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Monday, Dec 8, 2008
In his final dispatch from Montréal, PopMatters' photographer experiences poutine for the first time, is enchanted by upcoming singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate and is baffled by Francophone crooner Pierre Lapointe.

Seeing how both of us were flying out the next morning, Kevin and I had no problem figuring out what to eat on Saturday night. Neither of us had ever had poutine—the classic Québécois comfort food—so it seemed almost mandatory that on our last night in town we visit Resto La Banquise, considered by many to be Montréal’s premiere purveyor of poutine.


Resto La Banquise is open 24 hours a day and serves up 25 different varieties of poutine, including an “Elvis Poutine” a “Kamikaze Poutine” and a “T-Rex Poutine”. Being that we were both first-timers, Kevin and I opted for the classic poutine, which consists of french fries topped with cheese curds and chicken velouté sauce (essentially a chicken gravy). The dish is warm, salty and simultaneously soft and crunchy. Good poutine, it’s said, is marked by the freshness of the curds, which should “squeak” when you bite into them. As you might imagine, poutine is a favorite late night snack in Quebec, so its not surprising that Resto La Banquise tends to be packed well into the wee hours of the morning.


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Friday, Dec 5, 2008
During day three of the M For Montréal festival, PopMatters' photographer rides a school bus, eats more smoked brisket than is probably advisable and checks out Montréal's budding Francophone hip-hop scene.

I’ve heard it said that this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in New York felt like an indie rock summer camp. After attending M For Montréal, I now know what that means. Over the course of the three-day festival, the international delegates (that is to say, the group of about 30 festival buyers, agents and journalists who had traveled from abroad to attend) were carefully shepherded from activity to activity by the festival staff. In addition to the showcases there were dinners, happy hours and networking events, all of which were carefully planned and orchestrated by the aforementioned handlers. To their credit, however, the festival never felt like a contrived daycare for music industry insiders. Friendships came easily over the course of three days and even those activities that sounded like tourist clichés on paper turned out to be more than worthwhile. The key was not taking oneself too seriously—something that both the organizers and the attendees seemed to understand instinctively.


Take, for example, the city tour, which took place inside of a yellow school bus on a Saturday morning. Instead of being led by a dry, professional tour guide, the journey was narrated by the festival’s booking and promotion guy, Mikey Bernard. Looking like a Cobra Snake-approved L.A. hipster with his ostensibly ironic moustache and fedora, Mikey was the perfect tour guide, injecting each comment with a bit of sardonic wit. He also knew Montréal’s indie rock landmarks like the back of his hand: the street where American Apparel founder Dov Charney once lived, the apartment where the idea for Vice Magazine was hatched, the restaurant where Leonard Cohen likes to have his breakfast.


Of course, no trip to Montréal would be complete without a visit to Schwartz’s famous Jewish delicatessen, a mainstay of Montréal cuisine for 80 years.


The specialty here is the smoked beef brisket, which is piled high on a two comparatively puny slices of white bread. The meat is rich, hearty and flavorful and almost seems to melt in your mouth—just the thing for a cold Montréal afternoon.


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Wednesday, Dec 3, 2008
In which PopMatters' photographer sees some of the festival's best and worst acts and ruminates, ever so briefly, on the topic of festival beer.

After a short walk in the brisk cold, we found ourselves at the Cabaret & Studio Juste Pour Rire (“Just For Laughs”), where the night’s showcase would unfold. Sets alternated between two stages in the complex, separated by interludes of five minutes. Much like South by Southwest, which has often been described as a musical version of speed dating, M For Montréal can feel like an event geared toward the attention span impaired. A band performs a handful of songs, you walk a few feet and five minutes later, another band is set in front of you. As you might imagine, this approach has its upsides as well as its drawbacks. If you’re stuck watching an act that doesn’t particularly move you, you’ve usually only got a few more songs to sit through. However, if you really like a band, you’ve got to deal with the fact that you’ll only get to see them play for a few more minutes at most.


First up was Chinatown, a five-piece from the French-speaking side of town. While it’s said that their music combines the French pop of the ‘60s with the indie pop of today, to my ears, Chinatown just sounded like a sub par, Francophone bar band. If I was forced to tell you two interesting things about this band I would mention that:


1.) That singer kind of looks like Ewan McGregor, doesn’t he?


2.) Their guitarist looks, dresses and acts a bit like Joe Perry from Aerosmith. Can’t say he solos like him, though.


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Monday, Dec 1, 2008
PopMatters' intrepid photographer arrives on the scene in time for day two of the M For Montréal festival and takes in the town as well as the first two of Friday's acts.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I arrived in Montréal late on a Thursday night, a full day after events editor Kevin Pearson had touched down. As such, I missed the first day of the festival, not to mention a few swanky dinners, courtesy of the festival’s organizers.  Luckily, there was still plenty left to be seen, heard and tasted in Montréal and I was determined to make the most of my weekend in the world’s second largest French speaking city.


Coincidentally enough, I was born in Montréal, though my family left Canada when I was just a few months old. Though I had made a few trips back as a child, this would mark the first chance I would have as an adult to explore the city in earnest. As such, my trip was filled with a peculiar sense of nostalgia; fleeting moments of recognition in a city that I knew almost nothing about.


Our home base, the fashionably minimalist Opus Hotel, was located at the intersection of two of Montréal’s great thoroughfares, the Boulevard Saint Laurent and rue Sherbrooke. Boulevard Saint Laurent is apparently referred to as “the Main” by locals, as the street serves as the dividing line between the Anglophone and Francophone parts of town. Leonard Cohen owns a nondescript grey stone house about a mile from the Opus, not far from the corner of Boulevard Saint Laurent and rue Marie Anne (the latter street, apparently, serving as the inspiration for the song that bears its name).


Even though I arrived after midnight on Thursday, Kevin managed to coax me into going out to a bar (okay, I admit, it didn’t take much coaxing) with him and a few folks he had met at the festival. We ended up at Korova, an upstairs hipster dive on the main drag that somehow felt both authentically divey and authentically Canadian. The DJ spun great tunes (‘50s and ‘60s pop 45s, mostly), the bartenders poured St. Ambroise brews from Montréal’s own McAuslan brewery and practically everyone danced themselves into a sweat as the moose heads mounted on the wall silently observed the proceedings.


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Monday, Nov 12, 2007
PopMatters Picks of the best of M for Montreal
WE ARE WOLVES MySpace
CREATURE MySpace
CHOCOLAT MySpace

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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