Montreal’s Aural Fixation

Montreal is historically, even in a near-future and recent-past sort of way, a breeding ground for new music. It's the home.

Montreal is historically, even in a near-future and recent-past sort of way, a breeding ground for new music.

It’s the home of recent Polaris prize-winning socialist indie rock ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the nation’s adult contemporary songbird Celine Dion, and bands like AIDS Wolf, Wolf Parade and Lesbians on Ecstacy. It is even the home away from home for haute skid Grimes, and you can’t think of the city without thinking of twee mischief makers The Reflektors/The Arcade Fire, who took over known-dive Sala Rossa to perform as their alter-ego before anyone knew that ‘The Reflektors’ was a pseudonym for the Grammy-winning band. In short, Montreal is good at aural.

Touring the streets of Montreal at night, it isn’t difficult to see that the city is its most alive when fueled by libations and song. From the club wear casualties outside the bumping EDM-insulated (and I’m guessing, ‘molly’-fuelled), irksomely named Pink Taco (3612 Saint Laurent Boulevard) to a bustling Saint Laurent that’s so overcome with music venues, it seems practically impossible to go out and not hear some kind of banger. My music tour begins at Mauro Pezzente-owned Casa del Popolo (4873 Saint Laurent), a bar divided into two spaces-one side for sitting on vintage sofas and making out to the songs bleeding from next door, and the other side for cramming into a room with a bar, perfect for sweating to sets by locals Holoboy and Chairs, or now-famous-ish Brendan Canning (a man you’ll remember for his work with Broken Social Scene, and he who scored The Canyons this year, one of the most embarrassing, over-hyped flops of 2013).

Pezzente has carved out a pocket of Saint-Laurent, pegging him as somewhat of a king of nightlife for millenials and the aging hip: he owns concert space Sala Rossa (4848 Saint Laurent) across the street, with a stage that is dripping with red velvet curtains, and a floor space that resembles an old event banquet hall. The prom-like atmosphere feels perfectly cozy despite the space’s physical grandness when cast against the wailing 80s synth soundtrack of Toronto’s DIANA, whose I-thought-this-was-dated-now vocals seemed to ease the bespectacled, witch house-y masses into a lulled and gentle sway.

But it isn’t a city of just hyped, celeb-owned night spots, and Pezzente shares the spotlight with unfamiliar pop-ups like Rodos En Haut (5581 Parc), a space atop a traditional Greek restaurant that sees bands like Miracle Fortress play to a packed room of art students and girls who “don’t even know why [they’re] here.” Royal Phoenix (5788 Saint Laurent), an out-of-the-Village queer bar packs its space with electronic DJs, and performers like Cakes da Killa, to a host of regulars that span in demo from old lesbians to mixed bag hetero to young and trans. And while the emphasis in Montreal is on garden variety indie rock and electro for the most part, fans of death and progressive metal take to Foufounes Electriques (87 Saint Catherine E.) to see locals like Unbeing, Burning the Oppressor and Fallstaff.

Honourable mentions: Cagibi (5490 Saint Laurent), where an eclectic mix of furniture creates a dream space that perfectly fits Montreal’s John Ward and his psychedelic, lo-fi electric séance’ Balattou (4372 Saint Laurent), an African-themed, locally-proclaimed “kitsch bar” that seems oddly dated, but suits Soft Cell-nostalgia act Leverage Models just fine.

Music year-round: Montreal likely takes festival culture more seriously than anywhere else. Outside of the summer’s Jazz Fest, Osheaga and Pop Montreal, the city has winter festivals coming out the wazoo: M is for Montreal, a weekend concert series showcasing the city’s emerging talents IglooFest, the 12-night, 4-weekend-long EDM-focused winter rave series (January 16 to February 8) and Under the Snow, the city’s snow-capped indie music festival (March 7 to 10).

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