POP Montreal, festival of festivals

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15)Austra

Austra. Photos by Cindy Lopez (see her full gallery here and a second POP 2017 gallery by Lisa Sproull here)

The Cult MTL team had a sick time at POP Montreal 2017, and given that the festival only ended late last night, the sickness has persisted well into Monday.

As we recover from five days of great shows, movies, art, shopping and hobnobbing, we found

Blanck Mass

Sacred Bones records signee Blanck Mass could be branded as dance music for metal heads. Beginning with the particularly mean cut “The Rat,” his set didn’t hold back any punches.  Massive, bleak industrial scaffolding pummels the chest for eight- to nine-minute stretches, yet the way he fills the holes between his huge bassy material adds a strange beauty to the dark mood. From the wrenching, church-like vocal samples to the crystal-clear electronics, the gothic architecture was made exciting by unique, emotional interpolations. (Donovan Burtan)

Austra

Between the crisp vocal lines and dystopian landscapes and themes, Austra’s latest album meshed well with my own white winterscapes and post-election anxieties. At POP, the warm summer energy and receptive crowd shifted my focus to her sick knack for snappy hooks. A slight bump in tempo made for a relentlessly fun, dance atmosphere with older cuts lending themselves to pummeling intensity. Obviously, her iconic high range filled the Rialto to the brim over occasional empty space, but the moments that etched themselves into my memory are certainly those that made me throw up my hands and dance my heart out. (DB)

Jessy Lanza

Lanza’s slightly darker tinge of dance music was the perfect follow-up to Austra’s anthemic efforts. The concrete ceilings of the Rialto’s basement stage loomed over Lanza’s projections of industrial Hamilton, Ontario as her dark purple and blue synthy slow-burns captured a certain moody electricity. It was perfectly suited for a POP Montreal midnight show. Bigger cuts like “Never Enough” and “It Means I Love You” made for some high-energy moments and her ever-growing stage presence added urgency to those smoldering instances of slow soul. (DB)

William Basinski

Basinski described his set as a two-part tribute to David Bowie, one being a “New Orleans Funeral” and the next a “trip to the stars.” The hour-long ambient performance definitely did not lend itself to dancing or parading, but his immense sonic layering oozed the grim beauty of the Starman’s departure.

The first piece was a bit more melodically based with a distant, sluggish entity gently climbing and falling, eventually juxtaposed by some distorted surface ramblings. The second simply breathed in space with washes of colour that stretched for miles. It dragged in a few spots for me — perhaps because I had been in the venue for two hours — but an excerpt of any length from that night is sure to sound gorgeous and the collective audience meditation made for a thought-provoking experience. (DB)

Lido Pimiento

31)LidoPimienta

If anyone in the current musical environment is poised to burn down the establishment and make real change happen, it’s Lido Pimiento. As she mentioned at POP, her latest album is independently released, with lyrics in Spanish, and nominated for the coveted Polaris Prize.  Coupled with her criticism of the third-floor space for its lack of accessibility and her songs that tackled misogyny and issues of water rights and land distribution, every moment of her set was pure resistance and her mammoth voice truly knocked the air out of everyone in the room as her acoustic and electronic percussive duels roared. (DB)

Loon

POP is always looking to do cool shit beyond simply displaying bands in bars and this year they courted Seattle’s KEXP to record some live in-studio performances for their show. Loon has been gradually climbing up the ranks for a few years now and their dreamy dance atmosphere felt like an especially warm hug in the intimate setting. Older hit “Dance” got the heads nodding, but newer tracks basked in space a little more, highlighting the band’s ever-growing sonic mastery. (DB)

Hua Li

POP thrives on local talent and Hua Li was certainly a stand-out in this year’s class.  Showcasing some new tunes, it’s clear that her interwoven stitches of soul and rap have been made smoother and snappier since the release of her EP Za Zhong in 2015. With songs addressing self-love and validity (and the ever-important gritty “Diss Track”), the set was uplifting and action-packed as Li skated from yearning warmth to electric intensity with ease. (DB)

Pierre Kwenders

“Makanda” means “strength”, and the power was tangible Wednesday as Montreal’s Pierre Kwenders launched his second LP, Makanda…. to a densely packed crowd of fans faithful to his blend of Congolese-flavoured rhythms, electronically driven and interwoven with live sound, presented this night with the backing of a multi-piece instrumental section.

