Canada has produced a lot of international recording artists. Singers, songwriters, pop stars and bands that have drawn the spotlight north with the richness and diversity of the Canadian music landscape. Young, Cohen, Mitchell. Legends.
Not since Rush or The Guess Who, though, has a band’s popularity spread globally like it did in 2004 following the release of Funeral, the debut album from Montreal-based indie rockers Arcade Fire. It marked the beginning of an era that inspired the sound and style of bands all over North America and beyond.
In The Reflektor Tapes, Director Kahlil Joseph collaborates with the band in his feature debut, allowing us a rare glimpse into the creative process of Arcade Fire during the recording of Reflektor, the band’s fourth studio album, and the North American leg of their 2014 world tour.
At the start of the film, frontman Win Butler describes a dream he’s had where Elvis comes to him and tells him, if they’re going to make it as a band, they’ll need to practice 37 hours a week. He also describes how they came together as a band much more between the recording of The Suburbs to the development and recording ofReflektor. Elvis’ advice seems to have paid off, as the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, selling over 140,000 copies in its first week.
Reflektor was recorded in Jamaica, where the band was able to shut out the world and focus on playing, collaborating and experimenting with new sounds, rhythms and techniques. Much of what influenced this album was inspired by Régine Chassagne’s Haitian heritage, particularly the percussion.
The film also explores the relationship between Butler and Chassagne, who have been together since they were 19 years old. Their passion for creating combined with their personal dynamic can be heard at the root of what makes Arcade Fire’s sound so original and multi-dimensional.
Joseph manages to uncover some of the thought process and inspiration behind the most iconic elements of the Reflektor tour. The massive bobble-head masks the band wears, as Butler explained, was a way of poking fun at themselves and mingling among the crowds of fans without turning everything into a photo op. They seem much more interested in creating a sense or community and a creative relationship with their audience rather than behaving like entitled rock stars.
I saw the tour last year and remember the band requesting that fans show up in suits and top hats and sequins and any kind of outlandish, formal attire. It was an outdoor festival and the temperature was sweltering, so regretfully, I didn’t oblige. I do, however, recall dancing around uncontrollably in a big grassy field, which after seeingThe Reflektor Tapes, I’m confident was exactly what they hoped to achieve.
The film cuts in and out of trippy color treatments with clips of isolated vocals and intimate recording sessions throughout. It’s clear the band’s objective is to connect with people and make soul-driven music without being influenced by what’s popular or current. Whether you’re an Arcade Fire fan or simply love a good rock doc, The Reflektor Tapes taps into the methods, inspiration and mystery behind a band that has become Canadian rock royalty, although they would despise being described that way.
The Reflektor Tapes screens again on Friday, September 18th as part of the TIFF Docs Programme. Tickets are still available at tiff.net.
Originally published in The Province.