Illustration by Jane Kim
This article originally appeared on Noisey Canada.
“I learned how to make music in Montreal,” says Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, with her shy and honest demeanour midway through her performance at the M for Montreal festival this past November. It’s her first appearance in the city since the release of her fourth album, Art Angels. But before continuing her set, she was quick to add that the festival (and the city) helped back some of her earliest shows, and ultimately propel her into full-fledged pop star.
Dubbed the Canadian cultural capital, the city of Montreal has been known as a hotbed for musical experimentation, developing and showcasing the sonic offerings of artists like Grimes, in addition to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arcade Fire, and Mac Demarco. Rich with history and sprawling with multiculturalism, and with the never ending multilingual battle between Anglophones and Francophones, the city prides itself on its diverse artistic neighbourhoods, and unwavering lineup of music festivals which contribute to fostering its sound and music scene.
After being at the epicentre of music creativity for so long, has the city lost its touch? Does it have an individual conscience about music? Is Montreal still the unscathed, protected island we once thought it was? We’ve asked a few of Montreal’s musical veterans and newcomers about their thoughts on the issue.
WHY DO YOU THINK MUSICIANS COME AND GO IN MONTREAL? WHY DO SOME ARTISTS FEEL THE NEED TO LEAVE MONTREAL AFTER NEW FOUND SUCCESS, AND WHY DO SOME NEVER FEEL THE NEED TO LEAVE?
Patrick Watson: Originally, anyways, the spirit of the city was pretty much just weird loft parties, and weird places we’d play all together. The core bands that are from Montreal are still quite here. I don’t have a feeling that a lot of people moved away. I think a lot of people went on tour, and kinda go back and forth from the city, but I don’t have that feeling that they’ve disappeared.
Originally it was a cheap city and it was kind of sheltered from the music business. There really was nothing cool about it in the sense that […] there was no business here so you could have room to build your stuff, and it was really fun, and it was cheap. Now it’s a little less cheap than it used to be. But it’s kind of normal that the city has waves, […] that the scene fluctuates and moves around.
Will Butler (Arcade Fire): I think a lot of Anglophone kids move to Montreal for college, or move there around college age. I think more and more of those people move away as they get older, particularly if their French is bad. As folks move and the older you get, the smaller and crustier the scene gets. Also, I think a lot of Anglo artists have boyfriends or girlfriends that get day-jobs in Ottawa or Toronto or Vancouver, and they follow them there.
Austin Tufts (Braids): I think this transience exists mostly in the Anglophone music scene in this city. The French scene seems much less nomadic. I think many creative people from cities around the world are attracted to the lifestyle and dynamic scene that’s been going on in Montreal for many years now. Take myself for example, I came from Calgary and was intrigued with the music that was coming out of this city in the early 2000's with bands like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Islands, Sunset Rubdown, as well as the earlier work of Godspeed. I decided to relocate to Montreal to partake in that and go to music school. By the time I got there in 2008, most of those bands weren't really active anymore, or if they were, they were touring so often and or rarely played in Montreal that it was never really a scene I felt I could become a part of. Our band then became involved with the whole community of people at Lab Synthese, that went on to become Arbutus Records.
The cheap housing, amazing food culture and overall accessibility of the city makes it a very wonderful place to live as an artist. You can sustain yourself on very little income and this gives you lots of creative freedom to explore. Also I think some people get fed up with the intense winters up here and if they can afford a life elsewhere, in a sunnier place, where maybe they already have management living or where their label is based then it often makes sense to relocate.
Another reality is that it’s tough for many Anglophone transplants to feel like Montreal could ever be a permanent home base, given the language barrier and general disorganization as a city. I think that the people who stay, get really involved in the […] Hotel2Tango, Constellation Records, Casa/Sala/Bar le Ritz scene or they start working with festivals like Pop and integrate deeper into the scene such that they identify with the more permanent side of life in Montreal.
Lunice: It really all comes down to one's personal preferences and chosen lifestyle. I prefer to stay in my hometown because of the renewed energy and perspective it gives me every time I come back from a tour. I do believe that every person can get sick of their own city at some point in their life. And I also believe that everyone eventually sees how their own city contributed in making them who they are today by seeing and experiencing different cultures elsewhere.
