POP Montreal: Thursday Recap

September 22, 2012


Having never been to Montreal, Jux contributor Elise Hennigan is on a mission to both experience the city and catch good shows at this year’s POP Montreal Fest. Continue on for a rundown of her experiences with synth pop, sweaty venues, performance art, late night poutine, and more.


You gotta give props to a city that values its artists, musicians, and filmmakers as much as Montreal does. Recognizing that culture and art make for a healthy society, the Quebec provincial government has bankrolled projects that would otherwise be non-starters (like Cirque de Soleil, which was conceived here in 1984 is still choreographed, costumed, and produced locally before it is exported internationally). Your favorite acts that you never knew were Canadian—Arcade Fire, Chromeo, A-Trak, Grimes—have all been nurtured by the scene here in Montreal.


This city embodies an attitude of joie de vivre. If the term is over-used, it is because it is accurate—every Montrealer I have encountered thus far gushes about their city on the same level as those who call San Francisco and New York home. Their pride is sustained by the quality of life here—residents bike everywhere, meet after work for an outdoor drink, enjoy world-class cuisine, and catch mind-blowing performances locally in one of the many intimate venues scattered around the city. It all seems to be on tap daily.

While the city nurtures its artists year round, POP Montreal happens but once a year. The festival is a showcase of international music, art, and cinema with a flea market-esque craft element (Puces POP) and a symposium series.


It is also an opportunity to experience the city itself. The performances are tucked away in venues scattered throughout town—in the basements of churches, wings of art museums, and more traditional dance clubs. Walking or biking around town between events, ducking into bars along the way, and stopping for late night poutine is as integral to the experience as the shows themselves.


Having never been to Montreal, I am on a mission to experience the city and catch good shows in equal measure. Here is what I have been up to:




After a not-so-mellow red-eye flight (the guy we sat behind had a French Bulldog with him that wriggled loose and tried to run down the aisle at 3am. Which is cool, because I love dogs, but also alarming in that context), we arrived in Montreal!


First stop: the Musee des beaux arts where we picked up press passes, checked out Art POP’s exhibit : the o F F FAN ART BEDROOM, and caught the last half of a symposium about the future of making money in the music world featuring Frenchkiss Records founder Syd Butler, the president of Pitchfork, and more.




Eats: We popped into St-Viateur Bagel for sesame-bagel-with-lox sandwiches, which, I have been told, is one of the two best bagels in town (along with those served by their rival bagel house, Fairmount). If you didn't know, bagels in Montreal are kind of a thing.


Unlike their larger, fluffier cousins in New York, Montreal bagels are dense and small with bigger holes. They are chewy, sort of like a soft pretzel. I’ll concede that they are delicious, but I'm not completely sold—maybe they could have used more salt?



Drinks: We game planned at Baptise bar on the Plateau over a few locally brewed beers (le cheval blanc, coup de grisou, st. Amboise pale ale).


Shows: the highlight of my night was seeing Grimes (Claire Boucher) perform at Club Soda, about a 2 minute walk from our hotel.


Before she became as well-known as she now is, Montreal is the place where Boucher developed and pushed herself as a visual artist, musician, and producer of her own stuff. Montrealers like to remember the first time they saw her perform at a teeny venue or house party 2 years ago, before she went on to become a headliner of this year’s festival, sell out the Bowery Ballroom in New York, and tour internationally. If a 2 year rise to fame seems quick, remember that she is now only 24 years old.


Grimes performed with unadulterated fervor in front of a sold-out and wholeheartedly supportive hometown audience.


"I feel like I am crashing a kid's sleepover," one concertgoer said. In an oversized Marilyn Manson t-shirt with braided pigtails, pigmented eyeshadow, and chains around her neck, Boucher did give the effect of a young kid playing dress up. Her onstage backup dancers—girls with see-through ponchos over their heads, a couple of guys dressed up as characters from “Beetlejuice,” and her signature boys-without-shirts-backup-dancers completed the effect of the “no parents!” revelry.


This all worked, of course, because she sounded amazing.


Grimes performed with a giddy excitement—looping her own vocals and layering sonic elements to them onstage, creating a live output that sounded just as good as her in-studio work. Her clear, beautifully in-tune singing voice gave credence to all of the electronic additions.



Elsewhere, Dirty Three—an Australian instrumental rock band consisting of Warren Ellis, Mick Turner, and Jim White—played at the Ukranian Federation Building. Ellis was his usual madman self, flailing about the stage on his violin and giving each song an insane and hilarious introduction, while White’s drums skittered and thrashed as a complement. Turner’s guitar wash served as the group’s anchor, providing a pleasing tone against the sonic wave crashes going on next to him. The Dirty Three fit right in the Montreal scene, and they know it.


We capped off the night with a show by Hot Snakes at the Mission Santa Cruz. Hot Snakes are a “post-hardcore” band who have just started playing together again after a six-year lull. People love this band. A sweaty church basement is a deliciously ironic and yet somehow perfect place to see them do their sinister thing.


Crowd: dudes. And some girls. I saw a twenty-ish year old guy with long blond hair, standing near the back of the tightly packed crowd close his eyes, lean his head back, and air-guitar play “LAX” along with the band. And the drummer for Montreal’s own Arcade Fire was nodding along with the rest of us.


Now, off to Night Two starring David Byrne and St. Vincent…au demain!