POP MONTREAL September 29- October 2, pwyc-$80. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
It ain't perfect, but in a lot of ways Pop Montreal is what you wish every large-scale music fest could be.
Despite the city's current status as The Place Where Cool Lives (for relatively dirt-cheap rents), this year's edition of Pop wasn't overrun by a deluge of Pitchfork-obsessed hipster and industry types. While attendance was up - particularly for buzzy shows like Islands, the pop project formed in the wake of the slain Unicorns - the only time overcrowding got ridiculous was Saturday morning, during brunch at Sala Rosa .
According to my pal who works the weekend shift at the Godspeed-affiliated tapas joint, the breakfast crowd mushroomed to at least three times its usual size, leaving hungover Torontonians and a dazed-looking Ian Svenonius slowly collapsing due to caffeine withdrawal.
Sadly, Sala didn't think up the clever strategy used by Pop's brass to thwart the rage of passholders who showed up at the hottest gigs only to be turned away cuz the clubs were over capacity. The solution? Set up an RSVP system for sold-out shows like Beck and Antony & the Johnsons (a Mercury Prize win does wonders for one's profile), whereby those with passes arrange to be added to a list that ensures entry to a show within the first 30 minutes after the doors open.
The plan didn't always fly - I saw one guy at the Antony gig nearly burst into tears cuz he'd missed the cutoff - but it was definitely better than the fiasco that is trying to get in to a half-decent gig at CMJ.
Another tip: forget about the hype and go for the unknown. Sounds like a no-brainer, but at industry-leaning fests like Canadian Music Week and, sadly, NXNE, the proportion of indie bands who are only there cuz they're desperate to get signed versus genuinely talented underground acts tends to be pretty slim. The upside of Pop organizers' indie elitism is that they thrive on digging up the coolest shit a lot of folks haven't heard of.
So while I enjoyed the creaky, Care Bears-loving antics of CocoRosie and dug the lovely looseness of the set Stars played Friday night to benefit Doctors Without Borders, the best surprise of my Pop Montreal experience happened when I hung out at a quarter-full Jupiter Room for Saturday's underexposed Kanine Records showcase.
Brooklyn kooks Mixel Pixel mixed bratty banter ("Trick border guards by telling them you're Interpol!" "Now that Montreal's so cool, we have an apartment on the Plateau!") with crazy projections and a bass-heavy psych-pop collage that left me wanting to see them in a bigger venue with better sound. And the flailing limbs and massive sound of melodic art-punk three-piece the Oxford Collapse suggested they could be the next Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
But the set that really blew my mind came courtesy of NYC crew Asobi Seksu , whose gleaming girl-group-meets-shoegazer mashup was a revelation. Frontwoman Yuki Chikudate , clad in a smokin' Mary Quant-style minidress and white fuck-me go-go boots, channelled a whispery Ronnie Spector while coquettishly mugging behind her keyboard. But every time one of their tunes veered too far into cutesy pop territory, the band unleashed ear-blistering walls of distortion-heavy guitars. I was hooked from the first note.
Some might be jazzed by 2 am poutine, others may love the kids' fashion sense, and still others can't get enough of the infamous loft parties (which inevitably get crashed by cops). For me, the best part of Pop Montreal is skipping the sure bets and stumbling on the best next shit.