A beautiful farce
Escapists at M for Montreal

Montréal is a strange place. On a tour of the city put on by the conference we are shown 80's blue chip skyscrapers, bloated concrete constructions and dusty glass. These ghostly corporate shells live adjacent to run down thrift stores, empty retail sites and outdated technology shops. It's as if the town planners shocked the city into a late 20th Century industrial town, then, having seen what monstrosities they created retreated, only to find the confidence to build again in recent years. Anecdotally, the 1970 Olympic stadium was only paid off in full in 2006 (C$264 million) a white elephant too expensive to raze to the ground (C$700 million). These buildings are light on corporate logos; signs for logistics firms, banks, and hotels are lean. It was in this time that M…Pour Montréal established itself with questions such as, "What does Montréal do?"

The conference is in many ways a beautiful farce. Whether it is a colleague from another publication dropping acid on his birthday then attending networking events, or the cultural worker who shows me an inaudible video of a staged band rehearsal seeking my approval. I nod, I leave. Whether it's the 'party room' in the hotel for delegates to enjoy beer and nibbles, or to pick up cocaine; or whether it's the fact that the demise of HMV in Canada has brought the local music industry to its knees (somewhat prophetic for the UK delegates who have travelled out) - with jet lag a catalyst, Montréal is a different reality.

When I wasn't being harangued by agents or managers in the hotel lobby, blind enthusiasm combined with culturally deaf musicians, the conference hosted an impressive selection of artists: from the 90's Hip-Pop of Bran Van 3000 (yes, I know. Expect to hear more of him this year, insider tip) to the Noise of Doldrums, ironic hipsters Uncle Bad Touch, or the swooning folk of Thus:Owl.

The relatively lean bill of artists allowed for plenty of sonic tourism. Due to strict licensing regulation in the city, and a vacuum in venues, there's a loft party gigging scene. Professional suburban space The Silver Door entertained a handful of mediocre bands followed by some even more mediocre dubstep. Nothing worth mentioning. However small city centre space W()MB played host to Cop Car Bonfire, Labios, Escapists and Bataille Solaire. All associated with the Hobo Cults collective based in the city, the groups are mostly collaborations between individuals from other better known projects. The event was beautifully cutting edge, and in a candle lit room made for the highlight of the trip.

Well established artist collective, Constellations, known for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Colin Stetson, and Tindersticks, amongst others have expanded with a cafe, Casa Del Popolo, and have bought the then failing Spanish Institute opposite. Both venues are used by the festival. Here, drinking Saint Amboise Outmeal Stout (the only good meal you'll find in this city outside of Patati Patata) it becomes apparent where these Avant Garde collectives, or faux-subversive parties, find their inspiration.

The barren, centre-less industry of Montréal has created a strange democracy with the city's go-to record store Cheap Thrills situated near austere University and commercial buildings. Sandwiched between grey concrete and black glass towers this two-storey faux bohemian house pedals Black Metal, John Zorn, an impressive second hand book section and essential records and tapes. Look beyond the failed commercialisation of Montréal and you'll find a hidden utopia. M…Pour Montréal, is very much haunted by the city. From this fallout the city is rebuilding itself structurally and industrially with a carte blanche mentality, of which the festival exists at the vanguard.

Words and photo by Samuel Breen

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