The 10 Break-Out Stars of M for Montreal 2014
It's customary that, after covering a music festival, a rock journalist will look back and name the best acts they saw -- a way of giving readers a greatest-hits level view of what is typically a slog of music. We wanted to do that, of course, now that we're back from M for Montreal, the four-day marathon of regional and international artists sharing stages at venues of all sizes near downtown Montreal. Some of the bands we saw over the weekend deserve bright futures -- and you deserve to know about them.
But, as anyone who has ever attended a music festival knows, they're often about so much more than the bands -- they're about the weird food you eat, the seemingly-infinite variations of stages and venues where you experience music, and the strange things you can't stop thinking about, weird little ideas or songs that keep coming back to you as you listen to the music -- little threads that tie together your experience. In the spirit of that subjective and mostly joyful music festival experience, we present to you the 10 Break-Out Stars of M for Montreal:
It’s sort of hard to call Operators a “break out,” we guess, since the band is helmed by Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, and they created a bunch of buzz on their 2014 summer tour. But holy god were they good at M for Montreal. Much of their power resides in the force of drummer Sam Brown who played with Boeckner and Britt Daniel of Spoon in Divine Fits. Instead of relying on programmed beats, Operators' pop electronica is driven by Brown's fierce drumming, giving their music the drive of a flesh-and-blood rock band. That leaves plenty of space for Boeckner to roam the stage, singing a kind of dark, distressed soul-pop, recalling Morrissey, Peter Murphy, and Prince.
Weaves had hands down the best stage performance we saw at M for Montreal: Singer Jasmyn Burke stalked the stage, climbed up onto the bar, made important innovations in the art of scowling, and keened, in a voice like a malfunctioning android: "Will you ride my motorcycle -- take a ride?". But their inventiveness extends beyond Burke; her chugging rhythm section might have have invented their own genre -- math-soul. Weaves have released one EP earlier this year -- so look out for more from them.
We don’t remember the last time we saw somebody playing one of those Rickenbacker 325 frying pan guitars (maybe never, in person -- but plenty of times in VH1 documentaries about the Beatles, or whatever). But the dudes in Heat, a Montreal-based, Lou Reed-admiring garage rock outfit, rocked them proudly, and the sound they made, locked together in churning harmony, was impressive. They’re supposed to be jingly-jangly guitars, but these were rich like soft red dirt. It was a nice sound. People should play these more often.
When Elephant Stone took the stage, frontman Rishi Dhir unsheathed his own Rickenbacker bass, which looked to be a 4003 model, a dreadnought of an instrument in the kind of warm orange color that looks great on a tapestry. Man, we want one of those.
Dudes Who Used to Play With Mac DeMarco
This week was a great one for dudes who used to play with Mac DeMarco (dot Tumblr dot com). First up, DeMarco guitarist Peter Sagar and his new band Homeshake. Compared to the other bands that stomped all over the stage at Cafe Cleopatra -- a rented strip club -- on Thursday night (Nov. 20), Homeshake were subdued and lethargic. And sort of like the show itself, which took place in the upstairs area of the Cleopatra, Homeshake gently distorted things that are supposed to be sexy -- slinky bass grooves; delicate, skipping guitar rhythms -- and energized them, and made them a bit weird.
Alex Calder -- who we didn't see play at M for Montreal, but who played a late-night set on the first night of the fest -- used to play drums in DeMarco's former band, Makeout Videotape. Like Homeshake, Calder's set buzzed simply by association with DeMarco; also like Homeshake, Calder's music is similar to DeMarco's, pushing that buzzed style into jagged three-chord rock territory.
Our only real regret from M for Montreal is that we didn’t get to see these guys play. But the Toronto punk band knocked out two sets -- one in the middle of the afternoon, the other after midnight -- and after each one, writers, publicists, and festival bookers would rave about how insanely great they are. And while we don't know firsthand how good they were live, their self-titled album has all the tightness and energy they were said to have onstage.
There’s no question that if they keep wowing audiences like they did at M for Montreal, you'll be hearing their name again (which, by the way, means 'The Oh Baby Gimme Mores').
'Tomorrow Never Knows' by the Beatles
During the set up for Alden Penner’s set at L’Escogriffe, the sound system played ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ loud, appropriate to its enveloping nature. And so, it was on our mind when Penner took the stage, and led us to all kinds of thoughts about Penner and his former bandmate in the Unicorns, Nick Thorburn, and how Lennon/McCarthy-like they were in that band’s brief heyday. Penner’s set reminded us he was worthy of such comparisons, from the creeping ‘Precession’ to the quiet, unhinged 'Lost the Skin,' to the prayerful 'Beauty of the Lamb.' Even if a full-on reunion doesn't materialize, Penner has created some really remarkable and diverse music on his own.
Later, we nerded out with Rishi from Elephant Stone about how much pure sound and atmosphere the Beatles had packed into that one song -- accomplishing more in three minutes than a lot of bands do in a 15-minute freakout; appropriate, given his band's compact performance. (And, perhaps of note -- there wasn't much jamming to be had from any of the rock acts at this year's festival -- instead, hip-hop infused acts like BadBadNotGood picked up the mantle.)
M for Montreal programmer and hard-partying visionary Mikey Bernard booked a real-life strip club on Boulevard Saint-Laurent for a showcase of some of the festival’s best bands, including Weaves, Heat, and Homeshake. It’s a weird place to have a concert, except it really wasn’t, because even though strawberry perfume still wafted through the air, rarely does your friendly neighborhood gentleman’s club get such a chance to shine before the international music industry. (Apparently the area where the concert was held is less used for stripping and more for special events, but still.)
Quebec’s Francophone Musicians
We’ve admittedly been underexposed to the many great acts who perform in French in Quebec, but we were happy to remedy that a bit at M for Montreal. We were inspired by the hometown crowd love for Lisa LeBlanc and her energetic folk-tinged punk; the Dead Obies are a true wonder, trading verses in English and French (an artistic decision that, no joke, has a lot of people here very pissed at them); Canailles, a big, giddy folk ensemble, screamed out verses and blasted their accordions for an audience of sweaty, moshing kids.
DakhaBrakha’s performance at M for Montreal was off the beaten path, in an austere theater that little resembled the dingy, beer-soaked venues that played host to most of M’s rock acts. That’s probably why not many of the people we talked to had made it out to see them play.
They missed out. The Kiev, Ukraine four piece incorporates all kinds of sounds into their music, but the ones that will split your heart open are the near-cacophonous choral vocals of the bands three female members -- a sound like bats in a cathedral, like a multitude of voices joined in one overwhelming wail. Also, they rap sometimes, apparently in Ukrainian, and somehow, over the drones of cello and the stomping of drums, it works. There were apparently a lot of festival bookers in the audience of their awe-inspiring performance, so don’t be surprised if they arrive this summer at a music festival near you.
Poutine, which originated in Quebec, is Canada’s go-to drunk food. Just, look at it:
No matter which bands you thought showed the most promise M for Montreal, we can all agree that poutine has a big future.