From Nov. 15 to 18, the M for Montreal music festival brought together hundreds of local music fans as well as influential figures from the international music industry to see dozens of Montreal bands (and a few out-of-town acts) on local stages around the city. While some showcases were reserved exclusively for the professional set, our critics and photographers joined the public at M’s many Marathon shows for an exciting series of events over four days.
Hawa B. Photo by Cindy Lopez
There are singers and there are vocalists, and then there are vocal performers. If the distinctions between these talents are subtle, Hawa B’s Thursday night showcase most certainly was not. An excellent, full-band show at this summer’s Jazz Fest fed the audience a tasting menu of her range of style and influence with a little bit of everything in terms of engaging musical composition. The Hawa B we met at M for Montreal, joined onstage by multi-talented producer and collaborator FELP, burned with the intensity of a more explosive star on the rise.
The poor sound quality in the venue could not impede the sheer might of a voice that is nothing less than stunning. The emotional interplay between her vocal gift and the complex, jarring bombast electronic art of her compositions makes the music uniquely whole. The chemistry between Hawa B and her music, her co-performer and her audience on Thursday night at Club Soda suggests a future with promise. Here in the present, it’s already delivering. Incredible. (Darcy MacDonald)
Choses Sauvages at M for Montreal. Photo by Cindy Lopez
I’m late to the party for this widely adored Quebec band, who’ve already proven their mettle and won their reputation for live shows that knock it out of the park. I’ve always ended up missing them at other festivals or as openers for other acts in their early days. But Choses Sauvages are undisputed headliners now, and their sold-out standalone performance at les Foufounes Électriques on Day 2 of M for Montreal — without any co-billing, support act, or showcase lineup — was an intimate, exclusive opportunity for fans of a band that enjoy such a large and devoted audience.
Watching the crowd pulsate on the dancefloor from overhead on the Foufs mezzanine was a treat. As for the performance? Totally solid. Maybe it’s just wistful sentimentalism, but it wasn’t lost on me that my first Choses Sauvages live experience occurred in the same 24-hour period Quebecers began to mourn Karl Tremblay of les Cowboys Fringants. There is no immediate parallel to draw here between the two bands. But on a sad day for Quebec’s province-wide arts and cultural scene and music fans of all stripes, it was heartening to see that the show goes on and to know that we live in a time where there is still so much to celebrate.
And in a live music world where moshing has become a watered-down term that means a couple of kids pushing each other around for a few seconds to the opening chords of a crowd-pleasing banger, the Choses Sauvages fanatics still have it all the way in them. I’ll never tire of dance-punk. Next time, I’ll get my ass on the floor with the rest of the wild bunch. (Darcy MacDonald)
Stoylov. Photo by Stephan Boissonneault
Though the Café Cléopâtre room wasn’t as filled as it should have been, Stoylov, a local cinematic alt-pop four-piece led by singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Nicolas Dubé gave an impassioned set within the walls of the gentleman’s club top floor. Below a shining disco ball and frantic neon lights, the group led the audience through songs off of Malvina, a new atmospheric LP that dabbles in shoegaze, dream pop, sonic ambiance and what sounds like heartbreaking tales from Dubé.
Live, Stoylov felt a lot like witnessing a band like Deerhunter, especially the Atlanta group’s Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. run. Dubé’s voice is quite reminiscent of the whispery style of Bradford Cox, and the instrumentation walks a fine line between being very experimental yet easy to latch onto. It’s no small feat, and Stoylov does it well.
Despite a few technical issues — no fault of Stoylov, and these things happen — like Dubé’s mic cutting out with the synth and keyboards during a song or two, Stoylov was quite tight, being held down by the bass player, Alexandre Fournier (who had his solo project, Alix Fernz, debut at M for Montreal as well), and the drummer François Dubé, as Nicolas and the keys player Nassim Dib-Mudie, could get a little weird and droney. (Stephan Boissonneault)
The local “rock power trio” (and onetime Cult MTL cover stars) who got the chance to open for the Foo Fighters at the Verdun Auditorium in July played a much, much smaller stage on Thursday afternoon at l’Esco. Performing a mid-afternoon set (albeit without regular bassist Sarah Dion) and opening with “It’s Time” right after walking onstage to Darude’s “Sandstorm”, Les Shirley brought as much raw punk rock energy as one can muster at that time of the day. Frontwoman Rapha Chouinard even acknowledged how they were performing in broad daylight (“We know it’s early for rock ’n’ roll, but whatever!”), and despite some minor sound issues, the trio sounded as tight as ever. (Dave MacIntyre)
Alex Nicol. Photo by Stephan Boissonneault
One performance that was worthy of praise was from Alex Nicol, who is a week and some change from releasing his Been a Long Year Vol. 1 & 2 LP. Dressed like the male lead in a Tennessee Williams play, he led a rowdy l’Escogriffe room through a number of his haunting alternative indie folk tracks, and even despite his technical difficulties (maybe a loose patch cord on his acoustic guitar), he held the set down, leaving a pile of sweat on the stage. If anything, Nicol’s powerful voice brought shouting from the crowd to a low whisper, and his band was well rehearsed, waiting for their moments to really shine — like with the heart-wrenching lap steel guitar solo. A magnificent performance at M for Montreal. (Stephan Boissonneault)
Atsuko Chiba. Photo by Cindy Lopez
Before CDSM did its thing, we were able to witness Atsuko Chiba, another group that only plays a small handful of times throughout the year. Running through the songs from their impressive experimental post-rock/prog rock album (and perhaps best work to date), Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing LP, the Chibaz boys gave this performance their all, each using their own form of power stance and guitar faces to really get the crowd going.
