Every Saturday after the full moon, hundreds of Montrealers file into a building whose location is only disclosed via text message.

Inside is a feast for the senses — DJs bumping bass-heavy Afrocentric tracks, visual installations screening over floating comedy masks, live drummers and a trumpet player.

It's the unmistakable scene of Moonshine, an after-hours party organized by a collective of the same name.

Moonshine party 3

Visual artists in the Moonshine collective often lend their talents to the party. (Vinoth Varatharajan)

The monthly event has become a Montreal staple since it started in 2014, sometimes drawing crowds of over 1,000 who dance well past dawn.

"It started at a friend's house," says co-founder Pierre Kwenders. "We didn't want to go out to listen to all the same music that plays on the radio. So one night... we wanted to just start a party." 

Kwenders, a Juno-nominated and Polaris-longlisted artist, was just embarking on a music career and figured the party could also become a platform to showcase his DJ skills.

Soon enough, it became a platform for a loose collective of friends and creative types — visual artists, DJs, musicians, dancers, instrumentalists and an artist manager — to do the same.

"It's like a family party, but a little bit more organized," Kwenders says with a laugh.

Moonshine party 2

Pierre Kwenders (right) and DJs M.Bootyspoon and Bonbon Kojak at a recent Moonshine. (Comme un grand)

Within a year and a half, Moonshine came to embody much more than its monthly party.

There were collaborations with Igloofest and Red Bull Music Academy.

Outside of Montreal's borders, events at Festival de musique émergente in Rouyn-Noranda, Toronto Pride and Brooklyn's AFROPUNK Festival took place under the Moonshine banner.

Guest DJs have included Polaris-winner Kaytranada and Arcade Fire's Win Butler.

Despite the increased profile, the collective has managed to toe the delicate line between the underground and the popular.

"[It's] really kind of miraculous," says Ngabonziza Kiroko, a Moonshine-affiliated musician and member of the duo ABAKOS with Kwenders.

The duo is now managed by a Moonshine member who also manages other musicians such as Ghanaian singer-songwriter Kae Sun, a recent transplant from Toronto who moved to Montreal in part to work with the collective.

"When I think about Montreal, I think about the vibe that Moonshine brings," says Kae Sun. "I didn't have that experience in Toronto, which I felt was more competitive and more, like, cliquish. People were operating in silos."

Pierre Kwenders, Kae Sun, Ngabonziza Kiroko

Kae Sun, Pierre Kwenders and Ngabonziza Kiroko are some of the people who make up the loose collective of musicians, visual artists, DJs and other creatives in Moonshine. (Melissa Fundira)

Though the collective defies and actively eschews labels, an undeniable marker of the Moonshine brand is its Afrocentric undertones.

The African connection is sometimes obvious. Kwenders and Ngabo, for example, were born and raised in different parts of Congo, Kae Sun in Ghana's capital, Accra. Many others are part of Montreal's African diaspora.

Moonshine DJs often blast sounds reflective of the continent —  Kuduro from Angola, Coupé Décalé from Côte d'Ivoire.

In Moonshine's latest exploit, a mix-tape entitled SMS: Location vol. 1 featuring collective members, listeners are treated to Afro-Belizean punta rock on the very first track. Other tracks feature more popular derivatives of Black culture, like Hip-Hop and R&B.

"I think anybody from anywhere has a sort of connection with Africa, whether they want to or not," says Kwenders.

"Western culture sometimes tries to lecture us about diversity, but we came up in a very diverse environment, so I feel like that vibe is very represented at Moonshine. We're comfortable with difference – very comfortable with difference," adds Kae Saun.

According to Kiroko, much of Moonshine's success can be chalked up to this ethos of inclusivity and diversity.

"It was super-refreshing, and it's super-open. Everybody's welcome: gay, straight, black, white, whatever. Everybody just kind of feels welcome there and it's fun," says Kiroko.

Moonshine party 3

Moonshine has gained attention for its diversity and inclusiveness. 'Everybody's welcome: gay, straight, black, white, whatever,’ says Ngabonziza Kiroko (Vinoth Varatharajan)

As for what's next, Kwenders refuses to speculate too far into the future and prefers to take it day by day.

"All the stars were aligned so we could meet each other and ... make this thing possible," Kwenders says. "We want people to feel comfortable, to be happy, to dance, to feel that it's safe, to feel that they can dance until tomorrow without having to worry about anything else because there's just that moment of happiness."

"Maybe it has something to do with the moon."


The next Moonshine takes place this Saturday, Dec. 9.