The challenge of delivering established favourites alongside newer pieces is always a test for artists, especially when, as in this case, their sonic aesthetic has evolved as dramatically as Kwenders’ has in the past years. New pieces produced by Shabazz Palaces’ Tendai Merari were executed beyond-capably in the live setting, sending the crowd into the centre of their swirling psychedelia by way of Kwenders’ grounded frontman directive, to the beat of their off-time soul-deliverance funk. Tight as-is, when this show finds its groove entirely, not a limb in any venue will be able to sit still. Take any chance to see Kwenders and his musicians make love happen. (Darcy MacDonald)

Dead Obies

A POP show ostensibly in name only, but a festival highlight nonetheless. The top-of-their-game bilingual rap sextet sorta christened the building-formerly-known-as-Metropolis by nearly tearing it apart with their army of Juggalo-like devotees (Obalos?). The mosh pit was so dense at the start of “Waiting” that one could barely make it past the bar area. The stage soon similarly swelled as the group’s Make It Rain sub-label colleagues stormed the stage like Kanye’s Brit Awards performance of “All Day.” It was a Rap Keb show, but it was also a straight-up trap show with harder beats and rhymes once the softer Air Max material was played. Billed as the last Gesamtkunstwerk show in Montreal, the night also deviated from the usual with a literal catwalk fashion show mid-set and an emphasis on solo cuts from Obie member Jo Rocca. The Phi Centre also put a technological twist on their previous collaboration by installing live camera footage from around the venue, including the men’s washroom. The visuals were then displayed behind the group for all to see. After nearly two years of touring their current album and EP, the group appears ready to move onwards and upwards, and their devoted fanbase is ready to go along with them. (Erik Leijon)

Dead Obies, take 2

One night after Bonsound label artist Pierre Kwenders launched a new album cycle, Rap Keb golden boys Dead Obies wound down their promo run for 2016’s triumphant Gesamkunstwerk, their second LP, recorded live over three nights in late 2015 at Montreal’s Phi Centre, backed live by local hip hop’s first family, Kalmunity Vibe Collective.

Two years, many, many shows and a king’s ransom in merch sales later, DO put Gesamkunstwerk to bed in style with their first headlining Metrop…sorry, “M Telus”…gig, a sold-out affair that can safely be called the first blow-out show in the newly refurbished hall, a favourite for many local music fans and a milestone booking for any Quebec band that makes it big. “Gesamkunstwerk” translates to “the whole art,” a philosophy wherein the act of experiencing or appreciating a work of creative value includes the spectator’s experience. Having been there from the first time, these pieces, now classics, were played, this reporter can tell you that the art is indeed complete, whole, and still as special as it was from its inception. A triumph in every way. (DM)

Shades of Culture

The OGs, the legends, the NDG massive, AWOL for more than a decade, blessed family and friends with a reunion set that not only brought D-Shade, Revolution and DJ Storm back together like it was yesterday, but also filled the parking lot venue with the same faces that supported Shades of Culture from the jump. Of course they were a little rusty — just a little, though — but it was heartwarming to see the trio take no time to find their footing and bring us back with classic Montreal rap jams like “Eye Out,” “Pay Rent” and “Shine” (the latter featuring the wicked toasting of group collaborator Sosa). With new music on the way, here’s hoping the Shades stay out in the sun where they belong for a little while longer. (DM)

Think About Life

42)ThinkAboutLife

Nobody knows how to whip Montreal 30-somethings into a frenzy quite like Martin Cesar. The defunct band did not disappoint despite being dead the last few years and a lifetime removed from their two cult albums. The crowd was mostly made up of Montreal scene elders who were likely there for their legendary 2009 and 2011 fest appearances, but there was some new blood too, meaning there’s still hope out there for fun party bands built on quirky lyrics and samples. While the set started as a pleasant nostalgia dip, the band didn’t take long to convince everyone there that not only did they still have it, but that we were all justified in our continued love affair with the band. Even if they didn’t make it elsewhere and died before their time, they’re still your favourite Montreal band’s favourite Montreal band. They also perfectly encapsulate a particular afterparty loft space era of Montreal music. And like it was still 2009, we got sweaty and crowd surfed to “Sweet Sixteen.” See y’all in five years for the next reunion. (EL)

Ty Segall

Friday night at Théâtre Fairmount concluded with everyone’s favourite garage rock star returning to Montreal for a set that was polarizing, to say the least. What served as the opening night of Segall’s second-ever acoustic tour resulted in an awkward blend of three fourths of the crowd extremely engaged, the other quarter schmoozing at the bar at distractingly loud volumes.

