Among the countless tree-studded islands in the Georgia Straight is Gabriola Island, B.C., a 57.6-kilometre swath of green inhabited by roughly 5,000 people. Sleepy and unassuming as it may seem, though, the island’s becoming known as the place where Canada’s best bands go to record—and that’s largely thanks to the Noise Floor, a recording studio built by manager Terry Stewart and engineer Jordan Koop.
The two are mainstays in one of the strongest, evergreen music scenes in the country: Vancouver, B.C. The Noise Floor—which was formerly located in Ladysmith, B.C., on Vancouver Island—has helped countless bands document their rise: buzzworthy indie-pop act The Courtneys recorded there. So didWeed. Ditto for Victoria garage act Babysitter.
So, why move to Gabriola Island? “We realized that we could buy a home and build an attached studio space on Gabriola for less per month than what we were paying in rent [in Ladysmith],” says Koop. “So the opportunity to own some land and build a studio from the ground up was a big factor.”
And why have a remote recording studio in the first place? That, in part, comes thanks to Ladyhawk. Says Stewart, “I managed the Hive Creative Labs for 10 years, and in my last year there, I tagged along during the Ladyhawk Shots session. Those guys were having a bit of trouble settling into recording that album, their sophomore record, so after a few false starts at the Hive and in their jam space, they decided to get out of town and try recording the album in an abandoned house / art gallery up in Kelowna,”
“I really noticed how effective it was for the guys to get out of town where they could bond and focus on one task.”
Stewart and Koop, for their part, cultivate that reclusive atmosphere: They have a camp-themed bunk to house the bands to complete the deal. Along with Stewart’s experience at The Hive Creative Labs, Koop helped document the Emergency Room scene, a Vancouver punk movement that informs the city’s art scene to this day. “I don’t consider The Noise Floor to really have anything to do with the E.R., other than the fact that there are probably a few bands that know me from that time,” says Koop. “There are a few bands from that scene have gone on to do pretty well, like White Lung and Nu Sensae and I’m grateful that I had a chance to document those bands on some of their first recordings.”
The Noise Floor still strives to document B.C.’s—and, we believe, Canada’s—best. So, who has passed through their hallowed halls? Here are 12 acts who’ve worked with (or plan to work with) the Noise Floor.
Hush Pup play a hypnotic brand of dream pop that we like so much, we namedropped them on our list ofessential Canadian shoegaze bands. Darlene, their hypnotic three-song EP, was deliberately delicate—almost as if they constructed the songs from the wispiest materials they could find. That offering was recorded at Desert Fish studios in Toronto, and we expect their next release, which is slated to be recorded at the Noise Floor, to continue the pattern.
“We’ve never met them,” notes Stewart, “but their music is rad.” We agree.
Psychic Handshake is a wonderful imprint we should’ve included on our list of Canada’s best independent labels. Though the Guelph-Montreal imprint doesn’t overload us with releases, they pick their spots wisely. Take their dirtbag opus, Eye. All big brash hooks and garage-damaged biker rock, their LP was infectious (both in the literal and figurative sense).
While many of the Noise Floor’s earlier acts consisted of gritty, harder-hitting fare, Koop and Stewart aren’t afraid to tackle more diverse fare: They mixed and mastered Crystal Dorval’s White Poppy, an album loaded with shoegaze atmospherics, placid drones, and blissed-out psychedelia.
Vancouver-based War Baby, to us, are best-known as one of the country’s best post-grunge acts. Featuring Cobain-esque vocals and post-hardcore grooves—think the Jesus Lizard, or even post-NYHC acts like Orange 9mm and Handsome—their hard-hitting Jesus Horse LP was recorded and mixed at the Noise Floor. But the studio’s owners know the band for something other than their music.
“War Baby are always super fun and funny,” says Stewart. “Last time they were here they found my machete outside and proceeded to make a series of Instagram movies about [a character named] Machete Man. We had a brief power outage with them one night so Machete Man turned into a half-hour song around the wood stove.”
Dead Soft’s grungy take on pop could’ve landed on Mint Records circa 1995, and seems like the type of thing that’d best be experienced live. I don’t live in B.C., so this live set recorded at the Noise Floor will have to do. (Teen Fiction, the release pictured above, is also worth a spin.)
Needles // Pins
Adam Solomonian’s snotty project has gotten plenty of love from us—to date, this Vancouver-based act was listed among our favourite Canadian garage and punk bands. Their spattering of excellent 7-inches have been recorded at other studios, but the band’s real masterpiece—the 12:34 LP—was recorded at the Noise Floor.
With a release on Shake! Records—who we named one of our fave Canadian labels—Victoria punks Line Traps unveiled plenty of promise. They posted their demo tape on Soundcloud last week, and it’s a blast of raw, unhinged punk—an aesethetic we hope they can preserve when they record future material in Gabriola Island.
We’ve sang the praises of this elegant act before, and we’ll say it again: The World Is Too Much With Us was one of the better Canadian post-punk releases we’ve heard in a sec. It was recorded at—surprise—the Noise Floor, though the band recorded with Koop when the studio was located in Ladysmith, B.C. We’re hoping they make another visit to the studio soon.
Needs is a band that’s grown a lot on me. Their 2012 EP, The Accursed Share didn’t initially impress me much, but the band—especially perennially on-the-brink-of-sanity singer Sean Orr—have won me over with their noisy approach to post-hardcore; their Rare Earths 7-inch is a sonic step forward. They call Big Black and the Jesus Lizard sonic touchpoints, and if those noisy behemoths float your boat, there are few bands doing the style better.
According to Stewart, Noise Floor is doing several more mixes for Weed’s upcoming LP, slated to appear on Couple Skate Records. We can’t wait—their distorted take on riff-heavy slacker rock felt like Solids on Xanax. By our measure, that’s a good thing.
Ryder Havdale—better known for his work under the Mohawk Lodge moniker—is best known for his gritty, soulful take on barroom rock. He’ll be stopping into the Noise Floor soon for what’s being promised as an “electronic album.” We’re all ears.
The Courtneys first wowed us last spring, when Hockey Dad released their self-titled EP. Chock full of pop-culture references and with hooks borrowed from the Flying Nun playbook, the trio established themselves as one of the best indie pop acts in the country. The good news? The band’s already been working on new songs with (who else?) Jordan Koop. Check a new track, “Lost Boys,” below.