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The Luyas

Red, yellow, pink, black with a hint of blue. Red, yellow, pink. Black
with a hint of blue. It was a dress, slightly shimmery. The girl
wearing it talked to me about a magic guitar.

Montreal, October 2008. The POP Montréal festival throughout the city
and its venues. Every night packed with concerts, drinking, and
running from venue to venue, city map in hand. On the marquee tonight:
The Persuasions, a mythical American acapella group from the 60s. The
Ukrainian Federation packed, Richie du Fire losing control in the
middle of the crowd, the group who got off the stage and passed around
the mics, low rhythmic voices and high melodic voices, the concert
which finished with an amazing song by one of the organisers of the
festival. One of the most amazing concerts of our lives and the
apotheosis of POP Montreal that year.

But. Victor had insisted that we not miss the concert at 11:30 at Casa
Del Popolo. It was the Luyas, his favourite new band, a band buzzed
about by most of the people I met. Casa was only a few blocks away,
but it was already too late. From the middle of the crowd, Victor
signalled ‘It’s Jessie!’. The girl had a red, yellow, and pink dress
on. And she talked to me about a magic guitar. And she talked

Reykjavik, November 2008. Jessie had told me she’d be in town for the
Airwaves festival. Not with the Luyas, but with Miracle Fortress, her
buddy Graham’s band. I found myself in Iceland on the trail of a
docu-fiction project, Sun (Set & Rise) which, bit by bit, was breaking
us down with each subsequent day. We spent a lot of our time drinking,
catching shows, drinking even more, making the most of our nights to
forget the drudgery of our days. At a Yelle concert on our last night,
during a stage diving session, in a room packed with young Icelanders
shouting the lyrics at the top of their voices, a surreal moment: I
broke my back, lost all my stuff, thanks to Jessie, who crushed me
into the ground before disappearing into the cold without even singing
me a single note.

Perpignan, August 2009. The magic guitar Jessie had talked about was
in fact the work of Yuri Landmann, guitar-maker extraordinaire, the
only person that my friend Gaspar and I had decided to invite to Pedro Soler’s festival Guitares au Palais. Through his instruments, we’d encountered the Malian Sidi Touré, the Dutch group The Moi Non Plus, who are the force behind Subbacultcha in Amsterdam, the vagabond Noel Akchoté, who improvises with astonishing ease. And Jessie Stein, who – discreetly this time – brought the sensation of a faraway night through her accent and her soft voice. I only saw her briefly; my head, too, was somewhere far away.

Montreal, October 2009. It had been one year since I’d discovered the
Luyas and Jessie Stein. One year of replaying the melodies in my head,
dreaming about this girl and her distinctive voice. One night, as we
biked together, I told her, “Every time I hear you sing I get the
impression that I am across the ocean, even if I am close to you.” It
is this sense of nostalgia for an unknown country evoked through her
music which makes me crazy for her.

POP Montreal invited me to organise another screening, but this year I
was also invited to film a series of selected local acts for Arte Live Web. This series was to include the Luyas, of course, whom I had long wanted to film. We had hoped that I would be able to join them in the previous winter’s snow, but fall proved to be more welcoming.

The Luyas is Jessie, Stefan (the percussionist/drummer from Bell Orchestre), Pietro (formerly of Arcade Fire, as well as Bell Orchestre
and Torngat), and Mathieu, the group’s newest member. Jessie proposed that we film on the sidewalks of the Jacques-Cartier bridge and on the island in the middle of the St. Lawrence. Crossing Montreal by bike felt easy, light and airy. I had thought that Jessie would be more stressed for this little film, considering how many times it had been delayed, but to the contrary she brought a constant humour and a capacity for off-the-cuff improvisation. A joy to follow from in front of and behind a camera.

Film to meet, record to remember. That afternoon remains the
apotheosis of numerous voyages, the perpetual quest for sound, of many
different experiences. To see these images again brings back an entire
week of musical encounters, like the confluence of emotions in a
single final explosion.

The last song of this film, shot in and around a playground, is
probably the sequence which most represents these final months of my
travels – entirely improvised, from the beginning to the end, a moment
of pure musical magic the likes of which I had never filmed before.
And the last phrase, hilarious and which will stick with me for a
while: “It looks like dirt, but it’s death.”

New York, February 2010. The night deepens, Jessie has had too much to
drink and she talks nonstop. Under the table, she takes my hand and I
remember when I fell in love with a girl who talked about a magic
guitar, who played music while looking straight into your eyes, and
who sang like a child far across the sea. Sometimes simple encounters
change lives.

Translated by Tara Dominguez