Hello Good Music
It has become a mantra for every music festival, but M for Montréal really is unlike any other fest. There are a bunch of shows to see, sure, but mostly, this thing is like a nerd conference for music business people who want to get together and talk shop.
It’s the kind of festival where you spend the van ride to the hotel sandwiched between five people talking about “placing music on TV” and “being a fucking great music supervisor,” one of whom who is the dude who places music on two shows you might care about (Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead).
It’s the kind of festival where you spend a dinner regaling British journalists with stories of what is “typical” in Madison, Wisc., and then ride on a bus to a Spanish restaurant next to the head of Jagjaguwar, and he will tell you stuff about Here We Go Magic’s new album that you’re afraid to print (expect it to be good, pretty much).
Sure, this kind of thing happens at SXSW, and many other festivals, but up here, it often feels like the main attraction, as panels and networking sessions are consumed as vociferously as concerts. And really, this festival is less about the actual bands, than about the idea of Montreal as a musical center, selling dozens of “international delegates “on how awesome Montreal is. It’s a pretty easy sell: Montreal is a great city, with a vibrant nightlife and cheap booze. It’s just as easy to fall down a hole of alcohol and strip clubs here as it is to fall into performance spaces and many, many bands.
City With Arcade Fire’s Children
I’m sure if Montreal musicians are honest, they’d admit that the reason people from 15 countries would be interested in a music conference in Montreal is Arcade Fire. When that band broke in 2005, it made Montreal the hottest indie rock city in this hemisphere, legitimizing Montreal’s indie community, and by extension, the indie rock bonafides of other Canadian cities like Toronto (imagine Broken Social Scene or the New Pornos being as big as they are in the states without Arcade Fire).
So it’s not surprising at all that the indie rock bands here at M for Montreal largely skew towards the synthy, shouty, indie rock that Arcade Fire made the “sound of Canada” six years ago.
Absolutely Free, a band formed of the ashes of DD/MM/YY, and who were playing their first show ever, were the most traditional of the bands I saw, playing a drum and keyboard-heavy style to solid results. They seem destined to be signed to Absolutely Kosher, and to be overlooked, but maybe they’ll be better when they, you know, play another show. Young Empires were probably the most hyped band by other delegates, as the Toronto band are rumored to be in the midst of a label bidding war. That’s easy to figure: They mix the tropes of Canadian indie with the dance rock of Friendly Fires and other British bands (Bill from Brooklyn Vegan called them “Friendly Foals”). Of any band I’ve seen in my two years here, they have the biggest potential to be Huge. Concrete Knives aren’t from Canada—they’re from France, playing on a stage sponsored by the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles—but they deliver the Arcade Fire model of boy-girl anthems with youthful energy. They were the first band I saw here, and while their set lost luster as it went on (and so did the night in general), their first song—the fantastic “Greyhound Racing”—was pretty powerful.
Things From Iceland That Are Not Related To Mighty Ducks 2
For A Minor Reflection gave me my biggest surprise of the fest, as I watched four young Icelanders—including one who looked like a future gym teacher—climb onstage, and expected them to deliver some wimpy indie. However, they literally blew out one of my ears with their take on instrumental post-rock. They’re still a little bit too much Sigur Explosions in the Mogwai, but they conjure up sweeping vistas and molten lava. Meanwhile, Of Monsters and Men were probably the most conventionally “famous” band here, as they have been racking up plays in European and American indie radio. They’re an unholy mixture between Mumford & Sons, the couple romanticism of the xx, Neutral Milk Hotel, and totally earnest acoustic folk, so of course they had people there who knew the words to all their songs already, and of course they had an accordion. It’s not really for me, but I bet they’re a Gossip Girl placement away from being on every middle schooler’s playlist.
In Which I Enjoy A Rapper From Canada Not Named Drake (Or Shad)
Cadence Weapon was a true outlier—a real MC in a festival dominated by indie rockers with complicated EMOTIONS. He has been largely quiet since his underrated 2008 album Afterparty Babies, moving to Montreal and working on a new album he promises for release early next year. The new material bore an interesting new sound: it blended soul with dub-heavy beats. Imagine a rapper doing songs about being at SXSW over Peaking Lights tracks and you wouldn’t be far off. Mixed in with material from Babies and Breaking Kayfabe (like “Unsuccessful Club Nights” and “Black Hand”), Cadence has a pretty strong set he promises to bring “all up in your grill” in 2012.
