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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008

Yeah, that’s the first thing that hits you when you plunk your weary jet-lagged feet in Oslo. The rumors are true, this is one expensive city.


But music geeks are certainly getting plenty of bang for their buck, erm, krone, here at By:Larm, Norway’s annual showcase of the best in Scandinavian indie music. The fest got underway in earnest Thursday night, a ridiculous number of bands playing at 30 different venues, all within walking distance in central Oslo. It’s not as if the surprisingly energetic little city needed to get even nuttier at night, but folks have definitely taken to the fest, nearly selling it out, the sound of rumbling PA now lurking around every corner as bands try to win over the media and most importantly, the fans.


Lykke Li

Lykke Li


If there was one show everyone was looking at on Thursday, it was budding Swedish pop star Lykke Li at the trendy, cozy Blå club, just across the river from the equally hip Grunerløkken neighborhood. Her excellent debut album Youth Novel debuted strongly in Sweden, thanks to her two fabulous singles “Little Bit” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone”, and she proved to be even more charismatic than the record lets on, as she and her remarkably versatile backing band tore through an ebullient 45-minute set, the aforementioned tracks going over hugely with the crowd of 350, and even tossing a fun verse and chorus of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It”.The magnetic 21-year-old, who draws comparisons to Robyn but utilizes a much broader musical palette, is set to have a big year, and with a South By Southwest showcase on the near horizon, the buzz in North America is only going to get louder. [player]


Shining

Shining


Meanwhile, Norway’s Shining is starting to make waves among fans of metal, progressive rock, and post rock, the jazz-influenced 2007 album Grindstone one of last year’s buried treasures, and if Lykke Li was endearing, Shining was absolutely ferocious, their fusion of saxophone, clarinet, math metal, and Battles-style prog sounding transcendent in the confines of the immaculate sounding theater Sentrum Scene. The album was already impressive, but after witnessing it firsthand, this writer has a new favorite band. [player]


Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness

Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness


Biggest surprise of Thursday, though? Easily experimental quartet Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness, who preceded Shining’s raucous set with a chilling blend of Kronos Quartet-style violins, bowed saw, laptop-triggered IDM, and the kind of tightly executed improvisation that warrants a comparison to Can. [player]


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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2008

By Matt Mazur


Part One


In discussing her method, or lack or method in her eyes (she never was an Actor’s Studio girl), Lange tried to give the audience a sense of what it is like to really create a character from the inside out. For her quiet storm of a performance in Music Box, her “in” was music. “That character’s sound was a cello. I listened to it all the time.” She went so far as to bring a cello with her on location—her daughter was conveniently taking it up at the time. The infamous film critic Pauline Kael, upon the film’s release, likened Lange’s work to a cello concerto. 


For Titus, she had to learn another language: Shakespearean. And on top of that, her co-star would be one of the greatest living British thespians, Sir Anthony Hopkins. “I was intimidated by the language, but reading Shakespeare is a thousand times easier than reading dialogue from a bad writer,” Lange said. “It’s beautiful, organic. It just takes you. It’s like a locomotive.”


She gave props to Hopkins’ being able to recount his final monologue in one take, during the film’s Grand Guignol finale at the dinner table, as Titus murders his guests one by one (“he had already baked my children into pies,” she laughed). She told a hilarious story about Hopkins going around the table to each of his “victims” and subsequently chastising them one by one, still using the script’s dialogue, only performing as a different actor for each take. “He did [Burt] Lancaster. He did [Ralph] Richardson. He did [John] Gielgud. And he came over to me and he said “I’m saving Larry [Olivier] for you!”


At 50, in one of her most experimental roles, as Tamora, Queen of the Goths, Lange showed she was unafraid to use her body as a canvas. “She’s a ravenous character. All of them are. They’re devouring.” She went to some dark corners that would send most other 50 year old actresses running for the exit: she wore alternately outrageous and beautiful costumes (some rather bondage-inspired), she engaged in evil, murderous plotting, her body was covered in tribal tattoos, and she was frequently in some state of blowsy undress - sometimes nude. It was a testament to her bravery in giving her all to the character, even if perhaps, this state of heightened physicality wasn’t her preferred one.


