Live Concert Review: M for Montreal 2019
M for Montreal (French – M pour Montreal) is an annual music festival and conference, which takes place during four days in mid to late November. Created on a whim, the festival was initially set up as a showcase to introduce 6 local acts, including Patrick Watson and The Besnard Lakes to 12 festival buyers and media professionals from the UK, who happened to be in Montreal while on their way to New York for CMJ, as the festival’s program director Mikey Rishwain Bernard told me in an interview on this site last month.
Since the inaugural festival 14 years ago, M for Montreal has gradually expanded to become a platform for Canadian artists and music industry people to network and mingle with national and international tastemakers, as well as other industry professionals, while simultaneously featuring over 100 emerging and buzzworthy local, national and international acts and bands in showcases across 15 of Montreal’s top venues and clubs.
300 music industry heavyweights, movers and shakers and tastemakers from over 20 different countries, including Canada and the United States make the trek to Montreal to seek out, new emerging artists and new business opportunities. Festival organizers, as Bernard told me last month, hope that the acts on the festival’s bill will be exported to each of the delegate’s respective markets. Now, as you may recall, I had the distinct honor and pleasure to among those 300 music industry heavyweights, movers and shakers and tastemakers, who made the trek to Montreal for the four-day festival.
Now, as you may recall, the festival’s first day featured a collection of emerging and rapidly rising Canadian acts that included synth pop act Alex Bent and The Emptiness, R&B/pop singer/songwriter Sebastian Gaskin, indie rock act Close Talker and rappers Naya Ali and Prado.
So we move on to the festival’s second day: the first of its two longest and most hectic days of its four day run.
Night 2: November 21, 2019
Café Cleopatre: Antony Carle, Bodywash, N0V3L and TEKE: TEKE
Sociètè des Arts Technologiques: Clauida Bouvette
Getting up at 6:30 in the morning, I bought my MacBook Pro and headphones down to the hotel’s restaurant/bar for breakfast – Le Classique Montrealais, two eggs, sausage, homemade beans, herb and buttered potatoes and of course, several cups of coffee – while I worked on blog posts and applied to jobs.
I walked from my hotel back to the Universitè du Quebec, a Montreal campus for a 9:30AM speed networking event that was dizzying and wildly productive.
After the networking event, I met a friend of a friend for poutine, beers and conversation at Patati Patata Friterie de Luxe, a small old-school inspired diner in Montreal’s Jewish Quarter on Boulevard Saint Laurent and Rachel Street West. The poutine, the beers and the conversation were amazing and enlightening — especially since my companion was a local, who had been in the area for a handful of years.
The festival’s second night began in earnest with a free showcase at the Café Cleopatre. Housed in a building that dates back to the late 1800s, Café Cleopatre is another one of Montreal’s cultural and historical treasures: the address has been a key location for vaudeville, burlesque, drag shows, strip tease shows and other related performances for about a century with the club itself being an important part of city’s Red Light District, when Montreal was best known as the Paris of North America.
In many ways, the venue is a symbol of the resistance of the sort of urban development that tends to wash away the grime, dirt, scum and sleaze that frequently gives cities a sense of character, that can make it different and interesting. It’s also a victory in terms of openly acknowledging the true and honest history of its hometown, of human nature – while reminding everyone that there’s a reason it’s one of Montreal’s longest running show houses. On the first floor, you’ll see barely dressed women of varying colors, shapes, sizes and ages working the stage in a room that has clearly seen some better days. It’s sleazy and grimy in a way that you would expect – it’s a strip joint, a titty bar after all. By default, they’re sleazy and grimy. But sitting in here is like time traveling, and as a result it gives the room and the space an odd charm. Upstairs, hosts a variety of live performances, including live music – in this case, a showcase that featured an eclectic bill of artists including Antony Carle, Bodywash, N0V3L and TEKE: TEKE. Opening the night was Antony Carle, a Montreal-based classical church vocalist turned queer pop artist. Released through acclaimed local label Bonsound last year, Carle’s debut EP The Moment established the Canadian artist as a charismatic presence, who specializes in a trap and house music -leaning, radio friendly pop. Live, Carle delivered his radio friendly pop with soulful vocals and a bold, zero fucks given air. And while slickly produced, the material was a little too mainstream-like for my tastes.
After Antony Carle’s set, I went across the street to Sociètè des Arts Technologiques, a futuristic space that features a restaurant, club, research areas and the domed Satosphere projection room to catch another local artist, Claudia Bouvette. Ironically, the space was part of the redevelopment meant to doom Café Cleopatre to the dustbin of history.
