Live Concert Review: M for Montréal 2022

M for Montréal — M pour Montréal in French — is an annual conference, which takes place over the course of four days in late November in Canada’s second largest city. Since the inaugural conference back in 2005, M for Montreal has quickly expanded to feature a selection of over 100 emerging, buzz-worthy and/or breakout acts from across Québec, the rest of Canada and internationally playing in showcases in Montréal’s top venues. 

The annual conference welcomes over 300 music industry professionals from Canada and internationally to Montreal for professional programming and networking tailored specifically for folks in the industry. This year, conference delegates had the opportunity to attend a full slate of panels and workshops that addressed some of the most pressing issues, concerns, trends and talking points in the music industry today, including copyright in the Metaverse, the impact of international A&R, and the industry’s relationship with mental health, among others. The conference also featured keynote sessions led by some of the industry’s major players, including a keynote led by Sub Pop Records‘ CEO Megan Jasper. 

Because the 17th edition was the first fully in-person conference in three years, this year’s M for Montreal seemed bigger than ever. This year marked the return of additional activities and events for delegates to take part in throughout its four-day run. Past favorites like Music PEI Brunch Club, Artist Lab, co-presented by TuneCore and QUB musique and M for Marathon presented by SiriusXM all returned this year. Friday, November 18th’s evening outdoor showcase featuring three up-and-coming pop artists and a delegate happy hour were originally scheduled to take place at Van Horne Viaduct’s Skatepark; but were relocated indoors because of weather-related concerns: Roughly 5-6 inches of snow fell on the morning of Wednesday, November 16. Walking through the freshly fallen snow through downtown Montréal and later in the Hochelaga-Maisonnueve neighborhood was a bit like a dream. By the next morning, if you were walking through the La Ville Marie neighborhood, you’d be hard pressed to believe that it had snowed the day before. Friday, November 18 had snow in the forecast. And by the time, I had walked out of Mothland’s annual M for Mothland showcase, there was a fresh blanket of 3 inches or so of snow. I won’t lie, I was glad that we were going to be inside. 

Of course, networking is paramount. And festival organizers ensured that there were plenty of opportunities to network, including in-person mixer for delegates, a networking dinner – and through the virtual M for Mixer platform, Additionally, partner delegations from Wales and the Czech Republic hosted activities specifically for delegates and Pro badge holders. 

M for Montréal organizers announced the full festival lineup in two portions: Back in September 2022, they announced the lineup for the festival’s Official Selection series. The Official Selection series highlighted 29 of Canada’s most exciting, buzz-worthy acts. Up from last year’s total of 20, 2022’s Official Selection bands and artists fully embrace the conference’s long-held values of promoting equity and inclusivity by featuring bands and artists from a diverse spectrum of identities, backgrounds, genres, and styles. 

Around late October, organizers shared the full lineup for the M for Marathon portion of the program. M for Marathon featured over 100 acts across a wide and equally eclectic array of genres and styles playing in town. While most of the acts were either local or Canadian, there was a fair representation of international acts. 

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the last part of the year, you might recall that I was invited back to cover the 17th edition of M for Montréal as a festival delegate. The trip was my first international flight and first international trip in three years — – and oddly enough, almost three years to the day. Obviously, I was honored and flattered to cover a festival that may arguably be covering the most well-run festival I’ve ever attended. I was also thrilled to be traveling, and to be spending time in one of my favorite cities. And the opportunity to make new memories, meet new people and see some familiar faces – and to see some new acts all are right up my alley. Oh, and I can’t forget, stops at Main Deli for smoked meat sandwiches and La Banquise for poutine. (If you know anything about me, food and music are by far the most important and memorable aspects of my travels,) 

My M for Montréal coverage was rooted in a mix of personal interests and obsessions, wide-ranging eclecticism and a long-held interest and passion for wanting to be as inclusive as possible. So, the 17th edition of the festival just seemed to be right up my alley. 

This one will be part travelogue, part festival review. Let’s get to it, right?

Before I forget some quick stats for you readers:

  • 5 days 
  • 26 sets
  • 11 venues
  • 2 smoked meat sandwiches
  • 4 poutines
  • 25 miles walked
  • 8 hours stuck at Pierre Elliot Trudeau-Montreal Airport waiting for a flight back to NYC 
  • 0 lens caps lost 

Day 1: Tuesday, November 15, 2022


I took a LaGuardia Airport-bound Q72 bus on the corner of Junction Blvd, and Horace Harding Expressway and got to LaGuardia Airport around 10:15 for a 12:55 Air Canada flight to Pierre Elliot Trudeau-Montreal Airport (YUL).With even more gear and electronics than back in 2019, it made sense to show up as early as I could, so I could comfortably go through security and then re-pack my stuff without feeling pressured. I’m almost always very anxious about potentially forgetting or losing something very valuable. Once while going through security at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I got momentarily distracted and couldn’t find my laptop and my work laptop. I looked around in a wild panic for a good 15-20 seconds and audibly said “Oh shit!” A security guard saw me all in a panic and said, “Sir, your stuff is right here,” while pointing at a tray with both computers. I think a security guard might have moved it a little bit to make way for something. I never want to have that sort of confusion again, so I do whatever I can within my power to prevent it. 

By 11:00am, I was sitting at an airport bar, near my gate, drinking pre-flight beers and chatting on the phone: First, I was on the phone with my cousin Lisa, who has managed to text or call me before almost every flight I’ve taken since 2017. Just before I boarded my flight, I spoke to my mom, which I’ve done on every flight I’ve ever taken. 

Did I feel weird about drinking at 11:00am? A little bit. But airport time is its own time zone. And I knew that a drink or two would calm my nerves. 

Caption: Beer at LaGuardia Airport’s beautiful, new Terminal B. The first international flight in three years was a little nerve racking but worth every moment. And I can’t wait to do it again — hopefully sooner than later.
Caption: Airplane selfie while waiting for takeoff.

(Obviously, if you know me well enough, you’d fully expect that I would wind up taking a few photos while in the air. I posted those photos back in November, but in case you missed them, you can check them out here:

My flight landed at Pierre Elliot Trudeau-Montreal Airport (YUL) around 2:30 or so. I went through the customs procedures: In Montreal, it’s all self-serve kiosks that spit out a receipt, which you’re supposed to hand over to bored and exceedingly Québécois customs agents, before you can claim your suitcase. 

Once I had my possessions, I refilled my OPUS transit card and got on the 747 bus into town. Currently, the airport bus is the cheapest option to get into town: In 2019, it was $10 CAD; in 2022, it went up to $11 CAD, which is a little over $8 USD. Lyft isn’t available yet. Although it has been talked about for the past couple of years. The other option would be a cab or an Uber, which is generally around $40 CAD. 

Montréal’s government, along with the Québec provincial government and the Canadian federal government have teamed up for the largest public transit project undertaken in the province in the last 50 years – a 67 kilometer (about 42 miles)-long light rail system called the Réseau Express Métropolitan (R.E.M.). Consisting of 26 stations, including one at Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport, which will open in 2027, the light rail line will cross the Southern end of Montréal Island, connecting the Southwestern and Southeastern suburbs with Downtown Montréal. From what I’ve read, once completed, the light rail from YUL will take about 26 minutes. So, although it’s a few years away, it’ll be another option for travelers. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to take advantage of that light rail when it’s up and running.

Around 3:40pm, I arrived at the delegate hotel, Hotel ZERO 1, located on the corner of Boulevard René Levesque and Boulevard Saint Laurent, in Downtown Montréal, right near Montréal’s Chinatown. I picked up my festival badge. Then I checked into the hotel and went upstairs to my hotel room, which featured a stunning view of Downtown Montréal below, and Mont Royal and Mont Royal Cross just off to my left. 

Main Deli Steakhouse

3864 Boulevard Saint Laurent 

After spending a few minutes settling in and letting people know that I got into town safely, the first order of business was a stop at Main Deli Steakhouse for a smoked meat combo.  I went downstairs and crossed Boulevard René Levesque for a North-bound 55 bus. I must have looked like I was a local or I knew exactly where I was going, because I had three local women – presumably a mother with her two grown daughters – ask me if the 55 stopped where I was standing, first in French then in English. I told them that, yes. I then added that according to Google Maps, the bus was a couple of minutes away. 

Located on Boulevard Saint Laurent between Rue Saint Cuthbert and Rue Napoleon, in Montréal’s Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood, Main Deli Steakhouse is a short bus ride: We’re talking about maybe a 10-minute or so bus ride up the street. But it’s worth it. Montreal’s beloved singer/songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen used to frequent the spot. Fittingly, one of the city’s two murals dedicated to Cohen is about a block away. And with décor that hasn’t seemed to change since sometime in the 1970s, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was sitting in Cohen’s booth – or if things were exactly how he would have remembered it. 

The food though was exactly how I remembered: The right amount of fat, salt, and deliciousness. And it reminded so much of Katz’s Delicatessen and other old, New York Jewish delis. 

Adding to a warm, dusty sort of comfort: the waitress, who had served me three years earlier, was serving me. We wound up having a very pleasant conversation, which naturally started with how I had stopped there in 2019 and that as soon as I got into town, I knew I needed some smoked meat. It eventually led to the waitress convincing me to come back and try their poutine. Lady, you had me at smoked meat poutine! 

Photos and thoughts could be found here:

Opening Night Reception, Bravo Musique

4577 Boulevard Saint Laurent 

Located on Boulevard Saint Laurent between Mont Royal Avenue East and Rue Villenueve, Bravo Musique is a label, management and music publishing company founded by Eli Bissonette and Hugo Mudie back in 2000 as Dare to Care Records. Sometime between late 2020 and early 2021, the label’s embattled cofounder Bissonette stepped down amid accusations of fostering a toxic workplace and disregarding allegations of sexual assault directed against former label artist Bernard Adamus. Following those allegations, Adamus was also dropped by the label. 

In January 2021, acclaimed singer, songwriter, and pianist Béatice Martin, best known as Cœur de pirate, purchased the label from Bissonnette. Acting as label head and artistic director, Martin announced in February that year, that the label would be rebranded as Bravo Musique to acknowledge the successes of its artists. Since then, the label has made a name for itself in Québec and the Francophone world as a serious tastemaker, releasing material by JOVM mainstays Thaïs and Naomi, label head and creative director Cœur de pirate, Bertrand Belin, Organ Mood, Thierry Larose, and a lengthy list of others. 

With too much time to spare, I walked up Boulevard Saint Laurent and pulled out my Canon 6D Mark II to take some a few photos of anything that caught my eye. I still wound up arrive at Bravo Musique’s offices too early, so I called my mom and walked a block or two back and forth before entering and introducing myself. 

Of course, a key part of any festival – especially one like M for Montreal – is networking. I wound up chatting with some folks at Bravo Musique. I chatted and hugged the festival’s longtime festival director Mikey Rishwain Bernard. (If you were frequenting this site over the past few years, you might recall that I chatted with him back in ’19 about the festival’s 14th edition and Montreal. You can check that out here: I wound up chatting with a few lovely Canadians. I drank a few locally brewed IPAs. Beer isn’t the area’s strongest suit; it’s food. The food is something else though.   

I spent most of the night chatting with rising Montréal-based pop artist Emma Beko. Beko proved to be so charming that I fully committed to checking out her M for Montreal set later that week. (More on that later, of coure.) 

After beers and Montreal pizza, the early arriving delegates walked two doors down the street for the festival’s opening night showcase at Le Ministére. 

M for Montéeal Opening Night

Les Shirley with Mentana at Le Ministére

4521 Boulevard Saint Laurent

Located at the site of a former bank on Boulevard Saint Laurent, between Avenue Mont Royal and Rue Villenueve, the 288-person capacity Le Ministére opened back in 2017. Since its opening, Le Ministére has an all-age theater license. The venue boasts great soundproofing while being equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, with a control room designed as a mixing studio. Le Ministére can be used for multiple purposes: live music, live theater, multi-camera capture, high quality live streaming with multi-track recording. 

Caption: Les Shirley at Le Ministére, M for Montréal.
Caption: Les Shirley at Le Ministére, M for Montréal.
Caption: Les Shirley at Le Ministére, M for Montréal.
Caption: Les Shirley at Le Ministére, M for Montréal.
Caption: Les Shirley at Le Ministére, M for Montréal.

Montréal-based all-female punk trio Les Shirley – Raphaëlle Chouinard (guitar, vocals), Sarah Dion (bass) and Lisandre Bourdages (drums) formed back in 2018. And since then, the trio have developed a sound and approach that connects the dots between 90s grunge, 2000s punk and catchy, hook-driven pop rooted in their penchant for scorching riffage and their uncanny sense of melody. 

The trio closed out the first night with a set of power pop-like punk that at times reminded me of The Runaways, Lita Ford120 Minutes-era MTV alt rock and jangle pop delivered with a swaggering, self-assuredness, and high energy. I might have heard sets like Les Shirley several hundred times in my life at spots like Cake Shop, Bar Matchless, The Gutter, The Rock Shop, Union Hall and on and on, but their energy was so infectious, the riffage so raise-your-beer-in-the-air worthy that they just won me over. 

Caption: Mentana at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Mentana at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Mentana at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Mentana at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Mentana at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Mentana at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Mentana at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.

Presumably deriving their name from Rue Mentana, a street in the city’s Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood, the Montréal based folk outfit Mentana – Robin Joël Cool (vocal, guitar), Viviane Audet (keys, vocal), Vulgaires Machins’ and Josianne Paradis’ Yannick Parent (drums), and West Trainz’s and Neil Young’s Erik West-Millette (bass) – specialize in cinematic folk paired with narrative lyrics. 

The Montréal-based folk outfit first gained wider attention, when “Islands and Rupees” was featured during the final credits of Rafaël Ouellet’s film Camion, a film that garnered a Best Director win during 2012’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Camion’s score was co-written by Cool, Audet and West-Millette before they started the band – but it managed to win Québec’s Jutra Prize for Best Original Film Score back in 2013. 

Building upon a growing profile across the province, the members of Mentana self-released their debut EP Western Soil. The EP received praise from the French language Métro Montréal (a.k.a. Journal Métro), who wrote that the EP’s songs “could be a soundtrack to the Gold Rush. We want more!”

The following year, they signed a record deal and enlisted the help of local electroinc music producer Leon Louder to record their full-length debut Inland Desire, which was released in 2016. Mentana supported the album with touring across their native Canada and Europe. During the European leg of their tour, the band was featured in a documentary filmed by German TV channel ZDF. As a result, the album shot to the top of iTunes Germany’s Folk Music Charts. 

Along with streaming internationally, Mentana’s songs have been regularly featured in movies and TV shows. In fact, Mentana’s Cool and Audet have developed a reputation for being highly sought-after composers, who have written scores for feature films, documentary, and the theater. Their work has been nominahile ted for Canadian Screen Awards, the Gemini Awards, and an Association Québécoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectale et de la video (ASDIQ) Felix.  The duo composed the score for Rafaël Ouellet’s Arsenault et fils, which was released last June. 

The band’s Viviane Audet has also fit in a successful career as a solo artist, releasing four albums since 2006. Her last album, 2020’s 11-song Les filles montagnes, is a solo, piano instrumental album that pays tribute to the 14 female victims of 1989’s École Polytechnique massacre, one of the country’s deadliest mass shootings until the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia. The album received praise from Métro Montréal. Who called the album “a beautiful, poignant and committed first instrumental album.”

Mentana’s sophomore album, the Phillipe Brault-produced Rise from the Wreck was released through Studio B-12 last August. Continuing upon that momentum, the band opened both the festival and the night with a set of accessible, country-tinged folk with passionate performances and narrative lyrics driven by lived-in experience. And while the songs were rooted in novelistic attention to detail, metaphysical musings, hints of mythology, and big hooks, the material struck me as a mix of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Fleetwood Mac. In other words, it was crafted and accessible – but it struck me as being incredibly corny and done way too many times before by countless other corny bands. 

Alex Bellegarde Trio with Erik Hove and Jam Session at Diese Onze

4115A Rue Saint Denis

Founded back in May 2007 and located on Rue Saint Denis between Avenue Duluth East and Rue Rachel East in the Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood, Diese Onze, is a one of the city’s preeminent jazz clubs, known both locally and elsewhere for hosting some of the city’s best players, as well as touring musicians, who frequently play two sets a night. 

During the fall 2007, the club’s founder and original owner opened their kitchen, which from that point onward has served tapas and bistro fare. 

In June 2015, Gary Trembley, who served as the club’s manager for four years, bought the club from its original owner. While preserving the club’s overall direction, he focused on establishing the club as a serious jazz institution: Under his watch, a new piano and drum set were purchased. The kitchen was revamped – and there was greater attention to improving the wine, spirits list, as well as the cuisine. 

Diese Onze being selected as a venue for Off Jazz Montreal Festival and Montreal International Jazz Festival have helped the club establish its reputation as a serious jazz club – both locally and globally: Downbeat ranked Diese Onze in their select annual list of the best jazz clubs around the world. The annual tourist guide, Planet Jazz, written by the team at French magazine, Jazz Magazine has called the club one of the essential places of both the Montreal and Canadian jazz scene. 

