The iconic international music festival turns 20.
by Dave MacIntyre
Over the past two decades, POP Montreal has given a platform for countless artists to perform in one of North America’s most musically vibrant cities. Each year, Montreal plays host to shows across many of its world-class venues during a five-day span and now they’re celebrating a major milestone.
“The cultural landscape [in Montreal] for music is really dominated by one overarching corporation,” says POP’s co-founder and creative director, Dan Seligman. “The fact that we’ve been able to build, grow, do cool stuff, and find our niche within the city is something to be proud of.”
After holding a hybrid festival last year, with shows available online and in-person at limited capacity, POP Montreal will again use a similar setup. Some major gets include Atlanta-based rapper Cakes da Killa, spellbinding Montreal-via-Guadeloupe chanteuse Malika Tirolien, Atikamekw singer/songwriter Laura Niquay, and local Polaris-winning rap dynamo Backxwash.
Veteran local acts like the Dears, Islands, and Suuns are also on hand, as is Efrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor with his project ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT, alongside La Force’s Ariel Engle. RANGE is also presenting two showcases at this year’s POP: Alicia Clara at Clubhouse Rialto on September 25, and Antony Carle at Ursa on the 25th.
Beyond music, POP will feature visual art, film screenings, their famous Puces POP fair, children’s activities, industry conferences, and even a parade during the final day. Shows and events will also take place at their new Mile End outdoor venue, L’Entrepôt77—built within the space of an abandoned warehouse that had burned down a couple years prior. “It’s not quite as big or exciting or wild as a normal edition [because of COVID],”Seligman says. “But I’m pretty happy with what we’ve put together in terms of programming.”
With Quebec’s provincial government having officially enforced vaccine passports, proof of full vaccination must be shown by attendees. Tickets will also not be sold at the door, so all purchases must be done ahead of time. “There are still restrictions, but they’re not as bad as last year,” he adds. “We feel like we have a good handle on how to produce an event [during the pandemic] that’s safe and still enjoyable.”
Over the years, POP Montreal and its eclectic lineups have acted as a showcase for many of the city’s biggest musical success stories, including Arcade Fire, Stars, Wolf Parade, Grimes, and the Unicorns. POP has also played host to multiple international artists who’d go on to hugely successful careers, such as Interpol, the xx, Beach House, Franz Ferdinand, and the Black Keys. “I’m proud of helping build the scene and the fabric of the city’s cultural milieu,” Seligman says. “And helping build a community of artists and musicians who make their homes and livelihoods in Montreal, and look forward to the festival every year.”
2021 ARTISTS TO WATCH
Alicia Clara: Performing at a RANGE sponsored showcase, Alicia Clara is a Swiss-born singer/songwriter who now calls Montreal home. Having released her debut EP, Outsider/Unusual, in February, her hypnotic, guitar-driven dream pop will be on display on September 25 at the Rialto Theatre’s Clubhouse—providing an intimate live setting for her bewitching musical output.
Saturday, September 25th, Rialto Clubhouse, 6 p.m.
ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT: Members of GY!BE and La Force teamed up during the pandemic’s onset to form this super-duo, who’ll be making their live debut at this year’s festival. Their noisy-yet-ethereal tunes are based around vocals and, according to their POP Montreal bio, “electricity, buried lightning and very old scales.” In other words, quite a sonic experience!
Saturday, September 25th, L’Entrepôt77, 8 p.m.
Antony Carle: Playing RANGE’s showcase at the Martha Wainwright owned Ursa, Antony Carle is a Montreal-based singer-songwriter with a big voice and an even bigger onstage persona. Their smooth, synth-drenched 2019 debut album The Moment would be followed up by last year’s The Bitch of Living EP, and most recently the single “Felicity,” a captivating duet with fellow Montreal-based artist Ouri.
Saturday, September 25th, Ursa (alley), 4 p.m.
Backxwash: From Montreal by way of Zambia, Ashanti Mutinta (better known as Backxwash) has taken the city’s scene by storm—and seduced both the Polaris Music Prize jury and Anthony Fantano along the way. Her third album, I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses, brilliantly fuses her dark lyricism and explosive delivery with industrial-heavy beats.
Sunday, September 26th, L’Entrepôt77, 6:30 p.m.
Cakes da Killa: Initially slated to perform at last year’s edition, New York-bred/Atlanta-based rapper Cakes da Killa will be the only international artist performing at POP in 2021. Some readers may recognize him from competing on Netflix’s Rhythm and Flow, and he’s since made waves with his strongly house-inflected take on rap—most recently on EP Muvaland Vol. 2.
Thursday, September 23, L’Entrepôt77, 8 p.m.
Dorothea Paas: With debut LP Anything Can’t Happen having garnered a nod on the Polaris longlist, Toronto’s Dorothea Paas has gone from backing vocalist to U.S. Girls and Jennifer Castle to an undisputed talent in her own right. Her smoky, gorgeous voice makes for a pitch-perfect complement to her eclectic take on folk music.
Wednesday, September 22, Rialto Rooftop, 6:30 p.m.
Laura Niquay: Hailing from the First Nations reserve of Wemotaci in Northern Quebec, Laura Niquay also found a spot on this year’s Polaris longlist with her sophomore LP (and first in six years), Waska Matisiwin. Performing in her native tongue of Atikamekw, she puts a unique and entrancing spin on her indie-folk sound, delivered through her trademark husky voice.
Thursday, September 23, Rialto Theatre, 10:50 p.m.
Malika Tirolien: This Montreal-based singer-songwriter comes by way of Guadeloupe (an overseas department of France), has a Grammy nomination under her belt, and had previously made her name by performing with Cirque du Soleil and singing with Texas jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy. Her sophomore album Higher, released in April, blends jazz, rock, hip hop, R&B, soul, and funk with her rich, dynamic voice to make what she calls “high soul”.