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Anthony Piazza: The Man With The Projector

Meet the Quebec music scene’s rising underground visual star.

by Stephan Boissonneault

Photos by Stephan Boissonneault

It’s mid-afternoon inside historic Montreal venue La Sala Rossa and people are running around, lobbing questions at a man in glasses sporting a well-kept afro. He is Anthony Piazza, a projectionist and video DJ who, in the last few years, has risen to become one of the premiere visual backdrop operators for underground live music shows throughout Quebec. 

In a few hours, Piazza will be running projections and live cameras while bands like PRIORS, Gloin, Absolutely Free, Grim Streaker, and Crasher tear up the stage for the Mothland label’s five year anniversary during M For Montreal. Piazza has to figure out how to run projections on two stages simultaneously. His need to constantly elevate his performance is born out of what he calls an “immigrant mentality” learned from his parents, who immigrated from Sicily to Montreal in search of prosperity. 

Just before soundcheck he’s running around frantically, fixing a projector lens, plugging in cables—like a foreman on a disorderly construction site. He’s deliberating on how to hang a few transparent screens so that no matter where the audience is standing, they’ll see his trippy projections meshing with the music. There are always obstacles in this business and most people would lose their cool in the face of them. Not Piazza—he thrives on chaos.

“It’s definitely a busy body type of gig,” Piazza says. “Even going in with a plan or a setup in mind can change with one different element. I think I kind of feed off that energy, just going into a space and being like ‘Okay, how the hell am I going to do this?’”

“I think I kind of feed off that energy, just going into a space and being like ‘Okay, how the hell am I going to do this?’”

— Anthony Piazza

Visual projections have been synonymous with psychedelic music since the 60s, when bands like The Grateful Dead or Love would jam in front of liquid colour backdrops. But it’s one thing to just find a freaky pattern or image and project it while some music plays. It’s another to trick a person’s mind into believing that one can’t live without the other. “The idea is to blow someone’s mind. To have them leave and think ‘How did that just happen?’”

The Mothland anniversary party is a success. It’s sweaty, loud, and every band leaves a piece of themselves on stage, sending the crowd into thunderous applause and awe. It goes down as a piece of modern Montreal rock n’ roll history—one that everyone involved should take pride in. A large part of that pride is owed to Piazza’s own performance behind the scenes. Watching him sync up the projections, spinning his cameras in unison to the heady pace of noise rock and post-punk, you see that he’s an integral, silent member of each performance. 

“Some of the bands are vocal about the work I do, which is cool. But I think at first, they don’t really understand what’s going on and how much work goes into it,” he says. “But Mothland will always put me on the poster, so people know they’re getting something more.”

Though Piazza’s not doing this for credit or praise. He’s doing it to play, deciding which batch of visuals fit the vibe of an uproarious punk rock solo or a light, psychedelic interlude. The visuals come from his massive compendium of clips, music videos and Piazza’s own recordings of fences, moving trains, trees, moving water, architecture, man-made and organic mosaics; basically anything that he finds inspiring while moving through the world.

“I’m constantly filming something. There’s really endless content out in the world. Like even the Montreal metros, there’s tons of tile work that really hits me. I can highlight a colour or make it move in some abstract way, and boom, you have a projection.”

Being a drummer in Montreal band Atsuko Chiba gives Piazza the upper hand when projecting. He’s constantly tapping on his trigger pad to the tempo of the live song, listening for any abrupt change, adapting on the fly. With his custom projection set up, he’s playing an instrument. 

“It feels very percussive; triggering the clips, the faders, the effects; that’s what makes it immersive,” he says. “I’ll listen for the guitar solo and bring the live camera up and throw that over the projection. It’s those little things that I’m going for.”

Piazza is always trying to one up himself and his performances. If he had a theme song it would be Frank Sinatra’s “All or Nothing at All.” For his next run of Atsuko Chiba shows, he’s looking for material to make his own custom projection screens. An innovator who is never satisfied, Piazza is constantly striving for more, making the most of his “immigrant mentality.”

“There is a huge amount of trust involved with the stuff I do,” Piazza says. “I’m kind of in the power to make the show really hit hard. So, once you trust me to do that, in my mind, I’m like ‘I gotta fucking kill it.’”

Check out Anthony Piazza’s projections Oct 5 to 7 at Project Nowhere (Toronto)