M for Montreal’s opening night showcase ended around 10:30pm. I didn’t want to go back to my hotel room right away. Typically, in my travels, I try to catch music at a local joint that a local recommended to me: In Chicago, an industry pal told me to check out Kingston Mines for local blues. The night I went, I managed to catch local blues legend Joanna Connor, who blew my mind. Whenever I’m in Philadelphia, I try to stop at Time, to catch local jazz musicians. 

I had chatted with several folks, who worked for Bravo Musique throughout the night. As I was getting ready to leave, I asked one of the Bravo Musique folks where I could catch. He recommended Diese Onze to me. 

I arrived at about 11:00. I paid an $8 CAD cover to catch an impressive jam session featuring the Alex Bellegarde Trio with Erik Hove and a collection of exceptionally talented local players. I posted photos back in November, but you can check that post out here:

Even When You Leave New York, You Still See Wild New York Shit, Part 1

Around 12:30 or so, I thought about a couple of things: 

  1. Heading back to my room at some point. 
  2. If the metro was the best way to head back to my room, I needed to head back because the metro closes at 1:30AM. 
  3. I had to upload photos to my hard drive and get some sleep. Wednesday was going to be a very long day. 

I don’t think I can live without Google Maps whenever I travel. I typed in the pertinent addresses and Google Maps told me that I could get a Côte Vertu-bound Orange Line train at Mont Royal station, located near the intersection of Rue Rivard and Avenue Mont Royal. 

At Mont Royal Station, a mixed group of young and boisterous knuckleheads walked past me, roughhousing and being – well, knuckleheads. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were shouting at each other in French, I’d almost mistake it for any other subway station in New York. The smallest man of the group was rocking and reeling drunk. One of the friends in the group snatched the drunk guy’s hat right off his head and threw it on the tracks. Everyone in the group laughed hysterically. The drunk guy, however, became angry. Things quickly became serious: The drunk guy made a move towards the tracks to retrieve his hat. The drunk guy’s friends held him back. They were convincing him not to do something stupid. 

The knuckleheads walked past me and disappeared. I assumed that I just missed a train and they excited to the street. On the opposite platform was another drunk guy, who first sat down on the platform with his legs dangling over the edge. He then laid down on the platform – with his legs still dangling over the edge, and then seemed to close his eyes, as though he fell asleep. “Oh god, do I have to wake this guy up?” I thought. “I don’t know how to tell someone to wake the fuck up in French – or to watch out.” 

Thankfully, that never happened. He quickly got up. The train arrived and he got on. My train arrived and I got on and headed back to my room. 

What was all of that about? I have no idea. But it was some ol’ late night, New York shit that was very familiar. 

Night One Winners:

  • Main Deli Smokehouse’s Smoke Meat Sandwich Combo
  • Les Shirley
  • Alex Bellegarde Trio 

Day 2: Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Even When You Leave New York, You Still See Wild New York Shit, Part 2

I woke up to see that it had snowed overnight and into the morning. It may have been the first snow of the season – and it looked like it was about three to six inches of it, too.  I had taken a quick picture of Downtown Montréal with my iPhone 14 Pro and texted it to a few close friends and family with the caption “Bonjour from snowy Montréal.”  

Caption: Bonjour from snowy Montréal!

I called the front desk to find out if their breakfast was still available. They told me it wasn’t. I went to my MacBook Pro and googled breakfast near me and started looking at menus. One of the first things that came up was Eggspectation. I looked at their menu and the first thing that caught my eye was breakfast poutine. My first thought was “Oh, hell yeah!”  Plus, on the way there, I could take photos of snowy Montreal. A double win, right?

I decided that I wanted to hit the streets with my Canon 6D Mark II. As I’m approaching Place de la Plaix, I see someone heading towards my direction. It’s a white man close to my age. He tells me his story full of just awful luck. At some point, he was mugged and the only thing he had left was the clothes on his back and his ID card. He then goes on to show me his ID card to prove his story. I feel sorry for the guy. But I’m a jaded New Yorker; I know enough to not believe every single story someone tells me. And while he’s talking to me, he’s delaying me getting to breakfast and coffee. 

I apologize and tell him “I don’t have any cash on me.” (It’s true. There was a technical issue that delayed the receipt of my grant until that day. I would have gotten some cash and bought Canadian currency at YUL – for the odd coat check or to tip someone. But that didn’t happen.) 

He then goes on to say “Well, I have Venmo.

“Sorry, I have to run,” I tell the man. And I kept on walking. I could sense his annoyance, his frustration. But there was something just off to me. Plus, I know he could tell I was a tourist. 

Also, Venmo? For real, my guy? I don’t know you. 

Snowy Montreal/Breakfast Poutine Eggspectation

Complexe Desjardins

190 Rue Sainte Catherine West

Back in the early 1970s, Mouvement Desjardins (English: Desjardins Group), a Canadian financial service cooperative and the largest federation of credit unions (French: caisses populaires) in North America, and the Government of Québec collaborated to build a complex in Downtown Montréal that would meet specific economic, social, and human objectives. Finished in 1976 as part of a massive redevelopment program across the city in concert with that year’s Summer Olympics, Complexe Desjardins is a dynamic business and cultural hub, that features office space, and a massive shopping center, located in the city’s Quartier des Spectacle section. 

Complexe Desjardins’ shopping center features 110 stores and shops, which offer a full range of stores and services for men, women, and children. Including apparel, housewares, electronics, a massive food court with restaurants, cafes, and a grocer. There’s also a public plaza with a fountain at the center of it. And the complex hosts over 200 events annually. 

Eggspectation is a growing chain with 13 locations across Canada – with six in Montréal. Two of their Montréal locations were conveniently about a 10–15-minute walk from my hotel in opposite directions. When I saw breakfast poutine on the Complexe Desjardins location menu, my immediate thought was “Oh, fuck yes. Why didn’t I hear of this before?”

The walk in the snow was worth it. There’s something about the gravy, fries, cheese, cheese curds and egg that just was wonderful on a cold day. 

Plus, seeing Montréal in the snow was a gorgeous dream. 

Sometimes, stereotypes are true: I walked out of Compelxe Desjardins and heard Celine Dion playing on the loudspeakers. it’s Québec, of course! 

I posted photos and thoughts back in November but for those who may have missed it – or forgot, you can check that out here:

M for Montreal: Believe Presents Meet and Bowl at Darling Bowling 

Lisa Leblanc with Marilyne Leonard with Thaïs

3350 Rue Ontario East

Located on Rue Ontario East between Rue Davidson and Rue Darling in Montréal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve section, Darling Bowling was founded by Joe Celestino in 1963. Locally, Darling Bowling is considered a beloved institution: The country’s first professional bowlers cut their teeth there. And the popular weekly bowling show L’Heure des quills filmed several episodes there during the show’s 21-year run. 

Back in March 2014, Isabelle Lavoie purchased Darling Bowling. Bowling is a deeply ingrained in her family: Her father and grandfather managed several bowling alleys in town, including Broadway Bowling, Montreal East, and the bowling alley at Center récréatif Édouard-Rivest until 2000. With Lavoie at the helm, the alley went through extensive renovations to restore the room to its 1960s glory. 

Caption: Neon sign, Darling Bowling, Montréal.
Caption: I love disco balls. Darling Bowling, Montréal

Founded back in 2005 by Denis Ladegaillerie, Arnaud Chiaramonti, and Nicolas Laciias, Believe (also known as Believe Music) is a global digital music company headquartered in Paris, which provides various digital solutions for both artists and labels, including music publishing, digital distribution, and more. The French-based company is one of the world’s leading digital music companies – and over the past handful of years, they’ve expanded into 44 countries. 

I mentioned Believe because they sponsored the first showcase of M for Montreal’s second day – and technically first full day and nights of events: M for Montreal’s Meet and Bowl at Darling Bowling. Delegates like myself were welcomed with a cocktail reception, a menu with classic local fare – poutine, club sandwiches and smoked meat sandwiches, along with local beer, boozy slushies and more were offered.

Caption: M for Montréal’s Mikey Rishwain Bernard emceeing at Believe Presents Meet and Bowl at Darling Bowling

And of course, you could rent bowling shoes and bowl on four of the alley’s eight lanes. Why only four? Well, because of they had a set up a stage across three or four lanes in what was the most unique, if not oddest set-up for a show I’ve seen in quite some time. But the key thing is that the showcase gave both new and repeat delegates an opportunity to get a real taste of the city – in terms of food and history. 

Caption: Lisa LeBlanc at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal.
Caption: Lisa LeBlanc at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal.
Caption: Lisa LeBlanc at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal.
Caption: Lisa LeBlanc at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal.
Caption: Lisa LeBlanc at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal.
Caption: Lisa LeBlanc at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal.
Caption: Lisa LeBlanc at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal.
Caption: Lisa LeBlanc at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal.

Closing out the night was Lisa LeBlanc, an acclaimed Rosaireville, New Brunswick-born, Montréal-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (banjo and guitar). LeBlanc, who proudly claims Acadian heritage, comes from a family of passionate music lovers.  (In case you’re curious – as I was – Cajuns are often described as descendants of Acadian exiles who went to Louisiana during the Britain’s Great Expulsion of Acadians from what is now known as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, plus parts of Eastern Québec and Northern Maine. I’m simplifying it quite a bit here, but Acadians and Cajuns are deeply connected, even if it’s kind of confusing.) 

LeBlanc can trace the origins of her professional career to when she started writing her own original songs when she turned 14. She played her first shows O’Donaghues in Miramichi with her mother in two, because she was underage. But the Rosaireville-born, Montréal-based artist was quickly recognized for being an outstanding guitarist and promising singer/songwriter when she won the 2010 Festival International de chanson de Granby – singing material in French. The juried award brought her to the attention of the country’s Francophone media. And as a result, she wound up playing Coup de cœur francophone, FrancoFoiles de Montréal and at Festival d’été de Québec by the following year.

LeBlanc’s full-length, self-titled debut was released in 2012 by Montréal-based label Bonsound. Primarily written while she was still living in her native Rosaireville, studying at L’École nationale de la chanson with portions written in Montréal, where she eventually relocated, the album was recorded by Karkwa’s Louis-Jean Cormier at Studio Piccolo. The album is best known for the single “Aujuord’hui ma vie c’est d’la marde” (“Today My Life is Shit”) – and because of the success of that single, the album eventually was certified platinum by Music Canada. 

2014’s Highways, Heartaches and Time Well Wasted, her critically applauded and commercially successful English-language EP debuted at #7 on the Canadian Album Charts. 

LeBlanc’s sophomore album, 2016’s bilingual Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen? featured songs both in English and French, as well as a thrash-folk cover of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” which helped to establish what she has dubbed as thrash-folk. The album was on that year’s shortlist for the Polaris Music Prize

Back in 2020, LeBlanc, under the pseudonym Belinda released It’s Not a Game, It’s a Lifestyle, a five-song EP of disco songs specifically about bingo – yes, bingo. That might have informed her third album, last year’s Chiac Disco.

LeBlanc in a glittery, seafoam green-like colored jumpsuit with fringes and her appropriately disco rock-attired backing band played centered around glittery disco rock and synth-driven 80s Prince-inspired funk – but with a frenetic, Karen O-meets-Marissa Paternoster-like frontperson. It was very odd. At times it was familiar and cheesy dance floor rock with arena rock bombast that felt somehow dated but also of the moment. And it was ridiculous. But goddamn it, it was also a lot of fucking fun. 

But I was blown away when LeBlanc and her band played “You Look Like Trouble, But I Guess I Do Too,“ a Charlie Daniels Band “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” – meets-Giorgio Moroder romp, which to me rivaled La Femme for being a complete “What the Fuck Was That?/That Was Awesome” freakout.  The set’s closing song featured a banjo solo that ripped so hard, that I saw people headbanging. Holy shit, y’all. 

Caption: Marilyne Léonard at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Marilyne Léonard at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Marilyne Léonard at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Marilyne Léonard at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Marilyne Léonard at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Marilyne Léonard at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal

Emerging Montréal-based singer/songwriter and musician Mariylne Léonard was signed by Audiogram Records, who released her debut single “Beteaux” in early 2021. Since then, Léonard has released a collection of singles produced by acclaimed local producer Emmanuel Éthier, centered around a unique sound with elements of indie rock and contemporary pop paired with a delivery that sees her alternating between singing and rapping in French. 

Performing as a trio that saw Léonard accompanying herself on guitar, along with a bassist/synth player and a drummer, the emerging Montréal artist’s set featured slick, radio friendly Francophone pop that reminded me a bit of Mac DeMarco and Dayglow. But underneath the catchiness of it all, was material that I’ve heard in some fashion or another for the better part of the past 15 years. And as a result, I just felt as though I wasn’t the right audience for them; I was easily 20 years too old. 

I also kept asking myself “Would this get over in the States?” I wasn’t convinced that they would get over yet here in the States but in the Francophone world, sure. 

Caption: Thaïs at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Thaïs at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Thaïs at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Thaïs at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Thaïs at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Thaïs at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Thaïs at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal
Caption: Thaïs at Darling Bowling, M for Montréal

Paris-born, Montréal-based singer/songwriter and JOVM mainstay Thaïs specializes in an atmospheric and delicate take on pop centered around the French-Canadian artist’s ethereal vocals. 

2022 turned out to be a big year for the Paris-born, Montréal-based artist. She signed to Bravo Musique, who released her sophomore EP Tout est parfait: acte un last May. And if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past year, you might recall that the EP featured two tracks that I wrote about: 

  • Arrête de danser,” a slickly produced bop centered around glistening and atmospheric synth arpeggios and trap beats that saw the rising French Canadian artist alternating between a syncopated trap-like flow for the song’s verses and ethereal cooing for the song’s hook and choruses. And while arguably being one of her most club friendly songs, “Arrête de danser” is a bitter tell-off to an unhealthy, dysfunctional lover that the song’s narrator knows deep down is wrong for her — and yet can’t quite quit.  
  • The Coeur de Pirate co-written, Renaud Bastien-produced “Vieux Port,” a danceable and deceptively upbeat bop featuring wobbling bass synth, glistening and arpeggiated synth melodies, twinkling keys, some brief bursts of industrial clang and clatter and soaring strings paired with Thaïs ethereal cooing. But just underneath the surface is a song that details a relationship that’s seemingly on the ropes while contemplating the passing of time and the desire to turn the clock back — with the knowledge you have now. 

She closed out the year with her second EP of the year, Tout est parfait: acte deux released last September – and her highly-anticipated full-length debut, Tout es parfait, which featured the previously mentioned “Arrête de danser” and “Vieux Port,” as well as “Le Vent,” a breezy pop confection featuring twinkling and arpeggiated synths, skittering trap-like beats and Thaïs ethereal coos. The song’s title, which translates into English as “The Wind” is structured to evoke a gust of wind for the verses and a brewing storm for the song’s choruses. “Le Vent” continues a remarkable run of material imbued with the achingly bittersweet nostalgia of a long-lost love that its narrator knows deep down that she can’t ever get back. 

The JOVM mainstay’s high-energy set proved to me that she’s a superstar in the making. Despite the odd set up, Thaïs along with her drummer played a set of material that at times reminded me of acclaimed Canadians Men I Trust – but while revealing that she had a bigger, pop belter range. And for the more up-tempo material, the JOVM mainstay and her drummer pumped up the energy, ensuring that you had to pay attention to her. Simply put, the JOVM mainstay is a star in the making. You’ve heard it here. 

M for Montréal/M for Marathon at Le Belmont           

Nicholas Craven and Friends with Albert Dalton, Fernie, Odreii, and dee holt

4483 Boulevard Saint Laurent   

Located on the corner of Boulevard Saint Laurent and Avenue Mont Royal East in the Montréal’s Plateau Mont Royal section, Le Belmont was once known as a dive bar that was popular among the city’s college students. Over the years, Le Belmont has been increasingly known for being the city’s preeminent hip-hop club with bills featuring an array of internationally known, nationally known and locally known artists. 

Le Belmont hosts at least one M for Montréal showcase annually, and the 17th edition continued that tradition Wednesday night with a late-night showcase featuring a mix of hip-hop and singer/songwriter-driven pop headlined by rising Montréal-based hip-hop producer Nicholas Craven. Newfoundland-based emcee and producer Albert Dalton; rising, queer, Montréal-based R&B, pop, and soul artist Fernie; Montréal-based R&B and soul singer/songwriter Odreii; and Montréal-based pop singer/songwriter dee holt were also on the bill. 

Caption: Nicholas Craven and Friends at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Nicholas Craven and Friends at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Nicholas Craven and Friends at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Nicholas Craven and Friends at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Nicholas Craven and Friends at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Nicholas Craven and Friends at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Headlining the night was Montréal-based hip-hop producer Nicholas Craven. The prolific Canadian producer has worked with an eclectic and growing list of artists including Styles P, Sheek Louch, The Game, Evidence, Roc Marciano, Mach-Hommy Tha God Fahim, Eto, Planet Asia, Ransom, Stove God Cooks, Boldy James, Pink Siifu, Your Old Droog, Navy Blue, Armand Hammer, Jimmie D, Dark Lo, Rigz, Mike Shabb, Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, Benny The Butcher, Sha Hef, Keisha Plum, Kungg Fuu, and more. 

