Highlight Of Pop Montreal? The Strokes, Arcade Fire, David Byrne Supergroup

If you’re not already, you should be keeping an eye on the Canadian music scene. It’s as fertile as that old woman who lived in a shoe. And I don’t mean Nickelback and Nelly Furtado. Post-Arcade Fire, Montreal especially is buzzing with new artists, able to make music because of cheap rent and government grants.


I’ve just got back from one of its main music festivals Pop Montreal. The largest city in Quebec is the most musical I’ve ever been to. Everyone on the bus or metro is either playing air guitar or drumming along to a beat. Each shop plays better music than your favourite BBC 6music DJ. There are venues all over the place and everyone is in a band or four, complete with requisite green or blue hair. Arbutus Records, home of Grimes, TOPS, Purity Ring, leads the charge with its super cool warehouse space in Mile End. They’re all fuelled by Poutine (the national dish of chips, gravy and cheese curds) and bagels (the best in the world) which might explain why they’re so chilled out. Here’s a digested best bits:


“We’re gonna go until you feel something,” explained Carson Cox. It was a short set from the much-hyped Tampa, Florida trio but it certainly made a strong impression. It was partly because of Cox’s stage presence. He’s one of those lead singers who wanders into the crowd, making people feel nervous and excited. It doesn’t hurt that he looks like Leonardo DiCaprio and sounds like Morrissey. There are no drums – Cox uses a machine – and Dave Vassalotti’s screaming punk guitar solos take centre stage. I’ve had the LP ‘Children Of Desire’ on ever since.

The Strokes/Arcade Fire/David Byrne Supergroup

If someone had told me I’d be watching David Byrne, Will and Win Butler and Strokes bassist Nikolai Fraiture perform ‘That’s The Way I Like It’ by KC and the Sunshine Band in a tiny basketball court at McGill university, I’d have told them to get away. Watching Win Butler shoot hoops was weird enough. Unfortunately, it was a one-off show for charity but talk about a dream supergroup. As someone quipped: “If you play with Arcade Fire, you get Byrne”.

9 When the celestial backing vocals come in on ‘Separator’
Guitar Bands Ain’t Dead

There’s a lack of really exciting new bands in Britain at the moment (apart from Toy, Alt-J, Savages). Thankfully I got my fix in Montreal, starting with DIIV. Zachary Cole Smith’s Brooklyn four-piece puts three guitars centre stage and has as much fun with them as possible. With his floppy blonde mop and pixie features, Smith’s shamanic screams work perfectly with the band’s shades of drone and prog. Debut album ‘Oshin’ sounded flawless. Metz and Grizzly Bear (buy NME next week to read a review) were other band highlights.


Gigs In Churches


Tim Hecker’s organ-led ambient drone uses church space almost subversively. Depending on how close you are to the speakers, it can be bludgeoning. I found it transcendent, like being in the womb of a whale as it gives birth (the room is pitch black). Another splendid church gig was St Vincent and David Byrne. Could using religious buildings be a solution to London’s lack of good live music venues? Over to you, Archbishop.

Mozart’s Sister

I’ve been following Mozart’s Sister for a while now and her show on a park band stand confirmed what I already knew: she’s superb. Caila Thompson-Hannant is now performing with a bassist but it’s mainly her and a sampler, looping and layering vocals, beats and keys. Her voice is fruity and she uses it like a proper instrument, experimenting and pushing it as far as possible. At times she reminds me of Enya, Mariah Carey, Talking Heads, Beyonce and Laura Nyro. Is that enough for you? Check her out when she’s in a city nearby.

Bouncy Pop

Yacht Club, featuring Ben from Fucked Up, played their third show ever at Pop Montreal. It couldn’t be more different from the Toronto punk band, which makes it all the more tickling. It’s Lauperesque 80s throwback rather than hardcore. TOPS played a brilliant show at the Arbutus performance space and made the sun come out with their bouncy, bright pop. Jane Perry on vocals and keys is a charismatic frontwoman, whose high range recalls Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom at times.

No Fear Of Looking Silly

One of the best acts of the weekend was Myths, a female electronic duo who performed in psychedelic fairy outfits in front of a background of throbbing moth genitals (or something). High quality screaming and shrieking call-and-response – ‘Leaf’ has been vocally trained to a high standard – layered over heavy, techno, bass beats could have been a bit Nathan Barley but it worked. Imagine if Scout Niblett and Factory Floor were dropped in a glittery rave and you nearly there – it was far out. I can’t wait for them to come to London.

Another act unafraid to push boundaries was Elite Gymnastics. At times his show could only be described as an adorable car crash. He started with a cover of Spice Girls’ ‘Say You’ll Be There’ with the singer from Majical Cloudz, the words projected Disney-style on a nature documentary. After this promising beginning, he went into the crowd and talked about how uncomfortable he was (it was the first time he has played solo since his other band member left) before launching into a 2012 version of ‘Howl’, a spoken-word track about nocturnal scrapes on top of a tribal beat. He ended with ‘Andreja 4-Ever’, a sweet love song with a shuffle rhythm reminiscent of Texas’ ‘Say What You Want’. It won me over.

Grimes’ Dubstep Breakdown

It was a brief, brilliant moment in ‘Oblivion’ that suggested touring with Skrillex has worn off on Claire Boucher a little. Six months ago her show was great, now it’s fantastic. Wembley in 2013?


St Vincent And David Byrne’s Theremin Battle

Like characters in Harry Potter, Clark and Byrne launched into a Theremin fight manipulating the sound of the instrument with vim, using their fingers like wands. The show, needless to say, was the highlight of the festival. From the brass band’s dance routines (!) and Annie Clark’s mind-blowingly beautiful voice, to the duo’s version of ‘Burning Down The House’ and hearing ‘Who’ live, this was an evening of treats. They played lots of St Vincent material from ‘Cruel Mercy’ and ‘Actor’, tracks from new album ‘Love This Giant’ and Talking Heads classics and proved to the world that they’ve achieved the impossible: a collaboration that works.