Of course, their drummer, Anthony Piazza, was running double duty, by controlling the speed and timing of their projections through MIDI — he also did every projection for each set of the M for Mothland night. The guy is truly a different breed. Perhaps the most intensity during Atusko’s set was in the last song, a newer jam they call “Pope’s Cocaine,” which sounded like At the Drive-In on a healthy dose of speed and mayhem. Wonderful stuff. (Stephan Boissonneault)
CDSM. Photo by Stephan Boissonneault
Typical to M for Mothland tradition, Celebrity Death Slot Machine (more commonly known as CDSM), played right in the middle of la Sala Rossa, on a semi-raised stage surrounded by panels of projections. Right from the first song, the room was electric — it was as if the crowd had been waiting to see CDSM all year. And this could be true, based on CDSM playing on the speakers in some more alt-rock dive bars like l’Escogriffe throughout the year.
The five-piece “death disco” group played many songs off their 2022 Hell Stairs EP and a few newer ones like “Entertainment,” and the crowd was chanting the vocals right back. Again, the weirdest song was “Fresh Catch,” an ode to the serial killer nature of Joe Pesci. There’s something very surreal and fever-dreamish about a room full of people shouting “Joe Pesci, I’m your biggest fan, won’t you please take me first?” Though this group is from Atlanta, I can’t imagine a more giving crowd than M for Mothland’s. (Stephan Boissonneault)
Afternoon Bike Ride
Afternoon Bike Ride
Despite some rainy and utterly putrid weather, I took an afternoon bike ride (har har) to NOMAD to see this lo-fi folk trio whose name I’d been hearing about for a while now, but never seen live. The home-like venue would be the perfect environment for their warm, almost nocturnal style of music, and frontwoman Lia Kurihara’s breathy, falsetto-heavy voice is understated yet expressive, and fits neatly with their minimal-yet-evocative instrumentation. (The backdrop they had playing of a sunrise surrounded by cranes also feels oddly appropriate for their type of music.) This definitely feels like the kind of music you play while waking up and quietly sipping on your first or second coffee of the day, and Afternoon Bike Ride delivered the goods on Friday. (Dave MacIntyre)
Alix Fernz. Photo by Stephan Boissonneault
Another Alex — who may be my favourite “discovery” during M for Montreal this year — was Alix Fernz, a post-punk meets weirdo new wave alt-pop menagerie that felt like watching The Residents, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, mixed with a bit of Cleaners From Venus. Alix (real name Alexandre Fournier, (who you may know as the kind-hearted yet takes no shit bartender from l’Escogriffe) commands the stage, dancing like he’s in a trance while singing about psychological disorders, drugs, and the vagabonds of today.
He’s so fun to watch as he gets lost in his creations while his band, a tight-as-sing rhythm section of bass and drums, and frenetic lead guitar (manned by the lead singer of Stoylov) consumes the air. Alix loves getting as weird as possible, almost chowing down on his microphone as he flips between frantic vocal sounds and syncopated synth lines. Alix Fernz only has one single out “Wax,” but I imagine him blowing up quite soon. (Stephan Boissonneault)
Marie Davidson. Photo by Cindy Lopez
Montreal’s favourite dancefloor drill sergeant took to Fairmount Theatre during the closing night of the festival to do what she does best: command you to dance. Starting off with a synthwave jam before gradually getting into dancier territory, Marie Davidson played what felt like half a DJ set and half a live show with no shortage of spunk and charisma, with beats ranging from punchy and high-energy to dark and ominous (to the point where it felt almost like I was at an illegal rave in some random basement). Whether she was playing a more classic-sounding house track or something far glitchier and full of booming bass and loud, skittering drums (think hardcore trance), Davidson knows how to get crowds hyped and engaged while maintaining an aura of mystery to her, and Saturday night was yet another example of that. (Dave MacIntyre)
Ouri. Photo by Cindy Lopez
While fans continue waiting for her to release a follow-up to her Polaris-shortlisted 2021 debut Frame of a Fauna, Ouri graced the Fairmount Theatre stage immediately after Marie Davidson with a DJ set. But instead of Davidson’s focus on pure energy and attitude, Ouri went for something much more ethereal, lush and atmospheric, though no less vibrant or cutting-edge. Mixing tracks seamlessly while maintaining an icy cool poise and focus while performing, it was a shame to see a smaller crowd watching her compared to the one for Davidson, but her set was solid whether she was playing her own material or other artists’ tracks (e.g. Hudson Mohawke’s “Set the Roof”) and I’m glad I got to see her put this year’s edition of M in the books. Also, shoutout to that grey-haired man with glasses dancing in the front row — get it, girl! (Dave MacIntyre)
For more on M for Montreal, please visit their website.
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