In the wake of this year’s South by Southwest music festival, Montreal has been dubbed by many as the new ‘Brooklyn.’ Talented artists and hipsters have flocked to the NYC borough for almost a century to rub shoulders with like-minded people, but now it seems as if the tides are turning towards our faithful city.
Consider this an introduction, merely scraping the surface of what your home has to offer. These are the musicians that laid the foundation in the 2000s for today’s incoming creativity, in no particular order.
Arcade Fire: Funeral, Arcade Fire’s 2004 debut, has the second most appearances on decade-end album rankings, trailing only Radiohead’s Kid A. In response to winning the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year for The Suburbs, Win Butler, the band’s frontman, initially responded with ‘I can’t believe it, we won. Merci Montreal!’ And the feeling appears to be mutual, for when the band played a free show at Place Des Arts last September, tens of thousands packed the streets, many just to watch on big screens around the corner. We are fortunate enough to live in the city that their music pays homage to. This is a band that Montrealers have welcomed into their homes. Spin a few records and you may understand why.
Grimes: Though fresh faced and a relatively new addition to Montreal’s new music scene, Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, has become our mascot. Boucher is a workaholic; she has released 3 albums in two years and, according to her twitter feed, almost never stops touring. Montreal can thank Grimes for bringing its underground electronic scene to the forefront.
Patrick Watson: Patrick Watson has long been a quiet staple and full participant in Quebec’s music family. His latest release, Adventures in Your Own Backyard, was recorded in a home studio right next door to his family’s home in Plateau. The lyrics are inspired by the concept of home, which for Watson and his band, is Montreal. “I’d like to write songs that people can carry with them in their daily life and bring them some sort of adventure,” says Watson.
Karkwa: In 2011, Karkwa won the Polaris Music Prize for their fourth album, Les Chemins de Verre, in what was called the “longest and most emotional deliberation in Polaris deliberations” by Liisa Ladouceur, who oversees the selection committee. “The short-listed records are all of extreme high quality and they truly resonated with members of the jury whether or not they completely understood the language of the lyrics,” claimed Ladouceur. Language politics will always make headlines in this country. When a band that sings only in french succeeds in defying language boundaries, it has got to be good.
Leonard Cohen: Leonard Cohen is Montreal’s resident Renaissance man, but to the rest of the world, legendary. According to critic Bruce Eder, he is second only to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon in terms of cultural influence, particularly because of his ability to single-handedly hold an audience through four decades of music making.
Chromeo: Nowadays, dance music dominates the music charts, both independent and top 40. Montreal is home to countless DJs, but Chromeo is perhaps the first of our electronic musicians to appeal to indie, dance, and pop crowds. The duo are childhood friends that embody Montreal’s cultural diversity; P-Thug is Arabic and was born in Lebanon and Dave 1 is Jewish. If you’ve ever stepped foot on a Montreal dancefloor, chances are pretty high that you’ve heard a Chromeo remix. Little known fact: the duo used to work at Celine Dion’s studio.
The Dears: As a six piece orchestral, hard rocking outfit, The Dears paved the way for bands like Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and Stars. They toured the globe on the heels of The Tragically Hip, Sloan, and Keane, and were shortlisted for the 2011 Polaris Prize for Degeneration Street, their fifth studio album.
Plants and Animals: Magical things can happen on Parc Ave, or at least thats what the members of Plants and Animals think. Their 2008 debut album, Parc Avenue, was released in the wake of their love affair with Montreal. Warren Spicer, Matthew Woodley, and Nic Basque met as music students at Concordia, but truly dug their heels into the Plateau music scene as residents of the Mile End.
Sam Roberts Band: Since his 2001 debut, The Inhuman Condition, Sam Roberts has become a Canadian household name. He is a frosh week staple, an instant Much Music video hit, and almost always a Juno nominee. The Inhuman Condition remains one of the bestselling independent releases in Canadian history. Roberts is a West Island native, and like many other Montrealers, trilingual.
Stars are veterans of both Montreal and North America’s indie-pop music scene, having released their debut, Nightsongs, in 2001. They found fame quickly; their dreamy, lovesick tunes proved to be the perfect soundtrack for the teen dramas, like The O.C., that defined the decade. To this day, Stars still calls Montreal home. Even their upcoming September 4 release, The North, uses an image of Habitat 67 as their album cover.