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NVA Q&A: Torsten Schmidt [RBMA]

We sat down with Red Bull Music Academy head honcho Torsten Schmidt for a “post-mortem” interview of sorts, detailing the Academy’s time in Montreal this past September and October.

Before the Academy begun, we spoke with Schmidt’s partner-in-crime Many Ameri to discuss what he hoped RBMA would bring to our city, and the lasting impression it would have. Schmidt candidly offers his prose on his experience in Montreal; the various types of talent and people he got to work with, and his culinary explorations during his stay here.

So now that you’ve got a bit of a taste for Quebec culture and attitude, how does it feel being back home in Berlin with the past six weeks or so marinating in your mind ?

Well, uncommon to popular belief, Germany harbours more than that one dump built on the swamps which used to be the capital of so many things that were ever wrong about our country. So most of our crew prefers to live in Cologne by the River Rhine [Ed: I knew that… it was a long month] where I only could visit for a few days, as we’re already back on the road prepping for the new upcoming missions. But I guess the main feeling is relief and *yoga voice* gratitude. Especially after being forced to once again cut an Academy short exactly one year ago due to the tragic events just a few hundred meters from the Paris RBMA HQ last Fall.

But even without world politics, on a very basic level, we’re always happy when we got to the end of such a massive undertaking and no one got seriously hurt. If then on top, there’s memories of moments of joy, wonder, puzzlement and inspiration, and seeing all those things on people’s faces as they attended lectures and events (at times, even at once), that surely outweighs any level of exhaustion we might feel on mere physical levels.

Many [Ameri, RBMA Co-Founder] mentioned to me that what was interesting to him about Montreal is that it is a city which is expanding culturally— versus cities like London or Tokyo which are very much cultural epicentres already. Given this, how was Montreal different than previous Academies ? What did you learn for Academies moving forward ?

Funny, how the first reaction to this thought is adversary: we strongly feel that cities (and its people) should not be rated or quantified like that (despite the mocking Berlin rage above). And culture or the notion of “a cultural city” is not exactly a matter of size. How should one rate and compare them? And despite their sizes and budgets and benefactors that come with different sizes, most of us learned that so called “A-list” is never a surefire guarantee for significant experiencesbe it headliners, venues or cities on a whole.

What strikes me as a visitor though, is, how deeply engrained culture seems to be into the city’s fabric. And I guess that’s what my dear partner was alluding too: in all too many cities, cultural spaces are more and more losing their fights against real estate developers and retail spaces and are in constant threat of dying out. Generations of folks, who are happier bickering with digital sniper shots from the safety of their sofas rather than getting out there and putting on the daily grind for shows and experiences that actually cater to breathing human beings are not helping either.

The sad irony, is that at times, especially these places and the folks who are willing to get into the thick of it, are in dire need of both public and private patronage, which is obviously not lost on us. And running a venue ourselves, we sadly know more about the pitfalls of overhead than we’d ever wanted to learn. But as the most creative minds would attest: it’s not about the tools but how and for what you use them. And it surely was a pleasure, witnessing how many great minds are working full force on servicing the city and its people with meaningful art.

Is there anything you would have approached differently here ?

After events like this one tends to feel a bit like Willie Nelson, the way he re-interpretated “you’re always on my mind” with so much more fractured life experience in his voice during the VH1 storytellers, decades after he wrote the song.

You always wish for more time or resources. For more voices to be included into the mix, for the more perfect representation of all forces that make up the fabric of a city. But usually, those Academies are only a milestone in our work in a city and a blip in the city as a whole. And you constantly learn. Especially doing these things which involve so many different factors, institutions, regulations etc. and especially when public safety starts to become a concern, at times, you may have to take unpopular decisions in order to guarantee the wellbeing of people or merely an event happening in the first place. Which in our times, where folks may only get a snapshot of a situation, but happily amplify those beyond larger than life, can be a bit challenging. But I guess with the way the world turned since the Academy, it would be apparent to everyone that we collectively have bigger issues to tackle than people not getting into a free show quick enoughbut rather all need to join forces to ensure creative thinking and the executions of diverse people and their ideas still have a place in our societies. And that we all won’t ever back down defending these and the basic human rights they’re built on.

Did you achieve what you set out to accomplish ? How do you hope the city will move forward from what it has taken from the Academy’s presence ?

Somehow feel it would be preposterous to attribute a city’s development to a single event like ours. All we can do is sense, maybe add and enhance to the things that are already in the works and maybe showcase them to wider audiences outside of the city’s perimeters. But I guess this is strongly tied into what we just said one question earlier. Bottomline stays the same: we all must create. And elevate those who want to do so. Art must be conscious of its lighthouse functions, now more than ever in our lifetimes.

Torsten Schmidt alongside Term 2 participant Suicideyear and RBMA Editor Todd Burns.

Was Montreal as receptive to RBMA as you had hoped ?

Actually, it seemed a lot more receptive compared to what we had been warned off. So thanks to everyone for that and the warm welcome we received! As that man with the clock said: don’t believe the hype. 

How do you see RBMA’s involvement in Montreal progressing now that the seeds have been sown ?

Well, there’s been a few editions of the so called “Basscamp” so far, a sort of smaller sized Academy, which mainly caters to local/regional/national talent. Those we will most certainly continue. And I guess with all we learned about Montreal’s venues and creative forces from different fields of the spectrum, we’re hoping to extend this and make it a fixture in the city’s already pretty busy calendar.

What was your favourite lecture ? Most surprising participant performance ? Favourite guest performance ?

So tough to tell in a sea of monstrous talents. But not just because you’re asking from a Montreal perspective: your very own Marie Davidson, when she showcased her much more diverse (and personal) side during her spoken word meets A/V performance definitely took the cake. The EX EYE/Deradoorian/(Stephen) O’Malley night was sweet as well for its multitude of stomp-pedal usages. Getting lost to DJ Stingray underwater or Tim Hecker in the fog wasn’t bad either. Plus the odd afters in that “youknowwheremazeofawarehousebuilding”.

On the lecture couch we’ve been insanely blessed during this session. The range of wisdom bestowed upon us from Howard Bilerman to Marshall Allen to Jam & Lewis and Dr. Susan Rogers, and the countless other hours spent kneeling, taking in the experiences of the giants whose shoulders we all are standing on. Who constantly remind us, why we should get up in the morning, and why creation matters.

And lastly, most important question: what was your favourite meal while you were here ?

Aren’t meals at least equally about the company than the actual place and whatever is set on your plate in front of you?

So despite the schedule being too busy to re-visit Chasse et Pêche, who’s to say that any of those evenings in the stretch between Joe Beef, Liverpool House, Le Vin Papillon or a night at Le Serpent would be more worth than a Punjabi basement or that sandwich spot at 7 in the morn?

Like any good meal, it’s all about the variety of flavours, and the right dosages and timings. But it all sure’s been tasty.

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