M Is For Montreal – Five New Band Tips From The New Music Fest

Ah, Montreal. It’s been dubbed ‘the city that never sleeps’, ‘the best-preserved of all the Rennaisance trading ports’, and ‘The teeming hub of the new Asia’, by people who’ve never been there and have got it confused with some other places.

In truth, it’s more of a three-million strong nexus of Eastern Canada, and an interesting supercollision of British, US and French cultural elements. In raw numbers, the population is 80-20 French to English-speaking: the streets are all rues, the strip clubs are all erotique, but they don’t seem to guff about in cafes talking about Derrida much; It’s a far more North American setup of sports bars, late night pizza joints, and big fucking cars.
Montreal has also been called ‘the home of the M Is For Montreal music festival’, and this is actually a far more accurate statement.

The M is a four night industry schmoozeathon where they invite reporters and A&Rs from across the globe to check out the latest Quebecois talent, or the occasional lack-thereof: we had Rough Trade’s Paul Jones, Beggars Group’s Ruth Barlow, and Bella Union’s Simon Raymonde among our number. The home of Arcade Fire, The Dears, Leonard Cohen, Chromeo, Broken Social Scene, their best-beloved Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and yes, AIDS Wolf, Montreal’s cheap rents and high social grants have thrown up a lively, if somewhat insular arts scene. Just in the past year, the off-kilter hypnogogic pop-pants of Grimes has blasted out of there, and so, as I announced to the lady behind the booth at immigration, I was basically here to find the next Grimes. She smiled, handed me my passport, and asked if I could perhaps list my top five bands of the fest, instead of merely picking one to focus on. Well passport lady, this one’s for you:

Half Moon Run
Late in the final day, an exciteable buzz started to build around Half-Moon Run. They had played a club show the previous evening, which everyone who’d been to was buzzing their tits off about. Cannily, they’d also booked an ‘overseas delegates only’ show that evening, so everyone who hadn’t made their way in previously could give them the once over. It was exactly the sort of febrile environment where bands become buzz bands. Their minimal but textured rock had real dynamics. It had hooks. They looked and sounded a bit like Girls. It was buzz heaven, the sinews on everyone’s necks bulged as they were juiced with pure buzz, and Half Moon Run were borne aloft through the streets to be crowned Buzz Kings Of The Festival.

If there was a Grimes 2 here, it was definitely D’EON: you realise that little apostrophe is a tribute to D’Angelo within two minutes of hearing his oily sex-pop, steeped as it is in references to nineties R&B and oblique, rough-edged sonic textures that make him essentially a Canadian Hype Williams (the bedroom producer, not the director, obvs). I felt this part of his sound was ‘a bit 2010’ personally. Far more likeable are his experiments in brilliantly symmetric warp-speed hypno-rave that have a slight flavour of Emeralds to them. Like this:

There were a lot of Francophonic bands at the M. Most of whom were not the better bands. You kinda make your bed and lie in it when you go Francophonic. It’s basically like you’re openly admitting that you’re never going to be Coldplay, or even Foals, or in any way a Big Fucking Deal. Thankfully, Passwords are French-Canadians who’ve gone down la route Anglais. Good for them, and good for us, because their understated Magazine-style new wave is chock with clever nuances, sprinkled with a whiff of the mordant romanticism of their Montreal forebears The Dears, and in ‘The Fire We’ve Made’, they own the best song The Shins never wrote.

Ben Wilkins
Yes, they have Ben Folds in Canada. Only, for legal reasons, they’re obliged to call him Ben Wilkins. Ostensibly the sort of thing you might make a point of loathing, I changed my tune when his manager described him as ‘a lot like Supertramp’. ‘Y’know, Supertramp are underrated’, I decided. ‘And I really think their kitschy70s songwriter harmonies offer us just the sort of solidity, the comforting porridge of certainty, that we need to help us get through an era of stagflation, EU putsches, widening income differentials and The Vaccines’. He smiled, nervously. Of course, if you google his name, the first hit you get is for a former BBC producer who videotaped his sex encounters via a camera hidden in a fire alarm. He may have to work on that.

They sound like Depeche Mode at their darkest, or occasionaly like Rammstein at their synthiest. They are CLAASS: three chunky men who who gave the most muscular, most genuinely dangerous show of the week: a squealing, bleeping, thunking knot of manflesh that bursts out at you like a fistfight in an abbattoir.