For the next two and a half weeks, Consequence of Sounds Sasha Geffen will be exploring Montreal and its music scene, attending the mammoth three-day music festival Osheaga (featuring The Cure, Beck, New Order, Vampire Weekend and many more), and taking in the local culture. Follow her adventures here, or through the hashtag #MTLMoments on Instagram and Twitter, and visit Tourisme Montreals website to learn more about the city.
Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood arranges itself like certain boroughs of New York. In between the markers of a traditional Hasidic Jewish community, a youth culture mutates. Record stores, cafes, and vintage shops crop up next to temples and bakeries. It’s here that I have my first Montreal-style bagel: a thin sesame ring still warm from a stone oven. It tastes like the dough’s laced with Lucky Strikes. It’s delicious.
After spending our morning browsing records (I buy a cassette of The Cure’s Disintegration because you should always have physical tokens of the things you love), we walk into the office of POP Montreal. The converted two-flat is full with desks, albums, books, and tired industry professionals. We sit on couches on the first floor and talk to Daniel Seligman, founder of the yearly festival and cultural institution that’s housed some of the more exciting musical events in Montreal’s recent historylike a free Arcade Fire concert in 2011 that all but shut down the city.
“There’s always something unique and different about what happens in Montreal,” he tells us. “It’s a trend-setting kind of place.” That’s a frequent sentiment in this city so far; Seligman elaborates. What sets Montreal apart isn’t just its music, but the way musicians are able to reinvest in the artistic community that fosters them. He cites Polaris-beloved locals The Besnard Lakes as an example. Rather than move to Los Angeles or New York upon reaching a certain plateau of success, frontman Jace Lasek opened Breakglass Studios in the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal area of the city. The studio has served as an important stepping stone for artists like Purity Ring as they move from local Canadian scenes onto the larger music world. “There is a real sense of community and that means participating and supporting and investing, whether that’s through starting a record label or opening a venue or a recording studio. I think that’s been a trend over the last 15 or so years,” Seligman says.
Montreal’s timeline as a globally significant arts hub seems to start with the underground music community that gave rise to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and their label Constellation Records. That community’s pro-art, anti-corproate ethos hasn’t waned, even as its participants have reached massive audiences. There’s a desire here to feed your roots rather than leave them behind you or consume them.
Seligman cites the absence of a larger industry presence as another factor in Montreal’s creative health. While bands who start out in Brooklyn might feel the pressure to jump onto a label and a North American tour as soon as someone takes notice of them, Montreal artists can enjoy seclusionan essential stage in the growth of new sound. ”There’s not a prevailing, big media or record label or a real industry presence in Montreal, so a lot of young artists are able to create here and really develop as artists before there’s a lot of attention on them,” he tells us. “Because it’s more art-oriented and less about hype and industry, I think bands tend to really be driven by the idea of being creative and being unique and interesting and not so much about trying to sound like the next trend.”
There does seem to be an emphasis on discovery rather than accomplishment here. Few artists or professionals are content to rest on their laurels. Instead, they use them as a springboard to whatever comes next. The energy swarms around what can be reached for, not what’s already finished.
Previously on #MTLMoments: Sasha visits Piknic Electronik and speaks to artistic director Michel Quintal.