OH, CANADA! M for Montreal Music Festival

For three days and
nights in Montreal,
our neighbors to the north were alive with the sound of… rock ‘n’ roll!

 

BY APRIL S. ENGRAM

 

The creators of M for Montreal,
Sebastien Nasra (founder of Avalanche Productions) and Martin Elbourne
(organizer of Glastonbury Festival), have it all figured out. Together these experienced
professionals of the music industry have created a festival with the musician
in mind. What an idea, right?

 

The beauty, and the purpose of M4M – which ran November
20-22 – is the fact that the event is orchestrated so that no act goes unseen.
With alternating sets, M4M is a whirlwind festival of 21 bands in the course of
three days. Though the number 21 may not sound impressive in comparison to other
festivals that boast performances in the hundreds, think about this for one
moment. Ticket buyers are assured the opportunity of seeing all 21 acts in a
mere 72 hours… that’s a mighty fine proposition. The majority of the bands
included in this third edition of “M” were excellent and busting at the seams
to infiltrate our American airwaves. We south of the border are missing out on
some unbelievable music!

 

[For live images of
many of the bands discussed here, check out our photo gallery HERE. Pictured
above:
Lioness/photo credit Sophie
Samson
.]

 

***

 

Highlights of Day 1
(In Order of Awesomeness…)

 

 

Duchess Says

My lord! What a way to end a night. Duchess Says brought to
the stage their loud, chaotic, dance electro-punk rock noise with a female lead
singer who is quite possibly demonically possessed! This band could have closed
the entire festival in my humble opinion. Though this Montreal group was new to my ears, the
ecstatic crowd was obviously salivating for the quartet to take the stage as
they were ready for the pandemonium to begin. Duchess Says’ hard driving music
got the audience moshing and they could not stand still for one moment. The
band – Philippe Clément, Ismaël Tremblay, and Simon Besre – calmly played on as
lead singer Annie C-the C is short for Claude-went ballistic.

Singing in both French and English, after just one song Annie
C kicked off her boots, ripped her stockings off of her feet so they rested at
her ankles, grabbed the mic and invited audience members to jump on stage. One
young man did and at Annie C’s instruction, crowd-surfed back into the
audience. But her interactions with the audience did not stop there as she
jumped into the crowd and was carried back to the stage. Though all sets ran
approximately thirty minutes, Duchess clearly went over this marker as Annie C was
politely told that her band was leaving. She looked around, shrugged her
shoulders and with a coy smile waved goodbye to the audience who was still
cheering and shouting. Duchess Says’ set was an adrenaline charging
performance: I don’t think I blinked for the forty plus minutes they were on
stage.

 

 

The National Parcs

The first dose of rap in the festival, this Montreal trio put together the most visually
stunning performance of the event. After witnessing The National Parcs live I
was hooked upon their artistic, “outside the box” techniques they liberally
applied to what’s increasingly become a mundane genre. What makes National
Parcs unique is how vocalists Vincent Letellier and Chimwemwe Miller and
effects/videographer Ian Cameron gathered sounds to create their debut release Timbervision.

 

The trio went out of the studio and recorded noises around
them. From breaking logs, banging rocks to blowing into bottles and drumming on
a canoe, every sound became a loop. While they gathered these sounds they
visually recorded their actions and these images became National Parcs’ music
videos. And these videos were projected in sync with the music as they
performed; my eyes didn’t know where to rest. For their last song, “Clickety
Clack,” Miller put on a skeleton mask while Letellier banged on a rather large
bone (hopefully it was merely plaster). Aside from my almost accidental loss of
an eye due to flying cartilage, National Parcs did put on a compelling show.

 

 

Lioness

Part of the T for Toronto
elite, Lioness’ sonic influences prepared us for Duchess. Their sound, quite reminiscent
of The Gossip, as highly infectious and lead singer Vanessa Fischer’s voice was
simply dynamic. Her sultry vocals brought soul to the music while her skin
tight, black leotard and gold high heels brought the guys closer to the stage.
Drummer Jeff Scheven and bassist Ronnie Morris provided the dark, brooding and
rhythmic sounds for Lioness. The lighting fit the mood of the music as the
stage remained darkened.

 

Fischer’s strong voice was a delightful surprise and made
the songs come alive as she strutted about the stage and wailed her heart out.
The M for Montrealers loved Lioness’ set as they happily cheered and applauded
the band on. Fischer thanked the crowd for their warm reception and announced
they had time for one more song. They closed their set with “What You Do (Will
Come Back To You)” and bid the audience goodnight.