As a solo artist, Craven has released three albums – 2022’s Craven N 3, 2019’s Craven N 2 and 2017’s Craven N. The Montréal-based producer has also released multiple collaborative albums with the likes of Jimmie D, Eto, Tha God Fahim, and a five-album series with Ransom titled Director’s Cut. His most recent album, last year’s No Robbery sees the Canadian producer collaborating with Boldy James. 

Craven’s M for Montréal set at Le Belmont was partially a DJ set that saw him playing some of his favorite tracks. Interestingly, the first portion of the set was a ton of classic, New York hip-hop – in particularly Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z’s “I Love the Dough,” Gang Starr and Nice-N-Smooth’s “Dwyck,” and a host of others. After warming the crowd up, Craven pulled up a collection of local emcees, who got up to spit fire. Essentially, the set – for me, at least – served as a survey of local talent that was informative and entertaining while reminding folks that the city has a hip-hop scene worth your attention. 


Caption: Albert Dalton at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Albert Dalton at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Albert Dalton at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Albert Dalton is a 23-year-old, Newfoundland and Labrador-based emcee and producer. Over the past five years or so, Dalton has been rather prolific: He released over 100 songs over the course of four EPs, three full-length albums, three collaborations with Already Dead and two mixtapes. With that massive – and continually growing – output, the young Canadian artist has managed to dabble and explore various subgenres and styles within the genre. 

Half of Dalton’s M for Montréal set at Le Belmont was woozy and drugged out, lo-fi hip-hop that reminded me a bit of Jonwayne and Stones Throw Records-like fare. The other half of the set retained the woozy quality of the first half, but while pairing that with looping twinkling keys, tweeter and woofer rattling trap beats and his explosive flow. The material revealed an artist, who is restlessly experimenting with his sound, approach and even his flow. 

I didn’t expect to be won over, but I was. The kid can spit fire and produce some off kilter bangers.


Caption: Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Caption: Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Captain: Patrick Watson with Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Caption: Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Caption: Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Caption: Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Captain: Patrick Watson with Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Caption: Fernie at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Rising Montréal-based, Brazilian-Canadian, non-binary and queer artist of color Fernie released their critically applauded, full-length debut Aurora back in 2021. The album, which featured a blend of emancipatory soul, melodic R&B and vulnerable lyricism paired with subtle nuances of ‘90s melancholia. 

Fernie worked on the album over the course of a three-year period, in which they also sought to perceived as a whole person. The music the rising Montreal-based artist was working on. created a safe space for them to reveal, affirm and ultimately share themselves in a sincere fashion. 

The rising Brazilian Canadian artist was backed by tracks and a multi-instrumentalist, who played bass, guitar, violin, beats and drums. And with a decidedly fierce, no-fucks-given stage presence, Fernie’s M for Montréal featured some incredibly crafted bops that bridged hip-hop, neo-soul, electro pop and New Wave with an effortless aplomb that brought Jef Barbara to mind. 

Fernie also performed their collaboration with Magi MerlinDolla Bill” without Magi Merlin, but that didn’t matter much. The song is a laid back, defiantly Black, queer anthem. The set ended with a gorgeous song featuring a guest spot from Patrick Watson playing piano. 

From Fernie’s set, I was firmly convinced that the Brazilian Canadian artist, was going to be part of a group of Black, Montréal-based artists who could blow up internationally. 

Odreii at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Odreii at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Caption: Odreii at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Odreii at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Odreii at Le Belmont, M for Montréal
Caption: Odreii at Le Belmont, M for Montréal

Montréal-born and-based singer/songwriter Odreii can trace much of the origns of her career to growing up in a very musical environment. After studying music in London, where she won multiple songwriting contests, Odreii returned to her hometown to start her career in earnest. 

Back in 2019, Odreii released her debut EP Runs In Mi Blood, which featured title track “Runs In Mi Blood.” “Runs In Mi Blood” peaked at #3 on the PalmarésADISQ charts, featuring the most played songs on Québec’s English-language radio stations. She followed that up with 2020’s “Go Solo,” a single that helped her win the iHeartRadio Artist of the Month that June. 

Building upon a growing profile in her native Canada, Odreii released her full-length debut, 2021’s excellent Sweatin’ Gold, an effort she supported with shows in Montréal, Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. That same year, she won Rolling Stone’s Battle of the Bands competition. 

Since then, Odreii has been busy: Last summer, she played shows across Québec and Ontario. And she played last November’s M for Montréal. The rising local artist’s set featured material ranged from Bob Marley-like roots reggae, Bill Withers singer/songwriter soul, cinematic Kate Bush-like pop, and slickly produced, club friendly pop and Afro pop. The set revealed a restlessly eclectic, sonic chameleon-like artist – and remarkably adept, Lauryn Hill-inspired vocalist, who can spit bars and sing a heartfelt ballad. Simply put, she’s a superstar in the making. 


Caption: dee holt at Le Belmont, M for Montréal.
Caption: dee holt at Le Belmont, M for Montréal.
Caption: dee holt at Le Belmont, M for Montréal.
Caption: dee holt at Le Belmont, M for Montréal.

18-year-old Montréal based college student and pop phenom dee holt opened things up at Le Belmont. The young Montrealer has grown up performing and surrounded by art: Her father is a musician, and her mother is a painter. There are VHS home videos of her singing to her father’s guitar and at family gatherings. And while in high school., she studied art and music. But even though creativity and the arts have been a central part of her life, she never really thought about the possibility of making a career out of it.  “Of course, your mom is going to tell you, you can sing, right,” holt says. 

Interestingly, the performance that started her career was an intimate gathering: Her parents and her boyfriend’s parents were going to meet for the first time. When seemingly on cue, the young Montréaler’s mom suggested that she sing, holt turned to face the wall, so that she could play the guitar without laughing. After she had finished, she turned around to see that she moved her boyfriend and his family to tears. 

Leaning into the idea of music as a possible career, holt connected with local producer Benjamin Nadeau. The pair quickly formed a creative partnership that has helped pushed holt out of her comfort zone – and as a result, pushed her sound and approach in new directions. 

With Nadeau at the helm, holt released her first two singles, “Hardest Part” and “Olivia” “Olivia” landed on Spotify’s buzz-worthy LOREM playlist, which helped put her on the map. The song also features a video animated by holt, who is currently studying animation in college. “A month later, people were still reaching out,” holt says. “I had so many people commenting on the ‘Olivia’ video. It touches you. Each and every comment, I take to heart. It lets me know, ‘Hey this could work.’”

Because of pandemic-related lockdowns, holt’s M for Montréal set at Le Belmont was her first live set ever. Understandably, her stage presence was a bit awkward and goofy – and in a way that was both easy to empathize with and endearing. Her set primarily featured a collection of radio friendly, hook-driven pop reminiscent of Phoebe Ryan, Billie Eilish and others, with nods at Taylor Swift

Without a doubt, the young pop artist has a bright future ahead of her: She has an uncanny knack for pairing razor-sharp hooks with earnest lyricism. That’s a rare gift. But a song like “When I Close My Eyes” an acoustic pop number that holt explained was about finding someone that you felt at home with, felt a bit a contrived and a bit clichéd. It missed the messy confusion, shame, joy, and frustration of love. As you get older, you recognize that love is almost always rooted in a weird push and pull dynamic throughout. 

Of course, that’s coming from the perspective of a 40-something year-old dude, who has lived a full and messy life. So, I will admit, I’m probably not the right audience. But talent is talent – and the young woman has it. I fully expect to hear more from her soon. 

Poutine at La Banquise

994 Rue Rachel East  


Founded back in May 1968 by Pierre Barsalou as a small ice-cream shop located on Rue Rachel East, between Avenue du Parc Fontaine and Avenue Christophe Colomb in the city’s Plateau Mont Royal section, La Banquise was converted to a 24-hour snack bar that specialized in hot dogs and fries. 

Over the years, La Banquise expanded the menu: In the early 1980s, they began to serve poutine. Initially, they only had two varieties on the menu – Classic and Italian. But since then, their poutine menu has expanded to feature more than 30 different options, including a couple of vegetarian-friendly ones. Of course, while they’re best known for poutine, they have an extensive diner-styled menu with burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast items. 

Continuing their long-held tradition of being open 24 hours, La Banquise is especially popular among the city’s night owls, drunken revelers, and students. Of course, throughout any point of the day, you might catch families, workers and all sorts of others stopping in for food. La Banquise is known and beloved by locals and is frequently recommended by tourists. Simply put, the poutine is life changing. I had dreamt of the La Scooby poutine for three years – that’s right, three years. But it’s also the sort of spot where you could get a real sense of the city’s locals. 

Poutine number 2 of the trip – and first at La Banquise was my favorite, La Scooby, which features ground beef, bacon, onions, fried pickles, and Caesar dressing on top of the fries, gravy, and cheese curds. Goodness, just what I needed after a full day!

Caption: La Scooby poutine at La Banquise. And it was wonderful.

Day 2/Night 2 Winners:

  • Breakfast poutine at Eggspectation 
  • Snowy, Instagram-friendly Montréal
  • Thaïs
  • Lisa LeBlanc
  • Odreii
  • Fernie
  • Albert Dalton
  • Nicholas Craven and Friends
  • Late night poutine at La Banquise 

Day 3: November 17, 2022

Even When You Leave New York, You Still See Wild New York Shit, Part 3

Google Maps told me that the best way to get to The Ring in the Place Ville Marie section of town was to walk to the intersection of Boulevard René Levesque and Rue Saint Dominque, about a block from the hotel. At Rue Saint Dominque I had to make a left and walk up to the Green Line Saint Laurent stop at the intersection of Boulevard Maisonnueve East and Rue Saint Dominique. 

I needed to catch a Angirgnon-bound Green Line train two stops to McGill. I just missed a train. And while waiting for the train, a drunk, older Québecois man about 20-30 yards or so from me, put something down – presumably a drink – and started screaming about something or another in French. A class of first or second graders came down to where I was standing, and their teacher, who looked visibly uncomfortable. The older gentleman must have quickly realized that he was making people uncomfortable. His tone changed and he began to address the teacher and her class. 

Across the other platform, a class of first or second graders walked on to the platform. The older man also addressed them. It became appeared that both classes were from the same school. and they joined each other on the opposite platform. 

It might have been helpful to know what that older man was yelling about. But then again, maybe not. 

The Ring

Place Ville Marie

With a couple of hours to spare before early afternoon showcases, I made a stop to check out The Ring, a symbolic art installation in the Place Ville Marie section of Downtown Montréal. If you’ve been frequenting this site over the past month or two, you might recall that I wrote about the installation’s meaning and shared some photos. But to refresh your memory – or for those folks, who are stopping by for the first time, you can check out the following:

M for Montréal/M for Marathon at Quai des Brumes 

Ombiigizi with Cedric Noel and C. Diab 

4481 Rue Saint Denis 

Located on Rue Saint Denis between Avenue Mont Royal East and Rue Sainte-Marie in the city’s trendy Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood, Quai des Brumes was founded over 30 years ago. 

The small bar with medieval-inspired décor is known across town for being a fixture in the city’s creative scene: Quai des Brumes hosts nightly showcases featuring musicians, visual arts, poetry, and literary readings and more. 

I stopped by the Plateau Mont Royal-based venue for two things – an afternoon Mimosa happy hour with networking, because who can say no to free booze and to networking? And for the first early afternoon showcase of the festival featuring Ombiigizi, singer/songwriter Cedric Noel and multi-instrumentalist C. Diab

Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal

Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Ombigiizi at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal

Deriving its name for the Anishaabemowin phrase for “this is noisy,” OMBIIGIZI (pronounced om-BEE-ga-ZAY) is a new collaboration founded by and featuring two Anishinaabe musicians – Zoons Daniel Monkman (guitar, vocals) and Status/Non-Status’ Adam Sturgeon (guitar, vocals), along with Drew McLeod and Eric Lorenço. 

The project sees Monkman and Sturgeon exploring their cultural and tribal histories through sound: In the case of OMBIIGIZI, a mix of 120 Minutes-era MTV-like alt rock, prog rock, shoegaze, and jangle pop paired with lyrics that reference lived-in details of First Nation Canadian life. While being beautiful and at points imbued with a bittersweet nostalgia, the material was rooted in something far deeper: During their set, Sturgeon speaking for his OMBIIGIZI bandmate mentioned that they were survivors – of prejudice, racism, inequality, poverty, shitty housing, despair. and hopelessness.  And as a Black man, it resonated deeply within me.

Caption: Cedric Noel at Qua des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Cedric Noel at Qua des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Cedric Noel at Qua des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Cedric Noel at Qua des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Cedric Noel at Qua des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Cedric Noel at Qua des Brumes, M for Montréal

Cedric Noel is a Nigerian-born, Montréal-based singer/songwriter and mutli-instrumentalist with a multi-ethnic, multinational background: The Nigerian-born Noel is the adopted son of Indian Mozambican and Indian-Belgian parents. As a child, the Nigerian Canadian artist has lived on six continents – and as a result, his work draws from a wide and eclectic array of musical traditions.  

Noel attended Fredericton, New Brunswick’s St. Thomas University, where he studied journalism. Between 2010-2013, he wrote for the school’s student newspaper The Aquinian, often focusing on Fredericton’s music and arts scenes. In October 2011, Noel formed the indie outfit Redwood Fields with Fredericton-based musicians Brendan Magee (keys) and Bruce Duval (drums). The following year, Fredericton scene vet Heather Ogilvie (bass) joined the band. 

Redwood Fields’ full-length debut, 2013’s Accidentals to praise across New Brunswick: Accidentals received a Pop Recording of the Year nomination at that year’s Music NB Awards. Adding to a growing profile, album title track “Accidentals” received a SOCAN Song of the Year nomination. 

After Redwood Fields broke up in 2014, Noel went on to start Sentimentals, a band with fellow St. Thomas University alumni Will Pacey and Cam “Terminal” Corey and started focusing on recording and releasing material as a solo artist. After a period of prolific collaboration with local musicians, which resulted in a string of releases, Noel was named Grid City Magazine’s 2015 Artist of the year. 

The past couple of years have been busy for Noel: Back in 2020, he released two albums, Patterning and Nothing Forever, Everything. The following year, the Nigerian Canadain artist signed with Joyful Noise Recordings here in the States and Forward Music Group in Canada. Both labels released 2021’s Hang Time, which features Suuns’ Liam O’Neill playing drums on seven of the albums 13 songs. The album thematically dealt with questions of friendship and allyship and received praise from Stereogum and others. 

Noel, an endearingly shy and kind presence, along with a multi-instrumentalist played a set of dreamy and introspective singer/songwriter pop that was at times folky, dreamy shoegazey, rueful and downright gorgeous. 


Caption: C. Diab at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: C. Diab at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: C. Diab at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: C. Diab at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: C. Diab at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: C. Diab at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: C. Diab at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal

Hailing from Canada’s West Coast, C. Diab is a multi-instrumentalist and composer, who specializes in what he has dubbed “post classical grunge.” Opening the afternoon, Diab played an instrumental set of textured and swirling shoegaze-like material that brought The Verve’s A Storm in Heaven and Slowdive to mind – with a Nick Drake-like dreaminess. 

M for Montréal/M for Marathon at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle

Slow Down Molasses 

4461 Rue Saint Denis 

Caption: Slow Down Molasses, L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Slow Down Molasses, L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Slow Down Molasses, L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Slow Down Molasses, L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Slow Down Molasses, L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Slow Down Molasses, L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Slow Down Molasses, L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Slow Down Molasses, L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal

Located near the corner of Avenue Mont Royal East and Rue Saint Denis in the city’s trendy Plateau Mont Royal section, L’Escogriffie Bar Spectacle is a small, often dimly lit basement bar in a building that will remind most New Yorkers of Park Slope brownstone. 

Since opening back in 2000, L’Escogriffe has developed a reputation in town for two things:

  • Cheap drink specials 
  • Booking emerging acts from across the area, Canada and even internationally. 

I stopped by L’Escogriffe to catch Saskatoon-based indie outfit Slow Down Molasses. Currently a quartet – Tyson McShane (vocals, guitar), Chris Morin (bass, vocals), Levi Soulodre (guitar, vocals) and Kaleen Klypak (drums) – the Saskatoon-based band has a long-held reputation for restlessly traversing shifting sonic territories: The band’s current lineup specializes in a sound steeped in existential dread, delay and feedback-driven distortion and shimmering post-punk guitars with pop sensibility.

With 2016’s 100% Sunshine, the Saskatoon-based outfit developed a euphoric live show, which led to the band playing on stages across the world with the likes of Deerhoof, Animal Collective, Swervedriver, and Built to Spill among others. According to the band, 2021’s eight-song, Minor Deaths may arguably be the most concise and devastating batch of material they’ve released to date, with the band crafting songs that pair melodic indie rock with post-punk unease. 

Slow Down Molasses’ M for Montréal, L’Escogriffe set featured mosh pit post punk that brought Thursday to mind – but with a subtle hint at Sisters of Mercy. And while the material felt familiar, much like bills I’ve caught at Cake Shop, The Knitting Factory and countless others, the band played with an earnestness and passion that was so infectious that I tried to start a mosh pit, even though I had both of my cameras out to shoot the set. Unfortunately, the industry folks didn’t mosh. 

Arguably one of the louder bands of the afternoon, I would love to hear them in a bigger room to feel and hear their sound as it probably should be heard – and with a room full of fans. But it was a lot of fun. 

Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal, Exterior 

110 Rue Notre Dame West

Although I was extremely busy, I made sure that I’d have some time here and there to see some of the tourist and historical sites while I was in town. In between afternoon showcases and a networking dinner, I wound up in Montréal’s historic Vieux Montreal neighborhood – specifically to see Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal, arguably one of the most gorgeous buildings I’ve ever been in. Unfortunately, by the time I wound up arriving at the historic church, visiting hours had ended; but I made do with some photos of the exterior.

If you’ve been frequenting this site over the past couple of months, you might recall that I wrote about this and shared photos. But to refresh your memory, you can check out that post here:

Eat MTL Presented by SaskMusic 


989 Boulevard Saint Laurent 

Festival organizers partnered with three local restaurants – Fleurs et Cadeaux, L’Ideal and Tiramisu. Each restaurant was selected for the uniqueness of their setting, décor and food while allowing delegates to check out the culinary and creative experience Montreal has long been known for. And of course, because networking is at the core of these events, an opportunity to network with a curated selection of delegates. 

Located on Boulevard Saint Laurent between Rue de la Gauchetiere East and Avenue Viger East in Montréal’s Chinatown, Tiramisu specializes in Italian Japanese fusion. When I saw the menu, I was really intrigued. The food was outstanding: I started out with Polpette (Basilic Meatballs), then had the Il Classico Pizza and ended with Tiramisu, of course. I’d highly recommend making a stop there if you’re in town. It was a serious food highlight. 

Caption: Polpette (Basilic Meatballs), Tiramisu Montréal
Caption: Il Classico Pizza, Tiramisu Montréal
Caption: Tiramisu, Tiramisu Montréal

The conversation was also outstanding. Besides being one of the most well-run festivals I’ve ever covered or attended, M for Montreal has seemed to continuously attract an incredibly welcoming, friendly group of delegates. And because you wind up seeing your fellow delegates so much, you begin to make deeper connections. Some of the delegates I met in 2019 became dear friends. And this year, I ran into some familiar faces and met some friendly Canadians. 

Dinner Menu (in French):

M for Montréal/M for Marathon at Café Cléopâtre 

Sunglaciers and Mobina Galore 

1230 Boulevard Saint Laurent 

Located on Boulevard Saint Laurent between Boulevard René Levesque and Rue Sainte Catherine, Café Cléopâtre is a historical and cultural treasure. The building – and its accompanying address – dates to the 1800s, and for the better part of a century has hosted vaudeville, burlesque, strip shows, drag shows and more, with the building once being in the beating heart of Montréal’s old Red-Light District. 

Unlike cities like Amsterdam and Frankfurt-am-Main, which have had officially known Red-Light Districts, with clearly defined borders, Montréal’s Red-Light District was generally sort of winkingly official/unofficial, and as such, the boundaries often shifted and changed according to both the source and time. In the early 20thcentury, the district’s borders were generally Rue Sherbrooke to the north, Rue Saint Denis to the east, Rue Bleury to the west and Old Montreal to the south. By the 1970s, the borders shifted a bit to Boulevard René Levesque to the south, Rue Sherbrooke to the north, Boulevard Saint Laurent to the east and Rue Saint Denis to the north. 

Historically, no matter what the borders have been, the neighborhood has been home to variety shows, cabarets, bars, gambling, prostitution, strip clubs and the like. As Al Palmer, a newspaperman with the Montreal Herald, who once chronicled the neighborhood in the 1950s with Montreal Confidential once wrote, “If you’re looking for trouble, here is where you’re find it.” 

The variety shows that took place in the neighborhood’s clubs helped launch the careers of a handful of foreign artists and for many local ones. Way back in the day, Frank Sinatra once played to crowds at the Chez Paree. Developers and the government began shutting down much of the Red-Light District in the mid-60s. And since then, the Red-Light District has gradually shrunk to a handful of businesses that includes Café Cléopâtre, The Montreal Pool Room across the street, Chez Paree and a few others. 

Back in 2009, Café Cléopâtre and several other businesses on Boulevard Saint Laurent and Rue Sainte Catherine were threatened with demolition from a proposed development project linked to the nearby Quartier des Spectacles section. Many of their fellow businesses shuttered and fell to the wrecking ball, paving way to developments that further stripped the neighborhood of much of its past grime and grittiness. Whether people long for the old days of the super seedy Red-Light District in the way that New Yorkers long for the seedy old Times Square remains to be seen. But the analogy seems somewhat fitting. And New Yorkers will get what I mean. 

Cáfé Cléopâtre’s owner Jiimmy Zomboulakis defiantly resisted both City Hall and developers in a lengthy, protracted battle. But new developments rose up around it. So yes, the fact that the joint is still around can be seen as a symbol of resistance to soulless urban development, of Joe Everyone (or Jane Everyone) fighting City Hall and winning, of old-fashioned smut beating back a forced cleanup and so on. But it’s also a deeply historical place; a place that immediately brings back a visceral sense of Montréal’s seedy, anything goes past. 

M for Montréal’s night 3 continued with a stop at Café Cléo, where downstairs you can catch a variety of strippers – ahem, exotic dancers – perform. The patrons and dancers come and go like the tides. But the décor has remained both unchanging and increasingly beaten down. Countless asses have sat in those chairs and in that room. For someone, who has long gravitated to the seedy and scuzzy, with a helluva lot of weird character, Café Cléopâtre is it. 

Caption: Sunglaciers at Café Cléopâtre, M for Montréal
Caption: Sunglaciers at Café Cléopâtre, M for Montréal
Caption: Sunglaciers at Café Cléopâtre, M for Montréal
Caption: Sunglaciers at Café Cléopâtre, M for Montréal
Caption: Sunglaciers at Café Cléopâtre, M for Montréal
Caption: Sunglaciers at Café Cléopâtre, M for Montréal
Caption: Sunglaciers at Café Cléopâtre, M for Montréal

Upstais, Café Cléo hosts a variety of performances including burlesque, comedy, live music, and more. I stopped in to catch  Calgary-based post-punk outfit and JOVM mainstays Sunglaciers, one of the 29 Canadian acts chosen as an M for Montréal Official Selection act.

Sunglaciers can trace their origins back to 2017 as a collaboration between its founding – and core – members: multi-instrumentalist Matthieu Blanchard and lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Evan Resnik. Interestingly, when they started the band, Blanchard had completed his studies in medicine and started working fu8ll time in family medicine and addiction. Resnik had just returned from a trip hitchhiking through France. 

The band went on to release a couple of Eps and their full-length debut, 2019’s Foreign Bodies, an effort that saw the band embracing a maximalist approach that saw them blurring the lines between indie rock melodicism and post-punk experimentation. The duo quickly amassed a rising profile: They’ve topped the charts of college radio stations across Western Canada, which led to opening slots for the likes of fellow JOVM mainstays Preoccupations, Omni and Daniel Romano.

When the pandemic halted their touring plans, the band shifted their focus to writing material, dedicating 40-plus hour weeks to music during the early months of 2020. Those intensive writing sessions wound up informing their sophomore album Subterranea, released by buzz-worthy Montreal purveyors of psychedelia Mothland last year. 

Continuing an ongoing collaboration with Chad VanGaalen, who co-produced the album Subterranea  saw the Calgary-based JOVM mainstays eschewing the maximalist approach of their previous releases and crafting material with a decided laser focus. The result is a frenetic, breakneck album of material that never overstays its welcome. “We tried to write vertically instead of horizontally,” Sunglaciers’ Matthieu Blanchard explains. “Our last album Foreign Bodies and the EPs that came before it had lots of long songs with different parts drifting back and forth. For this album, we decided to strip our songs down to two or three minutes with only a few ideas in each of them.”

“The bulk of this album came together during the pandemic and the changing of gears that we had to do,” Sunglaciers’ Evan Resnik says. “I was out of work and Mathieu was working half as much as usual, so we had lots of time on our hands. We flipped a switch and started playing music every day. It’s a good indicator of how we were writing at the time while we wrapped our heads around some new gear and saw what came out of it. Essentially, we took all of our favourite musical tendencies and put them together. We were listening to a lot of McCartney II at the time and loved how eclectic it was, which led to us mirroring that vibe.”

With an extended timeframe to write and record, the album, which was recorded at Bruce Crews’ voiceover studio On Air Studios allowed Blanchard and Blanchard the opportunity to learn engineering skills and for the opportunity to experiment with swapping the instruments that each member typically played, a strategy that was employed during the writing and recording of Portishead‘s Third and David Bowie‘s “Boys Keep Swinging.” 

The album also features contributions from the aforementioned Chad VanGaalen, Hermitess‘ Jennifer Crighton and Roman66′Louis Cza The Black Greek God. The end result may arguably be Sunglaciers most urgent and cohesive batch of material, an effort that draws from the likes of DeerhunterTotal Control, and BEAK> among others.

In the lead up to the album’s release, I wrote about three of Subterranea‘s singles:

  • Avoidance,” a woozy and uneasy ripper full of guilt and recriminations delivered with a breakneck freneticism centered around a persistent synth-driven groove. And while sounding a bit like Plague Vendor and Atsuko Chiba, “Avoidance” lyrically touches upon themes of alienation, abandonment and guilt in a way that should feel familiar to most of us during this unusual moment of our lives. 
  • Out of My Skull,” another breakneck track full of foreboding, uneasy menace centered around hypnotic, glistening synth arpeggios, a sinuous bass line and propulsive drumming paired with Resnik’s anxious delivery. And as a result, the song evokes a frustrated, restless boredom — and it should feel familiar for most of us, stuck at home with nothing to do, nowhere to really go and no one to see. 
  • Best Years,” a dreamy Wolf Parade-like song centered around wobbling synth arpeggios, a slow-burning and grinding groove and Resnik’s plaintive delivery. But underneath, the seemingly placid surface is a gnawing and uneasy dissatisfaction rooted in wasting time in what was comfortable and certain. 

The JOVM mainstays’ set was a road-tested set of material primarily centered around Subterranea’s material that retained the weird angles and tenseness of the record but while being loose and jammy. The fourth song of the set, a new and yet-to-be released song saw the band expanding upon their sound quite a bit, crafting a song that struck me as a bit like Talking Heads-meeting-Gang of Four. It may be weird – at least superficially – but it’s very them. “Reef,” another as of yet-to-be-released song seemed as though it could have been on the album, but was probably cut because it had a sneering, punk rock air.  

They closed the set out with my favorite song on the album, “Out of My Skull,” which seemed like a perfect way to close out a set, thanks in part its big hooks and oddly dance floor-meets-mosh pit friendly sound. 

After Sunglaciers’ set, I took a few minutes to sit down. By the third day of any festival, finding moments to sit down become both enjoyable and necessary. I had some time to spare before heading to the last stop of the night. So, I decided to catch the following set, Winnipeg-based punk duo Mobina Galore. (This one is unpictured y’all.)

Since their formation in 2011, the Winnipeg-based punk outfit – Jenna Priestner (guitar, vocals) and Marcia Henson (drum, vocals) have developed a no fluff, no bullshit approach to their work over the course of three albums. 2014’s full-length debut, Cities Away featured straightforward power punk sons that thematically focused on the complexities of life’s transitions. 2017’s sophomore album, Disconnected saw the Canadian duo stripping back their sound to just guitar and drums, to capture their live sound, while dealing with feelings of isolation. Their third album, 2019’s Don’t Worry pays homage to 90s West Coast skate punk, Midwest emo anda wide range of other styles. 

2021 saw the release of Waiting, a two-track EP of acoustic material that reflected on the past couple of years without touring and home in Winnipeg. 

Last September, the duo released their first ever live album, Live from The Park Theatre, which was originally recorded over the course of two nights in July 2020. Coincidentally, those two shows were the only shows they played that year. 

The duo has toured with the likes of Against Me!, Propagandhi, and Iron Chic. They’ve also played bills with PUP, Petrol Girls, and Spanish Love Songs. Adding to a growing profile, the act has nominated for two Rock Artist of the Year Awards – 2017 and 2020 – at the Western Canadian Music Awards

The Winnipeg-duo’s set featured matiral that brought me back to countless punk rock and indie rock shows at The Continental, Acme Underground, Arlene’s Grocery, Cake Shop, and the like. And while the material was earnest and rooted in lived-in experience, I just felt as though I had seen and heard the set countless times before, and without much variation or much to separate them from a busy field. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to like them more. And I still feel badly about it. But I must be honest, y’all. 

M for Montreal/M for Marathon at Le Systeme

Janette King with Witch Prophet (unpictured)

7119 Rue Saint Hubert 

Located on Rue Saint Herbert between Rue Jean Talon East and Rue Bélanger in Montreal’s La Petite-Patrie neighborhood, Le Systéme is a newcomer to the city’s nightlife scene. Opening last June, La Systeme, which is owned by Sebastain Cowen, founder and owner of Arbutus Records and David Schmidt, local restauranteur behind Fleurs & Cadeux, Club Pelicano and several other spots – with Chef Josh Lauridsen in the kitchen. According to an Instagram post, the spot is a multifaceted undertaking – “a restaurant, bar, club, venue, lounge, social club, meeting space, memory-making space.” 

M for Montreal’s showcase was in La Systeme’s back room. At this point, I was exhausted, and my feet hurt. Sitting down yet again was a glorious pleasure. But it was also a very odd set up: The back room was small and extremely dark. But it was lit enough for a glittery disco ball in the corner.

Caption: Disco ball, Le Systéme.

Closing out the night at Le Systeme was Janette King, a Montréal-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and DJ. King’s 2019 effort, 143 EP was released to critical applause, while helping her earn a month-long tour across North America that featured several festival appearances, and bills with Cupcakke at Montréal’s Fairmont Theatre, Jamila Woods at Toronto’s Adelaide Hall and Sudan Archives at San Francisco’s Swedish American Hall.  

Since then, King has released a full-length debut, 2021’s impressive What We Lost and last year’s “Faded.” 

King quickly went up to La Systeme’s DJ booth, picked up a microphone and started singing the first song of her set over a tweeter and woofer rocking thump paired with syrupy blocks of arpeggiated keys. The second song started a run of soulful, Larry Levan-like club friendly bangers that got everyone in the backroom dancing – for the rest of her set. This included a reggae song centered around wall rattling thump.  After singing for about half of her set, King put her microphone down and started spinning a set of sultry dancehall to close things out. 

It was an incredible set of dancing – well, I was chair dancing – with a collection of locals. Granted, most of the locals didn’t seem to know how to dance, let alone keep up with the rhythm. But it was a lot of fun. 

Opening the night as La Systeme was acclaimed, queer, East African-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter, producer and Co-CEO of Heart Lake Records, Witch Prophet (born Etmet Musa, a.k.a. Ayo Leilani). Throughout her career, she has developed and honed an approach that features elements of hip-hop, jazz and neo-soul in a way that brings a synthesis of Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Portishead to mind paired with the acclaimed Toronto-based artist’s vocal delivery, which sees her alternating between soulful crooning and fiery bars. 

Musa sees her work as a portal for self-growth and discovery, as she navigates and better understands both her cultural and queer identity. 

So far, the East African-born, Toronto-based artist has been on bills with the likes of Lido Pimienta, The Halluci Nation (f.k.a  A Tribe Called Red), SAMUS, Sean Leon, JPEGMAFIA, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Sudan Archives,  and JOVM mainstays Shabazz Palaces among others. 

She has also performed at festivals across both the North American and European festival circuits including Pop Montréal, Montréal Jazz Festival, Black Women Rock, New Skool Rules, Soul Of Brooklyn, Allied Media Conference, Sappy Fest, Electric Eclectics, Summerworks, Ottawa Capital Pride, Pride Toronto, Halifax Pop Explosion, New Colossus Festival and a lengthy list of others. Along with that, the acclaimed Canadian artist has toured independently across Europe twice, playing shows in Paris, Amsterdam, London, and Berlin.  

Musa’s sophomore album, 2020’s SUN SUN co-produced D.N.A. Activation received funding by the Ontario Arts Council was an ode to her Ethiopian and Eritrean ancestral roots and saw her further cementing her unique sound but while featuring lyrics sung in English, Amharic and Tigirinya. Released to critical praise, the album was shortlisted for that year’s Polaris Music Prize. 

Since the album’s release, Musa released a deluxe edition of D.N.A. Activation, which featured remix tracks with Stas THEE Boss and Latasha. The Leah Vlemmiks-directed video for “Tesfay” was nominated for the 2021 Prism Prize and was an official selection both at 2021’s Rhode Island international Film Festival and that year’s SXSW Music Video Awards. The video also received a UKMVA Best International R&B/Soul Video category nomination alongside Beyoncé, Cardi B., Normani, The Weeknd, and Bryson Tiller. 

Witch Prophet opened the night at Le Systeme in a rather unassuming fashion: After a DJ pair warmed the crowd up a bit, the acclaimed Canadian artist picked up a microphone near a synth and sampler set up and quickly launched into her set’s first song, an achingly plaintive thump, which reminded me a bit of Erykah Badu. Two young people started to sway and bop along. The set’s second song was a woozy song featuring skittering thump and twinkling bloops, bleats and spacey sounds that sort of seemed like Timbaland under the influence of hallucinogens. She followed that up a jazzy, A Tribe Called Quest-meets-DJ Premier-like song with a mournful horn solo and skittering boom bap paired with her ridiculously enormous vocal singing with a bitter ache “Where do we go from here?”