As French director Jean Renoir once commented on the visage of an actor, “their art is stronger than their physical appearance. The spiritual supersedes the material.” Physicality has always been a double-edged sword for Lange. Insdorf remarked that the use of her body and her physical presence in inventive ways has always been a Lange trademark, especially in relation to actresses who came of age in the ‘80s alongside her like Meryl Streep, Sally Field, and Diane Keaton. Of all of the actresses in her age group, Lange has consistently been praised as being the most intuitive. Even still, as she has aged, her work has been consistently dogged by rumors of cosmetic surgery to her face, more so than other actresses in the same age bracket.


Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers


For everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, clamoring about to know if Jessica looks like Jocelyn Wildenstein in person, you can all chill out: in person, she looked natural and gorgeous in a slim, tailored jacket and pants, with hot black boots, but she also appeared to be in the best shape of her life. When her 2005 film Broken Flowers (opposite Bill Murray, directed by Jim Jarmusch) was released, Village Voice critic Jessica Winter had this to say on the women of the piece: “At least the somber stillness of his [Murray’s] visage is a matter of choice, which can’t be said for a couple of the female performers here, who don the plastic surgeon’s ghoulish mask of Botox, collagen, eye lifts, and cheekbone implants.”


This has not been the only time Lange’s face has been called into question—it is something critics have been buzzing over for about ten years or so. David Edelstein once snarked about her cameo in the film: “It’s a troubling sequence, made more troubling by the way in which Lange has aged. I’m afraid it has come to this with regard to actresses these days: You think, ‘Nature? Cosmetic surgery? Bad cosmetic surgery?’ Only her plastic surgeon knows for sure. But until we have sexual parity, we’re going to have to grapple with the problem of great actresses whose faces have gone slightly haywire.”


It is incomprehensible that, if indeed this is the route Lange has chosen to go it is insulting that the same industry that demands women over 40 chase this particular dragon of youth should then turn around and demonize, and in some cases, belittle a woman for trying to look her best. The age of women getting surgery today is getting younger and younger—why isn’t anyone talking about how absolutely fucked up it is that another Jessica (Simpson, 27), has seen more work done on her face and body than the perpetually under-construction highways of Michigan? This is much more of a telling red flag that our society is more interested in an accomplished woman of a certain age making a personal choice to enhance her appearance, rather than a young woman mutilating herself to become someone else’s idea of what “beautiful” is.


Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day’s Journey Into Night


Lange’s appearance has always been a hot-button topic, perhaps because her critics can’t seem to wrap their heads around the concept of how someone so naturally beautiful could be so gifted and remain firmly outside of the conventional Hollywood systems. When she was younger, she had to fight off persistent stereotypes about being too beautiful to be taken seriously after a stint as a model and her deliciously sexy turn in the 1979 remake of King Kong.


In a 1995 interview with Mal Vincent of the Virginian-Pilot she said “At first, I was so worried that no one would take me seriously, I thought I was too pretty. Then, it seems like only a day later, I’m 45 and everyone asks me about aging. Now, there are younger actresses and they’ll get some of the roles I might want. People ask why I don’t get plastic surgery—a little nip or a tuck. I don’t think so, although I’ve thought about it.”


In an interview with Dana Kennedy of Entertainment Weekly, Lange had this to say on the subject: ““In all the interviews I’ve done lately, I always get asked about plastic surgery. I think: ‘Would this same interviewer be asking this question of males in my age group?’ Would they actually say to De Niro, ‘Hey, you’re 50 years old, have you thought of having work done on your face?’ It’s such bullshit. It’s very insulting to assume that every woman as she ages is going to become so anxious about it that she’ll consider it.”


As far as I could see in my research, she has never confirmed or denied anything about actually altering her face, but over the subsequent years, she proved herself to be chameleonic, a woman who was able to transcend her appearance and toss aside vanity like few other performers can, surgery or no.


The Glass Menagerie on Broadway

The Glass Menagerie on Broadway


Now that she is older, and challenging the conventions of what a woman of 58 should look like, she’s having just as many problems. So, in a brilliant move, for the upcoming Grey Gardens, in a grand theatrical tradition, she will be nearly unrecognizable as “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale, a distant cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy who resides with her daughter “Little Edie” (played by Drew Barrymore) in a crumbling mansion in the Hamptons.


