A conversation in speed reviews and impressions between two friend-writers.
Christelle Saint-Julien: How was your Pop Montreal ? It’s your first experience covering, right ?
Fiona Schlumberger: Yeah, it was my first time covering the festival! I’ve volunteered a few times though, so I’m not new to the experience. Pop did me right this year, I had such a good time.
Chris: As I always say, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But I’m an old popper, so I’m moralistic like that. However, it’s the morning after and the withdrawal is real. I want it back. With more bike parking.
Fiona: Speaking of bikes, this year’s experience was replete with three monumental bike crashes within three days, affecting a pretty significant proportion of Montreal’s music scene (you being the most important one, obviously). Wear your helmets, poppers!
Chris: POP MONTREAL ALMOST KILLED ME!
Fiona: That sounds like a good band name for next year’s Pop. On that note, I’m really bummed that I didn’t get to catch New Media Serious Interesting Band. I was so curious to see what a band name like that could deliver! That’s the heartbreaking reality of Pop’s dense programming, though.
Chris: I hate to admit that this edition’s was a series of missed rendez-vous for me as well. There was poor timing on the first day as I decided a month ago to throw an event on the Wednesday, and I crashed my biking body on the Friday which cut my night short the following day. But I saw some magnificent things. Who is your best discovery this year ?
Fiona: Right, and being a working girl kind of cuts into Pop too. That’s hard to say, I went into this year’s pop with minimal research which means I had a lot of really pleasant surprises. Donzelle’s female french-language rap crew was my favorite show in terms of vibe and attendance, and seeing New York’s Diet Cig as a consolation prize after missing Nancy Pants at Le Ritz was such a delightful surprise. My friends tried to buy frontwoman Alex Luciano a shot but she wasn’t into it. We think she was a cheerleader because she was performing some really impressive high-kicks on stage. They were a blast, and I definitely think they have room to grow. Their really disarming and earnest lyrics got to me and made me feel like I was in high school again; I’ve always been a fan of very plaintive and desperate adolescent expression and I apparently haven’t changed. Who was your favorite surprise?
Chris: Cold Specks. I walked under the rain from Rialto to Sala Rossa on Thursday night and she was already on stage. I literally could not take my eyes from her. The way she carries herself with such effortless grace and how she handles the microphone as if it was an extension of her is simply mesmerizing. I would describe her style as minimal dark-soul, with an emphasis on the sparse aspect of her soundscape. She was accompanied by only a beatmaker on stage, occasionally grabbing her guitar. Her style is a great example of music of being reflective of the time, both in the style and in the format. Her last record came out in 2014 and I had given it a listen before. However, her set sounded positively different than what I could have expected, her delivery so much more poignant live. This left me absolutely excited to hear more in the near future. I am completely under her spell. On another note, this edition of Pop was for me about revisiting old loves and re-assessing my devotion to their music.
Fiona: I’m assuming one of those old loves was Angel Olsen, whom we were both excited to see. I just want to take a moment to talk about how soul-soothing it’s been for me recently to see female musicians on stage. Angel was flanked by two incredibly charismatic female musicians who blew me away (also if someone could hook me up with one of the suave powder-blue suits the whole band was rocking, I’d be a happy girl). I actually got to meet Angel before the show very briefly and she was so incredibly sweet and hugged me because I brought her Fairmount bagels! My one complaint about Pop (and maybe this is true of other urban showcase festivals) is that audiences maybe aren’t as invested in the music since a lot of them hop around and end up being really rude. I had a hard time hearing over the audience while Best Fern and Rodrigo Amarante were playing, which is a real shame because they were creating some entrancing magic in the hall. I read a review from the Gazette complaining that this show didn’t reach its potential and that Angel was being “hermetic”. I’ll admit it took me some time to get wrapped up in the show despite my ardent fervor for the music, but I was shedding tears by the time she played “Woman”. That song is hands-down one of the most true, epic and heart-breaking songs I’ve ever heard. You were sitting up on the balcony, so maybe you had a different experience. What’d you think about the show?
Chris: I had just gotten hit by a car door, so I was not having it at all. I should have headed home but I’m so stubborn that I made it, but I stayed in the back like a ghost, unable to process anything but the great quality of her voice — the noise and music level made my skull explode. I carried my concussed head home to count my bruises.
Fiona: I’m sure she would have appreciated the poetic nature of your dedication. You were still thriving when we ended up at the Jesse Mac Cormack show together though, which was such an engaging and electric show. You’re an old fan of Jesse’s, but this was my first time seeing him. That staccato and halting way he has of singing really drew me in, I kept waiting for the next note with bated breath. It felt like the audience was just being teased into playing the pawns in a calculated labyrinthian game over which Jesse held immaculate control. The hometown crowd definitely felt reverential.
