M for Montreal isn’t like most festivals. It’s more like a holiday camp for the music industry. It’s small, it’s intimate and what’s great is if you are lucky enough to attend as a delegate you actually get to meet people (amazing right?) and make some lasting friendships.
The festival, with the help of generous funding, brings music industry people in from around the world. On the other hand it’s so small there isn’t a lot to choose from to see. You get carted around to the one or two shows that are happening. The bands playing know that every audience and festival attendee is actually watching them. M also marks the end of the festival season in Canada until February. Winter break is upon us and couldn’t come sooner. As I leave Montreal my bus is delayed due to the snowfall. 8 hours of slowly (and most importantly safely) driving I’m back in Toronto and ready to report on my 5 Highlights of M for Montreal 2016.
Thursday night’s highlight was 100% Toronto’s FRIGS. They were the first band on at Cleopatra, a strip bar that has an upstairs room. M uses Cleopatra as part of their double venue event Thursday night along with Club Soda across the street. 9pm normally seems early for a band like FRIGS but at M being on early really helps. They just bussed all the delegates from the dinner in to see you. Lead singer Bri scowled and lunged around the stage. Her signature voice I can best describe as a possessed demon trying to scream out for help, trapped inside a killer guitar player’s body. Frigs’ new single “Chest” was the set stand out, written in June when the news was dominated by the disgusting Brock Turner case, the lyrics highlight a huge problem in our justice system, talking about how men often get away with raping woman. I never thought a strip bar would be an appropriate venue to see a powerful woman like Bri scream about rape but she made it her own.
I went around the rest of the festival describing this as the “assault performance piece” which is basically what it was. Also on the Thursday night at Cleopatra, a strip bar was the perfect setting for the full Bernardino Femminielli experience. Let me set the scene. Bernardino is shirtless in a cream coloured 70s leisure suit with silver disco platforms, backed by two skinny boys in white face paint dressed as “sexy” red riding hoods. The music is experimental lounge-like synth music with performance art. The performance gets pretty disturbing in some parts and basically we are watching Bernardino assault one of his little red riding hood elves before they get back into the music and start dancing in sync. You really need to see this to appreciate it. Hands down the most evocative performance I’ve seen at a festival in a long time.
When I picture a band called The Garrys I think of 4 middle aged white dudes playing bad garage 70s style punk. I don’t picture 3 sisters from Saskatoon playing surf doom doo-wop (or doom-wop as they classify themselves), but the latter is what the Garrys are and they are catchy as hell. They just released their first record (a cassette to be exact) earlier this year and expect to see them touring more and more.
Full disclosure I was at New Fries’ first ever gig (which I believe was an afternoon clothing swap event at Double Double Land), back then they were a spunky little 3 piece. They’ve added a keyboard player, giving lead singer / guitar player Anni more time on vocals. Anni has an incredible ability to work up a vocal storm leaving the crowd hanging on her every breath. New Fries are based in Toronto and just released an album on Telephone Explosion but they feel like they should have been releasing music in 1981 in New York’s No Wave scene. Sporadic tempos, unexpected time changes, chanting vocals barely recognisable as English and start stop drums are just some of the signature tricks of New Fries. Melodic to dancey to a noise assault all happening in the same song. The M attendees at the sold out Casa del Popolo show all left with an urge to dig up their old post punk no wave records.
Petra Glynt is the stage name of Torontonian Alexandra Mackenzie, who has recently moved to Montreal. Alex’s voice is soulful, operatic and has an ageless quality to it. The amount of control over the tone makes her voice her strongest instrument. Accompanied by sequencers and drum machines, Alex plays live drums while she sings. The music is tribal for lack of a better word. It’s like a percussion party with the most soulful voice flowing over top, pleading with you that the world might just be ok.
After a fun week in Montreal, I too hope the world is going to be ok.