“Wait until you see this one!” Lange squealed with delight. The project will offer her another opportunity to separate her own identity from her character’s, and for the first time ever, she underwent a daily four-hour transformation via the make-up chair that included putting on a fat suit, a bald cap, a wig, putty, and the whole nine yards. They even sprayed fake “cellulite” onto her arms to get the characters’ body just right. Playing the woman over a span of 40 years offered Lange the chance to play the kind of dynamically-arced part she thought was non-existent. “It’s reassuring there are still these kinds of parts for actresses.”


And she sings for the first time as “Big Edie”! “I’ve never done that before,” she revealed. “I really can’t sing. I have a neurotic thing about singing deep in my psyche.” Fans may try and cite her turn as singer Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams, but Lange said on that film, while she had the sound man turn the volume all the way up so she could synch with Cline’s real voice and nobody would hear her singing along, her real fear was that one day someone would turn the volume all the way down as a practical joke and expose her terrible voice.


Lange’s pet project, an adaptation of Collette’s Cheri has been on again and off again for many years, and the performer acknowledged that it is finally being made—without her! “They needed somebody younger [than me]. It’s proceeding,” she said with a trace of rue and a giggle. “I still feel like I’m probably about 30. I assume that people see you that way, until you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and go ‘Whoa!’”. She went on to say that this was a lesson in humility that she learned while walking in the character’s shoes.


Thousand Acres

Thousand Acres


When Insdorf asked Lange a question about no longer playing the part of a sexually desired object in adolescent boys’ fantasies, it looked for a brief second like fire was going to shoot out of the actresses eyes, or like maybe she was going to answer as Frances Farmer on a bender.


Her character Ginny Cook-Smith, in the misunderstood A Thousand Acres (which I think is one of Lange’s best performances), famously says to her bitter ex-husband “you have it [the last word]. I don’t care.”


The real-life Jessica Lange, however, isn’t such a wallflower. The actress tossed her long blonde hair around after this question, and with a look of perplexity on her face, coupled with a moment of impeccable comedic timing (a skill that should be utilized more often, casting agents!), she said, after a pregnant pause, “Well, shit!”


Part One


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Tuesday, Jan 15, 2008

by Matt Mazur


Jessica Lange in Bonneville

Jessica Lange in Bonneville


“She’s like a delicate fawn crossed with a Buick”
—Jack Nicholson on Jessica Lange


Spending the night with Jessica Lange is a rare and lovely thing. She is an enigmatic icon who guards her privacy with the same fierceness with which she approached her most famous acting roles. We can safely say Lange has been given the shaft by Hollywood, like most actresses of her age. Lange has been relegated, essentially, to cameos in films by directors like Tim Burton, Jim Jarmusch, and Wim Wenders.


And now, the actress is about to come back in a big way with a role she calls “huge”, nicely balanced by subtle, nuanced work in an indie feature. But where exactly did she go?


On the final night of the 92nd Street Y’s excellent 2007-08 film/lecture series, Reel Pieces in New York City (which has, of late, included whip-smart guests like Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Day Lewis, and Laura Linney), Lange roared back about the state of women in film, her body of work, and her next project, an adaptation of the Maysles’ brothers’ elegiac documentary Grey Gardens.


Striking and commanding at age 58, the dramatic powder keg who gave us, among other expert creations, Frances Farmer (in Frances), Tamora Queen of the Goths (Titus), and the sex-a-holic Carly Marshall (in 94’s Blue Sky, which won her the Best Actress Oscar), is poised for a special kind of return with several promising projects in development and/or in the can, this despite the fact that she never really went too far away in the first place.


After she won her second Oscar in early 1995 (her first was for Supporting Actress in 1982’s Tootsie), Lange, like many actresses in her age group, began appearing less and less on the big screen. According to the actress and activist, she was just not being offered the kinds of roles that would inspire her to leave her home and her family. She wasn’t being offered anything of substance at all, really. In a sharp contrast to say, France, where legends like Catherine Deneuve are working consistently (with success) into their golden years, the landscape of American film seems to be devoid of interesting women over 50.


To combat this, Lange is gearing up for battle by putting on layers of prosthetic putty and theatrical make-up as armor for her next film, and challenging the stereotypes of how audiences expect a woman of nearly 60 to act and look in both Grey Gardens, and to a lesser degree her newest offering, the female buddy picture Bonneville, in which she appears onscreen as a new brand of woman over 50—sensual, at ease, and soft.


