Shoeclack’s recap of M For Montreal 2016: chill electro-pop dreams and primal screams

M For Montreal may have a reputation for being an industry-driven festival, but the musical aspect is just as important as anything else – and everything about this year’s edition of the festival, music or otherwise, was even crazier and more exciting than last year’s. While it was a bit cumbersome trying to get from venue to venue with Bixis being taken off the racks in anticipation of winter – it started snowing the night after the festival ended, so it was probably for the best – the experiences shared and eclectic music seen across the festival’s four days were worth any minor annoyance, not only for myself but surely for all the delegates from all over the world, industry folks and everyday fans who got to be a part of it. Here are five moments that defined my M experience this year.

The first night at the Rialto was truly a special one.

The opening night probably holds a place in my heart mostly for personal reasons – for example, I bumped into many people I knew who I didn’t expect to see at all. Of course, such pleasant surprises were matched by the quality of the music: Joe Grass – a bandmate of Patrick Watson’s – kicked the night off with a versatile range of atmospheric and bluesy indie rock tunes, and local indie pop group Groenland brought some energetic, Ellie Goulding-meets-Of Monsters and Men vibes to the sold-out theatre. That said, the evening belonged to headliner Martha Wainwright, who enthralled the crowd with a set full of elegance, pure emotion and an appreciation for Montreal and Quebec culture in a show that doubled as the launch for her new album Goodnight City. Playing in a city still hurting from his recent passing, her cover of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” was a fitting tribute to one of our homegrown legends.

Martha Wrainwright
Martha Wrainwright

Frigs frontwoman Bria Salmena can scream like there’s no tomorrow.

Despite being a strip club, the upstairs level of Montreal’s notorious Café Cléôpâtre masquerades pretty well as a divey, intimate venue whenever M for Montreal turns it into one. One band in particular that owned this setting had to be Toronto’s Frigs. Stealing the show in a night that also featured Tasseomancy, Michael Rault and Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning on the bill, these recent Arts & Crafts signees cemented themselves as a band worth seeking out for fans of more grungy fare, with frontwoman Bria Salmena carrying both an absolute howitzer of a scream and a cooler low voice akin to that of PJ Harvey and Savages.


Busty and the Bass belong in front of big crowds.

Although I interviewed bass player Milo Johnson about the band’s particularly memorable festival experiences – for good and bad reasons – back in the summer, this was my first taste of the group’s live show. If there’s anything this band lacks as a live unit, energy is most certainly not part of that equation. Playing before a packed crowd of largely young people at Club Soda right across the street from the aforementioned Café Cléôpâtre show, the crowd played along with their every command – clapping and jumping around enthusiastically at various points during the set, sometimes in unison. Even if the rapping doesn’t always make sense in tandem with velvet-voiced frontman Nick Ferraro, these McGill graduates have serious chops as an engaging and fun live act.

Busty And The Bass
Busty And The Bass

The shows at Casa on the third night were downright weird.

There will be shows at any festival that leave you gobsmackingly impressed, and others that just throw you for a loop without truly knowing what to make of them. The latter effect was largely the case at Casa del Popolo on the Friday night. Despite the show being kicked off by some sleepy, Mazzy Star-esque indie rock via Helena Deland, it was then followed by frantic art punks New Fries, experimental artist Cindy Lee, and avant-garde disco crooner Bernardino Femminielli. Lee, for example, wasn’t bad on a musical level, but the aesthetic of that particular set made me feel like I was watching that scene in Eraserhead with the Lady in the Radiator – in other words, almost a bit too surreal.

The Saturday night showcase at Divan Orange was a rousing success.

I’ll admit I’m just a touch biased here, since this particular showcase on the closing night of the festival was one that us folks here at Shoeclack helped put on. That said, the show comprised largely of Quebec City-based acts went off swimmingly, with a packed crowd watching interconnected acts from the capital like Ghostly Kisses and Men I Trust alongside La Voix alumni Liana and Gabrielle Shonk. With most of the night’s acts playing relaxed, makeout-worthy electronic pop music – Shonk was the exception, as her style is decidedly more alt-country and folk – another trend showed itself at the gig, as Liana and Shonk decided to put their spin on two Drake songs, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “One Dance” respectively. If Drizzy’s own lovesick and heavily introspective kind of hip hop and R&B is influencing Quebec City’s music scene as a whole, somebody’s gonna have to photoshop him sitting on top of the Château Frontenac pretty soon.



(This post originally appeared on Shoeclack. All photos are credit to Alexandre Couture.)


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