As part of our efforts to connect graduate students outside of the classroom/department, we’re interviewing our fellow grad students about what they do when they’re not reading, writing, or researching.
This week we interview Mathieu Brûlé, a PhD history candidate in Canadian labour & sexuality.
1. What do you do when you’re not a grad student? Describe your hobby/job/talent keeping in mind that others may know little or nothing about it.
This question raises a lot of questions about identity. Does one ever cease to be a grad student?
When I’m not hitting the books, arguing with people on the internet, or playing video games, I can usually be found with my headphones on in the studios of York’s campus/community radio station (CHRY 105.5 FM) putting together the weekly french-language punk, ska and hardcore show that I host. The show is called sous pression!, airs on Monday afternoons from 3 to 4pm, and is the undisputed champion of French-language punk radio shows in southern Ontario. It also airs on Thursday nights in Yellowknife on CIVR 103.5FM.
2. How long have you been doing this, and how did you get involved?
I’ve been hosting this show for about three and a half years, but I’ve been involved in community radio for almost ten. How I got involved in community radio is a long story, but here it goes.
Picture this! Aylmer, Québec. 1996. A young fifteen year-old punk, sporting a mohawk haircut, combat boots and a chain around his neck is sitting in his parent’s basement at 1am on a school night. While everybody sleeps, he listens to CHUO 89.1 FM, the University of Ottawa’s campus/community radio station. On the air is a punk show called Léonard et le Renard. Blasting out of the speakers at a reasonable volume (don’t want to wake the parents) is a song by Montréal’s Banlieue Rouge. The young punk is trying to discover new bands through the show and record them onto a tape so that he can listen to them later on in his walkman. That young boy, believe it or not, is me.
Back then, commercial radio and Much Music (or Musique Plus) might have played bands like Green Day, The Offspring and, if I was lucky, Rancid, but there is so much more to punk than what is on mainstream radio or Much Music. Community radio allowed me to discover bands that I never, ever would have discovered otherwise. Before I had access to the internet, it was one of the best ways to find out about new bands, concerts, and the politics of the punk scene. Music played an important role in shaping my teenage years and community radio was where I got most of my music.
Fast forward eight years. I’m sitting at Barrymore’s, a music club in Ottawa, watching a friend’s band play. By then I got to know the guys who hosted the radio show I listened to in my parent’s basement. We have mutual friends and one of them is in the band playing. One of the hosts of the radio show, which was still going at that point, tapped me on the shoulder and told me that his co-host was leaving and that he was looking for someone to take his place. You can see where this is going, right? He knew that I listened to the show and he knew that I was into punk, so he asked me if I wanted to join. It was 2004 and I was in a weird place musically. By then I was mostly listening to stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel and Wilco. I needed less whining and more screaming in my life, so I agreed to join him.
After a few months of co-hosting Léonard et le Renard, my co-host, whose name was also Mathieu, decided to leave the show and leave it all to me. But it was the end of an era, so the show had to have a new name. I decided to name it Sous les pavés, inspired by a May ’68 slogan. This was March 2005. In the fall of 2006, I was joined by a co-host and we continued to host the show until I moved to Toronto in August 2009.
I knew that I wanted to continue doing radio in Toronto. At first, I had thought of putting together a ska and reggae show, which is something I did on occasion when I filled-in for other shows on CHUO. The first thing I noticed when I checked out CHRY was that it already had more than its fair share of reggae shows, which means that anything that I could offer was already being offered by somebody else. CHRY prides itself on representing diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic communities, so I put together a proposal for a french-language punk show and it was accepted. Sous pression! officially went on the air on June 7th 2010 and it’s been going strong ever since.