In Which I Shoehorn Bands Into A Section Because Tying These Together Has Become Difficult
Friday was my busiest day, as I bounced around the city to see 10 bands. And there was a stretch where I saw probably the most cohesive lineup of the whole fest: a selection of rocking garage and alt-rock bands at La Sala Rossa. First was a band called Uncle Bad Touch, a group that manages to cross Thin Lizzy and Runaways and do it damn well. They recently got signed to Jeff the Brotherhood’s Infinity Cat records, which is fitting, because Uncle Bad Touch make garage rock with big riffs and a sense of humor, just like Jeff. The night continued with Parlovr, a band I’ve heard about for years but never actually heard. At first I was ready to write them off as another Wolf Parade rip, but they’re more like a Nuggets update for 2011, with floating guitars and stomping keyboard licks. They may spell their name weird (it’s pronounced “parlor”), but they had a packed crowd losing its shit over and over again. Speaking of a crowd losing its mind, the headliner for the night was a band called Hollerado (the alternate title of this section was, Bands with Dumb Names That Were Pretty Good), who had an intense relationship with the crowd from the jump. Some post-show Googling led me to learn that they won a Juno last year, and that they have a huge following, as evidenced by the swarm of people who seemed to show up solely to see Hollerado. I felt a bit out of the loop, but the group delivered the goods: They’re more or less a poppy, Canadian version of Cymbals Eat Guitars, a bunch of cool bros updating ‘90s indie for a new generation.
M For The Best
One of the beauties of M for Montreal is that even though there’s a small bill, there’s no need to really listen to stuff you haven’t heard before, since you get to see it all, thanks to the scheduling. This can lead to moments when, for however briefly, you become convinced you’ve seen your new favorite band. Last year, that was Braids. This year, it was Doldrums, a one-man trip-hop army who crafts zoom-bip beats and tempers them with vocal samples and his Diamond Rings-reminiscent croon. Dude has already been pegged as “the next big thing” in Toronto, and that’s something I can co-sign wholeheartedly. Dude accomplished more in 20 minutes than bands I’ve seen do in an hour.
Without question, the most impressive thing I saw during M for Montreal was Colin Stetson’s virtuosic set as part of a different festival called Mundial Montreal, a world music festival put on by M for Montreal’s organizers. Stetson took the stage at noon on Friday, and proceeded to melt the faces off the audience (or was that just me?) with 25 minutes of baritone sax opuses and impressive displays of technical achievement. I imagine it will only be a matter of time before he starts getting noticed on his own away from his work with Bon Iver and the National.
But everything all week—even finding a copy of The Score on vinyl—paled in comparison to the transcendent show I saw on Saturday night. It opened with Active Child, the harp-led synth&b project of Pat Grossi, which was never stronger than during the breakout “Playing House.” But then, in what was perhaps the best performance I’ve seen this year, M83 took the stage, rifling through his back catalog with a solid band. You don’t really realize how deep the band’s catalog is until you see them live: It’s hit after hit after hit after hit. The beautiful scope of “Intro” leads to the John Hughes melodrama of “Kim & Jessie” leads to the stomp of “Reunion.” It’s all sequenced for maximum effect: It’s been since I saw Odd Future at SXSW that a single song could blow the roof off a building, but “Midnight City” did just that. When it came towards the end of the set, it was a transformative and communal experience. It accomplished something I wasn’t sure was possible: It actually made me like the records more, because you realize what a musical accomplishment they are when you see them performed live. It was the kind of show where afterwards you and your crew just look at each other and nod, saying to each other, via forehead moving, that, “Yes, we all just saw that. And it was awesome.” Words don’t do it justice.
I saw a few more bands afterwards (including French Canada’s Coldplay, Karkwa), but I could have seen Jimi Hendrix back from the dead and it probably wouldn’t have made much of an impression. M83 made this already unforgettable trip to Montreal even more unshakeable.