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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Double Threat

Charles Cassino
Published Thursday June 11, 05:47 pm
Ramond Biesinger brings both talk and rock to MOSO

Photo Credit: Illustration by Ramond Biesinger

 RAYMOND BIESINGER

Friday 19

Cosmo Seniors’ Centre

 

THE FAMINES

Friday 19

Vangelis

DOOM has been on the mind of Montréal illustrator and guitar-slinger Raymond Biesinger for over four years now.

Back then Biesinger, a renowned artist who’s contributed to the likes of The Economist, The New York Times and The Walrus, had typed up a tiny manifesto, a black-and-white photocopied pamphlet that oozed with vitriol. The enemy of the art world, he said, was IKEA — and every other thing that exists like the massive blue-and-yellow soul-sucker, hubs that take bread out of the mouths of local creators and stuff it firmly into the trousers of corporations.

It might sound like he was a step or two away from becoming a full-on sandwich board-wearing naysayer, but Biesinger says that arguing for the merits of DOOM in the art world was a necessary finger-pointing exercise.

The manifesto became the DOOM talk, which first surfaced at the University of Alberta.The focus of the lecture is the economics of turning your creative efforts into some sort of living that you can enjoy.

Or at least tolerate,” says Biesinger.

The talk is based on Biesinger’s research into Canada’s music scene from the 1940s to the present, where he took a hard comparative look at what happened between the bands at the time and what happened to illustration (and illustrators, obviously) in North America throughout the same time period.

Creatives tend to have some type of skill that they need to bring into the real world, says Biesinger. Technological transformations in music were infringing upon people making a living. Old news, yes, but still. So, how do we adapt?

There are definitely avenues where you can succeed in the creative world, but I’m still trying to figure it all out,” says Biesinger.

Before moving to Montréal, Biesinger lived in Edmonton, making art and music in an industrial loft-type space above the barf and bustle of Whyte Ave. But even before that he hustled for the U of A’s student newspaper, and shelved shoes in a warehouse when he needed the spare money.

Since then, he’s added clients such as BMW, WIRED, Pitchfork and GQ to his resume — along with an extensive advertising campaign for Toyota. Biesinger has come a long way since his black and white collages graced gig posters and editorials in weekly newspapers.

His style, a mixture of heavy-set lines and haunting figures constructed out of hard cubes and curved limbs, comes from a unique method of digital decoupage. Everything is precise, and everything is on purpose.

Those pieces, gritty and compelling, often come with a hefty dose of history.

Biesinger graduated with a B.A. in European and North American political history (nope, no formal training in illustration here), and he’s found a niche within circles of people who like their art pieces to come with a wealth of research — something the 30-something illustrator is all too happy to provide.

I do an awful lot of collages of historical sources. Directly, in terms of actually cutting up paper, and also artistically. I do a lot of that for someone who claims to be doing something new.”

Some of his best-known pieces are silkscreened illustrated maps of various Canadian cities set in specific time periods. One of the most popular is his rendition of Montréal circa April 27, 1967 — the day Expo 67 opened to the public. The screen-printed poster (available via Biesinger’s website) is currently in its sixth printing.

(Note: There’s no Saskatoon edition coming, unfortunately. Biesinger is retiring the format. “For now,” he says. Boo.)

But for anyone who wants to pick Biesinger’s brain about his aesthetic or style, well, that’s just something you’ll have to figure out on your own.

I’m so bad at talking about style. It would be a little embarrassing if I went that route,” he admits with a chuckle. “I would rather talk about certain projects that were built for the economic times we live in.”

 

And Then Comes The Noise

One of those projects is his band’s latest release, a paper-based album that will be coming out in July.

A two-piece rock band, The Famines have toured across Canada multiple times — and if you ask Biesinger, he can likely show you the painstaking statistics on how many times he’s touched down in every city across the country.

While the release is a physical feast for those who like their tunes tactile, Biesinger cautions that it’s all just more DOOM.

The economic side of this band is very, very calculated. This is something that we can deploy in this time when no one buys music, and I think these types of releases are something that can bring us a modicum of success.

There is no formula that I know of,” he says. “There are just approaches that I’ve had considerable luck and good results in executing.”

The world is zigging into an electronic and digital realm, and there is a certain cache in zagging into the opposite direction. For The Famines, already immersed in a black-and-white world of retro rock, that suits the group just fine.

Alongside drummer Drew Demers, Biesinger says his noise endeavours are changing along with the world that he sells his art in.

I think right now I’m most excited that we can take risks and try new things,” he says.

The Famines’ previous release, The Completed Collected Singles 2008-2011, charts a furious pace that runs the listener through a labyrinth of skeletal guitar-mashing and rhythmic gymnastics.

Unfortunately, it’s become something of an epitaph for — you guessed it — more DOOM.

The band’s label, Mammoth Cave Recording Co. of Toronto, imploded several months ago. Biesinger admits this is a sign of the times, but adds he’s in the midst of designing a whole new avenue for the group to release music on.

We are trying some other format experiments. We’re releasing a French-language single on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. And we finally admitted that we’re done with merch that isn’t records. We just want to make music.”

But it’s not all gloom. Really.

Biesinger currently resides in a home studio in Montréal’s Plateau, along with his fashion-designer wife Elizabeth Hudson (a formidable artist in her own right) and his infant daughter Zuzu. It’s not a bad life, especially considering that the other half of The Famines lives close-by — “300 metres away,” Biesinger says. He measured, of course.

His art has garnered a considerable reputation, and The Famines have been able to expand their touring options to America for the first time, along with a much-anticipated return to western Canada.

So is it really DOOM? Is Biesinger really the harbinger of modern illustration colliding with retro-tinged riff rockage in a most apocalyptic way?

I have another week to decide if it really is DOOM,” says Biesinger. “I might have changed my mind since.

It’s going to be a cliffhanger.”

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