M for Montreal is a four-day music feature which takes place around Montreal itself – the largest city in the Canadian province of Québec – with events taking place annually, typically mid-November, featuring up-and-coming artists breaking through not just the concept of ‘commercial success’ but breaking through genres and serving up an array of sound.
Louder Than War boss John Robb and writer Emily Oldfield travelled there to experience it – and she writes here about some of the highlights and John Robb follows up with his top 10 bands from the festival.
And let’s start off with a question we’ve oft-been faced with when telling people about M for Montreal – is it a festival? After all, isn’t festival season now over and it’s time to be thinking towards Christmas? Is it a case of just being extra-ambitious in often sub-zero conditions?
Well, what M for Montreal tells us, if anything, is that it’s time not just to be thinking and mulling over music, but talking about it, challenging its possible limits and listening to its issues too.
It’s further than a festival, and plunges us beyond the ‘pedestrian’, kind-of-passive listening which characterises so many modern musical experiences in this field. Instead, delegates from across the world are encouraged to get stuck in through a range of innovative interactive sessions, to chat to bands, watch musical showcases and raise debate.
Day 1 highlights proved testament to the engaging and interactive qualities of the event – with delegates invited to exchange details via wrist-bumping (rather than fist-bumping) technology over lunch, discussion on the likes of advertising, SEO and gentrification in music, a ‘Women in Music Production’ talk, plus a number of bands across venues – including the atmospheric Ghostly Kisses, the colourful pop blend of Men I Trust and the catchy, finger-clicking pulse of highly-acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Geoffroy.
Day 2 plunged attendees into even more innovative interaction with a ‘Speed Schmooze’ – chance to meet with industry experts – on the bill, plus a Music Canada Penthouse session inside the very hotel where many event guests were staying. A stand-out highlight of the day could be considered the free afternoon showcase, open to all, set inside the historic 19th Century Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, with a spiralling interior chandelier suspended amidst awesome acoustics and featuring three very different female singer-songwriters; Sophia Bell, Eden Sela and BEYRIES.
Evening shows on Wednesday included the likes of Pierre Kwenders at iconic Club Soda – an artist serving up Congolese-trap tunes with punch, plus the post-punk vibes of The Avulsions, bringing layers of guitar and lashings of hair to over-the-road venue, the infamous Café Cleopatra.
However, a highlight of the event had to be the maverick musical journey of the infamous ‘Mikey’s Tour’(winner of Best Festival Networking Activity at the YMCA Awards, Brighton) – led by, you guessed it, Mikey himself – the Programming Director of M for Montreal. Meeting at the 19th century Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, attendees were first immersed in beautiful, billowing classical piano from Jean-Michel Blais. As he emphasized, the piano seemed to ‘play itself’, an Italian model easing blissful notes into the air.
Then it was a trip to more music on a vintage yellow school-bus via a stop-off at the impressive Mont-Royal, a triple-peaked hill overlooking the city and after which it is named. The view looked out over the vast metropolis, glistening with cold and highlighting the network of the Saint Lawrence River – though interestingly, no building in the city can be taller than the cross on the Mont-Royal.
Beaver Sheppard also brought tunes onto the bus itself, accompanying the party with sweet, soulful acoustic playing which combined a folk sensibility with wistful reflection on the issues of modern living.
The trip wound-up at 160, rue Saint-Viateur Est – the home to various creative offices with excellent views over the metropolis. The set-up didn’t seem too-far removed from some industrial conversions seen in cities like Manchester, ex-industry space opened up for creative use and the vibe was relaxed and welcoming; seemingly an integral aspect to further integration with the music industry. Rather than ‘distant’ or ‘clinical’ as some of the stereotypes of music companies often go – the keyword here instead seemed to be ‘company’ itself; encouraging interaction, enjoyment and fun.
