Scene Report by Dan Tran
Should it be any surprise that most bands/artists make Montréal a part of their tour itinerary? After all, despite being a North American city, its architecture gives it a distinct European feel, which is also accentuated by the fact that it is the largest French-speaking city outside on this side of the Atlantic. The main reasons, though, that this north-eastern North American island attracts top notch talent worldwide? Consider these: The legal drinking age is 18, possession of marijuana for personal use is legal, and of the 30 largest cities on this continent, Montréal comes with the highest number of university students per capita. In other words, we know how to party.
Godspeed! You Black Emperor, the Stars, Kid Koala, Tiga, Lederhosen Lucil, the Arcade Fire, Ramasutra, Akufen, A-Trak, Rufus Wainwright, Dj Mana, Ariane Moffatt, Shades of Culture, Abdominal… Like once local publication Vice Magazine, Montréal music artists are slowly spreading like a disease, on the verge of outbreak. But this is one virus you want to have. Indeed, the future is bright thanks to quality releases from local labels Ninja Tune (its North American HQ), Turbo Recordings, Force Inc., Constellation, Grenadine, Audiogram, Justin Time Records, Alien8, Intr_version, Iturnem, to name but a few.
With promoters “Les 2 Hawaiiennes Qui Dansent“, “I Love Neon“, “Greenland productions“, “Spectra” and “Bad Boy Club Montréal” on top of things, the concert flow is always contant and fresh. And for local or international artists, there is no lack of qualified concert venues. Whether it’s for an intimate indie rock show (Café Campus, Cabaret Music Hall, Casa Del Popolo, Jupiter Room, L’X) , for an on-the-verge-band aural episode (Sala Rossa, Club Soda, Spectrum, Société des Arts Technologiques, Usine C, Lion d’Or), for media hyped frenzied happenings from the next phenoms (Metropolis, Rialto, Medley, Bell Amphitheater) or for RIAA-sized brouhahas (Bell Center, Jarry Park, Jean-Drapeau Park, Olympic Stadium), there is something for everyone of every age. The knockout punch comes when you learn that all these venues (aside from maybe a couple) are walkable distances from each other. The peculiar thing about Montréal is that unlike most major cities it can’t expand (read: mega-fusions) because of the simple fact that it is an island. Hence we get all the goodies that come from the New York metropolis, for example, but compressed. So wherever you’re situated, no matter what night it is, the streets are always busy. An added bonus that is directly related to that: it’s a pretty safe town to walk in, as the low violence-related crime rate would point out. How cool is that!?
If clubbing is more down your alley, there’s no shortage of that either. Tokyo Bar, Exit, Jello Bar, Living, Stereobar, Mile End Bar, Le Parking, Unity ][, Le Saphir, Blue Dog and Blizzarts compete against each other for the 10PM-3AM slot crowd. Once last call has gone by (3AM), night beasts are (on weekends) welcomed to pursue their night at one of two afterhour clubs. The first is Stereo, rated #5 for their one-of-a- kind analog sound system by Ministry of Sound Magazine. Option #2 is Aria, which features the powerful Meyer Sound System. The result gives spoiled four-on-the-floor lovers a choice between international headliners week after week. Oh the dilemma…
OK, so we’ve covered the concerts and the dj gigs (or live P.A.)… although most of these artists land here as part of their own tours, a good portion choose to perform at the festivals instead. Montréal snaps out of hibernation from spring to fall with a seemingly neverending festival schedule. The Jazz fest, Mutek (minimal tech-house fest), Pop Montréal (indie pop fest), Montréal Electronic Groove (Euro-French house fest), Francofolies (showcasing bands with french lyrics) and the Under Pressure happenings (a celebration of the 4 elements of hip hop) come to mind. These fests solidify Montréal’s pro-pedestrian reputation, as the main streets are usually off-limits for vehicles during festivals. So think about the environment folks. Leave your cars home and travel by BMW (no, not the luxurious German car you idiot… BMW also stands for Bus, Metro and Walk).
Obviously, music artists mostly make their living through touring, but let’s not forget the record sales. Naturally, in order for that to happen, exposure is key. If the potential customers are literate, they can easily pick up one of four alternative weeklies (free) at various locations all over town. These weeklies are: The Mirror, The Hour, Voir, and Ici. As well, every city has their typical wham-blam FM stations, but lesser known bands rely on college/university student radio. Enter CKUT (McGill U.), CJLO (Concordia U.), CISM (U. of Montréal) and CHOQ (UQAM). Once the tracks are broadcasted through internet/radio and tickling many students’ ears, it will then only be a matter of time before they head to the record store (such as HMV), only to realize that there was only one copy ordered, and it’s already been sold. Should they make a special order, wait six weeks for them to import the CD and dish out an hefty amount for it? Hell no. Head down to the local record shops instead: there are plenty of them (L’Oblique, Esoterik, DNA Records, Disquivel, Cheap Thrills, L’échange, C’Dément, Inbeat, Terminal, Center Records, Stomp) and they’re bound to find it, probably even at a better price. These shops keep the music scene alive, thriving and especially fresh.
So there you have it. Montréal and music complement each other quite well, and although my overview of its music culture may have been a little exagerated and overenthusiastic (can you blame a guy for boasting about his city?), it holds a lot of truth. Come and check for yourselves; I guarantee you that the words coming out of your mouth after spending a week here will be “Montréal, c’est ma ville”, and I won’t blame you.
Dan Tran is the editor of one of the internet’s best new Music zines: We Love Musique