Grimes is proof of the power of M for Montreal

Plus: Queen City Stoop Kids, Ragers and Duchess Says perform stellar sets at the band-breaking fest


The narrative couldn’t have been better for M for Montreal’s 10th anniversary edition.

Headliner Grimes, on tour supporting the exploding Art Angel, credited M for putting on some of her earliest shows. She reminded a sold-out crowd at Metropolis that this was the city where she “learned to make music.” The audience responded by pogo-ing ecstatically to every note that came from the artist, and she even brought out a giant group of friends to dance with her. It felt like a homecoming, and living, breathing proof of the validity of the mostly showcase-based fest to break bands.

M for Montreal, with its boutique energy and attention to atmosphere, seems to offer bands a little more room than at quick-turnover showcases. It opens them up to play the kind of set they want instead of rushing through to stay on schedule. The festival may have grown in its 10 years, but the focus has never shifted away from the music. That attitude is why their shows can be so good.

The surprise of the week for more than one music nerd was Regina’s Queen City Stoop Kids upstairs at Cleopatra. A hip-hop group with relentless, bombs-away energy and natural crew chemistry, they’re endlessly entertaining. There are some definite standout members of the group – one whipped himself around like the Tasmanian Devil so hard that I wondered if he’d pass out from the inertia – but overall their crew-based energy was tight and smooth. Pumping out songs “about white privilege!” and referencing Robin Williams, they ended everything with a nod to Jimi Hendrix, shouting “’scuse me while I kiss the sky!” along with a won-over crowd.

Toronto’s excellent and fast-rising Jazz Cartier followed, and I got the feeling that I’d likely never get the chance to see him perform above a strip club for less than 100 people. That made it special, on top of his urging the crowd to yell “holy shit!” and “woo!” in unison at his command.

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Matt Williams

Jazz Cartier

Ragers, a group of locals who mix rock, rap, and electronic together to create terrifying-but-catchy head-nodders,  was a slice of irresistible hip-hop horror. Wearing creepy metallic masks and playing their instruments live, the dark warehouse-esque, dim-lit TRH-Bar made things extra spooky. On the less interesting but just-as-buzzy side, She-Devils (also from Montreal) at Casa Del Popolo was kind of a snooze. The duo – Audrey Ann on vocals, Kyle Jukka twisting nobs and working samples – has a shtick that is kind of tough to resist. It’s a swirling, hypnotic kind of  throwback pop. Their minimalism sounds great on record, but the show at Casa was hardly attention grabbing.

While the week belonged to Grimes and her absolutely stellar, laser-filled set (check out Kevin Ritchie’s review of her Danforth stop for further proof), down the street at Club Soda. Just after was Duchess Says, who are probably the best live band you’ve never heard of.  The Montreal “moog-rock” group, led by one of the most entertaining singers in the biz, Annie-Claude Deschênes, has been around since 2003. In Quebec, they consistently sell out big rooms to ravenous fans, but it’s hard to find an Anglo music lover who knows about them. All you have to do is see the band once: Deschênes otherworldly vocals and quasi-demonic energy make it impossible to turn away from looking her straight in her crazy eyes.

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Matt Williams

Duchess Says

website@nowtoronto.com | @mattgeewilliams

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