Ronny Ddrums, Drey Demo

#LECYPHER, the magic of hiphop

Every thursday, the Montreal hip-hop community gathers in a small bar in Montréal downtown for a vibrant night of hiphop. Around midnight, you can find a crowd of 50 fans lined-up outside hoping to get a spot inside. The best part? It's an open jam.

Feb. 15, 2016

#LECYPHER ingredients are simple. A guest DJ is on the vinyl turntables from 8PM. Album launches and guests kicks off the night. Then a local band named "Urban Science" starts the jam. And then, little by little, musicians and singers go on stage, under the spotlights and the photographer flashes. The approach is freestyle and remix -- vocalists can spontaneously create rhymes over new beats or use their pre-written verses, and instrumentalists can similarly create a loop inspired by the moment or play a classic beat as a starting point for the jam. During the night, there's also someone mixing the audio, since there's a constant influx of new musicians, new voices, and new music, all being produced in real-time.

The ingredients are strikingly simple, and on paper #LECYPHER could be mistaken for a low-key community hip-hop event.

Except it's been running every Thursday for the past year to packed crowds and line-ups out of the door

Novelty and social media brought the first participants. They tried, and soon became fans of #LECYPHER. A few made mistakes. Others had ovations from the crowd.

Repeat this every Thursday and you have young DJs, MCs, soul singers, beatboxers, b-girls and b-boys practicing, performing and getting better every week. And this is why #LECYPHER can be considered as an incubator of hiphop talent.

Vincent Stephen-Ong shows the sign-up chart

Vincent Stephen-Ong shows the sign-up chart By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

Vincent Stephen-Ong is a saxophonist, keyboard player and also instigator of #LECYPHER. Member of the popular Nomadic Massive band, Vincent has a talent to inspire the audience, from little hand cues to delicious food and good programming.

Here more than 40 musicians, ranging from guitarists, trumpetists, drummers, violinists have signed up eagerly to participate in the night's line-up.

Danny McKinnon & Caulder Nash

Danny McKinnon & Caulder Nash By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

#LECYPHER has a house band called Urban Science. Every Thursday, they are the first to start playing and set the rhythm. One by one, new and advanced musicians will come on stage too.

Emile Farley, bassist

Emile Farley, bassist By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

Members of Urban Science are professional (and amazing) musicians, with often years of experience on their belt. There is a drummer, a bass, a guitarist, a keyboard with Vincent Stephen-Ong as saxophonist and band leader.

Mark the Magnanimous

Mark the Magnanimous By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

As a hip-hop event, the event also features a DJ every night. The DJ plays before the house band and also between sets. DJ Mark Magnanimous is a regular DJ, as well as Dr Mad, DJ Killa Jewel or DJ ASMA.

They all do an excellent job during #LECYPHER and will stay in until late in the evening.

Jean Baptiste Beltra (France) sitting in the keys

Jean Baptiste Beltra (France) sitting in the keys By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

You can find students, visitors, as well as veterans who are excited to play and jam during the events.

Most are from the hip-hop community, but there are also musicians with rock background, classical, jazz, soul and electronic influences.

Left to right: John Yates, Paul Cargnello

Left to right: John Yates, Paul Cargnello By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

#LECYPHER also gathers musicians who are happy to join in for a few minutes... regardless of the country (USA in this case) or the age.

Far-right StarFroot (Sage Stewart) and Mags aka PassionFroot with fans Leila and Sylvia Stewart

Far-right StarFroot (Sage Stewart) and Mags aka PassionFroot with fans Leila and Sylvia Stewart By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

#LECYPHER also features young and upcoming bands to showcase their new tracks or album launches.

This young band "Strange Froots" started in Cote-des-Neiges and was featured at #LECYPHER early on. And they were popular!

Manikmati - photographer and MC

Manikmati - photographer and MC By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

There's a screening process when new MCs sign up, and they are invited to perform on a track. If they have the skills to wow the crowd, they're invited back.

There are sometimes uninspired acts, or simply bad. Many however come back every Thursday and there is progress. Is this because of peer pressure? Knowing that you'll be judged on stage by others? Hard to know, but I like to see the weekly progress.

Milla Thyme, Butta Beats

Milla Thyme, Butta Beats By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

It's not easy to get a diverse audience pumped up. In addition to the house band, #LECYPHER has two MCs every thursday who will host the first four tracks. Milla Thyme and Butta Beats are shown here, and they're good!

Later, they will sign up the MCs and the vocalists and do the best to keep the energy high.

Milla Thyme (right) with Theo Abellard (left) and Meschach Mansevani

Milla Thyme (right) with Theo Abellard (left) and Meschach Mansevani By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

There is a line-up for MCs and vocalists. They are asked if they have any experience and are lined up in a sheet. It might be hours before they get their turn.

However there is improvised performance like this where the audience just grabs the mic for a couple of verses.

#LECYPHER might be one of the rare events where the talent of the audience is equal to the talent on stage!

 M Squared

M Squared By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

LECYPHER also features b-girls and b-boys from Montréal's vibrant hip-hop dance community. From 8PM until late in the night, they will dance, mixing styles and rhytms.

Here the crowd opens up and it's time for a one-on-one battle!

Young, b-boy dancer, hip-hop MC.

Young, b-boy dancer, hip-hop MC. By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

This Montréaler is a b-boy and also an inspired MC. It's not rare to see participants having multiple talents. Milla Thyme, MC host, also plays bass. Others play several instruments such as drums and bass.

Audience? Singer?

Audience? Singer? By HERI RAKOTOMALALA on Mar. 8, 2016

Sometimes it's not clear who is the audience or who is the singer. Here, an excited soul and gospel group were ecstatic and were invited by Butta Beats to get on stage.

There's so much happinness on the faces. And for me this is what LECYPHER is about. Happiness. Creativity. Remixing.

I consider Urban Science to be one of Montréal's best-kept secrets. It's amazing to see musicians from diverse backgrounds jam and come up with new rhythms and beats. And I know many of its regulars will later become popular names, individually or in bands.

If you are in Montréal on Thursdays, make sure to drop by Le Bar Bleury A Vynil or follow the Urban Science facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/UrbSci/ ) to see upcoming events.

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Story by
Heri Rakotomalala

Originally from Madagascar, and having gone through East Africa, France, Heri Rakotomalala is now based in Montréal, Canada. With his pen and his camera, he hopes to put forward inspiring stories, urban heroes, from grassroots activism to uncovered stories by the media

Read more by Heri Rakotomalala