The jetlag’s almost subsided and my liver’s vaguely functioning again after a heady five days at M for Montreal festival.
The city’s annual music showcase has been putting on the most exciting new Canadian bands at venues across the Quebec capital since 2006.
The range of artists was pretty great – hipster beatmakers, wonky dream popsters, punk noiseniks and some slightly bizarre Quebec folk acts all sat alongside each other at the various venues. But it was the after hours scene that really grabbed me – the jammed warehouses where people would cram in at 5am to catch an endless roster of local bands.
Since Arcade Fire’s arena-filling enormity opened the world’s eyes to Montreal’s music scene eight years ago, Grimes has become the global face of a younger DIY revolution here. Rents are cheap, and empty warehouses north of the city’s Mile End area in Parc Ex are still flourishing as the ramshackle party scene that spawned her, BRAIDS, Majical Cloudz and the ever-brilliant label Arbutus Records is still fizzing.
“Montreal has such a good reputation because so many good bands have been coming out of here, it’s just a continuous tempo going on. We want to keep it alive,” the festival’s hard partying programmer Mikey Rishwain Bernard tells me. “Arcade Fire did change the face of the city. Wherever you go now and you tell people you’re from Montreal, they connect with Arcade Fire.”
“But after that blew up, there was a bit of a dry spell. I think people were a bit self-conscious because they got so big so fast. But we’ve got out of that phase now. Young Canadian kids want to move here and go to school and create because it’s so cheap. You can get a job easily and you can get an apartment for nothing. That’s where Grimes and all these fucked up new bands came from. It’s a different crowd, a different generation. She’s the ambassador of the whole DIY scene here.”
Marilis Cardinal, from Arbutus Records agrees. The label was set up in response to the newfound interest in the city, and they were the first to release Grimes’ material. That interest in the city, she says, is beneficial for all genres in the area. “Any time that there is a spotlight on this city, people will start looking at what else is coming out of it,” she says. “But people in Montreal have a really wide variety of musical interests and support bands, you’ll get a punk band playing the same show as an electronic DJ. I think that sort of brings a wide palette of music to the city.”
What makes the scene distinct, says Mikey, is that it’s so far removed from the party scene in places like LA. “The shittier the sound, the better it is. It’s not LA with champagne and models and limos. We don’t show every day. We’re different, you know. We stink! All our bands smell funny. THAT’s what’s putting us on the map.”
Personal hygiene aside, it’s also one of the most supportive scenes I’ve ever seen. At Mac DeMarco’s show, the door was insane as kids bustled against burley bouncers (in minus 10 cold I should add) to get in and cheer on the newest artist to really break out of the scene. The show had enough male nudity and crowdsurfing to make your eyes water, and I’ll spare the unsavoroury details of what went down with a beer bottle. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t have drunk out of it afterwards…
Anyway, here’s my pick of the best new Canadian bands to check out
I don’t use the term ‘the new Grimes’ lightly but her warped electronica was easily the best set I saw all weekend. AND it was 5am in a warehouse on a shitty speaker. But she’s got a different vibe, her vocal operatics are more akin to Toronto weird pop outfit Austra.
The first band to play the whole weekend in Casa del Popolo (one of two venues run by the Godspeed You! Black Emperor crew) was the new project of Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt. He’s hung up his bashed up drum machines and jagged synth rock machines for a bit of startling Shins esque confessional lo-fi indie pop.
It’s pretty rare to see someone make a dance instrument out of a French horn, but bedroom producer Marie-Helene L. Delorme manages it. Again she’s got an Austra style operatic alto, but she back it up with a floaty, 90s style ambiance.
The singer looks like an ever scrawnier Steven Malkmus and their shouty angular Punk is a Pavement-like assault on the ears in the best possible way. Searing guitars, twisted MBV melodies and some seriously raging vocals.
These two manage a seemingly impossible amount of noise for two people. Think DFA 1979 but even louder. It’s like Fugazi meets a beefed up Dinosaur Jr circa ‘Freak Scene’. Or, maybe a heavier No Age. Either way, they were banging.
(Foxtrott photograph: Ellie Pritts / M for Montreal)