Wake Island: A technology odyssey

Everyone has a story. Wake Island‘s journey began as story of two friends who met in 2004 and now forming one of the most promising band of the year. ‘’We met in Montreal, of all all places’’, recalls Philippe Manasseh who met Nadim Maghzal during their McGill student days, both hailing from Lebanon. From then on, they collaborated on several musical projects until this iteration, which is one-year old but was in gestation from way back.

Wake Island is an electronic project. “It would not be ok to say otherwise”, explains Phil. The band favours the computer as a musical instrument, an interest that was fueled by a desire to downsize, to use technology and an itch to get up and dance. “It became very clear to us last year”, comments Phil on the band’s transition. “We went to Mutek and we found out that’s where music is now. This is a revolution in music, everyone is ignoring it’’, he declares. “One day people will realize that this is music today, they will accept it and they will be so late. We don’t want to be late, we want to be ahead and so we just went for it”.


Stating so, the musician hopes that the computer will be respected as a music instrument, because let’s face it, it still isn’t the case, when you consider anything else than electronic music. “Outside [the electronic world], it’s really seen as a bad tool. It’s very frowned upon in the rock world to use laptop on stage’’, he explains. His bandmate Nadim concurs. “Obviously they are very lame ways to use this technology”, referring to the ‘spacebar press’ style, as we jokingly call it. “Spacebar press is good as in some context’’, he concedes. ‘’But we don’t do it, we actually perform. At the end of the day, the computer is  probably one of the most complex instruments of our times, and learning how to be expressive with it is a challenge”.

Out, the band’s ardent debut album released in April, is a self-produced work mixed by the proficient Jace Lazek, from Breakglass studio. To record, the band tells us,  is a transitional record between rock and electronic using acoustic drums and bass arrangements that we will not find in the live setting. ”It’s a half-walk, we wanted it to be this way’’, declares Phil. “Live, it’s entirely electronic, except for the electric guitar and the voice”, he indicates. “It’s like we’re remixing out album live”. This electronic frameboard is really what Wake Island prevails for. ‘’We’re trying to prove that electronic music doesn’t have to be cold”, they explain. “It’s a stereotype that there is no emotions and it is kids on their laptops doing nothing’’, points out Phil. ‘’And we’re like no, it’s also adults on their laptops doing a lot! Being an example of how you can be doing war moving music on your computer hopefully changes some minds”. In their opinion, acts like Moderat are doing precisely with a tremendous success, blending cold electronic to pop and  infusing emotion into this music. Artists like Grimes, or Montreal’s Blue Hawaii, Foxtrott, CO/NTRY or Essaie Pas are doing a similar thing, not just turning knobs but using their stage presence, composer and performers assets in their digital approach. Such a creative process requires a different mindset for recording. “We write thinking of our live shows”, asserts Nadim. This way, the line between the rehearsal spaces are studio is blurred. “We you look at rock bands or jazz bands, there is studio life and rehearsal life. When you are an electronic producer, this separation is not clear. Everything we use in the studio we use on stage”.  

If you look on Google maps, you would locate Wake Island as the middle point between Asia and North America. In an attempt to define the band, Wake Island is often tied to their Middle-Eastern origins.’’We are not ambassadors of a culture’’, they tell me. “We’re just a band’’. Without playing the Lebanon card, they feel like their heritage should still be pointed out. “It took me 10 years not to consider myself foreign, but it took me 10 years to get to this place”, states Phil. “For the longest time we were active in the local scene but we were considered foreign, kind of in a weird way that was very frustrating. The big challenge for us was to take that frustration and turn in into an advantage. When you realize how, you always realize that you have something special that other people don’t have”. The special things may be influences, although the band does not make use of middle-eastern traditional instrument they grew up listening to, or just a different attitude. If the music speaks for itself, it not something that you deliberately put your finger on, rather recognizing the refreshing component of it. If they continue to call Montreal a home, the band still moves a lot. There is a lot of touring, a residency at NYC famous Piano’s and shows in their other home country. They also started working on a new record, but let’s just let ourselves be carried away by the catchiness of Out for now.


About Christelle Saint-Julien

Professional writer and translator based in Montreal, Christelle compiles projects on project such as brainchild Naked Underground Montreal, literary collective Le Shindig, music, arts and sharing her passion for local culture.