Crack Cloud’s mixed-media perspective on harm reduction creates musical catharsis for listeners

Jan 27, 2023

Blending an alchemy of music, storytelling, and deep honesty, Crack Cloud is a Canadian mixed media project established in 2016. Modeled powerfully around a philosophy of harm reduction, the group is a rehabilitative outlet for a revolving Canadian cast of ~20 multi-disciplinary media and musical artists. At its core, Crack Cloud represents a recovery program and survival mechanism for its members, and a means of processing their lived experiences so that they can enable listeners to navigate similar issues.

A promotional still from the Tough Baby album.

Throughout 2021, funding from Amplify BC’s Career Development program provided an opportunity for listeners to dig deeper into this process through the creation of Tough Baby, Crack Cloud’s second full-length album. Like its predecessor, the album’s individual tracks are sometimes spare, sometimes jarring, and always cathartic. Each track was developed with an attention to both its message, and the ongoing plan for each track to be subsequently adapted into a future online music video. The opportunities for flexibility and creativity that Amplify BC’s support provided enabled Crack Cloud to develop this album and its related video content in keeping with original plans, despite the logistical challenges posed for music production projects owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group on a recent promotional tour.

As Zach Choy, one of Crack Cloud’s co-founders and artistic leaders, explains, The production process for Crack Cloud is traditionally non-linear: the visuals and the studio engineering tend to bleed into each other. We were able to utilize Amplify BC’s Career Development funding during the creation of this album to work with local artists and musicians on the recording side, as well as produce a visual narrative to accompany the tracks. This was all done in compliance with COVID-related restrictions that enabled us to work in a way that was unconventional, but ultimately successful.”

Over the past six years, Crack Cloud has produced fourteen music videos and two studio albums. In 2021, Crack Cloud was awarded the High Fidelity Prism Prize for consistent creative innovation in the Canadian media industry. As an honoree, Crack Cloud received specific accolades for “using video art to represent its work in a consistently creative and innovative way.” The group’s thoughtful approach to incorporating video and other mixed media into its output has resulted in other unique career highlights: among them, being recently tapped by Julian Casablancas (of The Strokes) to provide some of the licensed music for the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise.

Functioning as a seven-piece band at any one time, Crack Cloud crafts incisive songs centered on addiction, trauma, and recovery. Their music dispels stigma, and invites personal reflection from listeners. Within the group itself, these themes are similarly personal: most of Crack Cloud’s members represent recovering addicts, as well as those who work with mental health patients and people living with addiction. As an ensemble, Crack Cloud’s output is as much an outlet for its members as its audiences. Audiences respond viscerally to Crack Cloud’s powerfully-disarming honesty: one listener recently wrote in to convey their deep appreciation for the “…so much fucking power, love, and care this band has – you can hear their magnitude!”

Early Crack Cloud promotional art.

“Our work all comes from a place of equal parts determination and growth. The content from day one has been integral to the narrative and vision of Crack Cloud as an evolving artistic concept,” continues Zach. “We embrace the diverse application of our art and how it can be applied in many different cultural arenas, from this to this.”

Described by some listeners as presenting with a “modern-day Clash vibe”, and proudly drawing post-punk and art rock influence from sources like Gang of Four, The Talking Heads, and Malcom X, Crack Cloud’s work examines the cultural and social overlaps between media and modern identity. For a group like Crack Cloud, where personal experiences inform each project, the bigger concept of artistic inspiration can often be a complicated idea to consider.

What forces spark Crack Cloud’s creative processes and planning? And – why?

Zach offers, “In general, our work is informed and inspired by our own lived experiences. What could be simpler? On a more fundamental level, we also consider ourselves an homage to the Canadian non-profit organization ‘Concerned Children’s Advertisers’ – whose programming deeply affected us in our youth, and inspire how we approach media and storytelling today.”

A still from a recent Crack Cloud video project.

When asked to consider what advice might be most helpful to others considering a funding proposal to Creative BC, Zach considers, and offers, “Have intention. These application questions are designed to engage the artist in reflection and a discourse with themselves. Art can originate from a place that is purely intuitive and reactive, but it can also flourish with a thoughtful effort to contextualize your vision. Creative BC’s applications often inspire this kind of thought.”

You can learn more about Crack Cloud and their music here.

Website | Instagram | YouTube | Spotify | Bandcamp

Artwork and photos courtesy of Zach Choy and Crack Cloud.

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