Earlier this month, I had the chance to travel to my favorite Canadian city for Pop Montreal (sorry, Toronto). Celebrating 13 years of poppin’ and rockin’, the eclectic festival celebrated the momentous occasion in pure #MEGAPARTY style, with over 400 bands taking over venues all over the city. From hip hop legends, local alternative icons and up and comers, Pop Montreal’s lineup had something for everyone.
One of the things I loved most about my Pop Montreal experience was 2014 was this selection of fabulous female performers of the past, who are clearly just as fabulous, if not more so, in the present.
As the frontwoman of The Ronnettes, Ronnie Spector and her gang of gals were responsible for weaving hits like “Be My Baby” and “The Best Part of Breakin’ Up” into the fabric of our collective consciousness. Sadly, what Spector was also known for was her tumultuous marriage to legendary producer (and notorious recluse and explosive personality), Phil Spector, whose name she kept for professional purposes even after their divorce in 1972. Much of Spector’s performance included readings from her autobiography Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, many excerpts featuring her former husband in a terrifying light, and many others highlighting her impressive collaborations with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Money and Joey Ramone. But the true highlight of the set was, of course, Spector singing. From her unmistakable classic “Be My Baby,” to an incredible cover of the late Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” that left me with a lump in my throat and goosebumps all over my skin – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Even decades later, her voice retains all the power, charm and charisma it had in her heyday, and it was so thrilling to watch her perform and show that, even after years of struggle and hardship, she has come out on top as an amazing role model to female performers and women everywhere.
I grew up with Suzanne Vega, hearing songs like “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” and discovering the deep and emotional impact that music, in such a simple form, could have on me. So it was a no-brainer for me to bus myself over to the Ukrainian Federation in Outrement to watch her captivate a roomful of music lovers. And captivate she did. While Vega’s style has always been on the folky side, her more recent work included forays into some dance and industrial genres. For her more recent performances, including at Pop, Vega returned to her stripped down roots, with only herself, a guitarist and her daughter Ruby (who provided backup vocals) appearing onstage. Playing both newer music and old favorites, Vega was an absolute joy to watch perform. Her dance training showed in every graceful movement, her floating hands and outstretched arms just as mesmerizing as her sweet, familiar voice.
While Spector may have been inspiring and Vega captivating, JJ Fad (Just, Jammin’, Fresh And Def) was AMAZING. Their set at the Little Burgundy space (which was really a church basement in Miles End) was the most fun I had at Pop Montreal. The beauty behind JJ Fad is that while they are well and truly the original first ladies of hip hop, they infuse just enough pop to make their music not only accessible to a wider audience, but to make it timeless as well. One of the original Ruthless Records acts signed by Eazy-E, JJ Fad got their start in the early eighties, taking the world by storm with their infectious hit “Supersonic.” The group then released Supersonic as an album in 1988. While their second album did not gain the band much traction (they broke up shortly after its release in 1991), their earlier work continued to heavily influence hip hop and pop music for years to come. JJ Fad reunited in their trio form in 2009 and have continued to blow minds with their upbeat attitudes and pitch perfect rap game, as evidenced by their Pop performance. It was clear these ladies were having the time of their lives doing what they loved to do, and you couldn’t help smile, laugh and DANCE along with them. From a surprise appearance by Gentleman Reg (aka Lights Fires), who delivered a fantastic a capella rendition of Supersonic’s speediest verse, to Juana herself erasing any doubts that JJ Fad was lip synching by performing that same section the same way, to the awe and admiration of her enraptured audience. Ever positive, ever entertaining, and ever encouraging, the set reminded everyone in that room that you can live your dream, and ride that awesome wave for as long as you could ever want, I’m so glad I got to be a part of that. And if it wasn’t enough that JJ Fad put on an amazing show, they are truly wonderful women. Check out my interview with the ladies here, and you’ll see what I mean.
*photos by Nadia Elkharadly
Stay tuned for more Pop adventures right here very soon!