The setup is simple: heavy blue blankets on scaffolding square off a makeshift sound studio in aging house on North Park Road.
Over the past year, when the mood strikes, Sandy Groulx, a.k.a. SandyG, has stepped into the fortress of blankets and belted out his hip-hop rhymes. Outside the bedroom turned music studio, Philip Turcotte mans the recording gear – which these days amounts to a few flatscreens and a PC computer.
The age of professional recording studios armed with banks of soundboards certainly isn’t dead, but technology has collapsed music engineering to within reach of most emerging artists.
Turcotte’s Bunker Productions and Groulx’s first album Low Key are a product of a microphone, a computer, a few sound-dampening blankets – and tolerant neighbours.
“Recording has transformed dramatically in the last 10 years,” Turcotte says. “The technology is accessible and allows us to create quality sound.”
“Neither the producer or artist are paid. It’s all volunteer,” Groulx says with a laugh. “It’s amazing we can do this so cheap. We were probably under the $1,000 mark.”
Friends from Keating elementary through to Stelly’s secondary out on the Saanich Peninsula, Turcotte and Groulx, both 26, grew up influenced by the rap and hip hop music that filtered into mainstream culture. In Grade 10 they started rapping and producing music in a basement room they called the “bunker,” as it blocked cellphone signals.
“As a teen I fell in love with (hip hop),” Groulx says, citing influences such as Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. “We started trying to freestyle but never took it seriously, but never stopped either. Now we’re putting time and effort into it.”
“We recorded stuff back then. Nothing of high quality and using other people’s beats,” Turcotte says. “Now it’s reached a point where we are treating it like a second job, and not as a hobby.”
Turcotte admits that after completing a university degree in sociology, his academic field held little interest for him. He’s learned the tricks of sound engineering since recording with Groulx back in high school, but learning sound recording software such as Reaper and FL Studio has been a constant source of distraction for the past few years.
“I realized I had a degree from university in a field I didn’t want to work in,” he says. “The only thing I was passionate about is working in the music industry. In hindsight I would have gone into music out of high school.”
Groulx says he usually wanders into nearby forests or parks to compose lyrics, a creative process that’s slow but effective. His rhythms are based on personal stories of growing up in the region, not glamourized hip-hop culture .
“A lot is personal stuff … family, friends and personal strife. Ups and downs in life is where it’s coming from,” Groulx says. “The music is a product of your environment. Guys in the Bronx will rap about the way they grew up. We grew up here. We’re not talking about guns and gangsters.”
Breaking into the music business isn’t easy, but the duo is launching the independent label and its first production, Low Key, online on Feb. 28. Most of the marketing will be online through hip-hop blogs and connecting with college radio stations, the lifeblood of any small independent label.
“Hip hop doesn’t really get on mainstream radio programming ever,” Turcotte says. “College radio stations are invaluable.”
Check out bunkerproductions.ca for more information.