Even when the temperature dropped to an unseasonable 8 degrees celsius, Montreal still managed to be a warm, inviting host to XLR8R as we checked out the eighth annual installment of Pop Montreal. Every day between September 30 and October 4 saw a ridiculous amount of dance-offs, DJs, bands, and even DIY craft fairs to stumble upon—and only our broken French to guide us. We even managed to squeeze in some time with local dance punks Duchess Says for an upcoming XLR8R TV episode. Here are some festival highlights:
Thursday, October 1
We kicked off the festival a day late, but at least we did it with flair: Fever Ray's awesome live show at Metropolis. It was a feat of lazers, fog, dramatic light, and that apocalyptic Bruegel aesthetic that Karin Dreijer Andersson honed with The Knife.
As we were in the balcony wondering if the show was more Skeksis or Mystic, our friend Raf Katigbak of Vice Canada was trapped down by the bass bins, which he claimed were keeping fans on edge by threatening to go brown sound any second.
From there we went directly to 1993 by checking out Butthole Surfers. We'd strangely just been revisiting the late '80s/early '90s bad-acid rock thing lately, so they sounded awesome with their two drummers and vocalist Gibby Haynes jumping between saxophone and bullhorn. But it's really the imagery that dwarfs the band during live shows—dental surgery films mixed with zombie movies and psychedelic lights—that defines and dates them, leaving us nostalgic for a miserable era.
Deciding to dance off the bad/rad vibes, we headed to the Red Bull MegaHurtz showcase where Grahmzilla, a.k.a. Thunderheist's Graham Bertie, was killing it with some unexpected soca and cumbia jams (and looking kind of hilariously uncomfortable among the girls who were trying to grind him as he DJed).
Backstage we'd noticed this amped-up muscley-man with a white guy afro pacing back and forth, psyching himself up for his set and we were scared. And then Toronto's DJ JELO burst into a 130 bpm straightforward electro set and the dance flow went c-uh-raaa-zy. Dude was an injection of sonic creatine.
Rob from Megasoid followed JELO and had the twin tasks of switching gears to a dirtier bpm and blowing minds with some much-needed weird bass, both of which he pulled off with aplomb. Nosaj Thing was also on the bill—but as is the problem with music festivals—we had a schedule conflict.
At Ian Svenonius and DJ Jonathan Toubin's Soul Clap Dance-Off, we were getting hit on by a dental hygienist from Vancouver (total line!) and were too busy to take pictures of Raf WINNING the contest, so we used this one from Hairspray instead. Raf had earlier declared, "I'm going to win this!" and the fucker actually won. Out of like fifty contestants! Impressed.
Friday, October 2
Way off the beaten path was Friendship Cove, a DIY collective house above a bike chop shop in Griffintown. The venue is host to a rooftop BBQ and punk bands playing on the second floor.
Between hot dogs, we checked out Montreal's post-punk Pink Noise and Detroit's Terrible Twos, both of whom gave us a raw, fuzzy Screamers/Suicide kind of feeling (the synths had something to do with it).
And this lady served a mean waffle/ice cream combo.
That night we caught AIDS Wolf's set, except singer Chloe Lum had crawled down into the crowd, so the visual emphasis was on the band and her vocals just seemed like some far off caterwauling to people who couldn't see her. It's an effective tactic, injecting another level of chaos into an already disorienting set.
Following them were Duchess Says, who are huge in Montreal, but criminally overlooked everywhere else. Their energetic live sets are pretty spellbinding with lead singer Annie-Claude Deschênes channeling raw power from some unknown source. We filmed it for XLR8R TV, so keep an eye out for the episode when its up.
Unfortunately, this is when we started getting an intense sore throat and missed headliners Teenage Jesus & the Jerks. We got some much needed sleep, but we know—lame.
Saturday, October 3
Feeling rested, we biked up to Rue St-Viateur to check out The Marketplace set up by Puces POP at Église St-Michel. It was a big ol' DIY craft fair filled with awesome art by local artists and some pretty great jewelry and clothing by local designers.
We kicked off Saturday night with Faust, who apparently had done a pretty awesome workshop earlier in the day where you could bring instruments and come jam with the legendary Krautrockers. This incarnation of Faust has original members Jean Hervé Péron and Werner Zappi Diermaier as well as guest members James Johnson and Geraldine Swayne, the latter of whom kicked in with some spoken word. The set was the first time Faust had played in Canada and had some sparks of freshness and excitement, but ultimately left us a bit disappointed.
From there we biked (you need a bike at POP Montreal, venues can be pretty far flung) down to Club Lambi where openers Lemonade were playing to an emptyish room, but it didn't seem to dampen their Haçienda good vibes.
Tobacco, Black Moth Super Rainbow's main man, was up next and he's all about the guilty pleasure, on-point pop culture visuals being projected over spacey beats—predictable at this point, but pleasing.
The Oh Sees, who are somewhere in that picture, have evolved into something like a force of nature over the past year. They set up off stage at Sala Rossa and whipped the crowd into a proper frenzy. It was also singer John Dwyer's birthday and he got a tough love round of birthday cheer from a bunch of sweaty, sated punks.
Nothing was sweatier than Think About Life's show at the packed and humid Espace Réunion, the venue Pop Montreal chose as the center of their events—strange, since it was in a warehouse-y area of Montreal ideal for body dumping. Think About Life are hometown heroes and their enthusiastic, everyone-singing-along show served as a perfect festival finale.