At some point during the set’s fourth or fifth song, the La Systeme crowd started to really piss me off. The acclaimed East African-born, Toronto-based artist was playing a mesmerizing set of brooding and vibey material and it just seemed as though the crowd was acting with the worst inclinations of New York crowds – or in other words, too busy chatting and looking cool to pay attention to the performer in the front of them. Why go to a show and not be present? I don’t know. And I’ve never understood it either. But by the middle of the set’s fifth song, some of the crowd started to sway along. 

The set’s sixth song had a woozy, vaguely Middle Eastern vibe paired with skittering beats and her incredible vocal. She followed that up with “Energy Vampires,” an unreleased, brooding, and spectral stomp with a bit of a dancehall reggae feel.

Two songs were directly about personal experiences and required a bit of explanation:

  • The first song about a shitty ex-boyfriend featuring an old-school, blues-inspired production: strummed guitar paired with rattling thump. Once I heard it, I was convinced that Witch Prophet could sing just about anything. 
  • The second song “Loveshock” told the story of Witch Prophet meeting her creative and romantic partner SUN SUN. Featuring a Slick Rick-meets-DJ Premier take on neo-soul, with a sultrily delivered refrain “Come to find my pussy . . .”

I’ve seen Witch Prophet twice last year, and I’m fully convinced that she should be a superstar already, I just can’t comprehend why she isn’t yet. 

Night 3 Winners:  Well to be honest, the entire long day was a win. The artists were fantastic. The food was fantastic. The Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) hosted an after party at the delegate hotel. You can’t go wrong with free booze. And more networking.  But also, let’s never forget free booze always wins – always.  

Day 4: Friday, November 18, 2022

M for Montreal/M for Marathon: FOCUS Wales and Music PEI Present Brunch Club at Café Campus

FOCUS Wales – Lemfrek with Teddy Hunter and Kizzy Crawford/Music PEI – Pearly Gates with Nadia and Noah Malcolm and Nadia 

57 Rue Prince Arthur East

Located on Rue Prince Arthur East between Rue Sainte Dominque and Avenue Coloniale in Montréal’s Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood, Café Campus is a three-story bar, dance club and workers co-op, and music venue founded back in 1967 split into two rooms – Petit Campus and Café Campus. 

Caption: Café Campus stairs.
Caption: Café Campus stairs.
Caption: Café Campus stairs.

Of course, before I get into the showcases, I need to dive a bit into some much-needed background. Trust me, it’ll be helpful. 

FOCUS Wales is a non-profit organization that was established to produce the annual, emerging music showcase event for the Welsh music industry, FOCUS Wales, an annual, multi-venue showcase in Wrexham, Wales UK that features over 250+ of the best, emerging acts primarily from Wales, along with a selection of the best, new and emerging acts from across the rest of the globe playing on over 20 stages. The festival also hosts a full schedule of interactive industry sessions, arts events, and film screenings through tis run. Additionally, FOCUS Wales also hosts a handful of international events throughout the year, including their annual M for Montréal showcase. 

Last year’s FOCUS Wales, the first in-person edition since before the pandemic, broke attendance records from previous editions. The festival’s 12th edition will take place this May and will welcome over 20,000 people to Wrehxam, building upon the attendance record they just broke last year. 

Music PEI was founded back in 2001 as the Prince Edward Island Music Awards Association. Much like FOCUS Wales, Music PEI is a non-profit member services organization founded to foster, develop, and advance the careers of musicians and music industry professionals of the Maritime Canadian province. They administer programs specifically designed to encourage growth and development, including an investment program that provides financial assistance to artists and industry members. 

Music PEI also acts as an advocate and representative at both the local and national level. 

The organization receives funding through the assistance of the provincial government’s Innovation PEI, a business development service, whose mission is to build a vibrant, diverse and growing economy across the province by providing funding and expertise to enable strategic sectors, accelerate entrepreneurship and foster innovation. They also receive support from The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR), a non-profit that provides assistance towards the growth and development of the Canadian music industry, and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)

Both agencies hosted their respective brunch showcases at Café Campus: FOCUS Wales’ showcase was in the Webster Hall-like main room. Music PEI’s showcase was in the smaller, Petite Campus room, a space that reminded me quite a bit of the Living Room. Sets for both showcases were scheduled so that they would alternate: The first set featured a Music PEI showcase artist. While the Music PEI showcase artist was performing, the FOCUS Wales showcase artist would set up and soundcheck. Once the Music PEI showcase set ended, you were encouraged to go upstairs to see the FOCUS Wales showcase artist. Once the FOCUS Wales showcase set was finished, you were encouraged to go back downstairs for the Music PEI showcase artist. 

After already walking about 15 miles around town at this point, walking up and down stairs – with my Canon 6D Mark II and Canon 77D wasn’t exactly ideal. But as I joked to DIY Magazine’s publisher who I ran into a couple of times during the festival, “I guess I’m walking off all that poutine and the smoked meat sandwiches I’ve had this week!” 

For this portion of my coverage though, I’m grouping the showcase bills by the presenting agency and not how I saw them that day FOCUS Wales acts will be grouped together, and Music PEI acts will be grouped together. Personally, I just feel like it’ll be easier for me to make sense of it for myself — and for you. 

Caption: LEMFRECK at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: LEMFRECK at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: LEMFRECK at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: LEMFRECK at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: LEMFRECK at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: LEMFRECK at Café Campus, M for Montréal

Closing out the FOCUS Wales showcase was LEMFRECK, a rising Welsh producer, singer/songwriter and emcee who specializes in storytelling through music and self-directed visuals. The rising Welsh artist spent the early part of his career as a gospel session artist, which has helped to shape a lot of his production with influences including Fred Hammond. 

Among the cognoscenti, LEMFECK’s work has been compared favorably to internationally acclaimed artists like Sampha and Pa Salieu but sonically his work frequently draws from his background as a trained musician and his grime upbringing. 

In the UK, the Welsh artist has received airplay on Jack Saunders BBC 1 Radio show and BBC 1 Radio – without being on a label and without having a publicist. 

LEMFRECK’s FOCUS Wales set featured the Welsh rapper backed by a live band. Both played a high-energy set rooted in old school stage presence and conscious, uplifting lyrics that reminded me a bit of Yasiin Bey. Plus, much like Bey, LEMFREK alternated between singing and spitting bars. 

The industry crowd was a bit odd. Their energy was a bit off. At this point, most of the delegates were burned out or just fucked up or both. But I couldn’t help but wonder how the Welsh artist would have been received to a crowd of regular concertgoers. I think just based on his energy alone, LEMFREK would have effortlessly had a crowd in the palm of his hands. 


Caption: Teddy Hunter at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Teddy Hunter at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Teddy Hunter at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Teddy Hunter at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Teddy Hunter at Café Campus, M for Montréal

Teddy Hunter is a Cardiff-based singer/songwriter, musician and multi-disclipinary artist. Her work is generally characterized by dreamy loops, gradual builds and glistening synth melodies paired with ethereal vocals, field recordings and visuals to creative an immersive live experience that focuses on ecology and the interactions between humanity and their surroundings. 

Her most recent audiovisual installation TreeClouds in A was part of a group of May Day exhbitions at Tactile Bosch last May. Hunter’s previous solo exhibitions 2019’s (Un)Heard at Shift and Tactile Bosch explored plant communication through live plant data adapting sound and light aspects of the space. 

Hunter’s debut single “Games” was released through Bubblewrap Collecitve back in May 2020. The single received the remix treatment from three different electronic music producers. 

The Welsh multidisciplinary artist’s FOCUS Wales set featured mesmerizing trip-hop-like material that immediately brought Anika to mind but with elements of lo-fi bedroom pop. Unfortunately, Hunter doesn’t have a lot of material available on the streaming platforms, but I was intrigued and am looking forward to hearing much more. 

Caption: Kizzy Crawford at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Kizzy Crawford at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Kizzy Crawford at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Kizzy Crawford at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Kizzy Crawford at Café Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Kizzy Crawford at Café Campus, M for Montréal

26-year-old, Oxford, UK-born, Merthryr Tydfil, Wales, UK-based, Barbadian-Welsh singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kizzy Crawford began writing songs in both English and Welsh when she was 13. Her work draws from both traditional and modern sources – including soul, indie rock, jazz, a collection of singer/songwriters from the 60s and 70s, as well as her multi-cultural, mixed-race background: Her mother claims Welsh-English heritage and her father was from Barbados. 

As her work gradually revealed an increasing sophistication, both in her songwriting and live performance, Crawford’s take on neo-soul and jazz has received airplay on BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, and Jazz FM. Building on a growing profile across the UK, she has played across the UK festival circuit, including sets at Cambridge Folk Festival, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Festival No. 6, WomexSŵn Festival, Cornbury Festival and How The Light Gets In. Crawford has also performed as a guest artist with BBC National Orchestra of Wales

The Oxford-born, Merthryr Tydfil-based artist has also opened for Gruff Rhys, Newton Faulker, Benjamin Francis Leftwich and alongside Cerys Matthews at the House of Commons, Westminster

Crawford has performed live on Welsh language TV network S4C, Channel Four Wales (Sianel Pedwar Cymru in Welsh) and Children in Need for BBC 1. Her music is frequently used in both TV and online ad campaigns: “Caer O Feddyilau” was featured on S4C. “Shout Out” and its Welsh language version “Yr Alwad” were featured in 2015’s Visit Wales’ TV and online ad campaign. 

Back in 2016, five of Crawford’s songs were selected as set works as part of WJEC’s (formerly known as Welsh Joint Education Committee) 2016 A level music syllabus in the contemporary music section, alongside Gruff Rhys, Manic Street Preachers, and Super Furry Animals. The rising English-born, Welsh-based artist was interviewed about the achievement and performed one of the set works for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. 

Later that year, Crawford co-wrote music with jazz pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock on the collaborative project Birdsong-Can Yr Adar, which was influenced by the Celtic Rainforest of Carngafallt and sponsored by Sinfonia Cymru, RSPB Cymru, PRS and Arts Council of Wales. The album was released in May 2018 through Basho Records and was supported with a launch in London and a tour of Wales. 

Crawford signed to Freestyle Records, who released her single “Progression”/”Dilyniant,” which received airplay from BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 6 and BBC Wales. 

Since then, the rising English-born, Welsh-based artist has been very busy. She has released a handful of singles, along with three albums: 2019’s The Way I Dream, 2021’s Rhydd and last year’s Cariad y Tir

Crawford’s FOCUS Wales set featured material that was mesmerizing. Some of the set’s songs managed to channel the likes of Erykah Badu and Madison McFerrin: Sonically the material meshed elements of neo-soul, singer/songwriter balladeer pop, dream pop trip hop, and hip-hop paired with the British-born, Welsh-based artist’s soulful vocals singing and spitting bars in both English and Welsh. At times, it was gorgeous and surreal fever dream. 

By far, Crawford was one of the most talented artists of the day – and arguably of the entire festival. 


Caption: Pearly Gates at Petite Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Pearly Gates at Petite Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Pearly Gates at Petite Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Pearly Gates at Petite Campus, M for Montréal
Caption: Pearly Gates at Petite Campus, M for Montréal

Led by Mark Palmer, the Prince Edward Island-based indie outfit Pearly Gates formed during the earliest days of the pandemic. The band quickly found their niche – and their sound, playing music that channels the “tweed and tubes” age, but full of sarcasm and satire. 

Pearly Gates’ set seemed to mesh elements of early Beatles, New Zealand jangle pop, early Weezer and even a bit of Buddy Holly paired with the band’s innate abilty to craft razor sharp hooks. While delivered with a passionate intensity, their material felt awfully familiar: I’ve heard similar stuff in venues across town like Cake Shop, Piano’s, Mercury Lounge and on and on. 

The best song of their set was their last one, an explosive ripper that touched upon the push and pull of love with a grittiness and a sneer that was much welcomed. And it was a great way to end a set. 

After Kizzy Crawford’s FOCUS Wales set at the Café Campus room, the delegates – including yours truly – walked downstairs to catch Nadia perform a solo set. The Charlottetown-based artist was accompanied by a guitarist for a set of stripped down, yet remarkably radio friendly, R&B-tinged pop. 

While the material was centered around her gorgeous, pop belter-like vocals, the young Canadian artist had an awkward stage presence, which sadly didn’t help to distinguish her from a crowded field of beautiful young women with soulful vocal deliveries. Live, she did a version of the Remzoid-produced “Mesmerize,” a slow-burning R&B tune. She followed that with an acoustic guitar-driven version of “Off The High,” a collaboration with Vince the Messenger. 

Caption: Nadia at Petite Café, M for Montréal
Caption: Nadia at Petite Café, M for Montréal
Caption: Nadia at Petite Café, M for Montréal
Caption: Nadia at Petite Café, M for Montréal

Though I wasn’t blown away by Nadia’s set, I felt that she may have had the best chance of the Prince Edward Island showcase to make it outside of Maritime Canada. Her material was the most Billboard Top 40-like – and her voice could hold up with most contemporary pop artists. 

Noah Malcolm, a folk, pop and R&B singer/songwriter and keyboardist, who currently splits his time between his native Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and Toronto opened the afternoon session for M for Montréal’s fourth day. With the release of his debut EP, 2020’s folk/pop On Time, Malcolm won audiences across Canada with wit, exuberance, and Joni Mitchell-inspired lyricism – and Music PEI’s 2022 New Arist of the Year

Malcolm has been busy: He has written and recorded a series of live-off-the-floor piano ballads of his own original material, which sees him thematically exploring queer love and expression – and written with a deeply lived-in experience and vulnerability. The Charlottetown-based artist has also written songs for other rising pop artists, which has helped to expand his reputation as a songwriter. But as a vocalist, he has recorded toplines for several European electronic music labels. Malcolm also has forthcoming collaborations with producers like Daniel Adams, Colin Buchanan and Jake Charron that reportedly see the Canadian artist pushing his sound in new directions. 

Malcolm’s Music PEI Brunch club set also featured fellow emerging Charlottetown-based singer/songwriter Nadia Haddad, best known as the mononymic Nadia. The 20-something artist, who was studying in the Bachelor of Music program at Humber College, emerged into the local scene with the release of 2021’s “On the Low,” and “Mesmerized.” 

Since then, Haddad dropped two more singles, last year’s “Off The High” and “Tell Me How,” which was released earlier this year.

I managed to enter Petite Campus a few minutes late, walking into the room within a song or two of Noah Malcolm’s and Nadia’s opening set. The pair had gorgeous voices but the first song that I caught just felt too mainstream and was full of cringe-inducing cliches. 

The set featured a queer, meet-cute song that managed to be simultaneously earnest yet kind of cloying. I kind of wish the song had a bit more self-doubt and fear – from the fear of rejection, fear of losing oneself, fear of getting heartbroken, fear of how it would all impact their future – which would have given the song a much-needed bit of grit and realism. 

Honestly, their set struck me as being more suited for Broadway or for a cabaret. That’s meant as a bad thing. The material they played just felt a bit lacking, despite its earnestness. 

Caption Noah Malcolm and Nadia at Petite Campus, M for Montréal
Caption Noah Malcolm and Nadia at Petite Campus, M for Montréal
Caption Noah Malcolm and Nadia at Petite Campus, M for Montréal

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re curious, the showcase lineup went this way:

  1. Music PEI: Noah Malcolm and Nadia
  2. FOCUS Wales: Kizzy Crawford
  3. Music PEI: Nadia
  4. FOCUS Wales: Teddy Hunter
  5. Music PEI: Pearly Gates

Murals, Boulevard Saint Laurent

Café Campus happens to be located a few blocks from the previously mentioned Leonard Cohen mural on Boulevard Saint Laurent and a collection of gorgeous murals that stretches several blocks in both directions – and for a few nearby blocks. It had started to snow again and because I was cold and hungry, this visit was cut short. 

November 2022:

November 2019:

Smoked Meat Poutine, Main Deli Steakhouse

3864 Boulevard Saint Laurent 

Since I was already on Boulevard Saint Laurent, and was cold and hungry, I decided that I had to make a second stop at Main Deli Steakhouse for their smoked meat poutine. It was just what I needed.  And yes, it marked the third time I had poutine. But when in Rome, as they say! 

Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal, Interior

110 Rue Notre Dame West

“Color is the place where our brains and the universe meet.”

-Paul Klee

“Can color intoxicate? Is it possible to become drunk on light?”

-Paul Salopek 

From Main Deli Steakhouse, I took an Uber back to Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal with the hopes of seeing the gorgeous interior again. It had been a very long three years. In 2019, my best friend had a stroke. A mutual friend of ours suddenly died right before I was heading to my first M for Montreal. In early 2020, my mom was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Then the pandemic. The righteous uprisings and protests during summer 2020. A bartender buddy of suddenly died at the end of 2020. Of course, being concerned with my COVID-19 risks and its impact on my mother, a 70-year-old, cancer survivor with a minor heart condition, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to travel safely any time soon. 

Standing in that room full of immense, reverential silence, luminous light and breathtakingly gorgeous color, I had started to cry a bit. Tears fully of weary exhaustion and joy. I had desperately missed experiences like that, and I wanted to soak up every possible moment while I could. 

