By Colin Gallant
September 18, 2014
MONTREAL — Thursday night at POP Montreal was a time for running up and down staircases. Club Lambi is about three or four floors up from street level, but the winding, grungy stairs feel like they could go on forever. Fitting for the crusty, putrid punk experimentalists to come, it felt like crawling up into a dusty attic.
Holy Cobras were the first act to perform and didn’t seem bothered in the least by the predisposition of the small, shy gathering of people who had arrived early enough to see them. The group’s recipe for success was winding the chaos and unpredictability of punk rock around precise and throbbing kraut rhythms. The band’s dynamic presence seemed to mirror this: while the orange windbreaker-clad frontman spent every minute of the set writhing maniacally about the floor, the musicians left onstage looked so engrossed in their playing that they may not have even noticed the audience. Holy Cobras are a part of the growing Bruised Tongues roster and exemplify the label’s freak punk spirit.
Next was Cellphone, an intimidating foursome who put heavy doom rock and synth-punk at odds. While the two approaches to genre share a common spirit, they were sonically disharmonious, likely in just the unnerving way the band intended. Regardless of how you like to get your creeps, Cellphone can easily deliver.
Though I was sad to miss Crosss, who are easily one of the most dependable bands for all sounds dark, dank and disgusting, it was time for a change in environment.
Though I headed up St. Laurent with a distinct destination in mind, it was hard to resist the curiosity that comes from seeing venue after venue bursting with excited music fans. I nearly changed my plans no less than four times while strolling past hip hop karaoke at Le Belmont and math rock at Barfly.
In the end, I made it to the Daps Records showcase at La Vitrola just before Ken Park was to take the stage. The Daps crew all come from indie rock backgrounds but has found a compelling niche in DIY electronic music. Ken Park has played live with Toronto’s Hooded Fang but has since adopted Berlin as a home base, a move that has clearly influenced his sound. His deft handling of the wide range of gear spread across several tables was nimble, coordinated and engaging. For those who don’t see the difference between a DJ set and live electronics, I urge you to see Ken Park perform.
A highly unconventional poetry reading was offered as a bridge between sets. Broken English text messages with a wide-eyed, hilarious message of positivity were read to a reaction of confusion and nervous laughter. Ah well, on with the show. One beautiful thing about POP Montreal is the ramshackle spirit of discovery all around you. One moment, you’re recovering from an awkward silence and the next you’re dancing with strangers to rhythms you’d never before conceived.
My introduction to the next performer, Mathematique, is already in tight competition for the highlight of my entire POP experience. Mathematique uses pieces of new wave, hip hop and something akin to spa music to create a sound that resembles none of those things. Corroded steel drums lilted up and over the audience while intricate bass patterns made a heavy impact against the chests of everyone in the room. The artist’s stage presence straddled the line of performance and personal reverie. She danced like a beginner ballerina at zero gravity while belting out a mix of French and English battle cries. By the end of the set, I had come to think of the venue as a nightclub stuck in the tractor beam of a UFO.
The evening’s headliner was Phèdre, a duo of vocalists also known for the aforementioned Hooded Fang. The two acts could not be more different and the members’ costumes and affected personae lent the project an alter-ego feel. It was a truly weird set from beginning to end. The instrumental bed of lurching, off key bass lines and aggressively disparate samples was played so loud and murky that I began to feel unsteady on my feet. Sensing it was time to call it a night, I picked up a Mathematique record and wobbled back to my room both to relive the night and recover from it.
By Seth Leon
The home basement bar/rec room was a common feature in homes built in the 1970s. This is exactly what Club Ballatou felt like for most of the night: groups of friends hanging out in a basement. Fortunately, the bands didn’t let this stop them from doing their job.
First up was Brooklynite Idgy Dean with laid-back Jenny Lewis confidence and delivery in her vocals. Playing a number of instruments and singing a number of vocal parts, Dean uses a looping pedal to create a backing track to sing and play guitar with. Personally, I find looping pedals create an ebb and flow that limits the performer from building momentum in their set, which was also the case last night.
That said, Idgy is a highly skilled technical musician who can build and play with large twee pop sounds and deliver them, with cool confidence, to a cold audience.
Maxxx Flair played a great set of catchy hip hop, along with a live drummer, and danced for most of the performance. He writes great songs, lots of hooks and well-placed breaks and stops that catches the listener off guard and then throws back into the song. Flair also faced an inert audience — the sing-along choruses were pretty bad — but Flair was unfazed and rose to the occasion. He was able to make a connection, increase the energy in the room and left a great impression.
CASA DEL POPOLO
Hand Cream is a rock band that also has a synth and some Stone Roses parts in their songs, and then some screamy parts, too. They took to the stage joking with the audience, a good-time band of friends having a fun night out. Their playing, however, was serious and on point. The songs are well crafted to include tight drumming and reverberated guitar sounds, as well as a broad party feel. They shift gears with ease into louder parts. The back and forth vocals work particularly well and were executed perfectly. This blew some minds and showed how serious a good-time band can be.AB, Alberta, Cellphone, Crosss, Daps Records, Hand Cream, Holy Cobras, Idgy Dean, Ken Park, Mathematique, Maxxx Flair, Montreal, Phèdre, POP Montreal 2014, St. Laurent