The normally reclusive and shy star appeared onstage following the American premiere of her newest film Bonneville (co-starring Joan Allen and Kathy Bates), relaxed and engaging, opposite moderator Dr. Annette Insdorf (Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University) for an open, honest chat about her technique, the power of rehearsal, and her inspirations. Insdorf cannily captured a side of the performer that is normally closed to the public, eschewing the discussion of almost perfunctory Lange myths, instead drawing out delicious anecdotes about the actresses’ craft that had remained hitherto hidden.


Insdorf, following the screening of Bonneville, asked Lange about working with first time writers and directors, something the performer isn’t afraid of. “I had a safety net”, said Lange, referring to co-stars Allen and Bates. “There was a genuine affection that kind of rises to the top in the story”. She acknowledged being shocked at seeing a script that included three plum roles for women over 50. “Wow! That was beyond our reality in a way, and it was worth investigating.” Lange pointed to 2007’s most acclaimed films—Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men, and stated the obvious - “There aren’t a lot of big Hollywood films that come my way, there never were. That well has dried up pretty much,” she chuckled. “There are a few, small, decent roles for women.”


Influenced by Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking, the music of The Band, and studying Buddhism, the Lange on display in Bonneville is not like the damaged, overtly sensual sirens audiences have come to expect from the actress. In the film she plays Arvilla, an Idaho native whose older husband has suddenly died. She enlists the help of her two girlfriends to drive his ashes back to his daughter in California. It’s the first time in a while that the actress has turned her fury inward producing some of her most introspective work. Bonneville is very much an indie-spirited road movie (Lange said that her favorites of the genre include Five Easy Pieces and Badlands), but its nature is light, and it is buoyed by three veteran women’s chemistry.


As unusual as it actually is to see three women over 50 carrying a film, it has become even more unusual to find Lange in a leading role. “You don’t say one day that you’re just going to start playing mothers,” she said, indicating that she had been pigeonholed into a certain niche. Between 1999 and 2006, Lange appeared primarily in supporting roles, and according to her, this was all she was getting offered because of her commitment to her most treasured role as a family woman. She said that when her kids were younger, they would gamely go on location like “gypsies” with their dogs and their stuff and have fun. As her family grew older, and the children started to have lives of their own, Lange found it more interesting to not take work. ““Its amazing being an actor,” Lange cooed. “[But] I didn’t want to leave my house.”


Instead, she headed, like many astute women her age, for television, and the stage, two safe havens in the American pop culture landscape that offer women over 50 a respite.


“I must have been crazy or delusional or something,” Lange said. “To go from Blanche (Dubois, in the New York and London productions of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire), to Mary (Tyrone, in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night), to Amanda (Wingfield, in The Glass Menagerie). I’ve been really lucky to play those parts. Mary Tyrone is bar none the greatest female character in the English language. She’s bottomless. She’s a joy to play. I want to get back to play her again.”


Lange has not ever been afraid to criticize her own work. When Insdorf brought up one of her little-seen roles, in 2001’s Prozac Nation as a recent highlight, Lange seemed shocked. “Really?! I’ve never seen it.”


Jessica Lange in Normal

Jessica Lange in Normal


Her role in the underrated Normal, in which she plays Irma, the small town wife of a transsexual, almost didn’t happen in the first place—she initially didn’t want to take the part because she was hesitant that the film’s subject matter wouldn’t be translated with the proper dignity. She said that when she learned her co-star would be Tom Wilkinson, she was willing to give it a shot.


Lange felt like the character’s face should begin as very “tight” and slowly become softer and softer, until she was “radiant” and filled with light by the end, as she gave her husband, who has just undergone gender reassignment surgery, a strand of pearls as a gesture of love and acceptance. This was the point in her life where she began studying Buddhism, and the principles of unconditional love, and said this immeasurably helped her in this difficult performance.


Despite being one of her most singular characters, this perfectionist still feels that the finished product could have been even better. “It feels like the ball was dropped”. She credited HBO (producers of Normal and Grey Gardens) with being the premiere place for women over 50 to find these kinds of interesting, multi-dimensional roles—the kind that she prefers to watch on her own time.


My stock question, to let you all in on one of my little secrets, lately, has been “what are your favorite female performances?” When I have asked this question in the past to film fans, directors, and other actors, almost instinctually, many automatically respond: “Jessica Lange in Frances”. When I was offered this potentially once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend this event, I became determined to ask Lange, too, this very question during Reel Pieces.


