By Glenn Alderson
M For Montreal
Nov. 15 – 18, 2017
M For Montreal once again brought the international music industry together over the course of a brisk November weekend to take in the sights and sounds of the current state of the city’s vibrant arts community. Mixed in for good measure was also a handful of notable national and international talent, performing at showcases throughout the city.
Opening night brought festival delegates to the infamous Casa Del Popolo (notably owned by Godspeed! You Black Emperor) for an evening of blissed out indie talent. The old saying “in like a lamb, out like a lion” could not have been more appropriate when Quebec City’s Ghostly Kisses took the stage in front of a chatty audience of music industry types, but it wasn’t long before everyone was attentively hanging on to every word of Margaux Sauvé’s beautiful solo set, backed by a keyboard player who provided a solid synth foundation to accompany her mild Sarah McLachlan tendencies.
Another notable performer at the opening evening festivities was Un Blonde, the recording moniker of Jean-Sebastian Audet. Using the venue’s piano as his on stage accompaniment, Audet delivered a unique and mesmerizing set of beatnik-inspired avant funk and spoken word that had some people scratching their heads, but it was also quite refreshing. Good ol’ Rollie Pemberton AKA Cadence Weapon closed out the evening with most of the lights in the venue off while he performed some tracks off his forthcoming self titled album via eOne Music. If there’s one thing you can say about this Edmonton transplant it’s that he’s consistent in the way he’s been rapping for almost over a decade now — nothing too fresh but it’s also not overly offensive or anything.
The next day delegates were invited to sit in on various panels and networking huddles. One of the most interesting panels was called Breaking Into TO, which consisted of five Toronto-based industry professionals talking about what it takes to communicate within the city’s arts community. The conversation naturally delved deep in to the topic of gender inequality and the lack of representation of women in the industry and all of the panelists were very diplomatic and well spoken in their attempts to communicate their efforts to ensure their work environments are safe and equal for all. Mar Sellars, a Toronto based publicist and band manager perhaps made the most profound comment about how inclusive doesn’t have to mean blatantly singling out women with women-only events, but to rather keep diversity on the tops of all programming and hiring initiatives. The time is now to listen.
Thursday evening’s programming would in fact see a well balanced bill of both genre and genders at Café Cléopâtre, a venue with a strip club on the main floor. The real action was upstairs though with Saskatoon post-punk trio The Avulsions kicking things off with a raw albeit sometimes awkward energy. The headliner of this Thursday night spectacular was Toronto emcee Clairmont the Second. He’s got a powerful stage presence, excellent flow and solid rhymes. If you haven’t checked out his latest album Lil Mont From The Ave, it’s easily one of the best hip-hop albums to come out of Canada this year.
Friday saw M For Montreal almost spread too thin with shows all over the city, including one all the way across town at Cabaret Du Casino, featuring the infamous Del Tha Funky Homosapian. Meanwhile back in the Mile End at Casa Del Popolo, Absolutely Free was playing a pleasantly smoked out set of complicated pop music. And across the street was easily the show of the night with Yonatan Gat (formerly of Monotonix). Him and his bandmates were set up in the middle of the venue with only a few spotlights lighting them up while they delivered a rock solid set of sweaty face melting psychedelia. Gat is an exceptional performer who had the entire audience circled around him and hanging on to every note of his performance.
One thing M For Montreal does really well is it brings people in the national and international music industry in to spaces you wouldn’t usually find them, which makes them much more accessible. You could be standing in the same room with the founders of The Great Escape Festival, the manager of Belle & Sebastian and the agent who signed Jawbreaker to Geffen back in 1994 at any given moment so it never hurts to strike up a conversation with the random stranger sitting next to you. The hangover brunch on Saturday morning saw all of these people with their modest industry success stories eating together at the recently renovated L’Escogriffe while UK singer/songwriter Douglas Dare serenaded everyone from behind his keyboard. If you like James Blake and are looking for something maybe a little bit sadder but sexier to vibe with, this boy is for you. He pairs especially well with breakfast burritos.
Although mildly scaled back from previous years in regards to their programming, M For Montreal did not seize to amaze in 2017 for their 12th year of moving and shaking. Bringing close to 100 local and international buzz-worthy breakout bands to more than 15 venues across the city with more than 200 delegates to participate, they really have succeeded in bringing the world to their doorstep. As the recently revived Yamantaka // Sonic Titan took the stage that evening in front of an eager and attentive audience at Le Ministère, it became very clear that Montreal has such an exceptional hotbed of talent in their multifaceted music communities that there’s no wonder M has evolved in to the ultimate music industry conference destination that it is.
For more on M For Montreal, visit them online here.