Sam Goldberg Jr. (Yardlets, Broken Social Scene): Usually musicians come and never leave because it’s cheaper than most other cities. When you make music you need lots of time to cultivate what you’re doing. The cheaper your living expenses, the better. Besides that, I also find Montreal to be less obsessed with keeping tabs on current music trends and kind of allows you to just get lost and weird which is why you have some pretty unique stuff coming out of here. I lived in Toronto for a while and it always confused me why so many bands were nervously following what was “in” at the moment and always telling me what other bands they wanted to sound like, I thought “don’t you want to sound like you?”
Artists leave Montreal perhaps because well, for one you get taxed to death, and two, the winters are crushingly brutal. Also, and this is a reason for some to stay or leave, when you have a bit too much money lying around you can get lost in the non-stop party thing cause it never ends. There’s always a 4 AM drug circus around the corner.
Montreal also has this very unsettled feeling, the city isn’t sure of itself, I think that has to do with the French paranoia of losing its identity and culture (which would never happen) and the English holding on for dear life. I’m not sure totally why I like this, but that brink of chaos is something that fuels and drives me. I can’t create in paradise.
Young Galaxy: I think musicians are drawn to Montreal because it's a wonderful place to develop a creative project. There are a lot of artists here already, and most know and support each other in some ways—as a member of the Anglo scene I've experienced firsthand the built-in community feeling that exists here, as something largely outside the dominant French music scene even. At the same time, as Quebec residents, musicians still have access to the exclusive grant infrastructure Quebec offers in SODEC and CALQ.
If you have success, the expectation is that you will cross over into the French market here, or break through in bigger markets like America. So that small, supportive community suddenly feels a little too hemmed in to allow you to grow easily. Plus for those of us Anglos who don't make a ton of money as musicians, it is tough to find even the most menial jobs in a predominantly French market to help support your art.
Those that feel they never want to leave probably have just fallen in love with the city. It's hard to explain, but I think there is a deeper level of respect and friendship that occurs between those of us who have settled here permanently. It's a unique place—it has its own sensibility and is both alluring and unwelcoming, beautiful and gritty, frustrating and magical.
Sebastian Cowan (founder, Arbutus Records): By nature of Montreal's large university population (second largest in North America after Boston, I believe), there is a natural transience. Music aside, there is a significant amount of people coming and going from the city every year. The artists do not exist in isolation and are largely dependent and often intertwined with this university population. Montreal also has a very attractive socio-economic climate for artists. Rent is extremely inexpensive and people are—largely—hyper-localized to one neighbourhood (the Mile End), by way of example: Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, GY!BE, and Grimes have all come from the few square blocks that comprise the Mile End. This allows artists to focus on their art without the need for significant economic subsidy, while the close-knit nature breeds creativity and collaboration. However, it is a double-edged sword in that the same depressed economic climate is the same element that limits one's economic possibilities within the city. Anything beyond a minimum wage job, particularly an English speaking one, are hard to come by. Paradoxically the very thing that attracts people to the city may eventually push them away.
Coeur de Pirate: I think it depends on where your career takes you. A lot of people that start music careers in Montreal aren't really Montreal natives. Maybe they're not attached to this city like me? I don't know… It's really easy to start a band here. I mean, rent is cheap and it's easy to find somewhere to rehearse. You don't get that in most "big" ish cities.
Andrew Barr (Barr Brothers): This is a really personal question and I don't think it can be summed up in general terms. Some artists leave because they are looking for a new sound. I don't know many musicians who found success in Montreal and then moved to another city to spend their Montreal currency seeking a better opportunity or anything like that. I think as an artist you have to go where you are inspired. For many Canadian musicians that place is Montreal.
Jacques Doucet (Radio Radio): I think musicians come and go in Montreal because they might want to expand their music to a larger audience and might feel that other markets might help in that process. Some artists want to stay in Montreal because it's a fun city and they can make it work here. I left Nova Scotia for the same reason, chance for exposure is better in larger markets. However it's not impossible to make your name and stay where you’re from.
Sean Nicholas Savage: Some young people flock to Montreal for college, but it's also the most liberal and affordable place to live in Canada.
Kandle: Montreal is an incredibly inspiring city filled with artists that not only create and share constantly but also feel confident enough to collaborate and support one another. In other cities I have lived in, the industry becomes competitive and you can’t help but feel envious and desperate. The downside to our beautiful city is we are in a bubble. I myself have two singles in heavy rotation, been […] in most of the magazines and newspapers yet our band is still more or less unheard of outside of Quebec.