Three artists played in various offices across the venue with Jessica Mitchell kicking off events with heartfelt tunes in the Art Lounge. Then upstairs respectulchild took to the stage – an artist who creates arresting, intense soundscapes using a largely finger-plucked violin. The performance itself was un-showy, the artist instead utterly emphasizing the instrument, and she even sang-out notes across the strings and added them to the looping – a rare quality which created an ethereal vibe.
Finally there was a performance from Common Holly in an innovative design studio, with attendees drinking authentic Canadian hot chocolate and beer as this female singer-songwriter brought emotive electric guitar, scissoring, slick melancholia and spiralling – perhaps, even haunting – vocals to the room. A stand-out performance for sure and an artist to watch. Events culminated in the same-building offices of iconic music company Bonsound.
Evening gigs were generous and there was plenty to pick from on Friday night including Zoology, Dralms and the catchy vibes of The Courtneys all set for the stage at COOP les Katacombes. For a future-facing, electro-pop edge there was the treat of Alvvays and Kiwi Jr at Club Soda, whilst ODESZA – an electronic music duo – sold-out the stage at MTELUS.
Friday evening even featured a massive gig in a casino, with a line-up of at least ten artists, often with an alternate, hip-hop edge including the likes of Del The Funky Homosapien, Lou Phelps, Clairmont The Second and Mike Shabb. For something punkier, it would seem unfair not to enjoy a bit of Shame though – and the South London-based group of lads came out to play an immersive, raw night of antics at L’Escogriffe – along with Little Junior and Casper Skulls. These boys just keep on getting better.
M for Montreal marks itself as a music event that isn’t just about live – in the musical sense – but live as an in keeping music culture alive: with so many opportunities to interact, discuss and debate. The musical line-up also grew more intense and utterly eclectic as the days went on with Saturday featuring so many artists, selection seemed impossible.
For something softer yet stunning there was Peter Peter, Le Couleur and Radiant Baby bringing a blissful vibe to the Fairmont Theatre – pop pushed through with Franco-rock. Lashings of Hip Hop and rap were happening at Club Soda with set a set from Rymz plus David Lee, whilst pop and rock sensibilities smashed together for flourishing catchiness thanks to The Courtneys, Grim Streaker, Incredible Woman and DEAF at Quai des Brumes. And this was just a selection of the sheer amount of happenings.
It seems if you want live music, you go to a festival. If you want to feel music well and truly alive – go to M for Montreal. Can we expect this blend of networking, showcases and gigs format flourishing in the UK soon? I very much hope so.
M For Montreal is the fast growing music conference event based in the big city in Canada’s French region. Having a French Canadian grandfather that I have never met I have a weird relationship and empathy for my French speaking cousins across the ocean so once again there I was striding the freezing cold streets of the fascinating city that like Quebec, up north, somehow combines the European with the American and comes out very Canadian – a nation now firmly with its own multifaceted identity after years of defining itself as not being American.
Montreal itself is full of music and is the hometown of the wonderful Godspeed You! Black Emperor which is a good enough indicator of great music culture as well as the legendary Leonard Cohen whose former house is just off the bar area in the downtown.
M For Montreal has an open music policy and is run with an adorable enthusiasm that sees music of many styles from a homegrown hip-hop scene to indie and left field indie fill the city’s many and varied venues that include state of the art venues and a brilliantly seedy old strip club. There’s a lot of good stuff in town and we have to make an executive decision not to go and see LTW faves, Shame. no matter much we love them as they are a UK band that we can catch with soon and instead rush around the city wallowing in Canadian bars full of undiscovered gems.
- The Courtneys
Signed to New Zealand’s’ Flying Nun records the Courtneys are one of the few non Kiwi outfits on the legendary label but fit perfectly with their razor tight guitar rushes that take the most caustic of the UK C86 pop noise bands like the Shop Assistants with the added rush of grunge and the short sharp shock of punk rock and garage and add their own twist. It may be a very oversubscribed form of music but somehow the Courtneys have found their own space and the three women in the band are locked into the eternal classic rock triangle of guitar, bass and drums which are played with a brilliant tension and release with the melodic, razor-sharp rushes underlining their melodic prowess.
