By Glenn Alderson
Nov. 14 – 17, 2018
The same way the first cigarette of the day really opens the mouth up, there’s something about the first snowfall of the year that truly heightens your senses. It wasn’t more than three hours of being on the ground in Montreal for their annual M For Montreal music event before that big scary white stuff started to fall out of the sky. And while things were certainly chilly outside, things were heating up inside for the first evening’s gatherings of local, national and international delegates.
The purpose of M For Montreal has always been to bring a generous mix of music industry professionals from all over the world to their doorstep to mix, mingle and take in the sights and sounds that the city’s boisterous music community has to offer. They also use it as a platform to showcase international artists through partnerships they have meticulously forged over the years with various music organizations.
2018 saw a decline in the more high profile shows that they’ve aligned themselves with in the past, but instead focused on the discovery element, which is actually great because that’s really what it’s all about. When you’re in the music industry, you don’t want to be rubbing shoulders with all the normal people at the sold out Kendrick concert, you want to be one of the first to bare witness to that next big thing. And that’s why everyone was packed in to La Sala Rossa and Casa Del Popolo, two adjacent venues located in the cities Mile End area, on this chilly Wednesday night.
Throughout the evening, M attendees were treated to a mix of some genuinely impressive Canadian talent. Kicking off the night at the Godspeed You! Black Emperor owned Casa Del Popolo was Lost Cousins, a straightforward indie band hailing from Toronto with keyboard and lots of those atmospheric swirls everyone keeps talking about. These guys recently released a single called “Stay” via Pheremone Recordings but it was already time to “Leave” and head across the street to see The Garrys. No actual Garrys in site from what I could tell, but this Saskatoon-based sister trio were dialled in to that reverb drenched surfy garage rock sound that would be perfectly at home on a label like Sub Pop’s Hardly Art imprint. Following shortly behind was the almighty queer identifying rock ‘n’ roll trio, Partner. These three pounded some serious pavement in 2018, touring everywhere they could and you could tell. They blasted through their tight set with ease, heavy on the riffage for a packed room of captivated delegates. The night closed out back across the street with Vancouver trio I M U R bringing the songs of their latest album, Thirty33, to life. Frontwoman Jenny Lea has one of the silkiest and dreamiest voices in r&b right now and their west coast vibes were hitting all the right chords. I’m sure it won’t be long before they’re back on the east coast, but first this band is getting ready to embark on their first trip to India.
It sounds strange to say you’re going to a show at a strip club but the space located on top of Cafe Cleopatra, one of Montreal’s oldest sin bins in the city’s old red light district, is actually one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen a band perform. For the most part all the performers remained fully clothed, but the first band up on this particular showcase was Vancouver’s Yung Heazy and it’s understandable why they’d be feeling the pressure to, umm, “take it off.” But rather than take it off, their set just kind of seemed to unravel instead. This band is not the cloud rap artist you maybe would think they were based on their name. Yung Heazy is comprised of frontman Jordan Heaney and his band of Mac Demarco-worshipping slacker rock misfits. They play an interesting brand of heart-on-your-sleeve emo-indie. Songs about girls breaking hearts, songs about comforting girls, getting comforted by girls, songs about going on dates with girls and other such songs about girls. I have NEVER in my life seen a room full of people who watch music, book music and/or play music for a living unanimously agree how much they did not like a band. I heard the most intense criticisms from various people. One delegate even told me that they don’t think they’ve ever seen a more career-ruining performance in their life. Isn’t that so mean?! I mean, maybe it wasn’t their best set but I’m not embarrassed to say, I liked it. They played most of the songs off their 2018 album, Whenever You’re Around I Hate Everything Less, and it was clear that they had fun doing it. The whole band had a good energy and didn’t take themselves too seriously. That’s something you don’t get to see too often. By the end of their set, their bass player was literally doing a strip tease and grinding his butt up against the microphone stand in his underwear — something I could have probably gone without seeing. Maybe that was the final straw for everyone in the end, but you know what? They’ve got almost 200K monthly listeners on Spotify and maybe their demographic just isn’t 30+ music industry types? Either way, they’ve definitely got fans somewhere, so that’s got to count for something. The next day I invited Lil Jordan Heaney to do a photo shoot with our Montreal-based photographer Brooke Dee at her studio, Gallery Parfois. If Yung Heazy was actually a rapper like I first assumed, this is where I would say that I suppose I fuck w him. Go see him for yourself next time he’s in your city and let me know if I’m crazy.
I went across the street after their set for a bit to see a Franco-rap group called Rowjay perform at Club Soda and the energy was high. Let it be known that Quebecois rap is very alive and well and Rowjay is one of the standout acts in the game. Check out his latest single, “Rolls Royce” if you want to sample his French Canadian le swagger.