Highlights of the show included the famed cartoon squirrel voice actor blessing the audience with a handful of new jams, including one specially dedicated to “the beautiful lady at the merch table.” In comparison to his Club Soda show of 2014 (with a full band), this performance seemed disheartened, to say the least. Although generally nothing special, I’ll give credit to Segall for effortless acoustic guitar solos. (Mr. Wavvy)

New Jack City

What’s the deal with POP Montreal screening classic 90s Warner Bros. films? After the beautiful mess that was last year’s Space Jam screening, repertoire themes returned once again for a “Carte blanche” screening of Mario Van Peebles’ New Jack City, presented in its Québécois dub by none other than the Dead Obies. “We sampled it in a mixtape,” explains one of the group’s members on the origins of their love for the film. “We found it funny, with the Run-DMC swag.”

Having both never seen the film before, along with possessing extremely sub-par French skills, made for an interesting viewing experience, to say the least. Luckily, the film is flooded with action sequences, making it fairly easy to follow. Aside from its egregiously cop-out ending, this gangster tale has actually aged fairly well, the french adding a much-appreciated flare to it. (MW)

Jah Cutta

If you’ve been to a reggae show in the city, chances are you’ve come across Jah Cutta. A legend in his own right, the self-proclaimed “Canada’s King of Reggae” has opened up for everyone from the Wailers to Public Enemy.

The singer’s prelude to Friday night’s the Mighty Diamonds show set the mood perfectly, a unique blend of a seven-piece band, along with plenty of hip whining from attendees of all ages. His incredible stamina likens him to something along the lines of Mick Jagger’s Caribbean counterpart: plentiful in experience, while bearing the onstage energy of a teenage boy.

But perhaps the most beautiful moment in the show came in Cutta’s closing speech, an incredibly appropriate choice of words for a festival celebrating Montreal culture: “We are your artists, so embrace us. Don’t be afraid to tell the rest of the world what we have.” (MW)

The Mighty Diamonds

One of my first-ever jobs was at the record store Paul’s Boutique on Mount Royal. It was there where I found and fell in love with a heavily slept-on reggae band by the name of the Mighty Diamonds. My love ran so deep, to the point in which I would always hide one of their albums somewhere unsuspecting to ensure I’d always be able to listen to them.

Flash forward years later, finally seeing the enigmatic group all but a few blocks away from the vinyl shop felt like a truly full-circle moment. This horn-heavy set was absolutely worth the wait, its three members almost 50 years into their career without ever missing a beat. Nothing too climactic here in terms of a standout moment, but rather a consistently mellow show that surely satisfied the blend of older Jamaicans and “Ras Trents” spectators.

Lunice

Fresh off the release of his long-awaited debut album CCCLX, the famed Montreal producer seemed like quite the fitting choice for POP’s “Sessions 375” free event. The mid-afternoon set felt like somewhat of a release celebration for the LuckyMe signee, who used the set to test out playing many of the LP’s cuts for the first time ever.

Aside from dropping scorchers of his own, Lunice also made sure to provide the crowd with all of this summer’s hip hop mega-hits, including Smokepurpp’s “Audi,” Vince Staples’ “Yeah Right” and, of course, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” This succeeded in capturing the true essence of a block party, ending the last of the city’s summer celebrations with a “bang!” (MW)

Kid Koala

Kid Koala’s “Vinyl Vaudville” can best be described as Sesame Street for adults. The highly interactive performance featured puppets and dancers in abundance.

Beginning the show, the DJ, born Eric San, describes a dream involving “two ostriches playing a MPC 360” from a couple of nights earlier. “Do you know what an MPC 360 is? Some weird stuff. We’re trying some weird stuff tonight — only weird stuff.”

Surely enough, two ostriches took to the stage to play a giant MPC 360, with things only getting progressively stranger as the night continued. Koala’s charm is quick to win over any crowd, with attendees of this block party performance eager to engage in a Yo Gabba Gabba-inspired dance tune by the fourth song of the set. (MW)

Kuso

“Now, usually I wouldn’t do this, but I feel the need to give a caution warning”, proclaims Film POP programming director Ariel Esteban Cayer moments before revealing Flying Lotus’s directorial debut to its first Quebec audience.

“This movie is really gross, repugnant, disgusting and, depending on who you, are, potentially offensive,” Cayer continues to a bemused mix of attendees. What followed was 90 minutes of semen, blood and fecal-infused cinema that made for one of the strangest flicks I have ever laid eyes upon.

The film follows four sets of characters facing the aftermath of a cataclysmic earthquake hitting Los Angeles. Think Four Rooms, only if Four Rooms had a scene that takes you inside funk legend George Clinton’s anus (no, really). Rich in both artistic and shock value, the film amounts to something along the lines of a feature-length Adult Swim sketch, and is certain to give viewers nightmares for the rest of their days. (MW)

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