When people hear the name ‘HUGTAPES: Halifax Underground,’ the platform curator/organizer Christoper Toulany wants the words ‘uplifting, diverse, and honest’ to come to mind.
Toulany said as much as he likes the uplifting vibes, he wants to give Halifax artists, who may have gone through hard experiences in life, a platform to express themselves honestly and intimately.
He created HUGTAPES, with the help of musician Francis Desaux a.k.a Frantik, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic with the aim of creating a means for marginalized and disenfranchised artists to create and promote their work.
Toulany, who goes by the stage name Paollo 13, has been an artist and promoter in the local music scene for about 15 years, and he noticed while making music that there was something lacking.
“There wasn’t really a place for emerging artists to network and to be seen, whether it was like digitally or at shows, which is really what started this,” he said.
“I realized that artists that were at the same level as myself were being overlooked, that there wasn’t anything for us. And I wanted to fill that void … there are so many amazing talents in this city … and I want to be that person to curate what I felt was the vibe of our city,” he added.
Iin mid-September, the platform released its first track ‘Chips’ featuring MAJE, KXNG WOOZ, LXVNDR, Megz, Frantik and Paollo 13, produced by Dennis Lim-Sersan and recorded by Bucky Blanks.
In the first week, the single got more than 5,000 streams on Spotify, and the platform is working on releasing more.
According to Toulany, HUGTAPES will be dropping “mixtapes” that feature a diverse array of local emerging artists on a quarterly basis, including Halifax’s Savage Tha God who has been working with Toulany to produce some of his music.
He said it’s been a very exciting time for emerging artists where the Halifax music scene is being “resurrected,” and that he wants to play a role in that, despite the challenges that COVID-19 has brought.
“About three or five years ago … it was almost like dark ages of Halifax music where, again, you’d have the same established people … and there was really no true, like young talent coming up,” Toulany said.
He said artists did not have the resources or the know-how to create in a way that was visible.
“People started saying that nobody was going to save us but ourselves,” said Toulany.
So now people are seeing brands pop up like ‘Pineapple Express Media,’ which is a media enterprise that was founded in 2019 to support underground artists through multimedia, digital media and print media, and of course- there’s HUGTAPES.
Toulany said COVID-19 was a “period of forced reflection” that contributed to the growth of the local music scene.
“It united us. We realized that no matter what genre or style of music you like to create, that really we are all in this together and that this music scene only works if we support each other and rely on each other. And I think it’s gotten us also excited to get out again.”
He said artists had very little choice but to sit back and reflect on themselves.
“I felt it was a good thing for me to get away from kind of the business of the music scene and the fear of missing out … it forced me to sit back and think of what I need to establish,” said Toulany.
The executive director of Music Nova Scotia, Allegra Swanson, said there has been a ton of growth in the industry.
“I think that we’re at a really exciting time right now when it comes to emerging talent,” said Swanson.
“There’s a lot of emerging talent that, despite the pandemic, has been working incredibly hard and doing a lot of digital content creation to ensure that their music is still reaching audiences not only within the province but across the country and internationally,” she added.
As a non-profit organization that focuses on developing and promoting Nova Scotia’s music industry, it has started a series of concerts featuring upcoming talents, as well as an artist-in-residence program.
The Artist in Residence Program will provide a local emerging musician or group with financial and professional support as well as performance opportunities to help develop their career. This year, the selected performance act will be awarded $20,000 in cash and prizes.
“We have five acts that are vying for the spot, and so the talent is really incredible here. And that’s something that hasn’t been stopped by the pandemic,” said Swanson in an interview on Thursday.
The Bombadils, Kids Losing Sleep, KXNG WOOZ, LXVNDR and Pillow Fite performed for the grand prize at the Grand Oasis Stage in Halifax, Sept. 17, with KXNG WOOZ coming out as the winner.
Swanson said now the organization is focusing on the recovery process, especially through grants, which have been made easier for artists to apply for.
She said a $3,000 grant can make a big difference in an artist’s career.
“While I’ve been in the position for a year, obviously it’s been a very different kind of year than normal. I would have gone to see a lot more shows should it have been possible,” she said. “But what I’ve been seeing is that I think there’s a lot of misinformation or misconceptions about what we can offer and how we can help artists.”
She said applying for a grant is for everybody even if an artist is not a member, and that the organization is there to help artists navigate that process.
The money from the grant can be used for marketing, recording or video creation.
“The most success that we see from emerging talent tend to be people who use their community and try and support others and ask questions and reach out, because oftentimes it can be a lonely place when you’re by yourself.”
From applying for grants to entering contests to just reaching out to other artists, Toulany wants local musicians to know there are supports available to them.
Toulany said he feels very blessed that he’s been able to surround himself with people that are driven and supportive of the platform.
“I’ve developed these relationships with people based on being trustworthy and reliable, and people know that. They can count on me to represent their voice in a way that is beneficial for them, that they’ll be heard and that I won’t alter anything or I would never try and put anybody down.”