Meyer Billurcu (co-founder, Blue Skies Turn Black): As someone who has seen many friends come and go in this city, I can tell you that this is not a uniquely music-related phenomenon. When I go to other cities, even within Canada, I notice that the pace of everyday life is just way faster. That's not to say that Montrealers are lazy, we're not—it's just that many of us will spend as much time hustling to have no job as a New Yorker would to hold down five. I think for a lot of people there's an expiration date on that kind of lifestyle.
Caila Thompson-Hannant (Mozart’s Sister): Well I think Montreal is not an industry town. There isn’t "opportunity" here the way there is in NY or LA. Or London even. If you don’t have lots of money it is a small place that offers a dirty little mattress to sleep on while you make your stuff that may or may not "make it" on a broader global level. Lots of the people that involve themselves in the music scene here are ex-pats of other (mostly Canadian) cities so it makes sense that they would move on to bigger places with more going on […] so if your job as a musician gives you a chance to go explore I’m sure most people would take the opportunity to get out for now or forever.
Wasiu: Musicians come and go in every city or scene. Every Montreal artist that I know of who has found success—whether they're originally from Montreal or transplants and represent the city—still live here and still rep the city hard. As far as I'm concerned, even if they may have residency outside of here, the ones who are really successful still spend a lot of time here.
The ones who feel the need to leave, and who have left for the purpose of attempting to blow up in a difference scene, have probably all failed. Trust me, the ones who are making dope music are getting noticed. If you're meant to make it, then you have all the means right here at home in Montreal, to make it.
Jackson MacIntosh (Sheer Agony): I see a lot more people coming and going on the Anglo side of the music scene than on the Franco side. On one hand, monolingual Anglos who don’t make heaps of money playing music (practically everyone, in other words) have a hard time sticking around because jobs that aren’t awful are hard to come by when you can’t speak the dominant language.
Some people hack it out for a while without a lot going on (myself included!) […] or, most likely, they’ll head to Toronto, where they can get a job that isn’t dishwashing or bar-backing. Montreal isn’t that big and there are lots of other great places to live (yes, even Toronto).
Kaytranada: I think it’s because they have to in a way…They’ve probably had an experience that will make them work more compared to where they used to live.
A-Trak: Montreal is a very easy place to live. Rent is so cheap. So in a way it fosters an artistic community because people can work on their craft without too much pressure. I think some people choose to leave after a while because the pace is slow, and that’s not for everyone. I think it’s an incredible city though, everyone is open-minded there. That uniqueness is probably the reason why other people stay.
Natalia Yanchak (The Dears): The same can be said of any city—musicians need to find their muse, and sometimes that means staying put or moving away. Montreal has a two-tone scene but the dual language thing keeps things quite separate. Certain festivals and events bridge the two, but many bands can have an entire career in Quebec simply by singing in French. That said, there is a history of artists feeling the need to move up and out, and Los Angeles is often a favourite destination for the Queebs, Anglos included.
But I think that wherever a musician or band chooses to stay has nothing to do with the city. Relationships play a bigger role in making art, because ultimately music is a form of communion and has to eventually be shared with others.
Shash’U: I think it all depends on what kind of individual you are. Travelling isn't fit for everyone. When I'm on the road, I sample life so-to speak; I use all my senses and save it in my mind. I usually get to making beats once I'm back home. For now I'm based in Montreal, but I'm not limiting myself to living here. There's a whole world out there and opportunities.
DJ Champion: Around the year 2000, when techno was at its highest, many DJs came to Montreal. The music was playing in every bar and restaurant. At that time, they could make a living out of it without having to systematically leave the city. After that, they all moved to Berlin where it’s still possible to do so. Also, many people aren’t just looking for a place to live in and make a living out of their art. They want the glamorous success. There’s nothing wrong with that but Montreal is everything but glamorous… if only for the weather.
Luc Brien (Les Breastfeeders): Most of the musicians who leave were not born in Montreal. They come here because Montreal its well known for its music […], and rent and jamming spaces are cheap. I do not think Montreal is perceived as a city where you stay while awaiting success to come. "Success", as we call it, is not a place. It cannot be located on a map. But you can find a cliché-success-town on the map.