The format of the lecture that followed the Bonneville screening allowed only for questions written on index cards and fielded by the moderator—no mere mortal would address Lange directly. Somehow, my question was one of three audience questions Lange responded to. And I immediately was afraid she wouldn’t answer the question at all after the incident earlier in the evening, when someone asked “who are your heroes?” (for one of the three questions). This provoked her response: “I hate those questions! I should be prepared for these kinds of questions!” She then buried her face in exasperation until she came up with the Dalai Lama.


Almost immediately, caught off guard, she cited Vivien Leigh’s work in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire as one of her all-time favorites. “She was really out of this world. What she did was brilliant.” She went on to cite both Katharine Hepburn’s later work (notably in On Golden Pond—she loved the realistic details of the relationship between Hepburn and co-star Henry Fonda), and Myrna Loy. “She was always perfect. I’ve been watching a lot of movies from the ‘30s, preparing for Grey Gardens. Those babes, they were great. They were all great.”


What we have in Bonneville is Lange at a crossroads emotionally and physically, joining the pantheon of women she admires, much like Hepburn and Loy did. Women of their generation enjoyed working well into their older years, in a variety of roles, light and heavy. She plays her age, and her experience shows through. As Arvilla, she comes across as more warm, vulnerable, and vibrantly sexy than ever (but more on that later…). It’s a vanity-free, relaxed portrayal that finds her in a place where the tastes of a fickle ticket-buying public are changing as quickly as the technology of filmmaking.


“There is a disconnect between the actor and the director,” she offered, citing her work with directors Costa-Gavras (Music Box, Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Karel Reisz (Sweet Dreams, and Tony Richardson (of Blue Sky, whom she called “a great, exotic bird”). “You could really feel his energy. That doesn’t happen anymore. There is a separation. Nothing went past him. That, to me, is an actor’s director. There is an art to film directing and directing an actor that, in a lot of cases, falls by the wayside. Not one of these directors ever sat behind a monitor, nothing went past them.”


Stay tuned for Part Two on Thursday.


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Monday, Nov 12, 2007
PopMatters Picks of the best of M for Montreal
WE ARE WOLVES MySpace
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Check out Day One


Day two of M for Montreal began with something a little bit unusual for a music festival: a round of “speed schmoozing” at a martini lounge with booking agents, talent managers, festival people, and anyone brave enough to jump into the shark-infested waters of timed small-talk.


Not really the most fun activity with someone who has more than a touch of Social Anxiety Disorder, but I thought it could at least provide a funny story. Mostly it was funny because, even though I do love music and listen to a lot of different things, at a music festival such as this, there will always be someone who will ask you if you know about the most current “It” band. Of course, being mainly a film person, I know nothing about any “It” bands, but after my hour plus of schmoozing, I was properly schooled in who was who in Montreal.


Watching the delegates interact was actually the best thing about the nerve-wracking exercise. It was a fuzzy reminder that music can really defy boundaries. New Zealand, Austria, Germany, Norway, Finland, the UK, and more were represented at the festival by delegates ranging from press to promoters to label owners. The importance of forging relationships with markets that might have heretofore been unnoticed was stressed and there was a genuine feeling of interests being piqued while the international crowd mingled.


It is a nice change to catch something elusive to the American music scene: bands that sing in another language. In this case, French. This is the true “hard sell” of M’s export-ready crop of artists. While the bands of the festival will sound awesome for those who appreciate good craftsmanship, it is probably going to be a detractor for the American record-buying public.


At the same venue as the previous evening’s showcase (Cabaret Just for Laughs), another eight acts readied to take to the tightly-organized stages. 16 bands in two days, each playing for 30 minutes, on two stages, with no overlap, and no snags. Sounds impossible? Not so for co-founder and artistic director Sebastien Nasra, who took to the stage after each act (often times with an omni-present mega-phone) to successfully direct the throng of listeners to scurry away in time to catch the next band. Sometimes there was even time to choke down a quick cigarette in between. Yes, I am talking to you, time-efficient British Delegates.


KRIEF [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

KRIEF [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


Night two, musically, didn’t leave as favorable an impression as the electric opening night. Perhaps jet-lag was settling in on the audience. Krief, an unremarkable blues-inflected act devoid of style and originality (and with bad lyrics) had the unenviable task of kicking off the night. While the guys have obvious heart, there was just a fundamental connection missing between them and their audience. There was a lack of cohesion in their playing and especially in the lead singer’s vocals—which need to be worked on before showcasing like this again. As a unit, the band pulled it together by the end of their set, triumphantly.


SHAPES AND SIZES [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

SHAPES AND SIZES [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


When the 2nd band, Shapes and Sizes, came out (God bless their youthful exuberance), their downright awful sound made Krief look like The Beatles.


Featuring the first female front-woman of the fest, albeit one that had a piercing, off-key howl that should never, ever be used in public again, the band seemed oddly uncharismatic and lacking energy. Their sound, at best, was incoherent. They skirted some sort of pseudo-hippie/folksy/raga sound that did not translate in their live show at all. It was an incomprehensible set.


The white-boy-reggae percussion section sounded poor and contrived, while the singer’s vocal desperately aimed for “quirky” but ended up just sounding so foolish. It was a classic case of a bunch of young white kids with stupid faux-Jamaican inflections missing any soul or character that are engrained in that musical genre’s roots. Shapes and Sizes was a train wreck that sent everyone running to the door to smoke. Oddly enough, they were one of the most touted bands of the night, signed to Asthmatic Kitty records.


ELSIANE [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

ELSIANE [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


HOT SPRINGS [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

HOT SPRINGS [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


Thankfully, there were a couple of other female front women that, to varying degrees, erased Shapes and Sizes from everyone’s memories: Hot Springs’ charismatic leading lady Giselle Webber had her swagger down with a rollicking, yet somehow generic set of poppy rock ‘n’ roll. Elsiane was a bizarre solo female act steeped in mismatched tones of Portishead and other assorted trip-hop who is basically regurgitating what Bjork did about 15 years ago, only not as capably; although in her defense people seemed to really be buzzing about her work. It was actually quite brave of festival programmers to give her a spot on the mainly-rock stages, sandwiched in between all of the testosterone and the guitar squalls.


CREATURE [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

CREATURE [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


THUNDERHEIST [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

THUNDERHEIST [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


Creature‘s Anastasia and Lisa provided the liveliest female presence at the M festival, kicking it with an old school knack that would make Kate and Cindy of the B-52’s smile with approval. Strutting around in majorette boots and taking the audience directly to Funkytown via the express train, Creature was one of the most engaging, fun performances of the two days.


Kim’s swirling falsetto combined with the harmonies and rhymes from the girls invoked everything from Blondie to the Rapture, and while the cowbell is played out more than any other instrument, they managed to rock it. Creature was the only band of the entire fest that looked as though they were actually having fun. With their infectious dance grooves and questions like the age old “would you get high with Brigitte Bardot?”, the band is looking forward to a proper full-length release coming out sometime early next year.


More fun and rhymes closed the night courtesy of Thunderheist‘s Isis, who doled out shots of liquor to the crowd from a giant bottle—a smart strategy to get an audience on your side. At that point, you might as well get wasted, right? Isis provided a nice counter-point of musical diversity and in honesty was a really good emcee but kind of a bad live singer. Her verses celebrated drinking and drugs, and were sort of silly, but still really fun.


WE ARE WOLVES [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

WE ARE WOLVES [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


The biggest news of night two had to be when, deservedly, We Are Wolves won M for Montreal’s Galaxie Prize. Voted on by International Delegates and funded by the Continuous Music Network of the CBC, the winners received $5,000 in tour support, and also were ensured exposure with the guaranteed booking of a one week tour in Europe (in the UK and France). We Are Wolves, as part of this winning package, will also be given a spot onstage at Brighton’s The Great Escape Festival.


From the Arcade Fire to The Besnard Lakes, and now to We Are Wolves, Montreal is a hotbed of musical life, bubbling over with a vibrancy sorely lacking in other hipster music scenes. There is an elegant quality to the varied music coming from this haven, a unique perspective that is thankfully being validated by the Canadian government and being given its due by discriminating audiences the world over.


M for Montreal is the mediator of a cutting-edge experiment and a somewhat unholy marriage between the state and rock and roll. While this sounds absolutely preposterous in theory, that music should be joined in any way with government, it is a beautiful, interesting marriage that manages to work. I left Montreal feeling definitely more educated about the evolution of their musical landscape. It is thrilling to experience first-hand.