Of course, I shared photos of the interior back in November. But for those of you, who either forgot – or haven’t seen them yet, feel free to check out the following:

M for Montreal/M for Marathon at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle

Virginie B

Caption: Virginie B at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Virginie B at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Virginie B at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Virginie B at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Virginie B at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Virginie B at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Virginie B at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal
Caption: Virginie B at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle, M for Montréal

Festival organizers originally scheduled a late afternoon, outdoor showcase at the Skateboard Park at Van Horne Viaduct, located in the Mile End section that would feature three local pop artists – Virginie B.Lydia Képinski, and Jesse Mac Cormack. Coinciding with the showcase would be a closing happy hour for delegates. 

Because of weather concerns, festival organizers quickly rearranged and reconfigured things, moving the showcase and the happy hour indoors.The showcase was split into three sets at three different venues in town: 

  • Virginie B. at L’Escogriffe
  • Lydia Kepinski at Quai des Brumes
  • Jesse Mac Cormack at O Patro Vys 

And thanks to an app specifically for the festival, organizers were also able to quickly inform delegates and attendees of the scheduling changes. Technology is wonderful, eh?

I took another Uber from Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal to L’Escogriffe to catch local, self-taught singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and self-described “extravagant mess” influenced by a wide range of music, including experimental electronic music, classical, old-timey jazz, 90s R&B, art pop, art rock and more. 

The Montréal-based artist is currently balancing a music career, which started in earnest in 2016 with her full-length debut, People With Problems with her studies: She’s a psychology major, who’s says she’s “obsessed with perceptions and the embodiment of the human experience.”  

Additionally, she has collaborated with a handful of local acts, including Super Plage, Maggie Lennon, and Georgette, contributing synths, guitar and vocals. 

Her latest album, last’s year INSULA was released early last year, and the album, further cements her layered, technicolor take on pop that stems from “the deepest and most colourful corner of my brain.” 

The young Montrealer’s M for Montréal set at L’Escogriffe featured some strutting and incredibly funky, dance floor friendly Francophone pop that seemed equally informed by DEVO, 70s disco, and L’Imperatice. It was arguably one of the most memorable sets of the entire festival: Virginie B was a sultry and self-assured, Karen O-meets-Mick Jagger-like stage presence, who immediately captured the attention of the room.

And her backing band was probably the tightest and funkiest band I’ve seen in the past handful of months. 

The combination had the entire room dancing for the duration of her set, including this intrepid journalist and photographer. Simply put, it was a fun set from an artist, who seems ready to boldly take over the world – right now. 

M for Montreal/M for Marathon at Quai des Brumes

4481 Rue Saint Denis

Lydia Képinski  

Caption: Lydia Képinski at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lydia Képinski at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lydia Képinski at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lydia Képinski at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lydia Képinski at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lydia Képinski at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lydia Képinski at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lydia Képinski at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal

Lydia Képinski is a Montréal-born and-based pop singer, who can trace the origins of her music career back to her childhood: She took classical piano lessons as a girl. And as a teen, she taught herself guitar. 

Her solo career started in earnest with an appearance at Cabaret Festif! de la Relève in Baie Saint Paul, Québec, a festival for emerging singer/songwriters across the region, who are looking to develop an audience outside of the province’s largest cities. Building upon the buzz surrounding her, she released her debut EP, aptly titled EP in 2016 through Chivi Chivi

Képinski then played at Montreal’s Francouvertes, an annual festival, which spotlights emerging Francophone artists across Quebec. At the end of each year’s festival, three finalists are selected, followed by a jury, which presents an award of $10,000 CAD to the best artist of the festival. The Montréal-based pop artist wound up dominating that year’s festival, winning practically in all of the categories in which she received a nomination. She also won the GAMIQ Revelation Award and EP of the Year

2018’s full-length debut, Premier juin, landed on the long list of that year’s Polaris Music Prize and received nominations for six categories in that year’s ADISQ and winning Pop Album of the Year at that year’s GAMIQ.

To celebrate the anniversary of Premier Juin’s release, Képinski enlisted a collection of the area’s best beatmakers and producers to remix the album, including RYAN Playground, Robert Robert, CRi, Tommy Kruise, Odile Myrtil, SUUNS’ Ben Shemie, softcoresoft, and Mollygum. 

Képinski’s sophomore album, last year’s Depuis was informed by drag culture, although the rising Canadian pop artist has publicly mentioned that she didn’t seek to emulate or copy the style directly out of respect for the performers and the culture. The album, which was longlisted for last year’s Polaris Music Prize, was also supported with touring that included playing at SXSW. 

The Montréal-born and-based artist’s M for Montréal set at Quai des Brumes was a high energy set of funky and slickly produced, dance pop with some elements of trip hop that brought L’Imperatice, Goldfrapp, and Giorgio Moroder-era disco to mind, delivered with high energy, pop starlet aplomb. The entire time, I thought to myself “It’s very rare to see someone with that much polish and presence play such a tiny room.” When I saw JOVM mainstays Black Pumas, Yola, and Genesis Owusu in rather intimate circumstances, I was immediately convinced that each of them would blow up – and quickly. And much like those artists, Képinski captured the crowd’s attention, and wouldn’t let it go until she was finished. 

M for Montreal/M for Marathon at Club Soda

Emma Beko 

1225 Boulevard Saint Laurent 

Located on Boulevard Saint Laurent between Place du Marché and Rue Sainte Catherine West in the city’s Quartier des Spectacles, Club Soda, a multifunctional and versatile venue that could be configured for a variety of events was founded 35 years ago. 

Throughout its history, the club has hosted a growing who’s who list of internationally and nationally known talent that includes Soundgarden, PJ Harvey, Oasis, Amy Winehouse, Fine Young Cannibals, Ben Harper, Rufus Wainwright, Counting Crows, Melissa Etheridge, Chris Isaak, Lisa LeBlanc, Cœur de pirate, Karim Ouellet, Koriass, Yann Permeau, Peter Peter, Klō Pelgag, Kid Koala, Socalled and others.

Club Soda has also developed a reputation for giving the area’s young and emerging artists and producers a chance to find affordable, top-notch infrastructure, which will help them make a name for themselves in Montréal and elsewhere. 

Caption: Emma Beko at Club Soda, M for Montréal
Caption: Emma Beko at Club Soda, M for Montréal

Emma Beko is a rising Montréal-based singer/songwriter and pop artist, who according to her Spotify page makes “. . . music that makes me cry and makes me very happy at the same time.”  I met Beko a few days before at the festival’s opening reception at Bravo Musique: Like me, Beko arrived at the reception early, and I wound up having an extensive and wide-ranging conversation with the rising artist. 

I found the rising artist so charming, that when she told me about her festival set, I committed to catching her set at Club Soda. 

Dressed as a nightmarish clown and singing in front of a microphone with stuffed animals attached to it as an equally nightmarish sacrifice, Beko proved to be a frenetic yet remarkably self-assured stage presence for an artist so relatively young in her career: She captured the attention of a busy Club Soda, who were familiar with her or her work. 

Sonically, Beko pairs earnest, lived-in lyrics that deal with anxiety, mental health, and the like with slickly produced electro pop with enormous trap beats. I got the sense that the rising Canadian artist’s intent was to connect with audiences about profoundly universal struggles – with the idea of saying to listeners and fans “I’ve struggled with some real shit. You aren’t alone out there, I promise.” And in our morally bankrupt world, that moment of connection – if only for a three- or four-minute song – is a great solace. 

Admittedly, I wasn’t convinced that I would be her audience. I’m a man. And from our conversation a few days before, I figured that I was easily about 13-14 years older than her. But what I saw a budding star in the making, who could make an effortless yet earnest connection with the audience. That, dear reader is a rare, hard-earned gift. 

Even When You Leave New York, You Still See Wild New York Shit, Part 4

I got on a North-bound 55 bus on Boulevard Saint Laurent and Rue Sainte Catherine to head to the night’s next stop La Sala Rossa for Mothland’s fifth annual M for Montréal showcase, called M for Monthland. As the bus slowly went up Boulevard Saint Laurent, it quickly became crowded with people doing what I’ve seen countless times in New York – standing by and in front of the back door.

I couldn’t complain. I had a seat. I was thrilled to have a seat. By this point in a festival, any time you can sit down is both a blessing and a relief – especially when you’re flat-footed. 

A couple of stops from my stop, I saw a young couple tug on the string to request their stop. The driver either didn’t notice, didn’t care, or just didn’t see the stop. The 55 passed the couple’s requested stop. As the bus passed, the young couple politely exclaimed “Monsieur!” The driver didn’t appear to notice. Then the next thing I heard was the couple exclaim in frustration “BAAAACKDOOOOOOOR!”  The bus finally stopped. 

I smiled and felt like I was home. 

M for Montreal/M for Mothland at La Sala Rossa 

Priors with Gloin, Grim Streaker, Absolutely Free, and Crasher

4848 Boulevard Saint Laurent 

Located on Boulevard Saint Laurent between Boulevard Saint Joseph and Rue Villenue East in the Montréal Plateau Mont Royal section, La Sala Rossa is another one of the city’s cultural and historical treasures: The building was built in the early ‘30s cultural/recreational/political center for the city’s left-wing Jewish community.  The building once hosted Paul RobesonEleanor Roosevelt and a workmen’s circle during ‘40s and ‘50s.

Over the past 30 years or so, the Centro Social Español has occupied the building, and they’ve maintained its storied history as a cultural, political, and recreational space – but for those of Spanish descent. Along with that, La Sal Rosa has developed a reputation for having eclectic programming, representing the city’s increasingly diverse music and arts scenes: On any given night, you could stop by and catch cabaret, free-jazz, indie rock. punk rock, DJs, dance parties, film screenings, flamenco, poetry readings, performance art, and more. 

Founded over five years ago, Mothland, one of Montréal’s most buzzworthy indie labels/collectives/production companies/management companies considers themselves, “an extra-dimensional space, a frame of mind, but even more so, a tight-knit family, sharing new sounds colours and textures through multiple art forms and unique events,” as they say on their website.  

As a label, they aim to provide visionary artists specializing in psychedelia, experimental rock, experimental pop, art rock and art pop with an understanding and loving label home. Just to give you a sense of their roster, they currently work with Atsuko Chiba, CDSMGloinGrim Streaker, Hot Garbage, Kristian North, Medicine Singers, N Nao, JOVM mainstays Spaceface and Sunglaciers, Yonatan Gat, and Yoo Doo Right, among a list of others. 

As a management and production company, Mothland books North American shows and tours for their roster of 30 or artists – and growing. The company curates Festival de Musique Émergente (FME) in remote Rouyn-Noranda, Québec. They produce and program Distortion Psych Fest and Taverne Tour, two festivals they founded. And they’ve hosted an annual M for Montréal/M for Marathon showcase dubbed M for Mothalnd. 

When I attended the 15th edition of M for Montréal back in 2019, Mothland’s M for Mothland showcase was a memorable way to close out my first M for Montréal and my first trip to the city. (You can go back and check out my thoughts on that showcase here:  The showcase featured what was arguably one of the most unique arrangements I’ve seen before – and I’ve seen thousands of shows and hundreds of festival showcases: alternating sets “in the round” and the more common proscenium/raised stage sets. 

Acts with similar set ups seem to share the same stage, which helps keep an efficient flow for the night. There isn’t a lot of time wasted on the band putting their set-ups together and taking them down. You wind up seeing a little bit more music across the course of the showcase – even if the sets are short. 

So, as you can imagine, when I learned that Mothland would be hosting another M for Mothland showcase, I excitedly saved the date – before knowing who would be on the bill. 

Then when the label and festival announced the M for Mothland showcase bill, I knew I couldn’t miss it. By far, I was most excited about catching Toronto’s Absolutely Free, whose 2021 Jorge Elbrecht-produced Aftertouch was one of my favorite albums of the past couple of years. I’ve caught Grim Streaker at a handful of local bills and showcases; but was looking forward to hearing them play material off last years MIND EP, an effort that saw the band pushing their sound in new directions. 

A few weeks before flying up to Montréal, I was covering a show at Baby’s All Right. In between sets, I wound up chatting with an Irish-born photographer, who like me was covering the show. She was friendly with another man, a guy named Mike, who goes to a lot of shows across the city’s indie scene. While we were chatting, Mike brought up that he was thinking of driving up to Montréal to catch Gloin, an act that he really dug. Naturally, that made me a bit curious about Gloin. 

If you add the possibility of running into new music scene pals in another country, I was really excited about it. 

Priors, a rising Montréal-based punk quintet – Maxime Desharnais, Andrew Demers, Alan Hildebrant, Chance Hutchinson, and Sebastien Godin – closed out a long day of music, performing a set in-the-round. 

The band’s most recent full-length album, 2020’s New Pleasure saw the band furiously scrunching together lacerating guitar fuzz, maniacal snare drum abuse, squiggling analog blasts, and howled lyrics, sometimes double tracked to sound like frenetic, echoed nervousness. Their follow-up EP, last year’s New New New!continuing and further cementing their sound. 

By the time, Priors took the stage to close out the night – in the round, no less –my feet and knees were killing me. I was a sweaty, dehydrated, fucked up mess. I don’t know how I survived the five days. And at this point, the only thing I wanted to do was sit down and not move for about a week. So, I sat down on the proscenium stage to catch their set and wrote down notes. Unfortunately, there aren’t any photos from this set; but that’s the hazards of the job, right? 

The Montréal-based quintet played a furious set of snarling, punchy punk rippers delivered with a frenetic energy: Their lead singer, spent the set bopping and stomping around the stage, and towards the end of their set, he was shirtless and sweaty. The band played with a similar energy and at one point, the room went absolutely nuts. I saw something I’ve never seen at a NYC show: a woman took off her top around the same time as Priors’ lead singer, and she started jumping around the room – completely in tune with the music.  

Priors seemed well-equipped to fuck with a New York City hardcore crowd, because the La Sala Rossa crowd seemed roaring to mosh and sweat with the band. Seeing the crowd have that much fun, made Priors set that much more fun to watch. Plus, it revealed one important thing to me – all punk rock shows need to be In-the-round. It’s a great way for the crowd and the band to feed off each other’s energy. 

They closed out their set with a song that struck me as being a scuzzy punk like version of “My Sharona,” complete with a rather infectious hook. There can only be one way to end a festival – with an explosive bang, and Priors did that expertly. 


Toronto-based noise rock quartet Gloin took the proscenium stage. In their native Canada, the quartet has quickly developed a reputation for a cathartic live show, described as a wall-of-sound maelstrom,” Exclaim! once wrote. Their full-length debut, last year’s We Found This sees the band pushing their sound to the furthest reaches. 

Live, the Toronto-based noise rock outfit’s material reminded me a bit of Devo – but with a grit and nastiness that I really dig. But like a handful of acts I caught during the festival, there was something all too familiar about their sound: I’ve caught bands with the same sort of sound in countless venues across town about a decade earlier. And yet, they delivered their material with high energy, earnestness, and a playful sense of humor: Eight songs in, they joked about how they should have given folks a strobe light warning much earlier. Oops! 

Caption: Gloin at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Gloin at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Gloin at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Gloin at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Gloin at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Gloin at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Gloin at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal


Caption: Grim Streaker at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Grim Streaker at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Grim Streaker at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Grim Streaker at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Grim Streaker at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Grim Streaker at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Grim Streaker at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal

Currently split between Vancouver and Brooklyn, acclaimed art-punks Grim Streaker — Amelia Bushell (vocals), Dan Peskin (guitar, electronics, synths), Bill Dvorak (bass) and Piyal Badu (drums) — initially made a name for themselves playing DIY spaces and venues across North America, sharing stages with METZIDLESSurfbortA Place To Bury Strangers and a lengthy list of others. 

The quartet released two critically applauded efforts – 2017’s Minority Girl EP and 2019’s No Vision while become known for a live show centered around Busell’s explosive stage presence and the band’s frenetic, forceful pace. 

During the height of the pandemic, Bushell relocated to Vancouver, where she started her singer/songwriter side project Extra Special. Interestingly, her move to Canada helped inform a new creative process for the band, which also incluced a decided change in direction for the band: Bushell’s performances became more vulnerable, playful yet unsettling. Peskin built a genre-bending band of art punk while Dvorak and Basu locked tightly into pulsating, danceable frameworks. 

Last year’s Mind EP was recorded at Greenpoint-based Diamond City Studios by Johnny Schenke, The four-song EP is a surreal, subversive effort that reflects on the current state of mental health, laughable social constructs and the inescapable, seemingly infinite working grind centered around a sound that meshes careening disco punk and R&B among other things. 

“There has been a constant question of the why/how we create music as we’ve grown together over time,” the members of Grim Streaker say.  “Influences from the punk, no wave and post-punk eras have always created a playground for us to build upon. Much of our latest songwriting draws from more diverse musical influences delving into the realms of dance, hip hop, funk and industrial. With MIND, each song exists in its own world, pulling sonically from new places with a punk point of view.

The main theme for MIND is mental health. Finding happiness and mental stability in a world full of socially constructed expectations. Being different and having one’s own unique views and preferences on society and its dwellers. Work and money, being a part of a machine. 

“Most of the EP was written in the pandemic on the internet or right before in NYC. It was recorded alongside Johnny Schenke from the band P.E. at Diamond City Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was printed live off the floor wearing masks, with minimal overdubs. We got weird with instrumentation too, using a number of synths, drum machines and even household objects to build up the layers of each song.”

