I tend to describe Montreal as the Berlin of North America, the rent is cheap, and it’s a historical city with a European vibe plopped in the middle of Canada, a country that’s buildings are more glass than brick these days. It’s refreshing to be in Montreal and feel the relaxed vibes of Franco-Canadian culture, including delicious food and later bar openings. Montreal is a city that loves the nightlife, it has a carefree attitude that anything goes in Montreal, they’ve thrown out the rulebook and the city and people reflect that in their diverse culture.
M For Montreal is a unique festival that has been closing the Canadian festival season for the past 12 years. It’s not your typical large showcase festival like SXSW or the Great Escape or even Pop Montreal (which happens two months early). M For Montreal is a TINY showcase festival, which is really built for the music industry. The first two nights of music aren’t even open to the public and are strictly for the invited guests from around the world to experience. There is a healthy balance of Franco and Anglo acts performing alongside each other, as well as a mix of artists coming from all across Canada and some international acts, this year, there is even an act from Greenland of all places!! (Nive and the Deer Children).
It may sound weird but my favourite part of M For Montreal is how small it is, you really do get to meet everyone and see a LOT of music in a short amount of time. It’s a compact festival that uses its resources wisely. I don’t have room to write about every single act I saw so here are the five stand out Canadian acts. Also want to give big shout outs to Dralms, Absolutely Free, Partner and the Pirouettes.
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Many of the artists presented at M this year are prominently vocal heavy, featuring haunting vocal melodies with very simple, almost non-existent instrumentation. We’re showcased to at least 10 artists like this, showing that this simple but emotionally powerful style of singer/songwriter seems to be the current sound of Montreal. They’ve left their hipster reverb at the door and gone full on clean-cut adult-pop harmonies, my mom would be so happy!
The clear stand out from these showcases is Beyries (full name Amélie Beyries). A Montreal native, Beyries plays an afternoon set at a local church, playing a grand piano accompanied by another vocalist on basic percussion. The two women’s voices mixed together is a beautiful harmonic sound, encompassing everyone in the room to hold their breath as they sing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had sung together since childhood. Beyries released her debut, 'Landing', earlier this year on Bonsound.
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Dance party! Dance Party Alert! The first set of the Thursday night is a sold out show at Club Soda, a huge theatre venue. We enter the club to a bouncing Pierre Kwenders, he’s wearing the most wonderfully colourful trousers running laps around the stage. Kwenders is backed by a full band and backing track, his sound is a melting pot of African influences mixed with more Western sounding electronic music and hip-hop.
Kwenders sings in four languages, in a city that is officially bilingual, being quadrilingual is mighty impressive. It’s the perfect way to start the evening and Club Soda turns into a sweaty mess of dancing and smiling faces.
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Le Couleur is a band that have been on my radar for a while, putting out two stellar records Voyage Love and P.O.P. Their 1980s sounding synth pop jam 'Vacances de 87' is candy to my ears. Live they have quite the set up with a drummer, percussionist, bass / synth / laptop player, singer / keyboardist and what seemed like a sound person controlling all the backing tracks and synths from a mobile app with a mixer, sitting in the crowd.
Le Couleur took to the stage at 2pm after M for Montreal’s “hangover brunch” and immediately riled up the hung over crowd with their enthusiastic stage presence. Singer, Laurence Giroux-Do, was on top of a monitor dancing, and even though it was early afternoon they asked for a round of shots on stage for all members half way through the set.
If you like to dance and you like pleasing synth pop harmonies, Le Couleur is for you, the gig culminated with Giroux-Do dancing into the crowd with her star shaped tambourine for the grand finale.
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The first time I saw Boyhood was Pop Montreal 2013 at Quai Des Brumes. They had just released their debut cassette, a lo-fi reverb soaked gorgeous debut that had a song “Where I’m Going” on it, which was one of my favourite songs of 2012.
I’ve watched Boyhood evolve over the years from their lo-fi roots to their now more mature sound with the addition of keys, cleaner vocals and clean guitar. Boyhood is the project of Ottawa’s Caylie Runciman, joining her live is her younger brother Callum on drums, Philippe Charbonneau (Scattered Clouds) and Jonas Bonnetta (Evening Hymns). They have a new album in the bag 'Bad Mantras' and it looks like it’s going to be Boyhood’s time to become Adulthood. Heyo!
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I had been waiting to see The Courtneys for years and years. Somehow I had missed them every time they toured. The Courtneys aren’t re-writing rock n roll but what they do is fun lo-fi power pop. There is a hazy sunniness to their songs that shines through even if they are playing at a raucous dimly lit bar in the winter in Canada at 2AM.
Influenced heavily by a certain wave of New Zealand bands, including The Clean, The Courtneys end their late night set with a classic Clean cover and dedicate it to their label boss Ben Howe of Flying Nun Records, who happens to be in Montreal for the festival. The Courtneys are the first non-New Zealand band to sign to Flying Nun, which is an accomplishment in itself. Shine on Courtneys!
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Words: Mar Sellars // Check her out online HERE
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