Photo: Susan Moss

Festivals

Pop Montréal 2014

17th - 21st September 2014

You’ll go for the music, stay for the atmosphere and fall in love with the place. Just remember to pack a coat.

A ramshackle celebration of Quebecois spirit and creativity, POP Montréal is a very special music festival. Of course it would be when you consider the talent that’s sprung from there in the past - Arcade Fire, Grimes, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Chromeo are all sometime Montréal natives, and that’s barely a scrape on its mountainous surface.

Situated a short walk away from the skyscrapers of Montréal’s downtown, the POP headquarters is a rambling building packed full of art installations and hectic stairways. Over the course of the festival’s five days, this is where the majority of the magic will happen - including Wednesday's grand opening party. One of the first acts to greet the party’s chatty revelers is Chloe Mercedes, a homegrown newcomer creating catchy but unashamedly sugary disco. She’s followed by the frenzied hip-hop of Young Paris and the well-groomed noise-pop of Look Vibrant. The bands play as the crowd builds, although many are already loudly discussing their plans for the rest of night. With the option of catching a film across town, staying put for a fashion show or catching more music at one of the city’s countless other venues, the choice is pretty extensive. It’s probably worth noting this now - the indecisive are REALLY going to struggle here.

By the time Thursday arrives, it feels like it has brought a bitter Soviet winter along for the ride. Amidst the gripes of shivering Canadians, strums of guitars and booming bass lines can be heard all throughout the city. Seeking warmth in a cosy, red velvet venue called Cagibi, polite folk duo Silverkeys are playing their mournful love songs to a crowd of top knots and duffle coats. They sway wistfully from cello to keyboard, providing a rejuvenating break from the biting winds outside. However, this break is short-lived - a brisk half-hour jaunt down the road is Balattou, where New York's Idgy Dean is playing a set to a sparse crowd of bourbon swiggers. Armed with just a guitar, a drum kit and a loop station, she manages to create a sassy show of DIY psychedelia. It’s very impressive, but perhaps not quite as impressive as Montréal's own art-pop quartet Ought, whose show at Piccolo Rialto ends up being the big highlight of the night. They rocket through an effortlessly tight set of thrashing guitars and awkward dance moves - much to the heaving crowd’s delight.

Pop Montréal 2014

Luckily, the sunshine returns on Friday - and it's just in time. Playing on a small park pagoda in Little Italy are the extremely promising Séoul. Although it looks like their collective age can hardly be more than 23, their ambient pop is varied, breathy and mesmerising - so much so that it ends up causing a nearby golden retriever to pass out. It’s a spacey feeling that’s only accentuated when new-age trippy trio Doomsquad take the stage. As the packed out day moves to night, it’s Twin Shadow and Lydia Ainsworth that are Friday’s main draws. Both attract ample crowds and winding queues, with Lydia’s ghostly melodies accompanied by the presence of an onstage dancing snake (no, really). Heading towards the early hours of Saturday, Twin Shadow takes the stage of dank club basement Le Late Night Little Burgundy - a venue that might make sense for the previous evening’s dance acts TR/ST and Mozart’s Sister, but doesn’t seem so ideal for the melodrama of George Lewis Jr. He warbles through a highly emotional set, and by the end the audience are scrambling to pick up their broken hearts from the sticky floor.

Pop Montréal 2014

Saturday comes, and brings with it Win Butler’s famous POP vs. Jock basketball game. An annual tradition, this year it’s Justin Vernon and Nikolai Fraiture who are shooting hoops alongside him. It’s fairly surreal, but only becomes more so when the players stop to cover ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins. For those of you who’ve always wondered what a Bon Iver/Arcade Fire/Strokes super band covering Phil Collins would sound like: it’s surprisingly discomforting. Saturday also sees the return of Panda Bear, with a luscious and dreamy show at the Theatre Rialto. Playing mostly new material from his mysterious upcoming album ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’, his vocals are flawless and his visuals transfixing. It’s easily one of POP Montréal’s big highlights, though once he finishes you’re left with a desperate sadness that you can’t re-watch the whole thing over again.

Sunday is, thankfully at this point, a little less overwhelming. The amount of active stages has significantly reduced, which gives people the chance to explore all the other not-so-musical things on offer. The Puces Pop fair is a huge underground hub packed full of artists selling jewellery, art and knick-knacks - all of which are completely independent and refreshingly individual. After a very dreary late afternoon screening of the Edwyn Collins documentary ‘The Possibilities are Endless’, it’s time to get ready for Bonobo at SAT. Needless to say, it probably isn't the best choice to watch a film about devastating brain damage before braving this show. Playing to a sold out room of sweat, flashing lights and flaying limbs he’s sounding great – but it feels a little weird for 9pm on a Sunday evening.

Rounding off a hectic and brilliant five days are The Unicorns, playing their first headline show in 10 years. Featuring all the tracks from their cult 2003 LP 'Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?', it's a performance that's messy, fun, packed with humour and refreshingly raw. In other words, the perfect ending to a festival that has all those qualities in abundance. You'll go for the music, stay for the atmosphere and fall in love with the place. Just remember to pack a coat.

Photos: Cindy Lopez, Dominick Mastrangelo, Susan Moss for Pop Montréal

Tags: Panda Bear, Pop Montréal, Festivals, Reviews, Live Reviews

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