High Klassified: I feel like it’s personal to each and every artist. It's all about the reach. Some musicians have a more Montrealer/Quebecer public, compared to some others that have more of an international reach.
Daniel Seligman (co-founder, POP Montreal): I think it really depends on the artist. For every Grimes or Mac Demarco there is an Arcade Fire, a Kid Koala, a Besnard Lakes or a Godspeed You! Black Emperor who have founded communities (labels, studios, bars, restaurants) and have added cultural value and resources to the cities artistic community. The difference for me is that some artists feel connected to particular communities, to Montreal as vibrant city as source of inspiration and as a great place to live and some artists are more transient and on more of a personal journey and less connected to a specific rooted sense of community.
DOES MONTREAL RESPECT THEIR MUSICIANS WHO PUSH THEIR ART TO OTHER PLACES IN THE WORLD? DOES THE CITY HAVE AN INDIVIDUAL CONSCIENCE ABOUT MUSIC?
Patrick Watson: It’s an island of culture that’s completely disconnected to the rest of the world in some ways, because of the French culture. That kind of island thing protects it because no real music business can be here unless it’s in French. So for all the Anglophones and all the pop music that we bring to the rest of the world, it’s kind of protected by that weird bubble. So it’s quite a nice refuge for that. There’s a good safety here that will always keep the base strong here.
Will Butler (Arcade Fire): Montreal has been great to Arcade Fire. But we strongly and almost exclusively define ourselves as a Montreal band. We're not really a Canadian band, just a Montreal band. I think "respect" is a good term—there's no lovey-dovey-ness in the city's relation to music, but I like it that way.
Austin Tufts (Braids): Some people really get excited when a Montreal band gets international recognition, they feel like they are bringing the scene to higher places, acting as ambassador to the city and helping everyone grow. But I have definitely seen the exact opposite happen in the past too. Especially with Claire Boucher getting so much attention as Grimes. I think lots of us were/are excited for her and proud of what she is doing, but there is another side of it where it’s created some intense jealously in some people. It became a rift in the community, which I think is very unfortunate. From my perspective I just wish everyone could have been more positive about watching one of our peers rise up.
Lunice: There's a definite sign of pride and support for all the artists breaking out of our city and that hugely comes from our lack of unhealthy competition. We'd only compete to better ourselves and everyone around us. There's no instances of people trying to shark each other out of opportunities.
Sam Goldberg Jr. (Yardlets, Broken Social Scene): I think it’s natural to feel a bit possessive when a band from where you live is embraced elsewhere but, growth within your art is necessary. When I heard Grimes’s new album I thought well, she just lost her hardcore fanbase, but I respect that she’s pushing herself and in the end, that’s what matters, you can’t do the same thing over and over again.
Young Galaxy: Organizations like Pop Montreal, Passovah, M for Montreal, and GAMIQ help foster a sense of personal and local identity for the artists here. When you're starting out, people largely leave you alone to develop your music the way you want to. There isn't a sense of corporate intervention pushing you to be a certain way. Artists like Grimes and Arcade Fire started from nothing here—they built up their creative direction from the ground up in the small venues that all other Montreal artists have to play too. People respect that—they know it's different from other types of acts that develop in NYC or LA or Toronto.
Sebastian Cowan (founder, Arbutus Records): I feel there to be a big divide between the city of Montreal, and the scene in which I'm a part of. Particularly as an Anglophone, who has moved here and still cannot really speak French, my day-to-day existence is entirely within this bubble of the Mile End.
Coeur de Pirate: I've always felt some kind of support from my city. I wasn't playing music professionally when the whole "Sound of Montreal" thing happened with Wolf Parade (ironically these guys aren't even from Montreal) or The Stills, Hot Hot Heat… like that used to be some period when Montreal was on the map…it still is… But thanks to events like Pop Montreal, or Osheaga, or bands like Arcade Fire etc […] the city still has an individual conscience about music.
Andrew Barr (Barr Brothers): The media seems to take note if Montreal musicians are out in the world having success. At times it's almost as if it lends some credibility to their success at home that otherwise might be questionable. Arcade Fire played Refelktor songs at Salsathèque first, the Godspeed folks have opened great venues and studios here, Patrick Watson, Plants and Animals, etc. held a memorial show for our dearly beloved Montrealer Lhasa De Sela. When artists go the extra step to connect to the city, people feel it and when these artists are out in the world sharing their music, naturally the city stays connected to that. I mean the governments of Quebec and Canada are extremely generous in their support of Quebec music and have held interest in disseminating it's seed around the world. You get the sense that when people out in the world dream of Montreal they get a sense of rebellion, fragility, a work-to-live ethic and a DIY spirit.
