Published Nov 25, 2019Quebec's annual music festival M for Montreal kicked off last week, and with it, the emergence of dozens of on-the-rise performers both local and international. We made our way to La Belle Province to bear witness to the best the festival had to offer. From hip-hop to psych to indie to pop, we narrowed our favourite acts down to the best and brightest.
Here are five acts we loved at M for Montreal 2019.
November 20, La Sala Rossa
Naya Ali — backed onstage by DJ John Brown — stormed Montreal's quirky La Sala Rossa with militant valour in the early stages of Wednesday night. Equipped with strapped-up, all-black armour and venomous, explosive vocals, the rapper/multi-vocalist delivered banger after banger, persuading the audience to bop along for the entirety of her set.
Despite a sparse crowd, the Ethiopian-born Montrealer native tore into each of her tracks with hypeman confidence, and even offered some exclusive new tracks as a gift to make up for having to restart one of her songs earlier in the evening.
The rapper skulked across the stage for a handful of hard-hitting tracks, peering up through the shade of her black-brimmed hat only occasionally, giving her an air of mystique, which was only dissolved by her occasional shift from spitting bars to expert vocalizing. Ali has the potential to rise to stardom quickly, having only burst onto the scene two years ago with her debut EP, Higher Self. She definitely is one to look out for in your city's live circuits.
November 20, Casa del Popolo
Saskatoon trio Close Talker blessed the darkened, tiny stage at Casa del Popolo late Wednesday night. Tucked away at the back of the venue, the band delivered a short, but sweet set of dream rock, drawing from their record, How Do We Stay Here, released this summer.
Close Talker have an energy that will demand larger venues in their future. Between blasting out indie-flavoured exploratory jams, keyboardist Matthew Kopperud shook a teensy tambourine with violent accuracy and enthusiasm, simultaneously whipping his mane back and forth, cementing just how serious this very fun band can be.
Their jams landed right in the sweet spot: just long enough to be interesting, never over-extending a composition beyond its worth. Shoegazey riffs dominated their five-ish song set, expanding and contracting, and accented by the subtle drumming of Chris Morien.
November 20, La Sala Rossa
Francophone alien pop star Lydia Képinksi arrived at La Sala Rossa in what appeared to be some sort of tarp, which was draped over her small frame.
Starting her set out anonymously from somewhere deep inside the crowd, her band hummed patiently on their instruments from within a dense cloud of smoke and red flood lights as they awaited her arrival on stage. Anxious fans sang along to Képinksi's ominous vocals, with their eager eyes darting across the crowd, searching for its source.
Képinksi suddenly emerged from deep inside the belly of the beast — silently shedding her rain gear — as a purple and blue haze fell over the stage. It was at once calming and exciting. Képinksi, evidently one for theatrics, made her way bouncing around the stage, dancing with seemingly unending energy, and later climbing atop the bar at the back of the venue, stepping with intention between wholly unphased bartenders slinging drinks.
Képinksi's presence is electrically charged — like a summer thunderstorm, the young performer rained down tunes on her audience, with each track (and performance) increasing in intensity. Her immense personality shone through the fog of the packed house at La Sala Rossa — revealing a musician deeply committed to her craft.
Badge Époque Ensemble
November 23, La Sala Rossa
Toronto's Badge Époque Ensemble opened up the final evening of the festival as part of M for Mothland's La Sala Rossa showcase, and brought with them traditionalist-tier psychedelicism. Comprised of U.S. Girls members and Toronto's art rock king, Max Turnbull (f.k.a. Slim Twig), the band dove keys-first into a set of drawn-out funky instrumentals, accented by a trippy visualizer projected on stage.
The Ensemble brought their usual array of congas, flute, keys, guitars and funky riffs to the forefront of the Mothland showcase, delivering late '70s Grateful Dead-ish extended jams derived from tracks on their eponymous 2019 debut. The band went deep into an endless rendition of their springing single "Undressed in Solitude" early on in the set, flipping between mystic flute-led melodies and soothing dad-rock elevator muzak.
On a bill of acts entirely different to their own, Badge Époque earned their keep with fantastical rhythms, probing keys and near telepathic coordination.
November 23, La Sala Rossa
Parked directly in the centre of the venue, WHOOP-Szo began their Mothland set in a hair-whipping frenzy — diving quickly into their distinct form of ceaselessly aggressive sludge-metal-meets-psych-leaning-post-rock.
The band began their fuzzed-out sweaty descent into an abbreviated yet hard-hitting set, seamlessly knocking out track after track and organizing their unique chaos into neat little pockets of stone-faced jams. Aided by the unholy machine-like musicianship of drummer Eric Lourenco, WHOOP-Szo's set took direct, ruthless aim at the eardrums, pounding at an audience who listened on from all 360 degrees.
Just as it began, it all concluded with a bang. Proving to be the highlight of Mothland's showcase, WHOOP-Szo are deeply deserving of national and international attention for their expert live show and unique brand of heavy music.