Milk & Bone / Photos by Bruce Destombes, courtesy of M for Montreal
I went into M for Montreal, this past weekend's Montreal-based festival focusing on emerging music, having heard of maybe a tenth of the lineup, which was predominantly Canadian with a specific focus on Montreal. But that wasn’t a problem because Montreal, as you might have heard, has an incredibly good music scene. It seemed like just about everyone and every part of the city I encountered had some tie to some other, more well-known name in Montreal. As far as I can tell, half the city at one point was in Mac DeMarco’s band, and, if not, they played with Arcade Fire or knew Godspeed You! Black Emperor or were friends with Grimes. Beyond that indie rock world, though, I also got a good glimpse of Montreal’s hip-hop scene, which several locals assured me is the best it’s ever been, as well as a first hand look at the “piu piu” electronic scene that launched such talents as Jacques Greene and Kaytranda. Of the nearly 40 acts I managed to make it to (which still didn’t leave time for a few I’d hoped to see, like Les Sins and Dawn of Midi), these were the highlights:
My fellow editor Kim Taylor Bennett has been a big proponent of Tei Shi, so, although she was one of the few New York acts playing and therefore one of the easiest things to see another time, I was happy to catch her on the first night. And I was even happier that she delivered a set worth writing home (to Kim, via instant message the next day) about. When I walked in, she was covering “No Angel” by Beyoncé, which is obviously a bold move, but there wasn’t anything incongruous about it. I was even more impressed with the originals she launched into, which had just enough distorted low end to push the music outside the realm of just another airy synth pop act with pretty, high-pitched vocals. Instead, the vibe was almost dangerous, and the energy was upbeat and easily danceable. Every day had two or three acts that were more or less consensus favorites, and Tei Shi definitely was one of them.
Speaking of synth-driven music with a rough edge, Operators, the first night’s next act, was probably my favorite performance of the entire weekend. Operators is Dan Boeckner’s new group—Dan Boeckner being the guy from Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, and Divine Fits—with a focus on live electronic instrumentation. It is absolutely awesome—high energy, a little bit ugly and unsettling, and kind of triumphant. Boeckner really lays into his singing, and, despite working somewhere in the realm between power pop and synth-driven techno, the project’s spirit is more classic rock: big, self-assured, slickly sexy. Despite the project being billed as a dramatic departure into synths, it actually made me think quite a bit of the earliest Wolf Parade stuff—which was pretty synth-driven, even if Boeckner was technically the guitarist—mainly in the way that it was kind of grating to listen to yet also completely cathartic as a result. Wolf Parade is the first band I really remember listening to that challenged me rather than simply making songs that went down easily, and it was kind of surreal to see the guy from that band doing stuff in that same spirit in the same neighborhood where he had performed countless times. But it would also be unfair to characterize this as a Dan-only affair: The rest of the band were dope as well, and fellow bandmember Devojka is clearly a synth mastermind who deserves a lot of the credit for all the weird sounds coming off the stage. Hell yeah synthesizers, and hell yeah Montreal.
Devojka of Operators
This band played upstairs at a strip club (a surprisingly good venue), and the one thing I was told about them before they started was that the lead singer used to play shows with Mac DeMarco, where he was infamous for taking his pants off onstage. So one can imagine my dismay when a) he told us we were five years too late to catch a show with lots of dicks swinging around and b) the music started out as jangly, relatively restrained guitar rock. But Heat were actually really tight, both in the sense that they worked well together as a band and in the sense that they were cool. The lead singer sounded like Lou Reed, and their songs were about things like not believing that you’re 25 already and feeling like all you want to do “is put some records on and get fucked up with [your] friends.” So it connected with me, particularly at the end of the set when they began to tear apart the whole jangling template and head into a noisier, more chaotic ending that made crazy good use of weird bass guitar effects. Shouts out to their bassist. Shouts out to the strip club.
Milk & Bone
This was only the third show this Montreal duo had ever performed, and they’ve only officially released two songs, but Milk & Bone’s set was totally captivating and one of the other undeniable consensus favorites of the weekend. Since the daytime portions of M for Montreal are mostly attended by the festival’s industry “delegates,” the aftermath of Milk & Bone was a flurry of cards getting passed to their friendly and slightly overwhelmed manager. Milk & Bone performed both dressed in all black, each with a keyboard slightly tilted to face the other and a microphone. They also had a drum pad, which gave the whole thing a welcome gut punch of bass and pulled this music from the space of dreamy piano ballads into truly exciting ambient pop. I highly recommend listening to the two songs Milk & Bone have released on Soundcloud, “New York” and “Coconut Water,” which, in addition to sounding cool, make the smart move of foregrounding the vocals and thereby highlighting the nuanced, witty songwriting about the weird emotional spaces of jumbled romances. The two members, Camille and Laurence, have complementary voices and trade off really nicely, although in this particular case props are due to the former for shutting down the room with her final vocal run on “New York.”
The Posterz, Loud Lary Ajust, and Dead Obies
The Montreal hip-hop scene is having a moment right now, at least locally, thanks mostly, it seems, to Loud Lary Ajust and Dead Obies, who demonstrated their ability to pack a large space with a crowd of people who seemingly knew all of the words to every song. The former group raps almost entirely in French and deliver an airtight live show—one of my French colleagues assured me the group could be a huge hit in France. The Dead Obies, meanwhile, offer a more chaotic, bilingual experience, with songs that are a little sloppier but that get by on pure onstage energy.
My favorite of the Montreal groups, though, was The Posterz, a newer group that raps in English and is a little more sonically progressive, falling closer in line with groups like Ratking or the Underachievers. Their set was one of the best rap shows I’ve seen all year, with stage diving and moshing and water bottles being thrown everywhere. A small but passionate core of fans knew the words, and it felt a little like seeing Odd Future perform a couple years ago. As the cultural capital of French-speaking Quebec, Montreal isn’t the likeliest place to launch a hip-hop act that would be viable in America, but The Posterz are definitely good enough to make an impact beyond their local scene.
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