Gabriel Malenfant (Radio Radio): I think so. I think people are happy see bands like The Barr Brothers at Divan Orange years ago and then see them now on David Letterman. People get stoked about that. And I think everyone from Montreal (French and English) are equally proud to see how far Arcade Fire has come since their beginnings, or Kaytranada hanging out with Rick Rubin.
Sean Nicholas Savage: I think there is a great deal of respect in the artist community in Quebec, I think it's one of the most open minded artistic communities in the world.
Kandle: Montreal is a proud city and if you manage to grow as an artist within the city then the people of the city will always support you. Montrealers are excited about music and discovering new artists and the more success you gain the more pride they feel.
Meyer Billurcu (co-founder, Blue Skies Turn Black): There's a real ceiling here in terms of how much a band or musician can grow. There are not nearly enough grant opportunities in Quebec for artists working today. The cultural funding that is "accessible" is often bogged down by purposefully opaque application requirements or admissions criteria. There's also just a general lack of music industry presence here. Good music sells itself but the fact that there are fewer labels, fewer management and publicity companies, and fewer booking agencies definitely hinders a local band's ability to thrive internationally. When someone who gets their start here finds success and moves onto another city, I cheer them on because I fucking get it. I think most Montrealers would tell you that they feel same.
Caila Thompson-Hannant (Mozart’s Sister): I think the Montreal music scene is very humble and music-oriented. Fame is not frowned upon. I don’t get much of a star-fucker vibe from most people that I know who play, promote, attend etc. People don’t really care who is in the room so much as how we can connect over content. I assume you are referring to Grimes, Arcade Fire, and Mac Demarco in this conversation and I think those guys are still very very loved here on a real level in the lives of their friends and fans who have remained.
Wasiu: Every city or scene respects their artists who achieve success outside of their own city. I feel like Montreal is the same in many ways. However, our Piu Piu beat scene legit created local producer stars, who have blown up online afterwards. No one in MTL is like, "Oh, this person's music gets love outside of the city, I'm not gonna fuck with them!" It's the opposite. The more attention they see an artist get, the more interested they become. We have every type of audience in the city to prosper.
Jackson MacIntosh (Sheer Agony): One of the things I like about Montreal is that people are sort of expected to try to get their stuff out there—there’s a bit of competitiveness, and I think that people set the bar for success a bit higher than in other mid-sized cities. When you see your friend pushing their work further, you can’t help but think to yourself, “If she/he/they can do that, I can do that.”
Kaytranada: I think they do more in the underground scene but in the mainstream, they usually support the Pop/French scene more than anything else. I remember when “Drive Me Crazy” dropped, all those new Montreal releases of the week didn’t even put my shit in it.
A-Trak: It definitely celebrates the musicians who push their art to other places. Some francophone musicians from Montreal break into other French-speaking territories around the world. And electronic music is connected everywhere, all the time. It’s not one of those “crabs in a bucket” cities.
Montreal is aware of its own music, too. It has an artistic conscience. There are tons of festivals, year-round. The government gives grants to fund the making of albums, music videos, and for tours as well.
Natalia Yanchak (The Dears): Once you've committed yourself to being a Montreal band, then the city will stake a claim in your career for life. We still do interviews where we get asked about what it was like to play Letterman—like you could play thousands of shows or write hundreds of songs, but when a Montreal band "makes it" stateside the local media explodes with pride. And it's a great thing to come home to, and a total confidence booster. Like all that work you've done out there actually means something when you come home.
Shash’U: Fuck yeah. Regardless of the reactions, positive or negative. People tend to talk about traveling artists more, especially if they're releasing original material.
Luc Brien (Les Breastfeeders): I think Montreal does respect its musicians. I think that Montrealers are proud when somebody from here is succeeding elsewhere also. I don’t think that Montreal has an individual conscience about music. Maybe the music scene, but in that case… which one? There are so many different scenes. There is no "Montreal sound."