Next band I ended up catching at the Cleopatra “fully clothed revue” was a band from Chile called Adelaida. This three-piece crunchy alt-rock band was playing their first ever show in Canada but they seemed pretty chill about it. They’ve got a driving energy that swoops and swirls in a way that someone who grew up listening to Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream would swoop and swirl. Have you heard the new Smashing Pumpkins album? Yeah, me neither.
Friday night was off to a great start with the Music From Ireland showcase at Casa Del Popolo. The lovable Dublin-based delegates were showcasing three artists throughout the early portion of the evening — Roe, Bad Bones and Le Galaxie. All three acts were great but it was Bad Bones who stood out the most. The onstage moniker of electronic music producer and recording artist Sal Stapleton, Bad Bones recalls some of the electro production mastery of Grimes while also incorporating a darker more sinister witch-house element to her sound. Her live set recalled elements of Salem (Remember 2010?) but her recorded material is much more sleek and seductive, heavy on the club vibes. To top off the captivating pulsing of her live PA music production, Stapleton accentuated her performance with stunning visuals and two dancers who balanced out her presence on both sides of the stage while wearing masks made of chainmail on their faces. Stapleton has been making her rounds at underground clubs and electronic music festivals around the UK for the last three years but is yet to break out in North America. If you’re looking to mix up your next electronic playlist, Stapleton has got you covered.
Meanwhile, about a 15-minute Uber away at the Cinematheque, as part of the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival, hometown heroes Lemongrab were working the room for all the film nerds and M For Montreal delegates who were smart enough to make the trek. “Do you like to fuuuuuck? I like to fuck,” Gaëlle Cordeau was emphatically screaming in to the mic while standing on the very edge of the stage, making eye contact with everyone in the room seemingly at the same time. Lemongrab are easily my favourite band in Montreal. The core of the group is comprised of three amazingly talented women (Cordeau, Léonie Dishaw on guitar and Marilou Turgeon on drums) who have been climbing the ranks of their local music scene with relative ease since 2016. The band is actually a five-piece now though and they play a unique brand of garage rock with hints of riot grrl that sits somewhere on the musical spectrum between Bikini Kill and Leonard Cohen. They’ve got new songs coming out in 2019 but check out their debut EP, The Ones With The Brooms, on Bandcamp while you’re waiting.
Later that night I posted up at L’escogriffe, one of my favourite bars in Montreal, for Bodywash and recent Vancouver transplants, Winona Forever. L’esco is a great intimate live music venue with dive bar tendencies in all the best ways. The stage doesn’t always allow for the best sight lines but the swirling synths and sugar coated melodies of Bodywash didn’t need to be seen to be believed. Their sound has been slowly developing in to the behemoth that it is since their inception in 2014 but they’ve got a new album on the horizon and if it’s anything like their live show, get ready to be transported in to a Cherry-coloured Funk a la Cocteau Twins circa 1990. Winona Forever were brave enough to take the stage at 2 a.m to an intoxicated but still somewhat present audience. I feel like this band is still figuring things out and maturing their sound but I think Montreal is the right place for them to be doing just that. And from the way their poppy indie hooks were being received, they aren’t going to be moving back to Vancouver any time soon.
M For Montreal has so much programming on the Saturday that it’s impossible to see everything so you need to pick your battles. For me, it was an easy choice when I found out Chandra was performing songs from her seminal 1980 EP, Transportation. If you don’t know Chandra Oppenheim, she was 11 years old when she released Transportation with a backing band consisting of former members of Model Citizens/The Dance. The child of a New York photographer, clearly with friends in the music industry, she found herself fronting this post-No Wave at an unlikely age. The songs on Transportation are stand out creations that stand the test of time, although they were hiding underneath the musical stratosphere until Toronto-based label Telephone Explosion recently re-issued the album. With that and a article recently published in the Guardian on the artist who is now in her fifties, a new light has been shone on the enigma that is Chandra. Oppenheim seemed happy to bring these songs to life once again to a modest sized audience at a new venue called the Diving Bell Social Club (great name, terrible bar), while backed by some younger Toronto musicians who were visibly more than pleased to be sharing the stage with such an iconic but under-appreciated talent.
My M For Montreal experience was capped off with a BeatRoute-hosted afterparty at Bar Le Ritz, Montreal’s equivalent of the Biltmore Cabaret. We invited Daniel Christiansen of Preoccupations and Léonie Dishaw of Lemongrab to join us in ringing out the festivities with an electric and eclectic collaborative set of new wave hits. People were dancing.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, M For Montreal is one of the most important music gatherings in Canada and it’s a great way to meet fresh faces in the music industry while discovering new music that you wouldn’t otherwise here. This year was no exception.
For more information about M For Montreal, visit them at www.mformontreal.com
Bad Bones, Bodywash, casa del popolo, Chandra, I M U R, La Sala Rossa, lemongrab, Lost Cousins, M For Montreal, Partner, Preoccupations, Rowjay, The Garrys, Winona Forever, Yung Heazy