Interestingly, Bouvette’s Connor Siedel and Beau Diakowicz co-produced debut EP has quickly established her as one of the province’s hottest, up-and-coming pop artists. Drawing from an extensive catalog of demos, the EP’s material features slickly produced anthems that mesh organic instrumentation with contemporary electronic production and heartfelt yet ambitious songwriting. Live, her material struck me as being warmly familiar – it recalled Phoebe Ryan, Billie Eilish and others. Or the sort of pop that would make a 40-year-old man feel incredibly old.
However, what I will say that out of the pop artists I saw at M for Montreal, Bouvette may have the best chance at making it Stateside. Yes, her songs were written and sung in English – but perhaps more important, her material was arguably the most polished. Sadly, I didn’t catch all of her set because I had to run back across the street to make sure I got a good spot to shoot Bodywash’s set.
Bodywash is a Montreal-based dream pop act, comprised of founding members Chris Steward (vocals, guitar) and Rosie Long Decter (vocals, synths) with Ryan Adamian (guitar), Tom Gould (bass) and Ryan White (drums). Now, as you may recall, the act can trace its origins to when its founding duo met and bonded over a shared love of shoegaze and dream pop. In fact, when they began jamming at a McGill University basement rehearsal room, Steward and Decter found an immediate musical and creative simpatico. There is an excitement that comes from having people of diverse backgrounds and personalities in one room, trying to make something beautiful together,” the band’s Steward says in press notes. Tom Gould joined soon after, and as a trio they recorded an EP in 2016.
Released earlier this year through Luminelle Records, the band’s full-length debut Comforter firmly established the band’s sound – slow-burning and hazy dream pop centered around atmospheric electronics, shimmering synths, plaintive and ethereal vocals and trip hop-like beats. Their live set was exactly what I expected: shimmering and contemplative shoegaze-leaning dream pop that brought Slowdive, Lightfoils and others to mind.
N0V3L is a Vancouver, British Columbia-based DIY collective that writes, records and produces their own music, videos and clothing. The collective’s mission is to create music and art that openly challenges the gluttony and ruin wrought by the arrogant and powerful. Now, as you may recall Flemish Eye Records released the Vancouver-based collective’s debut EP NOVEL earlier this year, and from EP singles “To Whom It May Concern” and “Natural” the act specializes in a frenetic and angular dance floor friendly post-punk centered around shouted and yelped anti-capitalist mantras. And while sonically, the act’s sound recalls Entertainment-era Gang of Four, live the band’s sound unexpectedly featured a No Wave-bent while also bringing Talking Heads and Devo to mind. Interestingly, the Vancouver-based collective’s set may have been the most politically charged yet most dance floor friendly set of the entire festival.
Initially started as a loving homage and tribute band to legendary Japanese guitarist Takeshi “Terry” Terauchi, the Montreal-based collective TEKE: TEKE – Yuki Isami (flute, shinobue and keys), Hidetaka Yoneyama (guitar), Sergio Nakauchi Pelletier (guitar), Mishka Stein (bass), Etienne Lebel (trombone), Ian Lettree (drums, percussion) and Maya Kuroki (vocals, keys and percussion) — features a collection of accomplished local musicians, who have played with the likes of Pawa Up First, Patrick Wilson, Boogat, Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra and others. The Montreal-based act quickly came into their own when they started to blend Japanese Eleki surf rock with elements of modern Western music including shoegaze, post-punk, psych rock, ska, Latin music and Balkan music. Adding to a bold, genre-defying sound, the band’s arrangement mesh rock instrumentation with traditional Japanese instrumentation.
Playing one of the most energetic sets I’ve seen in several months, the Canadian collective’s sound and aesthetic reminded me a bit of The Bombay Royale – a mischievously anachronistic yet cinematic sound that somehow seems to fit in the Quentin Tarantino universe.
I went downstairs to check out the strip club. When in Rome, right? Lap dances were cheap — $10 Canadian a song. After a couple of lap dances, I bolted out of there and took an Uber across town for some late-night poutine at La Banquise. If you’re in Montreal, you need go there. The locals I’ve spoken to will tell you that it’s the place to go for poutine – and they ain’t joking. The La Scooby poutine was arguably the most memorable thing I ate while in town. (A large was so enormous that I couldn’t finish it; but I wound up with leftover poutine for the rest of my trip. I’ll consider that a win.)
Night 2 Winners: Bodywash, NOV3L, TEKE: TEKE, La Scooby poutine.
Come back for my coverage of days 3-4 of M for Montreal.