 

 

 

Highlights of Day 2
(In Order of Awesomeness…)

 

 

Beast

Day two was obviously “dance-your-ass-off” night as many of
the acts’ core sound was electronic. And though Beast, Betty Bonifassi and
Jean-Phi Goncalves, did not close the evening, they should have as they sounded
the most experienced and received the warmest reception from the audience. This
trip-hop duo’s sound is not radically different from other bands in the same
genre, but what makes Beast surpass others is lead singer’s Bonifassi’s voice
and their sometimes dark sound.

 

As she calmly strutted to the mic and acknowledged the
audience, one would not have guessed that such a strong voice would emerge. Possessing
a coarsely soulful, jazzy, and melodic voice Bonifassi sang, rapped and effortlessly
belted out the tunes from their recently released self titled debut album. The
audience loved it! Songs like “Ashtray” stood out for their brooding, James
Bond-esque sounds.

 

 

Winter Gloves

Their sound was a mixture of pop, dance and punk; imagine a
“poppier” version of Bloc Party sans British accent. A fun, upbeat sound,
matched with lead singer Charles F’s soft,
melancholy vocals, did indeed get the crowd moving. When their set was almost
over, Charles looked to the audience and said, “We have some free CDs for you.”
He and the band handed them out to the eager crowd who quickly pushed their way
to the front of the stage hands outstretched. Once back at their stations, Winter
Gloves finished their set.

 

 

Woodhands

A more electronics and effects-laden group, this duo only
got to play three songs in their 30 minute set as each song lasted for quite
some time. Lead singer Dan Werb looked quite nerdy in appearance. Thick, black
rimmed glasses and a keytar assisted in completing this package; however, once
he approached the mic and shouted, “You ready for this shit,” all misgivings
dissipated. With just Werb and drummer Paul Banwatt on stage, Woodhands had a
grand sonic and visual show in store for everyone.

 

As Werb shouted and sang into the mic a laser show
commenced. He could barely stand still as he danced, worked the keytar and
effects and occasionally returned to the mic. While the duration of each song
performed-“I Can’t See Straight,” “I Wasn’t Made for Fighting,” and
“Dancer”-only lasts around four minutes, Woodhands obviously remixed their
sounds and made each track twice as long. Very much in the category of uptempo,
hot n’ sweaty, trance music, Woodhands got everyone dancing.

 

 

 

Highlights of Day 3
(In Order of Awesomeness…)

 

 

Gatineau

Who would’ve known that my favorite performances of the
evening would be two rap acts who shelled out quick witted French lyrics that I
could not comprehend. But then again, I think their naughty gestures spoke for
themselves. Gatineau
came equipped with two entertaining front men, a bassist and a gorilla-mask
wearing drummer. And they also added another layer to their sound as one
vocalist, Domhamelll, rapped into a telephone and played an autoharp. The phone resulted in a sound
suggestive of one talking into an old vocoder from 100 miles away. Séba, the other vocalist, could not
stand still as he bounced across the stage in an anorak and jumped down to join
the audience at one point. He eventually tossed the hot coat aside and bared a
tight Backstreet Boys t-shirt.

 

One female in the front row caught Domhamelll’s eye. He
handed her the phone and she enthusiastically rapped along with the guys for
the second half of a song. But where does the naughtiness come in? Well, there
was the moment when Séba caressed and “embraced” his mic stand
(the mic would have blushed if it could have). Later, Séba caressed his band
mate; but the tongue in cheek antics did not stop here as Radio Radio topped
this…

Radio Radio

Where Gatineau
had two vocalists, Radio Radio had four. All members of this Montreal group shared vocal duties. Two
remained in front of the stage with their mics while the remaining members of
Radio spun discs and worked the effects. Radio lovers were obviously in the
house as audience members rapped along with the band and threw their hands in
the air when the lyrics dictated.

 

A more playful sound than Gatineau, Radio’s mischievousness
reverberated not only through their words but body language. One musician equipped
with white plastic framed glasses and a cap was the most animated as he
approached the crowd, lifted his shirt to show off his chest, turned and shook
his booty at us and covered every inch of the stage. During one song all
members were in front of the stage and they suddenly turned their attention to
a speaker. Well, our beloved front man with the shades started “making love” to
the amp while the others pointed and rapped. I wonder what they were discussing
at this point of the song.

 

One fan later shared that she appreciated Radio for their
smart lyrics. I confessed my ignorance of the French language but mentioned
that I thought I picked up on enough through their gestures.

 

“Yeah,” she laughed, “they’re pretty nasty!”

 

 

 

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