I had no idea what “M for Montreal” was or who ran it, but when their reps offered to fly me to Canada for a long weekend to check out a bunch of bands, I figured, why not? Adding to my confusion were the various instructions that poured in once I’d signed on. First there would be a three-hour walking tour of the old city…starting at 7 AM! Then there was the "delegate tesseract"—a website with all the pictures and bios of the journalists and booking agents attending the festival, where we were supposed to meet our new best friends! And then there were a million other emails, filled with glittering enthusiasm and confusing French and hype for the Canadian (and non-Canadian) bands that were going to play at the festival. It was all very exciting, though devoid of anything that actually indicated what M for Montreal even was, exactly. Luckily, a friend explained it to me in simple terms before I left. “It’s basically a Canadian version of South by Southwest.” Oh, duh.
So with great enthusiasm (did I mention the free plane tickets?) I embarked upon a journey to the land of poutine and hockey and stripclubs. At the free dinner on the first night in Montreal, I filled my plate with crusty rice and steamy beouf bourgingon and did what girls do when they don't know anyone at a large event: found some dudes to sit with. I got very excited when I saw the wine bottles on all the tables, but less excited when there was only a glass left. Only two wine bottles per table? How are we going to become best friends with only two bottles of wine?!
The dudes happened to be European club promoters and talent agents, which sounds awful but was actually quite pleasant—think sophisticated Northern Europe boutique music clubs, not smarmy Mediterranean discos. I ended up talking to a Swedish booking agent for a club in Stockholm, who was actually from Chicago by way of Northern Minnesota—my people! He looked like your typical Scandinavian bachelor farmer (yes, that is a thing) with crinkly blue eyes and an ambiguous blond/gray beard. In my mind he's wearing a wool sweater with reindeer on it.
We talked about Max Martin, the Swedish composer behind a scary load of American pop hits. My Midwestern/Swedish friend listed all the musicians who Martin has helped bring to the top of the charts: Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift. And all that at only 27! How does this Swedish guy write so many songs? It's very dark and lonely in Sweden. But why are the songs so poppy? Which brought us to Lordi, the Finnish metal band who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006. This guy knows the lead singer! The band was all kind of a joke!
Midwestern/Swedish guy was quite pleased with the musical accomplishments of his countrymen (although demurred at the mention of Abba). But all those songs Martin has written are terrible. And Lordi is terrible. And Max Martin is actually 41 (the confusion probably stems from the Elvin agelessness of Scandinavian males, like the guy I was talking to himself—were they crinkly eyes from old age or a constant, wholesome Swedish joy?). So while it's dark and lonely in Sweden, leaving one lots and lots of time to write pop songs, the underlying unhappiness is apparent (imagine a middle-aged man, alone in his dark Swedish basement, binging on pickled herring and vodka and singing "It's My Life," the future Bon Jovi hit. Not such an uplifting song after all).
Why was our Midwestern/Swedish friend in Montreal? His club is one of under a handfull in Stockholm, so touring bands are more than likely going to play there—if they're willing to make the trip (few deem it worthwhile to go north of Copenhagen). It didn't seem necessary, this scouting trip to Montreal. Oh right, free plane ticket! And the Austrian guy agreed, free plane ticket! Thanks Tourisme Montreal, from us all.
Later that night there was a show at La Salla Rasa. Tip: When in Montreal in the chillier months, accept free rides when offered. There were some bands: Young Galaxy (accurately described as "dream pop" in the MforM brochure and fronted by a sexy female Andrew McCarthy lookalike) and some band whose name I can't remember but who everyone was so excited about and was fronted by a heavy guy. P.S. I Love You, maybe?
I spent most of the show recreating the same interaction with a very drunk guy who couldn't remember that we had already had the exact conversation he wanted to have five minutes before. The guy was dressed in a Ferris Bueller vest and a letterman jacket. Our conversation went like this, at least seven times:
"So you're from Toronto?"
"No, I'm from New York."
"So I'll never see you again after this weekend? Will I see you on Sunday?"
"No, my boyfriend will be here soon."
"Do you want to see some pictures of James Murphy on my cellphone?"
I let this man buy me a beer, he once again forgot about my boyfriend, then grabbed my skull with two hands to give me a kiss. At which point I flung my head backwards and he got embarrassed and ran away. But it was a nice beer.
Or maybe it wasn’t a nice beer? Because the second day in Montreal I felt ill and saw no bands and stayed in the lovely hotel suite all day. Or maybe it was the poutine I’d been eating at every opportunity?
The last day in Montreal I was feeling better and made it to some more shows again, because that is what M for Montreal is about: The vibrant music scene of beautiful Montreal, Canada. Seriously, come to Montreal! It is beautiful and loaded with history! I recommend taking a walking tour to see for yourself!
This time I took the free ride, because Montreal, while picturesque, is pretty fucking cold. Sarah is a really nice Canadian gal who works at the McGill radio station. She drives a beige sedan that smells like french fries. We talked about the merits of poutine: box gravy vs. homemade gravy, how long to fry the fries, what temperature the cheese should be heated to for optimum melting. Just kidding! Any conversation about poutine goes like this: "Poutine is good." "Yes, I agree, poutine is delicious." But I'd like to start a real conversation about poutine, starting with things I'd like to see on my poutine and did not encounter at the six or seven poutine places I visited, like: jalapenos, deep-fried cheese curds, roast beef gravy with debris, and possibly some black beans to spice things up.
Sarah drove us to see Death Grips, the much-hyped experimental noise rapper (what does that even mean?!) from Sacramento, California. But when we got there, Christeene was on stage! I was really looking forward to hearing "Tears From My Pussy," oh but wait, it wasn't Christeene, it was the opening act, Mykki Blanco. Mykki did a lot of thrusting and yelling. She was wearing a very cute dress. She was not a good rapper, though maybe that was the point?
But the worst part was the guy selling her t-shirts, who yelled at me for standing too close to his merch table. "MOVE AWAY FROM THE MERCH,” he shouted when I stood near his t-shirts. When someone spilled beer, he yelled at the nice Canadian girl who was working as bartender, “I need some paper towels. NOW!” But I’m sure his job is really hard and his bitchiness is totally warranted.
Then Death Grips came on and did kind of the same thing as Mykki Blanco, but better: yelling, thrusting. I couldn't understand a word their frontman was saying. Is he a good rapper? Everyone seemed to be really into whatever he was saying, so maybe. The dude from Death Grips looks like he works out. He actually looks like and has the stage moves of a black Henry Rollins when Rollins was in Black Flag and before he did shitty movies with Keanu Reeves. I wonder how many ladies in that theater went home with their milky, wimpy, fleshy Canadian boyfriends dreaming of Death Grips’ thrusting.
I think it's worth noting that everyone in Montreal speaks French, and not everyone speaks English. This may be obvious, but the news about the Quebec separatist movement winning a majority of seats in the recent election (and the crazy shooting) made me at least think that the sense of nationalism was in response to a rise in English and a culture threatened. But everything was written in French, everyone was speaking French, and, back at the hotel that night, the ladies at the front desk of the hotel sputtered through nonsensical English phrases. It was a comforting feeling.
The next morning the whole thing was over. I had a breakfast poutine (no I didn't, because I don't think it exists, but eggs on poutine are another thing that should be happening!) and hopped back onto the plane to New York. Thanks Tourisme Montreal! You're le meilleur.