Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood is probably the closest thing to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in all of Canada, and possibly even the world. The artistic neighbourhood is known for its density of artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers. It has been the homebase for musicians like Arcade Fire, Grimes, The Barr Brothers, Plants and Animals, and thousands of others. Last year, The Telegraph even named Montreal “The New Brooklyn” (and this seems to happen every three or four years).
With its tech and music scenes, Mile End bears a similarity to another hip American city: Austin, Texas. In a further striking resemblance, Mile End hosts the annual Pop Montreal festival (which is like a less techy SXSW, launching countless Montreal and non-Montreal musical acts over the past decade).
It’s not a surprise that Wanderlust, the annual music and yoga outdoor festival that has swept through North America over the past four years, would choose to open its second studio in Mile End. The Williamsburg-based company opened its first studio, Wanderlust LIVE, in Austin in Spring 2012.
But other than the surface cool factor, there is no obvious connection between Montreal and the Wanderlust franchise. The only Canadian date on the Wanderlust circuit is Whistler, British Columbia, on the other side of the country. While yoga is as popular in Montreal as it is in every other North American city, it’s a smaller market than Vancouver or Toronto.
So in a conversation with Le Studio de Yoga Wanderlust co-founder Erik Giasson, I had to ask the obvious question: Why Montreal?
“It’s happening,” he replied. “There’s a connection between Mile End and Williamsburg. Both have a vibe of music and yoga.”
Giasson knows that vibe. He did a yoga teacher training in Williamsburg with Schuyler Grant, director of Kula Yoga Project and co-founder of Wanderlust. Like the festival and the Austin studio, Le Studio will operate according to the mandate, “Yoga first. Music always.” The schedule at Le Studio will centre on yoga and music, featuring DJs and live musicians on a regular basis.
Even though Giasson lives in the slightly more upscale neighbouring neighbourhood of Outremont, he knows what’s going on. “Mile End is the centre of yoga and music in Montreal. We plan to leverage our community of musicians in Mile End.” Despite this local community, however, Bears of Legend, the folksy bluegrass band that will play at Le Studio’s March 21 opening party, are from Trois Rivieres (“Three Rivers,” a small town halfway between Montreal and Quebec City).
Before discovering yoga, Giasson worked in the finance industry for “the largest hedge fund in the world” until the 2008 financial crisis. Yoga helped the transition in his professional life. He did a Moksha Yoga teacher training program, and then wanted to open his own studio. Not just any studio. Giasson had a vision.
“I wanted to bring good vinyasa to Montreal, like the kind you find at Kula,” he said. “Creative, challenging vinyasa with good alignment – and live music and DJs in class. There’s nothing in Montreal like what we’re bringing.”
Naada Yoga* has been offering vinyasa classes set to live music since 2009 in the neighbourhood, three blocks from where Le Studio has opened. It was founded by husband and wife team, Jason Sharp and Elizabeth Emberly; Sharp is a musician, Emberly a yoga teacher and dancer.
“The studio is a small business that’s reflective of the community,” Sharp told me one afternoon over coffee at Café Falco. “We’re in a constant state of evolution as we respond to the community and provide yoga that the people want.”
As a musician, he’s tapped into the local community: the aforementioned Barr Brothers and Sam Shalabi have played intimate concerts in the studio, and the exterior is adorned with work by street artist Roadsworth
It’s pretty clear that Le Studio is doing something very similar to what Naada is doing, but with a big business model and financial backing. In a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, the weight and presence of Le Studio could change the local landscape.
Or perhaps it simply reflects the changing nature of the neighbourhood, which in recent years has seen increasing rents, more condo developments and an influx of stores selling vintage eyeglasses.
Nevertheless, the proximity and content of the glitzy new studio is enough to make Sharp and Emberly uneasy. And it’s likely making the approximately 15 studios within a 10-block radius also feel a little nervous. The word on the street is that Le Studio has approached star teachers at neighbouring studios, offering them more weekly classes and higher rates.
Like Brooklyn, and every other major North American city, yoga is booming in Montreal. There are countless trained yoga teachers eager to teach, and people in recently purchased condos eager to get their yoga on to some dope beats. Only time will tell what kind of impact a heavyweight brand with strong financial backing will have on the ecosystem of the neighbourhood, and the needs of the community will gradually be revealed.
* Disclosure: I practice yoga regularly at Naada, and they advertise on IAYB.