DJ Champion: Montreal doesn’t really support its local acts. It’s a good place to start a project. But when it comes to bringing it to the next level… People will hold you back. In Quebec, it’s seen badly if you want it big. Humility is a good thing but to be humble doesn’t mean you have to be a victim and this is Montreal's biggest problem.
High Klassified: Montreal respects any artist as long the artist represents where he's from. If you keep representing your roots, the city will respect you.
Daniel Seligman (co-founder, POP Montreal): I think the city will always claim a connection to any successful act that has some roots here, especially an artist like Grimes who really developed her aesthetics, her artistic identity here, put out music on a local Montreal label and was heavily associated with a specific scene in a specific place and time.
IS MONTREAL IN A HOLE, IN TERMS OF ARTIST ORIGINALITY/CREATIVITY? DO WE JUST FOLLOW TRENDS?
Patrick Watson: That’s gotta be one strength of this city, it’s not really a trend follower to some extent. When you go to a city like London or New York, or these big kind of music markets […] the trends are super obvious. It’s a trend built system. But Montreal’s not really that.
The whole French-English weird island thing protects it, the cold winters protect it. There’s a lot of things that protect the city from being washed over […] and I think that’s a lucky thing. It’s difficult for me to find a city that I feel that offers as much as this city has, in terms of musicians, in terms of how you live - not living in a music business, living with just people. When you’re in New York or these big cities the music business is like music business. It fuckin’ sucks, it drives me crazy. We’re just playing music, it’s really not a big fucking deal. As soon as people put more energy on the people than the music, that always ruins it.
Will Butler (Arcade Fire): I think the rent has gone up a good deal in the last 15 years, so it's harder to be an artist. So there might be a little bit less excitement. But I'm not even sure that's true.
Austin Tufts (Braids): I think there is tons of amazing music being made by people who live in Montreal. Yes the scene is changing a lot right now. Lots of people are traveling and moving around lots but as a city I don't think it’s in a hole. I think Montreal is one of the cities in the world that least follows trends. I really feel that even though the scene is constantly changing and forever dynamic, there is still great music being made, both by the more established bands and also by new bands that are just starting out.
Lunice: I believe we'll never fully get caught up on the whole behavior of collectively following trends for the fact that we are a French province and not much can be Americanized within that culture. Trends are happening and being followed no doubt but more in smalls groups rather than in the masses.
Sam Goldberg Jr. (Yardlets, Broken Social Scene): I think within the couple of scenes happening yes there are some similarities in sound for sure but not an overall one. I can’t speak on behalf of everyone but there are guys here mic’ing up their heart beats and playing their saxophones along to it, kids recording the vibrations of power lines and building beats around them, seems vibrant to me. There’s probably lots of shit too like everywhere else but from what I see and hear Montreal has a healthy music community with lots of enthusiasm.
Young Galaxy: I don't see it. I know more people than ever here making music. The music industry is so trend driven—perhaps they've moved on from Montreal for the moment, but they'll be back. But I don't see the artists themselves being driven by trends—it's never been that way as far as I could tell.
Sebastian Cowan (founder, Arbutus Records): Montreal feels very free to me. People here are open to new things, and are generally without prejudice. In other cities people have a lot more cultural baggage they bring with them. Here you have no choice but to shed that. Due to the limited number of people actually involved within the Mile End music scene, and their physical proximity to one another, I think it forces you to be open to new things. In a bigger city you can find a niche and stay there.
Coeur de Pirate: I think everyone does, every city does, there's always something one city will be envious of another city, that's just how it goes. I think Montreal can be original, we're pioneers in lots of things, but we follow trends too and that's fine.
Andrew Barr (Barr Brothers): Montreal got a lot of attention ten years ago when the world seemed to take note of the art scene here. As far as I can see, that scene hasn't changed much, the attention has just shifted away. Artists can still afford to live here and focus on their passion, giving back is important to them and musicians are still collaborating with each other and working with local record labels who are doing right by them. If anything it seems stronger because it has proven a sort of longevity by more or less avoiding a lot of the corporate trappings that can chew up and spit out artists. This city is still ripe for creativity.
Gabriel Malenfant (Radio Radio): Holes are actually great for creativity, because you have to be creative to get yourself out of it. Montreal is a great place for you to create, pimp your stuff and live for cheap while you're doing it. There are people willing to listen, people willing to collaborate and people willing to help spread the love. Montreal has some nice niche scenes and venues that can help develop the more experimental stuff, which is essential for creativity.
