It has been five years since I was last at M for Montreal; in some ways it is very different, but the core of the festival and industry conference feels very much the same, with nightly showcases of emerging Canadian artists, many of whom are from Quebec. I have been coming to M since 2008, and this year I knew the least number of artists going in since the first year I attended. Some find that daunting, but I think a festival of near total discovery can be exciting, and with many French language artists on the lineup it is an immersive Montreal experience.
The first two days of M are more industry oriented, with “international delegates” like myself — media, festival/concert bookers, music supervisors, talent agents, etc — being shuttled around “Official Selection” showcases where artists get less than half an hour to make an impression on us. On Wednesday, as is usual, we bounced between two adjacent venues so there was no lag time in between sets. That said, these were venues I’d never been to before — and I thought I’d been to them all — the clubbier Ausgang Plaza and the bigger, older, more traditional Théâtre Plaza.
Artists also took different approaches to their short allotted times. “We only have 20 minute to play but decided to play a 12 minute song,” Frais Dispo singer/guitarist Élie Raymond said, kidding/not kidding, with keyboardist Thomas Bruneau Faubert adding, “Buckle up, fuckers!” The band had previously been known as Foreign Diplomats (I caught them at M in 2015) but decided to change their name when they changed styles from dancepunk to atmospheric dream-county (my term) and started singing in French. That 12-minute song was awesome, by the way, starting gentle and pretty — my mind went to Lindsey Buckingham’s solo single “Trouble” — but then growing grander and louder and more epic. They managed to squeeze in three more songs before their time was up. They were the best thing I saw Wednesday, and I’ve been listening to their 2023 album Teinte this morning (listen below).
While “Official Selection” showcases are industry heavy, there was a strong and vocal local contingent in the house for Winnepeg’s Boy Golden, who closed out the night at Ausgang Plaza. The crowd were singing along to most of the band’s set — 1970s Bakersfield-style country, right down to the snappy shirts, with a strong stoner/psychedelic undercurrent — which included their #1 Canadian alt-rock radio hit “KD And Lunch Meat” from 2021 debut album Church of Better Daze. (New EP For Jimmy was released in July). Boy Golden, the alter ego of Liam Duncan, has charisma for kilometers (we are in Canada), his band are shit-hot, and they were the only act I saw on Wednesday where the crowd demanded an encore, which they gave them. The band are wrapping up a North American tour this week (they played NYC on Monday) and you can listen to a few songs below.
Other acts I saw Wednesday night: indigenous rapper Mattmac, who filters his experiences as a blind artist through trap beats and 2000s nostalgia; charming singer-songwriter Ellen Froese, whose style is in the Sharon Van Etten vein, and who peppered her set with funny anecdotes of embarrassing moments; and Elliot Maginot, who also had a local following with a lush sophisticated sound colored in with textural keyboards and saxophone.
Check out a few iPhone pics from Wednesday night below.
M for Montreal 2023 ramps up significantly today (11/16) with showcases all day and into the night. The festival transforms on Friday and Saturday into the “Marathon” which is more of a SXSW-style multiple-venue, multiple-options free-for-all. Stay tuned for more recaps and fuzzy Iphone pics.