By Jen Zoratti
Big things are happening for Les Jupes.
Since the January release of its triumph of a debut album Modern Myths, the indie rock outﬁt has been on a roll, playing wellreceived sets and showcases at Canadian Music Week, South by Southwest, North by Northeast, the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival and more. The album has received glowing reviews from music scribes across the country, and the buzz is steadily building about one of the city’s best new bands.
Need more proof things are ramping up for Les Jupes? Founder and frontman Michael Petkau Falk is leaving his day job as the artistic director of the West End Cultural Centre to focus on the band.
“When you’re gone for two weeks at a time four times a year, plus weekend showcases and festivals, it adds up,” he says. “We tend to tour when things slow down for the West End, but I didn’t want my job to suffer or the organization to suffer. They need an artistic director whose No. 1 priority is the West End. If I didn’t also want to be a musician, then of course I’d still be there. But we’re in a position now where we need to be able to pick up and go.”
In September, Petkau Falk, 32, along with bandmates David Schellenberg, Kelly Beaton, and Adam Klassen headed overseas to tour Germany, where Les Jupes has signed a deal with Munich-based label The Instrument Village. The band has also forged relationships with Target Concerts, One Louder PR, and K-U-M publishing — the result of some fruitful networking Petkau Falk did while attending MIDEM, the world’s biggest music business conference, in Cannes, France earlier this year.
“I developed a relationship with Shain Shapiro of CIMA (Canadian Independent Music Association),” Petkau Falk says. “He and I took a shining to each other, so he started working with us to connect some dots in Europe. Everything that’s happened is because of him.”
While Petkau Falk and the rest of Les Jupes are excited about the opportunities that exist abroad, they’re also being cautious.
“Everything is still at the beginning stages — we’re about to play our ﬁrst tour there — so how it’ll all turn out is still a mystery,” Petkau Falk says. “But the ﬁrst reviews have been great. We have a more complete team there than anywhere else in the world. To be a band that’s very new and to be able to lock things in place, I feel very lucky. I feel like I’m starting to feel comfortable with navigating the industry and make worthwhile connections. I didn’t feel that way when I was 23 or 24.”
Petkau Falk is also feeling more conﬁ dent about Les Jupes — a project that took a while to get off the ground. When the band formed back in 2007, it had a bit of a revolving door when it came to members. There were other bumps on the road; Petkau Falk began recording what would be Modern Myths in February 2009, only to lose his producer, Montreal’s Marcus Paquin, to Arcade Fire’s Grammy-winning album The Suburbs.
Still, with patience and faith, things eventually came together: Petkau Falk found a committed permanent lineup, Paquin made time for Les Jupes, and Modern Myths came to fruition. And Petkau Falk couldn’t be happier with the direction the band is headed in.
“It feels awesome,” he says with a laugh. “I feel like I wasn’t crazy after all. I felt like no one got what we were doing — even band members weren’t seeing the big picture. Now everyone’s on the same page. We’re starting to work on new material and everyone has a stake in it. It took a while to ﬁ nd the right group of musicians — and the right group of friends. I’m having more fun playing music with people than I ever have before. It made those years of ‘what the fuck?’ feel worth it.”
Indeed, the Les Jupes sound isn’t an easy one to peg — or to market, especially in this era of glockenspiel-wielding orchestral pop acts. Built on Petkau Falk’s weighty baritone (think Joy Division’s Ian Curtis or The National’s Matt Berninger), Les Jupes’ soundscapes are dense, vast and challenging; Modern Myths is a mountain of an album.
“We don’t play normal Canadian indie pop and we don’t play Winnipeg style roots-inﬂuenced stuff — that’s not the kind of music I want to write,” Petkau Falk says. “For a long time, I felt like my stuff didn’t always have a home here.”
So he made his own. Once described “the patron saint of the Winnipeg music scene” by Jaxon Haldane, Petkau Falk is the founder/operator of Head In The Sand Records — the indie label home to such local luminaries as Royal Canoe, Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers, and The Liptonians — as well as a respected engineer and producer. He was also the brains behind 2009’s groundbreaking Record of the Week Club. Whatever project Petkau Falk puts his name on, whether it’s coming up with programming for the West End’s stage or making a Les Jupes album, his m.o. is the same: do something new, different, and exciting.
“I want to try to make music that hasn’t been made before, music that isn’t already in the world,” he says. “It takes a long time to ﬁnd your ability to do that and to do it well, but I feel like we’re starting to ﬁnd our legs. I’m really proud of the record we made and I’m glad it’s caught on the way it has.”
Market Development Key to Success
For bands to build sustainable careers, we haveto ﬁnd markets we’ll be successful in — and for a bluegrass or punk band, that market will be different than us,” Les Jupes’ Mike Petkau Falk says. “But Manitoba Music helps all those bands — regardless of what kind of music they play — connect the dots within the world they live.”
In 2011, Les Jupes attended and showcased at several major conferences, including Canadian Music Week, South by Southwest, North by Northeast, and the recent Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, Germany, with funding and support from Manitoba Music.
“Given our status as a new band and our distance from the markets we’re going to ﬁ nd success in, “says Petkau Falk, “the Market Access program is really valuable for us.” Manitoba Music’s Market Access Program supports Manitoba artists and companies to develop business in key music markets.
But the support doesn’t end at Market Access. Manitoba Music’s Market Development Program helps put the right people in the room to hear the Manitoba showcasing artists, and connects Manitoba companies to the larger music industry. “Manitoba Music has invested in us — but not just ﬁ nancially, which is important, but they also help publicize our appearances at these showcases,” Petkau Falk says. “They do a lot to help us connect the dots.”
It was funding from Manitoba Music that helped send Petkau Falk to MIDEM, the world’s biggest music business conference, in Cannes, France, and the organization supports his company’s work with Shain Shapiro of CIMA (Canadian Independent Music Association). These activities led to label representation on Munich-based imprint The Instrument Village as well as publicity and publishing opportunities overseas. Petkau Falk had the opportunity to deepen some of those business relationships in September through a Manitoba Music-supported trade mission to Germany, which put him on stage and in networking events in Berlin and Hamburg.
Here at home, Petkau Falk’s label, Head In The Sand Records, is participating in Manitoba Music’s Internship Program, which provides Petkau Falk with the administrative support needed to capitalize on the new emerging opportunities at home and abroad. In addition to Les Jupes, Head In The Sand’s current roster also includes the likes of The Liptonians, Royal Canoe, and Demetra. Petkau Falk is quick to credit Manitoba Music with helping put Les Jupes on the path toward a sustainable career in the music industry by giving them the means and opportunities to connect with key industry players: “If it was not for Manitoba Music, we’d be half-way as far as where we are.”
Originally published in Manitoba Music’s newsletter vol. 20.3