There are a lot of spots that act as incubators and end-up influencing the masses, such as Hotel2Tango with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, venues like Divan Orange with The Barr Brothers or Le Belmont with the Artbeat nights. That’s where the movement usually starts, that’s the foundation for all the trends.
Kandle: I definitely don’t believe Montreal is in a hole, nor does it have its own sound! I’ve heard such a wide range of genres in multiple languages since I’ve lived there and I am always impressed and inspired by the originality that I hear. Nobody seems afraid to be different and I love that cause guess what? Arcade Fire already exists! You can’t be them so be yourself!
Meyer Billurcu (co-founder, Blue Skies Turn Black): What's so great about Montreal is that even though we're such a small city, there are a million tiny artistic and musical scenes within it that are perpetually being born and dying and reborn anew. That's an upside to the generally high turnover that you see here - it's almost like every year a wave of musicians move away only to be replaced by another generation. Beyond that, there's a ton of truly creative and inspiring artists who are Montreal-lifers and keep the whole ecosystem afloat.
Caila Thompson-Hannant (Mozart’s Sister): In a hole, no not at all!!! I am very happy with the diversity and new developments in the spaces, projects, new projects. But c’mon it’s a small place it only has so much to offer […] and I deeply appreciate the enthusiasm that the folk here show towards art. Of course "we" follow trends. As if any individual in any city or scene doesn’t follow trends. It’s so prevalent that we might have passed trends all together. We might be in post-trend society!!!
Waisu: Honestly, Grimes is one of the best vocalists out there, and I can't see her material as copying someone else or considered trend-hopping. Our musicians obviously have been influenced by others, but they're in no way carbon copies of anybody's styles.
The artists who are really putting on for Montreal are influenced by so many different artists, eras, scenes, and we're so diverse, that our stuff ends up sounding like its own unique thing that you don't hear everywhere else. Montreal's scene is on the verge of blowing up. Out with the old, and in with the new. It's a New Montreal.
Jackson MacIntosh (Sheer Agony): Of course Montreal borrows trends! I mean, practically every time I left my apartment at night in 2015, I’ve been hearing house and techno. In 2014, it was PC Music, and in 2013, it was 90s r&b, and so on, and so on, and you see this stuff repeated in every other city you go to, with some places being a bit ahead and some places being a bit behind. Everyone is reading the same blogs, posting the same stuff, following the same artists. A few people are outside of this world. Find those people. Make them your friends.
The cheap rent means that people here can have a bit more of a fuck-off attitude about making money than you can elsewhere. This informs the music. There’s a history of political protest. People like to go out and party a lot. There have always been illegal DIY spots, and these are always where the best shows and parties happen. This leads to a lot of socializing, which leads to collaborating, etc. and I think that’s what gives the city its special character.
Kaytranada: Definitely. I don’t see a lot of artists who come from here and have an original sound or who are as creative as an artist should be. They have to understand that if they’re trying to break through, it’s not by doing the same shit that their favorite artists are doing.
A-Trak: Not at all. The mix of influences in Montreal make it very special.
Natalia Yanchak (The Dears): Let's face it: 97 percent of what is being created right now is uninspired shit. People are forgetting that at the heart of any "good music" is not textures or visuals but basic, apt songwriting, and we rarely see that very often. Social media stats dictate success and oftentimes, young songwriters without a marketing team can fall by the wayside. And it doesn't matter where they're from.
Shash’U: In a hole? Of course not. If someone feels that way, maybe they're not hanging with the right crowd. Montreal got styles still. I'd be a hypocrite to say I don't have influences, but every style I rock I make sure my signature is embedded.
Luc Brien (Les Breastfeeders): When Montreal got internationally known for its music, around 2005, the city's music scene was full of life and each band had its very own identity (Malajube, The Dears, Arcade Fire, Xavier Caféine, Pat Watson, for example, are all very different). But since then, I do not feel it is the same.
Daniel Seligman (co-founder, POP Montreal): If anything I think it's the opposite, I mean of course everyone has influences and it's harder and harder not to be exposed to trends and styles, but if anything Montreal is removed from some of the industry trappings of cities like, Toronto, New York, or L.A. So there is less pressure to "make it" and more space to create original work. Once the hype goes away, there will always be cool art happening in this city.
Sean Carlin is a writer living in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter.