M for Montreal: Day Two

Matt Mazur

PopMatters Picks of the best of M for Montreal







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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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