M for Montreal: Day Two

Matt Mazur

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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]

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

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