By Liam Kennedy
Armed with a humble Facebook page, Ottawa Experimental Music (OEM) has been working tirelessly to shine a light on Ottawa artists that might otherwise be in the shadows. Their mission is to make Ottawa known as a hub for experimental music, to get weird sounds and their makers out of the city’s bedrooms and basements, and to connect them in a community founded in 2012.
Do you remember hearing about the fungal network in eastern Oregon that is considered the largest organism on earth? Though it’s mostly underground, mushrooms that pop up above the surface for 10 square kilometres are all part of it. Unless you were a mushroom enthusiast, you would have no idea that the fungi you found in the woods were a part of something dwelling just beneath your feet, in every direction, for kilometres. Somebody did the research to confirm the network’s existence.
Similarly, OEM is identifying and documenting the strange fungi emerging from the city’s small venues and Bandcamp pages. They find artists in basements, garages, and jam spaces making strange sounds just for the sake of it. The problem is, says OEM founder Adriana Ciccione, “there are pockets all over the city, but because we don’t know about each other, lots of opportunities get missed.” By providing the tools for collaboration and promotion, OEM is simultaneously documenting and creating this vast underground network of those trying something new, plugging something into something it probably shouldn’t be plugged into to see what will happen, and spending more money on gear than is at all justifiable (I count myself among their ranks, so I am making fun of myself here too).
OEM is in the process of identifying and documenting the strange fungi emerging from the city’s small venues and Bandcamp pages. They find artists in basements, garages, and jam spaces making strange sounds just for the sake of it.
Adriana is a local musician (Forgotten in the Woods Again, Constellation425), a CKCU radio host (Hexon Bogon), and a writer for both the OEM Facebook page and a music blog Echoes and Dust. She was inspired to start the Facebook page while getting into post-rock and ambient music. She noticed the gap between the amount of content created in these genres and its coverage in local publications. As she found more artists from the Ottawa-Gatineau area working on similar projects in relative isolation from one another, she set a goal to bring them together by creating a community.
Since starting the OEM page, Adriana has been joined by a few like-minded locals, including Gilbert Lachance, also a community radio host of the long-running CHUO show D’un extrême à l’autre (“from one extreme to another”) that focuses on industrial music. More recently, Greg Erikson, Ciccone’s bandmate in FITWA, and Pat Lemieux, from Ottawa’s post-rock band Clavius and solo project Ash Primal, have joined the effort.
What is experimental music? That is a tricky question because a lot can fall into this category. The OEM team offers a few definitions. First, “anything that doesn’t usually get mainstream radio play,” Adriana suggests. This may be broadened to music created without much concern for its commercial appeal. The goal of creating experimental music is to try something new that sounds unique, which may but not necessarily eschews standard structure, arrangement, and length. As it is necessarily less accessible to listeners, Greg noted that “it is music that takes risks, which makes it hard to find a platform.” Pat offered another definition: “Music that is hard to explain to your relatives.” This isn’t to say that experimental music can’t be commercially successful: Bands like Sigur Rós and Mogwai fall into the experimental music category and are both doing well.
As it has been filling out its own ranks, OEM has been steadily chronicling the weird sounds coming out of the nation’s capital and making a list of musicians in town and out. Not only are they boosting the signal from their Facebook page, but they are also developing tools that will help local creators find whatever they’re looking for: venue booking contacts, relevant labels, and other local artists to collaborate with. This takes the form of an online database designed to help musicians find other like-minded locals, which to date consists of over 150 entries.
OEM has also ventured outside of social media to bring the community together in different ways. In 2018, they hosted an event to celebrate their 5-year anniversary, featuring local musicians at Le Minotaure in downtown Hull. Last November, they released a compilation album featuring tracks by 46 experimental musicians from Ottawa-Gatineau. “I was surprised by the response,” Gilbert noted. “I thought we might get 25 artists, but 46 is huge!” Though the original intention of putting this compilation together was to help artists out through the lack of gigs during the pandemic, the artists decided to give the money raised to local charities. “This was very heartwarming,” Adriana said. “The intention was to help them, but they wanted to help the community instead.” So far, the compilation has raised over $300.
Based on this success, OEM has its sights on continuing with the project and releasing compilation albums profiling experimental artists in other cities. Next on the list is Montreal, where they have many contacts due to proximity and how frequently musicians from both cities collaborate. The goal is to strengthen their network by branching out to new localities to find those exploring the weird. Adriana’s hope is that “branching out to other cities will create more opportunities” for collaboration across this vast, growing network.