Chris: I love the guy. I am certainly biased, but he’s one of the best musician the city holds, a rare and raw talent. Genuine af. My definition of fun is to let myself be surprised by how he pushes his own boundaries and how he never cease to integrate new things into his compositions and interpretation. The fact that he is incredibly prolific for his young age (making us all feel like incapable under-achievers) also seals the deal. I’ll always learn something by seeing him perform (I go to his show 2-3 times a year, which would make me a groupie if I didn’t know him personally). Same goes to Little Scream, who I saw later that night. Do you ever feel like you love an artist so much that you are scared that they went inside your head and then wrote it all down for people to hear ?
Fiona: Ooh what a great question. I guess I feel that less than I feel like certain people manifest into words a feeling so deeply buried inside of me that I could never have imagined trying to verbalize it. Angel Olsen is one of those people, I genuinely feel that I have learned to understand myself better through her music. On the flip side, what’s great about live performance is seeing people’s larger-than-life stage performances. I got a taste of the forbidden when I saw Donzelle’s mega alter-persona rapping in French with her bad-ass girl crew at Mademoiselle. I love a woman who sings/raps unapologetically about hypersexual things and has a ludicrous amount of fun doing it. Donzelle reminded me a bit of “Je Veux Te Voir”-era Yelle in the way that she was committed to her semi-kitsch persona and biting lyrical put-downs. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily add her music to my listening repertoire, but the performance and experience of that show was pure enjoyment; she seemed to refuse to have anything but rollicking good time and wouldn’t let the audience forget it. Did you have any shows where the performance aspect blew you away?
Chris: Little Scream is so uncompromising. Her voice is shattered gold, haunting yet powerful. She can make us dance, she can make us cry with orchestral arrangement or the most rock-and-roll take-off. Yet, her lyrics are just striking with limpid images and introspection. And she can play her guitar, she will flip your hair. Her music always prompts a physical reaction even in the quieter mood (tears and limb-shaking or both at the same time). She is the musician I wish I were, literally. Needless to say, I strongly recommend her latest record Cult Following to anyone who likes Stevie Nicks and to anyone who doesn’t like her. It is soft power in control. Also, her musicians on stage are as amazing as her. Anyone else who made you question the meaning of your life ?
Fiona: I certainly started questioning just how much technical proficiency and how many instruments can be played at one time on one stage at the Joe Grass show. That was the kind of show where being by the lip of the stage pays off. I couldn’t believe how many instruments were being flung around! The percussion was wild-there were two drummers and at a certain point I sincerely thought they were playing an abacus as a musical instrument. I’m not technically savvy enough to get into the details, but the skill displayed on that last night of Pop was mesmerizing. Care to tell us a bit about how much you were fangirling at the show?
Chris: JOE GRASS IS THE MAN. Oh, God. How humble is this over-talented person? He mainly plays as a side-liner to like, every band in the city but always elevates the music he contributes to. Like, all he touches is gold. Master guitar player (as you witnessed), incredible composer, eloquent sensitivity and inventiveness in arrangements. I guess everyone is always gushing over frontmen in this life, but the roles were inverted and I could not have been happier. The crop of players on stage was enough to make to make me scream even before seeing them on stage — ( Andrew Barr, Robbie Kluster, Jason Sharp gee whiz), bringing together the only sort of bromance I long to see: an intense, relatable musical dialogue. There was folk, there was rock, there was instrumental, there was storytelling, there were solos, build-ups, experimental in the traditional. This music speaks so much to me. Now, I also know the formula to make magic: trade the bass for a bass saxophone and a synth for a violin. The album Joe Grass was launching that night is called The Rest Will Disappear and as a matter of fact, it all did. It kind makes up for not being able to see Leif Vollebekk, aka my first true love playing on a damn rooftop.
Fiona: Every damn year I miss the rooftop shows. Let’s set that as a goal for next time!
Chris: DEAL. No John Cale.
Fiona: Amen. Sorry if I was missing something, but at a certain point, old white dudes all start sounding the same. You and I checked out his show and we were over it after the first 20 tuneless “woah-oh-ooh”s accompanied by limp one-hand waves. Meh.
Chris: Like, I guess I’m uptight. Kudos for the effort, I mean the guy is playing on an electronic set up and he’s having a blast, but I was not. Hi, Lou Reed, I always liked you. *runs home and plays The Velvet Underground record*. So, that’s that. Bye Pop. You were bliss. I miss you. Withdrawal is real. Peace on earth.
Credits: Jean-Philippe Sansfaçon
About Christelle Saint-Julien
Professional writer and translator based in Montreal, Christelle compiles projects on project such as brainchild Naked Underground Montreal, literary collective Le Shindig, music, arts and sharing her passion for local culture.