2. LES HÔTESSES D’HILAIRE
One of the great things about these kinds of events is the random nature of walking in on sheer genius. It’s the last afternoon of the whole shebang and there is a brilliant band in the bar reinventing garage psyche like the Oh Sees were doing a few years ago with a new energy and new way of playing with the adrenalin sound. LES HÔTESSES D’HILAIRE employ a brilliant use of slap back on the vocals and drums giving their music a mixture of fifties rock n roll and dark dub and its this care to attention that makes them stand out in the oversubscribed garage rock field. They have a lot of imagination in their songwriting as well and their whole sound is both an adrenalin rush and aural adventure.
3. Le Couleur
Le Couleur criss cross the seductive melodies of classic breezy sixties French pop with a digi-pop electro rush – it sounds like it shouldn’t work but it does. Brilliantly.
Dealing a psychedelic-tinged folk Wizaard are like 21st-century hippies – a Third Ear Band or Incredible String Band for these modern times and they make it work with plenty of charm and deceptively hooky songs that crawl under the skin but have enough wonk to trip out the mind. The band mash so many disparate influences in a whoozy whole that it makes it brilliantly hard to place them as you are pulled into their blissful wonk daydream
Ironic on the night before the wonderful Malcolm Young – the architect of AC/DC and, by extension, nearly all modern rock music died that there is a fascinating twist on his sound packing out a Montreal Bar. Partner are fronted by two LGBT women who reverse rock’s male machismo on their own terms. There are some dirty riffs, a killer tight band and machine gun guitar solos that make you fall in love with the old cliche again.
Named after a Brian Jonestown Massacre song, Anemone play an off-kilter, slightly lysergic, whoozy melodic garage rock that is truly effective. They bring the wonk to the room and their glowing melodies and an aural synesthesia is captivating with their shimmering melodies, layered vocals, and languid rhythms fronted by the charismatic Chloe Soldevila who delivers her rich melodies perfectly.
7. The Brooks
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a tightly packed bar watching a kick ass funk band. The Brooks deliver a kick ass show with one of the tightest bands I’ve ever seen – a killer rhythm section with bass player who cooly delivers phat grooves and a zig zagging band dedicated to the funk landing them somewhere between George Clinton’s spaceship funk and some of the warped overdrive funk weirdness of that period but also with an eye to the tight compact pop funk – there is plenty of energy and powerful rhythms that gets the whole bar dancing.
8. Ghostly Kisses
Playing a dark dream pop with a seductive melancholia, Ghostly Kisses are the aptly named solo project of singer-songwriter, composer, and violinist Margaux Sauvé. Her intimate and desolate voice is hypnotizing and the songs slip and slither into the ether with a dreamy and poetic atmosphere.
9. Absolutely Free
Bringing the hipster dislocated jive, Absolutely Free have managed to stumble on a truly original sound that is rhythmic and brings together interesting juxtapositions of sound between the driving bass, jittering drums and quirk keyboards to create new soundscapes that is s step forward from their former band DD/MM/YYYY and has seen them receive lots of attention in Canada.
10. The Avulsions
Post-punk from up country, The Avulsions are suffering a rough sound from a non comprehending PA but there is something fascinatingly off-kilter about their music that pulls you in and by their last song when they play something as hypnotic as Public Image’s Poptones you’re in and lost in the repetitive churning guitars and atmospheric soundscapes – an intriguing prospect.
11. Common Holly
Playing a set in front of music biz people is a musician’s worst nightmare but with her voice and razor taut guitar Common Holly creates an emotional and fragile glacial atmosphere that brings the room to silence with a combination of the pure sound of her singing, the great guitar lines and the songs that are perfect for stunning the most cynical into silence.