Check out Day One


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Friday, Nov 9, 2007
PopMatters Picks of the best of M for Montreal
WE ARE WOLVES MySpace
CREATURE MySpace
CHOCOLAT MySpace

Stay tuned for part two on Monday…


My voyage to the M for Montreal showcase, which featured 16 export-ready local acts over two days, began with the worst kind of airport red flag: my flight got cancelled.


No biggie, I was re-routed to another, more direct flight, which at first glance, seemed even better. Brandishing the moniker “international delegate” (or as the festival staff put it, a “tastemaker”), I would soon be on my way to this intense examination of some of the premiere emerging acts from the city. Or would I?


I stepped out onto the tarmac to find that I was expected to board a tiny 16-seat aircraft powered by propellers. I actually wondered aloud to myself “is this some sort of (expletive deleted) joke?” This didn’t exactly endear me to my fellow passengers, each similarly shaking with fear.


First, I have to cop to one thing: I am terrified of flying. Period. My initial thought when I was standing on the runway, readying to get onto the plane that was smaller than some cars I have been in, was “I have to get the hell out of here”.


But, in the spirit of international relations, journalistic integrity, and the pursuit of the freshest rock and roll in the world, I did what any self-respecting, tenacious reporter would do: I choked down a valium with the remainder of my latte, had a severe panic attack (always attractive in public!), forced myself to strap in, and started praying.


I did not stop until my feet touched sweet Canadian soil and I was safely in the arms of the crackerjack M for Montreal staff. It was, without hesitation, the single most horrifying experience I have had in my entire life, I can’t stress that enough. Lucky for me, the upcoming two days would hold in store for me a virtual musical bacchanal to assuage my airplane hysteria.


NUMERO [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

NUMERO [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


Montreal is a city filled with good looking, skinny, impossibly fashionable people. Everyone smokes and if you don’t, you’ll start! Everywhere you look there are older women with rainbow shocks of punk rock hair color, tight pants, and fur. Outside the airport a Muzak version of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” played. This is definitely more like being in Europe than in North America. It’s a beautiful world beseeched by cultural hybridity, and it rocks hard. So close in proximity to the US, the city and M for Montreal itself are some of the best kept secrets for the young, jet-set, and elite who are sick of average vacations and the same old boring music festivals.


This very special event ain’t child’s play: it is expertly-organized, and friendly. Visitors are given a personal cutting edge experience. In its sophomore year, M for Montreal draws industry types, press, and promoters from all over the world. While many festivals purport to be “international”, this is the one that delivers on that promise: there were delegates from almost every major European festival there to scout acts.


Funded mainly by the government of Quebec allows for a tremendously unique opportunity to showcase the city’s most bright talents for alternative markets in corners of the world that may have otherwise never known about them. This is a brilliant move on the part of festival organizers and the Canadian government.


Such a generous gift to the artists from the state is one that should be not only commended, but aped. Governmental support for the arts in the US might be controversially scarce, but our government’s support of up and coming music acts (rock and roll or otherwise) is practically non-existent. Add this fete accompli to the ever-growing list (pot smoking on the street, gay marriage, universal health care, gruyere cheeseburgers with remoulade) of things the innovative country has made work that need to be emulated by the States.


LES BREASTFEEDERS [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

LES BREASTFEEDERS [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


As part of the event, the first activity was a panel discussion with American speakers, led by Rhyna Thompson, an M for Montreal organizer and local artist manager. Providing insight to the US music market, specifically for Montreal bands, the talk featured Tom Windish (of the Windish Agency in Chicago, who works with acts such as Animal Collective), Brent Grulke (Creative Director of Austin’s South by Southwest festival), Tracy Mann (owner of MG Limited PR in NYC), Greg Diekroeger (Assistant Director of NACA—a group that brings events to college campuses), and Slim Moon (Senior Director of A&R at Rykodisc). Highlighting current industry trends (such as the notion that record labels might disappear altogether in the next few years), the panel dished out sage advice to an audience of eager artists.


“Things are happening really fast right now. It is a really exciting time,” said Grulke, while lamenting about the “old” way of doing things that is still engrained in the business end of the music industry. Mann had this practical advice for up-an-comers: “Everything is harder. You have to be in all of the places all of the time.” Listing avenues such as grassroots marketing campaigns, the internet and blogs, as well as popular media, she stressed the importance of not only telling good stories through music, but also coming up with the proper mythology for your act. Multi-tasking and a strong work ethic were the two most common talked about elements for new acts, but Moon put it more succinctly, saying that “talent is your best bet.”