3. What’s your favourite aspect of this activity?
At the risk of sounding really, really cheesy, my favourite part of doing this show is hearing back from people who listen. I remember the first time I got an email from a listener. He was in France and had come across my show’s website, souspression.wordpress.com, and listened to the show through the podcasts that I put up every week. He wrote to let me know that he listens and that he enjoys the show. I was blown away! Here I was thinking that I was talking to myself on the radio every week when all of a sudden a guy from France writes to me to tell me that he likes my show! He likes me! He really likes me! It was a real Sally Field moment. Since then, I’ve gotten emails from more people, many of which I write to regularly and we share info about concerts, bands, and even music so that I can play on the air.
I’d have to say that my second favourite part is doing interviews. I don’t do them as often as I’d like, but it’s always fun to be able to talk to bands that I listen to and ask them about their motivations, the ideas behind their lyrics, the politics of their respective scenes, etc. Interviewing bands can also lead to some pretty interesting moments. I was visiting Paris before I moved to Toronto and interviewed a band. We were sitting on a terrace outside of a concert hall where the band had just played. It was the night that France eliminated Brazil in the World Cup and people were out celebrating. We were in the middle of the interview when all of a sudden someone pops out of nowhere shouting “We eliminated Brazil! We eliminated Brazil!” The next thing I know, he’s kissing all of us. So if you asked me if being on the radio can help you get some action, I would point to this story as proof that it does.
There was also this other time when the singer from a band I interviewed declared war on Québec during our interview. The war was meant to finally determine who had the better accent: French-Canadians or people from France. This was the day before a man opened fire on a Parti Québécois rally. The next day, the band wrote on their facebook page that the shooting was their opening shot in the war between Québec and France. The band broke up shortly after that, so I think it’s pretty clear who won that war.
4. How do you manage the balance between your graduate career and your activity?
I’m on the air one hour a week, so balancing between my research and the radio isn’t usually tough. There is prep time involved before and after the show (choosing what to play every week, arranging interviews, formatting the recording, putting it online, finding new music, etc.), but it usually doesn’t interfere with my work too much. I try to treat my research like a 9 to 5 job, which gives me time to work on my show in the mornings and evenings. I’m on the air on Monday afternoons, so that does interfere a bit with the whole 9 to 5 schedule, but it’s late enough in the afternoon that I can usually fit in a good amount of work beforehand. I also set Monday nights aside to update the show’s website and put the show online as a podcast. That doesn’t usually take too much time though. Looking for new music and contacting bands is something that is usually easy to integrate into my daily routine. I usually get up an hour or two before I have to leave in the morning, so I use this time to look up new bands, buy new records, send emails, and anything else that helps with the show. This way, I have the rest of the day to focus on my research.
I’m usually busiest during the station’s fundraising drive, which happens every October. This year’s fundraising drive is from October 16th to the 26th. CHRY’s main sources of income are a student levy that every York student pays (even grad students) and the fundraising drive. Running a radio station 24/7 requires some serious cash, so once a year we ask listeners and community members to make a donation to help keep the station alive. Donations go towards helping replace old equipment and improving broadcast quality. Every programmer is a volunteer, so donations aren’t used to line anyone’s pockets. They help the station survive.
Being a French-language show in an Anglophone market makes fundraising for my show a bit of a challenge, which is why I always try to offer incentives and gifts to thank people who donate for helping out. This year, I’ve put together a compilation of francophone punk bands from Canada and France. People who donate at least $20 will get a copy as a token of my appreciation. It’s the third compilation that I put together (with the permission of all of the bands), and I honestly think it’s the best one yet, so I’m pretty proud of it.
If you’re interested in helping support independent, volunteer-driven, community based radio, or you just want to help a fellow grad student out, check out my show’s donation page.
If you’re interested in giving, but aren’t into the whole online thing, you can also come talk to me or send me an email and we can work something out.
I know money doesn’t grow on trees, but every dollar goes a long way and will put you in my good books for life. Plus, if you throw $20 to the show, I’ll hand deliver a copy of the compilation CD to you or your mail box in the department!
Thank you, Mathieu, for finding the time to answer our questions! If you or someone you know would be interested in being interviewed for this series, please contact us!