Grim Streaker’s M for Mothland set started off with a ’77 punk-meets-post-punk ripper featuring wiry guitars, driving rhythms and shouted vocals delivered with an ironic detachment that Bushell does remarkably well. But for some reason, despite the frenetic playing and ironic delivery, Grim Streaker’s punk-inspired material just struck me as being insincere – and as though they were trying a bit too hard to be punk. 

I was most excited to hear the material off last year’s MIND EP. Personally, I think It’s an exciting developing in their sound and approach. 

Last year, I wrote about MIND’s frenetic and uneasy title track “Mind.” Featuring wobbling and atmospheric synths, angular and percussive guitar blasts and a driving motoric-like groove powered by relentless four-on the-floor paired with Bushell’s sultrily delivered lyrics on the tenuous hold on reality within the unending grind, the EP’s title track brings Gang of Four to mind – but with an art rock-like sheen. Live, the material from the EP was performed with a nasty, gritty edge. Some of the guitar sounds were created by running a carpenter’s square run against the strings. That’s something I’ve never seen before. But honestly, I’m looking forward to hearing what will be next after MIND.


Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Absolutely Free, La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal

Acclaimed Toronto-based psych pop act Absolutely Free — multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Matt King, Michael Claxton (bass, synths) and Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg (drums, synths) — is an offshoot of experimental rock outfit DD/MM/YYYY, an act whose multi-rhythmic, boundary pushing raison d’être provided a springboard for Absolutely Free’s sound and approach. 

The Canadian psych trio’s full-length debut, 2014’s Absolutely Free. received a Polaris Prize nomination and widespread critical applause from the likes of PitchforkThe FADERStereogumBrooklynVegan,Exclaim!Under the RadarPopMattersAllMusic and countless others. 

Over the past decade, the members of the Absolutely Free have cultivated and developed a long-held reputation for an unorthodox approach to both conceiving and performing music: Since the release of Absolutely Free., the Toronto-based psych pop act have released an array of multimedia projects and releases including 2019’s Geneva Freeport EP, which features U.S. Girls‘ Meg Remy. And adding to a growing profile they’ve toured alongside the likes of AlvvaysYouth Lagoon and JOVM mainstays Preoccupations, and they’ve shared bills with Beak>, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, U.S. Girls and Fucked Up

Absolutely Free’s 2021 Jorge Elbrecht-produced sophomore album, Aftertouch derives its name from the name of a synthesizer function and was fueled by the trio’s desire 
“. . . to create an album that wasn’t bound by a physical ability to perform it live, to not only expand our palette, but also to consider the live performance as something complete separate.” Culling from a myriad of eclectic influences including krautrock, New Wave, early electronic dance music, and an array of international psych and funk compilations, Aftertouch sees the trio sonically and aesthetically shifting in, around, and between analog and digital sounds and real and fabricated images. They do so while simultaneously reveling in and refuting the loss of tactility. 

Thematically, the album explores narratives of hegemony, grief, and exploitation in the present while sustaining curiosity for the unknown post-everything future. 

Their M for Mothland set began with layers of wobbling and spacey synth textures. The tempo slowly began to speed up and morph into a sort of Kraftwerk-like song with tons of percussive elements. This lead into a jammier, shaggier yet fairly straightforward version of album title track “Aftertouch.’

The acclaimed Toronto-based outfit went into a version of “How to Paint Clouds” that was shaggy around the edges, while strangely enough possessing a Doors-like air Interestingly, the song’s coda pulled on the trippier elements with a slow burning, almost meditative effect. 

I was thrilled to hear “Still Life,” one of my favorite songs off the album live. The band managed to extend the intro to a narcotic effect. But the most interesting – and perhaps most important – thing I noticed was that hearing the songs performed live, I could tell that most of the album’s songs can trace their origins back to jam sessions. 

The next song in their set featured a DFA Records quality but much more post punk and New Wave-inspired. 

Their set closed out with a live rendition of “Clear Blue Sky,” an expansive and trippy song that ended with an explosive coda. 

I had been obsessively playing Aftertouch’s material for the better part of a year. Although the set wasn’t pristine, hearing songs I’ve grown to love in a live context managed to reveal the shimmer and polish of Elbrecht’s production and the exceptional attention to craft behind the material. 


Caption: Crasher at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Crasher at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Crasher at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Crasher at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Crasher at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Crasher at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Crasher at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal
Caption: Crasher at La Sala Rossa, M for Montréal

Opening the night in-the-round was San Diego-based outfit Crasher. Created as a side project from his primary gig playing drums for Exasperation, frontman Dave Mead started the project to express the frontperson personality he’s always had. “The positions of a band are like the electoral college,” Mead says. “If you’re the drummer you’re like Vermont, you have great ideas and you just want what’s best for everyone but at the end of the day you’re Vermont. Singers and guitar players are the Texas, New York, and California of the band world. I knew I had my own songs in me somewhere, once I found them it was like accidentally breaking into a giant cave and they were everywhere.”

Mead’s songs came to life with the assistance of Weatherbox’s and Future Crooks’ AJ Peacox (bass) – and for live shows, Band Argument’s, Weatherbox’s and Miss New Buddha’s Jordan Krimston (drums). The act’s debut EP, Traitor meshes elements of garage punk, breezy indie rock, and Americana. 

“Generation Desperation” features an angular and stomping post-punk sound that kind of sounded like DEVO-meets-The B52s from hell. Goddamn it, that song was fun. Another song featured a kind of dreamy and atmospheric quality that made it sound as though it could have easily been on Absolutely Free’s Aftertouch – and seemed like a bit of a departure from song of the set’s other songs. I couldn’t help but notice that some folks were swaying about in the room. 

There was another song in the set, a stormy and messy ripper that rocked hard before quickly turning into a tense and angular nightmare. Sonically, this song reminded me a bit of Sunglaciers but somehow nastier. 

The penultimate song of the set had a Devo-like intro that quickly morphed into a math rock-like ripper. 

Throughout their set the band joked that they thought their M for Mothland set would be their worst ever set. That wasn’t remotely true; they managed to kick ass and take names, which is what anyone would hope for in an opening set. 

La Banquise 

990 Rue Rachel East

Day four was a weird day: Most of that day, I felt indescribably bad. For most of the trip, I couldn’t really figure out how to dress, so I was sweating like I had run two marathons in a row. I had eaten smoked meat sandwiches, multiple poutines, pizza and drank a ton. I hadn’t had much water. I could barely eat. I eventually wound up not eating for the better part of about eight hours, which is unusual for me. 

After the M for Mothland showcase, I was desperate for food. But as soon as most of the attendees at the showcase were about to leave La Sala Rossa, we could see that it had started to snow again. Calling an Uber to get anywhere became exceedingly difficult. I repeatedly tried for 10 minutes before getting a car. During the short ride to La Banquise, the driver took a wrong turn and got momentarily lost. Because it was his fault that we were lost, he stopped the charges and eventually dropped me off.

This time, I stopped for the fourth poutine of the trip, a La Savoyarde, featuring bacon, onions, Swiss cheese, and sour cream. I may have been a distracted mess, but the food helped me feel a bit more human after a while. 

Day 4/Night 4 Winners

  • Lemfrek
  • Teddy Hunter
  • Kizzy Crawford
  • Boulevard Saint Laurent murals
  • Smoked meat poutine at Main Deli Steakhouse
  • Basilique Notre Dame 
  • Virginie B
  • Lydia Kepinski
  • M for Mothland showcase at La Sala Rossa 

Day 5: Saturday, November 19. 2022

Breakfast in Vieux Montreal/Vieux Montreal 

Nelli Bistro 

Hotel Nelligan

104 Rue Saint Paul West 

Saturday was my last full day and night, and there were still things I needed and wanted to see and do. At this point, I was burned out. My right shoulder had been barking at me most of the trip. My feet hurt. I think I was having meat sweats. I needed a salad. I needed more water. But I was still having a great time. I’d do every minute of it again. Seriously. 

Located near the intersection of Rue Saint Paul West and Rue Saint Suplice, in Montreal’s historic Vieux Montreal neighborhood, Hotel Nelligan is an upscale hotel, with a refined French-styled bistro in its lobby. I had stopped there for breakfast. The décor was gorgeous, and so was the food. For a few minutes, I had forgotten I was in North America! I’d love to return to try more of their menu. But in the meantime, they’re highly recommended. 

Caption: Classic Breakfast — Two eggs (any style), bacon, sausage, potatoes and fresh fruit– at Nelli Bistro, Hotel Nelligan
Caption: Lattes — and latte art — at Nelli Bistro, Hotel Nelligan

Vieux Port de Montreal/ La Grande Roue de Montreal

362 Rue de la Commune East 

Dating back to the 17th century, the historic Vieux Montréal (Old Montréal) neighborhood is also home to the Vieux Port de Montréal (Old Port of Montréal). Located along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, the neighborhood features narrow cobblestone streets full of lively plazas, charming shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s arguably the most European, most French-like part of town. And as a result, it’s a photographer’s dream. 

The neighborhood is home to a some of the city’s most beloved – and must-see – landmarks including Basilique Notre Dame; Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Montreal’s equivalent to our American Natural History Museum; the Montréal Science Centre; the Montréal Clock Tower; and lastly, La Grande Roue de Montréal, a Ferris Wheel, which offers visitors some stunning views of Vieux Montreal, Downtown Montreal’s skyline and Mont Royal. 

I shared photos back in November, but  you can check them out here:

Stade Olympique 

4545 Pierre de Coubertin Avenue

Stade Olympique (Olympic Stadium) is a multipurpose stadium specifically built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, located in Montreal’s Hochelaga-Maisonnueve neighborhoods The Parc Olympique complex, which is a roughly triangular section of Parc Maisonneuve, is more than just the home of the stadium. The stadium complex is currently home to one of the world’s tallest, leaning towers – a tower that stands at a 45º angle. The Olympic velodrome was transformed into the Biodome, a museum with exacting replicas of five different ecosystems, including the Saint Lawrence River area. The Planetarium Rio Tinto Alcan is also located on the property, right next door to Biodome. Stade Saputo, the home of the MLS’ Montreal FC is at the northeast end of the Parc Olympique complex. 

You can check out photos and some additional thoughts and history here:

M for Montréal/M for Marathon at Quai des Brumes

4481 Rue Saint Denis 

Lonny with Shaina Haynes

I was back at Quai des Brumes for an early evening showcase featuring two local folk singer/songwriters, Lonny and Shaina Haynes in a fittingly intimate setting. 

Caption: Lonny at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lonny at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lonny at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lonny at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lonny at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lonny at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lonny at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Lonny at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal

Louise Lhermitte is a Paris-born, Montréal-based singer/songwriter multi-instrumentalist, and youngest daughter of acclaimed, French-born actor, writer, and director Thierry Lhermitte. The younger Lhermitte can trace much of the origins of her career to her childhood: She studied opera and viola ss a girl, and eventually learned how to play guitar.

As an artist, Lhermitte has purposely distanced herself from her famous father and her siblings. She started writing and performing under the pseudonym Lonny Montem, as one-half of folk outfit Lonny Montem and G. Charlet. 

Informed and inspired by the loneliness and heartache of a failed romantic relationship, Lhermitte began writing solo material, which was eventually recorded between Québec and France back in 2020. With the release of last year’s full-length debut Ex-Voto, under the mononymic Lonny. 

Last year, as the mononymic Lonny, a nod to the word alone in English, the Montréal-based artist stepped into the spotlight as a solo artist with her full-length debut Ex-Voto. Informed by the loneliness and heartbreak of a failed relationship and recorded between Montréal and France back in 2020. 

Lonny’s M for Montréal set at Quai des Brumes was primarily rooted in material off Ex-Voto and was arguably one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous sets of the entire festival – and a highlight of my entire concert-going year: Accompanying herself with acoustic guitar, as well as a backing band with guiar, bass, and synths, the French-born, Canadian-based artist’s material was a pastoral, Nick Drake-like take on folk centered around her ethereal delivery. 

Her set closed out with “Black Hole,” a slow-burning meditation on the passing of time sung in English that closed out the set. 


Caption: Shaina Haynes at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Shaina Haynes at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Shaina Haynes at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Shaina Haynes at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Shaina Haynes at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal
Caption: Shaina Haynes at Quai des Brumes, M for Montréal

Born in a small fishing and farming village in Eastern Québec and currently based in Montréal, Shania Haynes opened up the evening with a pastoral, Nick Drake-like folk set of material centered in wry observation that seemingly come from real, lived-in places – and informed by her life as a farmer. And as a result, there was a subtle bit of country twang to her guitar playing.  

Her vocal range reminded me a bit of Jewel but with a cozy and warm, like a smooth scotch – or a warm blanket on a cold, winter day paired with an unassuming charm and a lovely smile. 

Simply put, the set was a lovely start to the last evening in town. 

Mont Tacos

4505 Rue Saint Denis


Located near the intersection of Rue Saint Denis and Avenue Mont Royal East, a few doors down from Quai des Brumes and L’Escogtiffe, in the city’s Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood, Mont Tacos is a Canadian fast-food chain founded in Montréal that specializes in an item first popularized in France – the French-styled taco. What’s a French taco? It’s a bit like a Taco Bell crunch wrap but with fries. If you couldn’t tell, French Canadians really love fries. 

But Mont Taco offers patrons the ability to build their own taco – with various choices in size, sauces, meat (there’s a falafel option, too), charcuterie, cheese, and veggies, as well as their signature tacos. Unsurprisingly, Mont Tacos also serves three different varieties of poutine. It’s Québec after all. And if you don’t believe me, you can get poutine at the airport. Yes, airport poutine. 

I had stumbled upon Mont Tacos when looking for places to eat near Quai des Brumes and L’Escogriffe and when French tacos came up, my thought was “That’s right up my alley.” 

For some reason, it took a while for the food to be made. But it was good. It was Taco Bell but much fresher and with real food. Can’t go wrong there.  


M for Montreal/M for Marathon at Club Soda

Laura Niquay (unpictured)

1225 Boulevard Saint Laurent

I decided to take another Uber from Rue Saint Denis back to Club Soda to catch Atikamekw singer/songwriter Laura Niquay. But the Uber driver got lost. Then the driver somehow missed the hotel and forgot that a portion of Rue Sainte Catherine was blocked off for pedestrians. And from what I could tell, it seemed to have been closed off for some time. We wound up having to go around the block again. At this point, I was late. 

I told the driver to stop. I got out of the car and ran to the venue to try to catch as much of Niquay’s set as possible. 

Niquay is a Wemotaci, Québecborn, Atikamekw singer/songwriter, who can trace the origins of her career to playing on her uncle Arthur Petiquay’s 2005 album Awacic. Her debut album, 2015’s Waratanak saw the Canadian First Nation artist quickly establishing her sound and approach: Modern indie rock and folk paired with lyrics sung in Niquay’s native Atikamekw – with French translations by Niquay. 

Her sophomore album, 2021’s Waska Matisiwin was releaed to widespread critical acclaim both nationally and across the province. The album was longlisted for that year’s Polaris Music Prize. The album won two ADISQ Felix Awards last year: Indigenous Language of the Year and Indigenous Artist of the Year. At the Teweikan Gala, an Award show for First Nation Canadian artists, Niquay won Best Folk Album, Best Performance and Jury’s Favourite Award. Lastly, she also won the SOCAN’s TD Aboriginal Songwriter Award

I wish I would have caught the set from the beginning, but what I caught of Niquay’s M for Montréal set at Club Soda was gorgeous, beguiling material with swirling shoegazer-like textures and folk storytelling paired with big, pop hooks. Sure, it was a mix of the ancient with the modern, but the First Nation Canadian artist’s set also was a powerful and necessary reminder: Regardless of the language, you can connect to music on an emotional level. 

M for Montreal/M for Marathon at Le National 

Lili-Ann de Francesco with Chiara Savasta

1220 Rue Sainte Catherine East

Located near the intersection of Rue Sainte Catherine East and Rue Baudry in Montreal’s The Village neighborhood (also once known as Gay Village), Le National is one of Montréal’s cultural and historical treasures. 

Originally named The National Theater, Le National can trace its origins back over a century: Back in 1900, legendary Montréal-born playwright, actor and director Julien Daoust founded the theater, and along with architect Albert Sincennes and photographer A. Racette and built the building to house the first professional theater for Francophones in North America. 

Daoust’s dream for The National Theater was for it to be the creative and spiritual hub of a Québécois theater that attempted to reflect the community’s identity and ideals. Under the leadership of restauranteur Georges Gauvreau and actor Paul Cazenueve, The National Theater featured adaptations and translations of the period’s big Broadway hits, as well as productions of original works by a lengthy list of Québécois playwrights. 

Between 1936-1953, The National became known for vaudeville and burlesque shows featuring the area’s best and most popular performers. Sadly, once longtime director 

Rose “La Poune” Ouellette left, the building was converted into a movie theater: For a handful of years, they showed Chinese cinema, but for about 20 years, they showed gay cinema. 

In 2006, the building was renamed Le National. Since then, Le National has become a major venue in town for Francophone artists. Much like Chicago’s Vic TheatreWebster Hall, Bowery BallroomBeacon TheatreUnited Palace TheaterKings Theatre and the Apollo Theater, you can practically feel the ghosts coming from the walls and floors. 

