Loop Sessions: Montreal's 'church' for beatmakers

Beatmaking can be a solitary endeavour, but Montreal's Loop Sessions event has become a "church" where beatmakers can congregate and make music as a community.

Event has become a place where beatmakers can congregate and make music as a community

About 30 beatmakers participated in the 17th edition of Loop Sessions on May 30, 2018. (Loop Sessions)

Beatmaking can be a solitary endeavour.

The art form — usually associated with hip hop, but not confined to it — consists of producing music by sampling existing songs, looping said samples and adding sound effects.

For beatmakers, the whole process involves the use of machines and software and often happens within the confines of one's bedroom, basement, attic or some other isolated room.

But Loop Sessions, an event held at the café and record shop 180g, has become the place for Montreal beatmakers to congregate and make music as a community.

"We're geeks," says Loop Sessions co-founder Mahdi Saoula, who goes by Dr. MaD. "We love to talk about RCA cables and stereo channels, stuff like that. We can have hours of conversations."

Loop Sessions co-founder Mahdi Saoula, also known as Dr. MaD, says beatmaking was the most accessbile way of making music for him when he was younger. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

Held the last Wednesday of every month in partnership with Artbeat Montreal, Loop Sessions aims to create "an opportunity learn new things, exchange, and basically, meet a lot of new dope people that are part of our beatmaking scene," Saoula says.

The DJ and beatmaker co-founded Loop Sessions with Lou Piensa, a mainstay of the Montreal hip-hop group Nomadic Massive.
Mark the Magnanimous, co-founder of Artbeat Montreal and a beatmaker himself, helps participants record samples from a vinyl record so they can take it back to their work stations and create a beat. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

The pair met more than a decade ago, when Piensa was Saoula's high-school English teacher.

At the time, Saoula says, beatmaking was the most accessible way for him to make music.

"I always wanted to make music when I was a kid. I wanted to learn piano. The problem is that it was too expensive."

Saoula was introduced to the music production software, FL Studio, then known as Fruity Loops, and would go on to co-found the beatmaking duo Loop Pilots with Piensa.

Modern grooveboxes, configured to work directly with music software, are a popular all-in-one tool for electronic music producers. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

From Brazil to Montreal

It was while releasing music in Brazil that the pair discovered Beat Brasilis, the weekly Sao Paulo event that became the inspiration for Montreal's Loop Sessions.

Both events follow the same formula.

The first beatmaker to arrive selects a vinyl record from a crate. Then, on a first-come-first-serve basis, each person has five to 10 minutes to listen to the record and sample it.

The beatmakers then take their samples to their respective work stations and have up to five hours to create a beat.

At the end of the night, the beatmakers assemble to share their creations before they each get uploaded to Soundcloud. 

At the latest edition of Loops Sessions, about 30 beatmakers of various skill levels packed into 180g's Rosemont location, setting up on tables, bars, even spilling onto the sidewalk.

The record being sampled that day was Quebec singer-songwriter Diane Tell's 1980 vinyl En Fleche, as selected by DJ and producer Phil Sparkz.

Montreal DJ and producer Phil Sparkz was given the task of selecting the record to sample at the 17th edition of Loop Sessions. He chose Diane Tell's 1980 album En Fleche. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

Some used samplers — a machine that can be as large as a desktop computer, like the MPC4000, or as small as a book, like the SP-404.

Others used more modern methods, using their laptops to connect hardware, such as MIDI controllers and grooveboxes, to the music production software of their choice — FL Studio or Ableton Live.

A beatmaker starts to manipulate samples on his MPC4000 sampler. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

"It's like church for electronic musicians, loop-based musicians, people into hip-hop and diggers — the beat diggers, the crate diggers," says Dante Maxwell, a participant who likens beatmakers to visual artists who make collage. 

Maxwell says he moved to Montreal from the B.C. Interior in the hopes of finding something like Loop Sessions. He says he never misses an event.

"I book the afternoon off work, and I show up early and I'm happy as a clam," he says. "This is as spiritual as it gets for me."

A beatmaker records part of Diane Tell's 1980 album En Fleche into his SP-404 sampler. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

From Montreal to the world

Saoula believes part of Loop Sessions' popularity can be attributed to the fact the beatmakers crave community.

"I feel like we needed that, to just come together and meet," Saoula says.

The concept has done so well in Montreal that it now has offshoots on two continents: Loop Sessions Paris, Loop Sessions Brussels, and more recently, Loop Sessions Vancouver.

Dante Maxwell (right) says Loop Sessions is 'like church' for beatmakers like him. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

"Rather than building walls, we build bridges between the nations. It's more than just people having fun in a room for a couple hours in a month and that's it," he says. "It's ... creating a network and exporting cultures."

For many participants, Loop Sessions has become a catalyst for something more.

Alex Van Landen, who produces under the name Senz Beats, says he spent years making music in his bedroom and attic without sharing any of it publicly.

"The boost that I saw in my confidence and my beatmaking was exponential since the first Loop Sessions," says van Landen.

He's since collaborated with other artists and released music on a record label.

"People reacting in a positive way to stuff that's so personal to you is very empowering. It just makes you want to want to carry on making more beats, basically. It's beautiful. "

A participant waits for his turn to listen to the vinyl record selected for that edition of Loop Sessions. Each beatmaker gets five to 10 minutes to sample the record and has up to five hours to make a brand new beat. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)