Last month, Canada played host to the 10th anniversary of the world-renowned festival, POP Montreal. Don’t be fooled by the ‘pop’ half of the festival’s title; POP Montreal is a platform for rock, folk, electro, rap, as well as the prominent experimental music scene that Canada is becoming hailed for. Many of the young artists performed effortlessly genre-spanning sets, combining rap with electro or even techno with animal recordings. Daniel Seligman, the creative Director of the POP Montreal, stated that he wanted the festival to be an ‘inclusive reflection of the Montreal scene’, which is why the festival does not just cover a wide variety of music, but it acts as a unique platform to promote art, film, and spoken word.
With a population of fewer than 35,000,000, roughly the same as Morocco, but with the second largest country in the world to fill, there’s definitely room to breath for young emerging artists. POP Montreal has been pioneering the city’s music scene, promoting a predominantly homegrown program of talent since 2001, and for this year, on their 10th anniversary, it was bigger than ever. The city festival covered nearly fifty venues and proudly presented around 400 artists, as well as numerous art shows, video installations, film screenings, and discussions. One of Montreal’s most internationally successful bands, Arcade Fire, headlining on the opening night of the four-day festival, pulled a crowd of over 100,000 fans from throughout Canada and around the globe. But it is not just the appearance of world-renowned Canadian artists that is putting Pop Montreal on the map; the city is becoming the music-lovers paradise for rising talent, quality live acts, and a more accessible music scene.
One of Montreal’s best-kept secrets is Random Recipe, who embodies the Canadian sound aesthetic of a complete musical mixture so much so that it inspired their band’s name. We caught up with them at their staggering sunset roof-top gig, where people in their hundreds turned up to see the band that started out by busking on the streets. “The first time we played it was for a pizza, I think the second was for a cab ride”, stated Franny Holder of how her and Fabrizia Difruscia first started playing together. Holder and Difruscia were then inadvertently booked for a gig, which finally prompted them to call up old friends Vincent Legault and Lui-Kong Ha to form Random Recipe. “When we were booked for that first gig, we only knew three songs! I think we practiced once for that show”. It is stories such as this that is marking Montreal as a real springboard for talent, where bands can literally go from singing on the streets to rooftops in a matter of years.
The same stage on top of the Ubisoft building also hosted Peter Peter, a currently unsigned singer slash poet who’s been described as a mixture of Jim Morrison and Eliot Smith. Another homegrown Montreal talent, it’s refreshing to hear good contemporary music in a language other than English. Montreal’s official language is French so Peter Peter, just as 55% of the country, speaks, and sings, in French. Much of the city’s history is reflected in the resulting music scene, far from just the language. Just like in the neighboring U.S., there’s a lot of grasping at cultural straws; you’re much more likely to meet a ‘French-Canadian’ or even a ‘Scottish Canadian’ than a ‘Canadian’, which might explain why one of Peter Peter’s tracks features bagpipes. There’s also something to be said about the architecture affecting the tone; originally a working port town, the majority of Montreal is still decorated by grand 19th Century ex-factory buildings, now the homes of art spaces, pop-up cafes and performance halls.
Seligman doesn’t just aim to celebrate the Montreal music scene, he also uses the festival to promote the city itself. From rooftop gigs, to concerts on the streets, there’s an eclectic take on a city festival. Our favorite example of this was sitting in the St. Edouard Church at 2 in the morning watching Fucked Up front man Damian Abraham taking his shirt off. Certainly a good deal of POP Montreal’s charm is its knack for finding kooky venues to set off musical juxtapositions such as that. It also gives what feels like a peek into the hidden city, and gives a great chance to explore venues and areas that might otherwise remain unknown.
Other highlights included the premier of P.J Harvey’s latest album videos; POP Quarters had the pleasure of showing the twelve short films by photographer Seamus Murphy for ‘Let England Shake’ for the first showing. The festival was then closed by another Montreal favorite, Chromeo, the MTV Video Music Award nominated electro-funk duo who have become world-renowned but remain dedicated to the Montreal music scene. Confirming the tone of the festival, Chromeo played in the town’s old theatre hall, to a crowd of a range of ages.
This inclusive element of Montreal’s music scene is evident throughout; not only is it common to find an 80 year old woman dancing at Piknic Electronic, the day festival which runs on every Sunday of the Summer, but their brand new symphony hall recently hosted a Simple Plan concert. POP Montreal epitomizes the city’s laid back attitude to culture, giving it’s thousands of visitors a welcoming insight into all that Montreal can offer.
With thanks to Tourisme Montreal
words Charlotte M Davey