I first became acquainted with Le National when I caught JOVM mainstays Corridor play a career-spanning, headlining M for Montréal set back in 2019. On this night, it was a showcase featuring two local rising pop artists – Lili-Ann De Francesco and Chiara Savasta

Caption: Lili-Ann De Francesco at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Lili-Ann De Francesco at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Lili-Ann De Francesco at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Lili-Ann De Francesco at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Lili-Ann De Francesco at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Lili-Ann De Francesco at Le National, M for Montréal

Montréal-based singer/songwriter Lili-Ann De Francesco can trace the origins of her career to growing up in a musical home: She started piano lessons when she was five, and started performing with her father when she was around seven. 

Back in 2015, De Francesco appeared on Québec’s La Voix, the Francophone Canadian version of the popular international talent show, The Voice. She made history as the show’s youngest contender ever. Since then, her father has guided her and still works as her mentor and manager. 

On her website, the Montréal-based artist cites Nirvana, The Beatles and Queen as some of her earliest – and perhaps most powerful – influences. De Francesco’s work 

sees her drawing from her own personal experiences with the hopes of being a voice and inspiration for those who face challenges and difficulties.

Back in 2019, De Francesco released her self-titled debut EP, a bilingual effort which saw her singing in French and English over high-octane pop production. Interestingly, she found writing in English to be very instinctual. On her site, she says “Writing this, putting it out with a very small team made me realise that there is strength in numbers. I can’t do it all. This music ended up opening a few doors for me.”

Early in her career, she has seen a fair amount of commercial success: “Remember” feat. Tyler Shaw and “Winter Song” feat. Eli Rose, her first holiday song both charted in Canda. 

A couple of years ago, the Montréal-based artist began speaking about her struggles with anxiety. Surprised by the outpouring of support and love from fans and listeners, De Francesco recommitted to her promise of staying true to herself – and to her fans. “Life is going to hand you all kinds of stuff and you have no choice but to deal with them,” De Francesco says.” That’s why I wanted to talk about it; because I’m normal. I have bad days, good days, and amazing days. I wanted to show how social media is not always the truth, and that it’s okay to go through some rough times.”

November 23, 2021, saw the release of de Francesco’s cover of “The Great Escape,” an intimate cover that caught the attention of Maison Barclay/Universal Music Canada – and a re-introduction to the singer, in which she revealed the real de Francesco. (Coincidentally, the single was released on the Montréal-based artist’s birthday, which seems extremely symbolic.)  

“I want to do what I like, and I want the people who work with me to support my decision and support my choices,” de Francesco says on her website. “I want to be true in my music, as well —I want to talk about real stuff.” Speaking of real stuff, her work touches on her struggles with an eating disorder, and more. She firmly believes that vulnerability and honesty will continue to help her authentically connect with her audience. 

The rising Montréal-based artist has also branched out into other fields. She appeared in three episodes of TV series Mon Fils, which aired back in 2020. 

Her Maison Barclay/Universal Music Canada debut, the Lucatheproducer-co-written and produced “idc,” was relased last year and began a prolific run of singles throughout last year. 

de Francesco’s M for Montréal set at the gorgeous Le National saw her performing slickly produced, R&B-tinged, Billboard-like pop that was roomy enough for the young artist to display her gorgeous vocal and remarkable range. 

The first two songs of the set were ballads, which personally I thought was a bit of a misstep for a 20-30-minute set: Most audiences these days are easily distracted. I’ve seen audiences’ attention begin to wane a bit whenever most acts play their slower songs and ballads – with a few, limited exceptions. The prevailing logic is that you grab that distracted audience as quickly as possible. Hopefully, it’s in the first song or two. You play the slower songs and ballads towards the middle. And then you play a banger to send them out with something memorable. Old pros handle the art of a setlist as though it’s a science. Newer performers eventually get the hang of it through trial-and-error. 

“My Body,” the third song of the set was a subtle yet defiantly feminist anthem about a young woman – should I say young to this 40 something? – gaining and exerting control of herself, her desires, and her life, featuring some wiry guitar work, layered backing vocals and a rousingly anthemic hook that I could picture young women screaming along to at a show – or at the club. Somehow, the song struck me as having a Taylor Swift-like air. It was an obnoxiously catchy earworm of a song that you can easily love, hate, and then love again. 

The next song saw the young Canadian artist swerving back and forth between a hip-hop-tinged flow on its verses and singing on the chorus and hook. The song revealed her undeniable talent but there was something about the verses that felt a bit off to me, as though it were overly studied and not a sincere expression.  

She played “The Great Escape,” a slow-burning pop ballad that I feel like I’ve heard at least three million times in my life – and have tried to avoid hearing for the past 20 years. The song wasn’t terrible; it just wasn’t very interesting to me. It didn’t help distinguish her from a lengthy list of pretty, young pop artists with big voices. 

“100 Days of Darkness,” one of the last songs of her set, felt like the set’s biggest misstep. While I’m certain that the song is rooted in deeply personal, lived-in experience and sentiment, the song lyrically seemed cliched and a bit superficial, which to a 40 something, who has lived a full and messy life, seem insincere. 

The set’s last song “Natural Disaster,” was much like its immediate predecessor with the song being full of cliched lyrics without much depth. 

Admittedly, I desperately wanted to like de Francesco and her material, but I was left feeling as though she needed more life experience, to bring out the unease, anger, frustration and despair a song like “100 Days of Darkness” should have. There’s something to be said about having hard-fought and harder-won experience – especially as a songwriter. 

The biggest problem I had was that her stage presence seemed studied and a bit awkward. I didn’t feel convinced that she connected with her audience that night. Admittedly, I’m probably not the right audience. But with a voice like that, I hope she’ll be able to distinguish herself from a crowded field; if she does, she’ll have a big future. 


Caption: Chiara Savasta at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Chiara Savasta at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Chiara Savasta at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Chiara Savasta at Le National, M for Montréal
Caption: Chiara Savasta at Le National, M for Montréal

Montréal-based singer/songwriter Chiara Savasta emerged into the local scene with the 2020 release of her debut single, “When Girls Love.” Between 2021-2022, Savasta was busy: She released five singles and her debut EP, last year’s nimbustwokay-produced SummerHood Part 1.

Inspired by her teenaged years, coming of age movies like The Virgin SuicidesLolita and mid 90s pop and alt rock, the EP as Savasta explains “is mostly the product of me and Alex (nimbustwokay) meeting each other, and creating our own sound from scratch. These songs are supposed to feel raw because it was created in such a strange period, and it cane b felt. I was writing about the continuous realizations I was making, whether it was about myself or the world surrounding me, and how uncomfortable it made me feel.” She adds “I hope that this record brings light, inspiration and comfort because it is truly genuine. I write for myself, but we’re all very similar and you might have felt exactly the same.”

Savasta opened up the night at Le National with a set of mostly English language, radio friendly pop delivered in a way that made me think of Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift but paired with a stage presence that saw her flitting between a coquettish siren and an innocent, teeny bop star. 

“Bike Ride” is a radio friendly bop with some infectious hooks. But the most interesting moment to me was a cover of Green Day that lovingly pulled out Billie Joe Armstrong’s pop sensibilities. I could believe that at some point Savasta played a lot of Green Day and yelled along with her favorite songs. 

Was her set the most original thing I’ve seen? No. But her set was rooted in heart-on-sleeve earnestness that was endearing. 

M for Montreal/M for Marathon at Le Ministere 

4521 Boulevard Saint Laurent

Ducks, Ltd. With Ping Pong Go 

I took an Uber from Le National to Le Ministere to catch the last two sets of my M for Montréal – Ducks, Ltd and Ping Pong Go. I managed to survive five days of running around town, eating poutine and smoked meat sandwiches, catching music – and of course, networking, networking, networking. It was a whirlwind. 

Caption: Ducks, Ltd. at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Ducks, Ltd. at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Ducks, Ltd. at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Ducks, Ltd. at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Ducks, Ltd. at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.
Caption: Ducks, Ltd. at Le Ministere, M for Montréal.

Toronto-based jangle pop outfit Ducks, Ltd. – British-born Tom McGreevey (vocals, guitar, bass, keys) and Aussie-born Evan Lewis (guitar, bass, drum programming) can trace their origins back to when the duo met at a Dilly Dally show. Both McGreevy and Lewis were applying for permanent residency status in Canada and playing in different local bands, but what they quickly recognized that they had tons in common: The British-born McGreevey loved the ‘80s indie pop that Sarah Records specialized in – i.e., Close Lobsters, McCarthy – and Cherry Red Records. The Aussie-born Lewis loved the Flying Nun Records catalog, and The Go-Betweens. 

The duo began writing and recording together back in 2018, taking the tihttps://thegoonsax.comme to discover their own musical identity and voice. They recorded an EP’s worth of material with outside producers that was scrapped and never released. 

The Toronto-based duo’s critically applauded debut, 2019’s Get Bleak was released through Madrid-based Bobo Integral was recorded with live drums. The EP was re-recorded with drum machine and built from demos recorded in Lewis’ bedroom and re-released through Carpark Records back in 2021 with three previously unreleased songs. At its core, Get Bleak sees the duo trusting the intensity of their creative relationship. 

The duo’s full-length debut, 2021’s Modern Fiction was released to critical applause. Building upon a growing profile, the Toronto-based outfit has shared bills with the likes of The Goon Sax, Weyes Blood, and Juan Waters

Their set featured a jangling guitar-driven material that sounded way too familiar to me: I’ve heard similar sounding material countless times at Cake Shop, Piano’s, Rock Shop and elsewhere with a frontman, who was frenetically bopping around the entire set. Although the crowd was bopping around along to them, I personally only partially got it. I just didn’t find their material all that interesting. It didn’t help that my feet were killing me – and had been for the better part of the past day or so. But if there was one highlight to their set, it was The Smiths-like “Oblivion,” which displayed their penchant for catchy hooks.


Caption: Ping Pong Go at Le Ministere, M for Montréal
Caption: Laser theremin during Ping Pong Go’s Le Ministere set, M for Montréal
Caption: Ping Pong Go at Le Ministere, M for Montréal
Caption: Ping Pong Go at Le Ministere, M for Montréal
Caption: Ping Pong Go at Le Ministere, M for Montréal
Caption: Ping Pong Go at Le Ministere, M for Montréal
Caption: Ping Pong Go at Le Ministere, M for Montréal

Montréal-based jazz-funk, jazz-fusion outfit Ping Pong Go — Vincent Gagnon (piano) and P.E. Beaudoin (drums) – consists of two of the area’s most accomplished players: Gagnon and Beaudoin have worked with Hubert Lenoir, Lou-Adriane Cassidy, Keith Kouna, Tire le Coyote, Ariane Roy, Gabrielle Shook, Emilie Clapper and a lengthy list of others. 

Their M for Montréal set at Le Ministere featured material that immediately brought Mildlife, L’éclair, and Surprise Chef to mind. Similarly, Ping Pong Go’s work is rooted in trippy, motorik grooves and mind-bending solos, and bridges the gaps between funk, jazz, retro-futuristic electro pop, and jazz fusion. There were also nods at Headhunters and Future Shock-era Herbie Hancock and Return to Forever. This can’t be done without having exceptionally adept and dexterous musicians, who are tight – and intuitively know when to lead and when to follow. 

The set’s first song was built around the act’s penchant for trippy motorik grooves but paired with a twinkling pulse. They quickly followed up with a slow-burning retro-futuristic groove-driven song with a subtle cinematic quality – sort of like a John Carpenter soundtrack on narcotics. 

One song featured the use of a laser theremin, which was a mind-blowing thing to see. I hadn’t seen it before – and so far, I haven’t seen it since. 

During the set, there was one very goofy song that kind of sounded as though it could have been part of a montage in a sports film or in an extended chase scene but filtered through DEVO-like New Wave. 

The set ended with the members of the live band passing around an old trophy and dancing as though they won the championship – in something or another. It was hilarious to see. And it added a playful and goofy quality to proceedings. 

Day 5/Night 5 Winners

  • Breakfast at Nelli Bistro
  • Vieux Montréal/Port de Vieux Montréal 
  • Stade Olympique/Park Olympique 
  • Shania Haynesolk
  • Lonny
  • French tacos at Mont Tacos
  • Laura Niquay 
  • Chiara Savasta 
  • Ping Pong Go

Montreal Metro

Run by the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), Metro de Montréal (Montréal Metro) opened with 22 stations on two lines in October 1966. Since then, the system has expanded to 68 stations on four lines, crossing much of island of Montréal with connections to the suburbs of Laval to the south with the Orange Line and Longueuil to the east with the Yellow Line. 

Montréal Metro is Canada’s second busiest rapid transit system and the fourth busiest in North America, behind New York City Subway, the Mexico City Metro and the Toronto subway. Along with the REM, Montréal has one of the North Americas largest urban rapid transit systems, attracting the second-highest ridership per capita behind New York.  

Metro de Montréal is a photographer’s dream: Each station in the system has unique architectural flourishes and artwork – with stations along each of the system’s four lines frequenting using repeating motifs. I took some photos while traveling around town, and you can check them out here:

Day 6: Sunday, November 2022

Au Revoir – For Now/Closing Thoughts


Home, home again

I like to be here when I can

And when I come home cold and tired

It’s good to warm my bones besides the fire 

  • Pink Floyd “Time”

The five days in Montréal were a whirlwind. I was so busy that I didn’t have a chance to write any lengthy posts on Facebook or anyplace else detailing my time in town. But perhaps that was a good thing? Time flies by when you’re having fun, right? 

I had a 1:15pm flight back to LaGuardia Airport. And because I had a lot of camera gear and electronics with me, I decided to get to the airport early, so I could go through security and customs without feeling rushed or pressured.  But as I was checking in, an Air Canada representative began to explain to me that my flight was canceled in French. 

I looked on in complete confusion.  Oddly enough, just as I was about to ask her “Parlez vous anglais?” in completely mangled French, the Air Canada representative said “English, eh?” 

“Yes, thank you,” I replied. 

The Air Canada representative politely explained that my flight was cancelled. She booked me on a later flight, a flight departing Pierre Trudeau-Montreal at 3:30pm. 

“Well, I’m already here,” I said. My plan was to go through security and customs. Then I would find a bar, preferably an Irish pub for a few pints Guinness and to do some work while waiting for my flight. 

I wound up at Hurley A YUL, the airport’s Irish pub. I had chicken tenders with fries, wings and several pints of Guinness while uploading much of the trip’s unedited photos to an external hard drive, so I could edit them for several Montreal-related posts, including this one. 

Caption: Chicken tenders with fries.

By around 3:00, I realized that I needed to stop drinking – for a little bit, at least. I went to my gate to wait to board. Because of delays 3:30 became 4:45 I sent texts to friends and family joking that while staying in Canada seemed like an attractive idea, I never thought it meant I’d be stuck at the airport forever. 

The passengers boarded the plane. The pilots informed us that we would be stuck until 5:45. Then the pilots informed us – with a frustrated sigh – that we would be taking off at 6:20. At that point, I think I wanted to go home. 

What could I say about M for Montréal and my time in Montréal? A festival is always made by people – both the people who work for it and the people who attend it. Canadians have proven to me yet again, that they’re a warm, friendly, and welcoming people. Festival organizers made a concerted effort at ensuring that the festival’s lineup was inclusive and diverse: Roughly 20 of the 26 sets I covered during the festival’s run prominently featured women. Nine of those sets featured someone, who was BIPOC. I saw music across ten different genres, sub-genres and styles, including folk rock, punk rock, trash folk, synth pop, hip-hop, indie rock, shoegaze, jazz fusion and house music. 

The incredibly capable festival staff ensured that every single detail – from the hotel to badge pickup, networking events, happy hours, after parties and showcases – went without a hitch. M for Montréal is probably the most well-run festival I’ve ever attended. And they make sure that you’re put out of your comfort zone, and that you’re able to meet as many different people as possible. 

Except for two sets that I didn’t personally care for, the music I caught while in town was fantastic. I discovered some new obsessions, saw some budding superstars, and a few JOVM favorites, as well – including one for the first time, ever. 

Any place that supports and loves music and art, where a poet is considered a beloved hero and has a diverse and fantastic array of food may arguably be paradise. Is Montréal paradise? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s typically much colder in Montréal than in New York City – and it snows there more often and much more than here. 

Every repeated trip to any city is clearly different. Sure, you might have some favorite haunts, but discovering new places and new neighborhoods help to create a fuller, more vivid picture of that city and its people. Back in 2019, I spent much of my time in maybe four neighborhoods – Chinatown, Plateau Mont Royal, Mile End and Quartier des Spectacles. This trip, I felt as though I were getting a deeper understanding of the city and its people: I spent time in a few more neighborhoods, including Downtown, Chinatown, Vieux Montréal, Ville Marie, Plateau Mont Royal. Hochelaga-Maisonnueve and La Petite-Patrie. One thing remained consistent: Montréal proved yet again to be a charming city with one foot in Europe and one foot in North America.

Up until 1978, Québec’s license plates had the motto “La Belle Province,” the beautiful province printed across the bottom. And from my experiences in Montréal, Québec is indeed La Belle Province

Je T’aime Montréal. You’ve quickly become one of my favorite cities in the world. And I’m looking forward to returning. Au revoir!