) sounds like there’s a process involved. That’s just not the case!”

Moonshine includes resident DJs such as Kwenders, Farafina, AKantu and VANYFOX, while also boasting a network of close friends and collaborators like Foreigner (no, not the classic rock band) and Uproot Andy.

“If you know you’re part of the crew, you know you’re part of the crew,” says Kalongo, while Farafina shouts out those working with the collective behind the scenes.

Moonshine’s success even brought them to Halifax for this year’s Junos, where their previous release, SMS for Location Vol. 5, was nominated for Global Music Album of the Year. In March, the collective played two events in Montreal, including a free show during Nuit Blanche at MTELUS where performances went on until 6 a.m.

“It’s an honour to be invited by Montréal en Lumière for their 25th anniversary,” says Kwenders. “Also, it’s our 10-year anniversary here, so it’s a wonderful moment. It’s one of those moments you have to keep in the books.”

moonshine montreal

Though the winter the city of Montreal just experienced was hardly a winter at all, the mixtape was designed to help people get through the colder weather (Kalongo says they usually drop new music toward the end of a calendar year). 

It’s also the collective’s first body of work since the fifth volume of SMS for Location dropped in December 2022 (the first volume came in 2017). “We usually drop toward the end of the year, so it’s something fun to have some music for the winter,” says Kalongo.

The Moonshine collective has released this new mixtape on Noir Fever, the imprint of Aluna (of AlunaGeorge fame), as the label’s debut release. Moonshine and Aluna met through her friendship with one of the collective’s L.A.-based collaborators, Adam “Foreigner” Cooper, who connected them.

“She was interested in what we were doing,” Kalongo says. “She wanted to help us have more of a platform, and share what we do with her audience. We’re in the same scene, we have the same goals. It was just good timing.”

Kwenders echoes that sentiment. “There’s excitement, and it’s also an honour to be putting out music on (her label) knowing her career, and knowing what she’s been doing for dance music,” the 2022 Polaris Music Prize winner adds.

Aluna more or less gave the collective musical carte blanche while making the mixtape. But her attention to detail rubs off on various parts of the project, such as opening track “Pain & Pleasure,” which also features Amaal Nuux and VANYFOX. 

“She wants things to really sound nice and be done properly,” says Kwenders. “You can see that when she came and added her part on ‘Pain & Pleasure’. At first, we had that song with only Amaal. Then (Aluna) came and did what needed to be done to take it to that next level.”

Elements of various globe-spanning influences can be heard — a testament to the collective’s well-travelled, multi-national makeup. It’s also a project that’s been percolating since the Before Times.

“The first song (‘Sikoyo’) was laid out by Pierre in 2019,” Kalongo tells us. “It started there with Branko and Uproot Andy. I think the [mixtape] title came in 2022. It was just an organic process. We didn’t force it. We’re always working on music. We’re always creating.”

Another song, “Sakila” (featuring Spilulu, Gafacci and Mwamba) was cut around the same time as “Sikoyo” (the latter being a standout track on the mixtape), while “Banzelo à Babi”, featuring Vanyfox and Andy S, had also been in development for a long time. 

“The fact that we’re always on the move, always collaborating and working with people, it was just easier when Aluna approached us and wanted us to do this project for Noir Fever,” says Kwenders. “It’s easy for us to just get these people we’ve been working with, bring them into the project and deliver some great tracks for the dancefloor.”

Over the years, Moonshine has hosted local talent as big as Kaytranada, while also hosting sets from Bambii, Le1f and Dâm-Funk. Fittingly, Moonshine hosts parties on the Saturday after every full moon, offering music as well as films, events, visual installations, and clothing under its brand name. The parties are held at various locations around Montreal, with the venue only being distributed via text message.

“When you look into the crowd, you see all these different people from different groups. Everyone is smiling with their hands in the air dancing, really free,” Farafina says when asked what stands out to her about people’s reactions during the events, pointing to one recent event in particular.

“It’s not really a dark space — it’s an illuminating space, which is opposite to what you think of when you think of a rave. That’s what stands out to me: how bright it feels in the room. Not in terms of lighting, but how bright the energy is, and how happy people seem to be.”

Long story short, Moonshine is a steadily growing global brand that has stayed firmly and fervently true to its roots. Their parties have also gone international, with events in New York, L.A., London, Paris, Barcelona, Milan, and Santiago de Chile among other cities.

In case you were wondering: yes, they still occasionally throw kitchen parties to this day, though their current projects and events have kept them preoccupied.

“Maybe we should ask IKEA to throw a big party in their big kitchen,” Kalongo suggests excitedly.

The mixtape also comes at a time where African-inspired genres are scaling new commercial heights — Burna Boy, for example, sold out two straight nights at the Bell Centre in late February. 

While it may seem like the continued rise of African sounds to the forefront of popular music makes it increasingly hard to stand out, Farafina doesn’t see it that way.

“At Moonshine, you can hear really niche sounds [from Africa and the diaspora], and also more commercial,” she continues. “There’s just so much more to be discovered.” (“Not commercial — palatable!”, interjects Kalongo.)

The rest of 2024 has plenty more in store for Moonshine, with events in cities across several continents, including Brooklyn, Atlanta, London, Porto, Paris, Nairobi, Portland, Chicago, and Calgary — the latter being San Farafina’s hometown. This string of dates will also include Moonshine’s second-ever U.S. tour.

An art exhibition in collaboration with Broolyn’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn is also planned for later this year, as well as new clothing. There’ll be new music coming, too. “The next volume of SMS for Location is on the way,” says Kwenders.

If any of our interviewees could time travel to a decade ago, how would those versions of themselves have reacted upon learning that this is where Moonshine would be today? 

“I’d be like, ‘Yeah, not bad! I guess it’s working!’”, says Kalongo. “But 10 years from now, I’ll be like, ‘Hey, keep it up’… The things that really matter are like a marathon. Just be ready for the ride.” ■

For more on Moonshine, please visit their website.

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