The panel explored the impact the internet has had on promotion and sales of records and everyone seemed to be buzzing about the eventual downfall of traditional record labels as we know them. Moon talked at length about the internet facilitating and accelerating a band’s buzz on a global scale and the pressure this puts on labels to sign new acts to high risk deals.


One of the most interesting topics brought up at the discussion was, as Mann said “cultural and linguistic diversity in the industry”, and if geography does indeed matter. For Montreal bands (many of whom sing in French), this is an especially important facet of the business end. The panel acknowledged the need for proficiency in English when dong interviews, but the general feeling was that the tide was slowly turning in regards to what listeners were going for, and that having a reputation (no matter what language you are singing in) was the key to getting play in other markets.


CHOCOLAT [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

CHOCOLAT [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


Fortunately for those attending the evening’s band showcase, there were plenty of solid French-speaking bands raring to go. Chocolat, the event’s first act (who do sing in French), had the unenviable opening slot before the crowd could properly get their drink on, but managed to win most people over with their scrappiness and charm.


With a forceful swagger that invoked everything from The Stooges to the blues, Chocolat careened through an infectiously danceable with no shortage of soul. Mostly the attention was focused on lead singer/guitarist/harmonica player Jimmy Hunt, who possessed not only the best, most technically-impressive singing voice of the entire festival, but likely also the tightest pants, begging the age-old question “the tighter the pants, the tighter the band?”


PLANTS AND ANIMALS [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

PLANTS AND ANIMALS [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


Across the board, night number one was filled with surprisingly little mediocrity for a festival so broad in scope. Usually, one would expect to hate at least half the bands when seeing such a large volume, but the festivals organizers really ponied up Montreal’s finest. The second act, Plants & Animals echoed a lot of Chocolat’s bluesy sentiments, but it was third act We Are Wolves that, for me at least, was the night’s biggest winner.


Merging theatric with a pulsing wall of sound, the three piece act seemed to be channeling malevolent digital spirits with giant skull apparatuses strapped to their backs and the nasty, loud electric grooves that were interspersed with shocking squalls of guitar. Think of them as a younger, hungrier Liars with a low-fi edge. Their record, Total Magique was recently released in the US and the boys are currently taking their act on the road stateside.


TORNGAT [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

TORNGAT [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


Torngat, which features a member of the Bell Orchestra, was one of the night’s nicest surprises, with a cache of epic, dreamy tunes that boasted a dueling horn section that traveled out into the audience for a striking effect. These guys rocked their horns out like their lives depended on it, with no shortage of showmanship or skill.


PRIESTESS [Photo: Marie Tremblay]

PRIESTESS [Photo: Marie Tremblay]


This innovative, sensitive sound was given a nice counter-balance sandwiched in between the abrasive metal of Priestess and the most frenetic band of the evening, Les Breastfeeders. The latter band brought a kick-ass French twist to a classic dance-rock sound and featured the only female band member of the first night. Also, as part of their act, they feature a truly bizarre tambourine player who wears ghoulishly macabre make-up and a cropped, fuzzy coat. Apparently, this member has caused quite a stir in the scene.  It’s weird, but it works.


The respectful, congenial crowds of gorgeous, tattooed style mavens were far removed from the usual throng of snotty hipsters you would find at a comparable festival in the US. It was like being in another world, light years away from the jaded indie rock scene. There was a real feeling of camaraderie permeating M for Montreal on the first night, especially with local hero, the completely ageless Melissa Auf Du Mar (formerly of Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as a solo artist) presiding over the festivities, encouraging everyone to see every band.


It is an event like this that have the power to fill cynical hearts (like my own) with hope for the future of music, even when it seems like everything is up in the air. If the situation is as dire as we are being led to believe, then it is a relief to know that there is a contingent out there working their asses off and that at least someone out there who wants the world to see new, emerging acts.


The homespun feeling of M for Montreal really was the first time I have experienced a scene or a city as a whole really standing up for their hometown’s best and proudly promoting them; no matter the band’s style, and no matter how prolific they were or were not. It was intimate. And it was a nice change from the ordinary, gratuitous festivals I have experienced.


Stay tuned for part two on Monday…


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